Los Angeles is so often portrayed as a soulless city. A place no one is from, where hollow capitalism reigns.

Perhaps I've seen too many Woody Allen movies, or my East Coast bias is showing, but I have rarely been as enamored of an on-screen version of L.A. as I was watching City of Gold. It's a documentary that is ostensibly a profile of a man, but is really about the vibrant city he inhabits, beyond the Hollywood sheen and the grit of Compton.

This love letter to L.A. is written because of Jonathan Gold, food critic at the Los Angeles Times and the first food critic to win the Pulitzer for criticism, who is known for finding hidden gems in his city's vast food landscape. Gold is not just a food critic, he's a cultural reporter. He documents how Los Angeles lives and breathes, as those who sing his praises say throughout the doc.

Gold delights in finding out-of-the-way ethnic cuisine and giving those who cook it the same attention as chefs who work in big-deal restaurants. He likes finding food so spicy that not even he can handle it, and he loves learning about the cultures that the people who make it come from. On his beat, a new taco truck is major scoop.

Many chefs in the movie talk about emigrating from foreign lands to Los Angeles with nothing but their kids in tow. They talk about how hard it was to start their own restaurant and bring in customers, and about how a glowing review from Gold changed their lives.

There are only traces of Gold's biography here. City of Gold is more about the rich tapestry that is Los Angeles than it is about this sweet guy who loves to eat and guide his readers to new foods and cultures.

Deadlines? He's not as passionate about those.

Like Gold himself, Laura Gabbert's documentary is a bit scattered and messy. But its subjects - both the man and his city - are lovely to watch and explore.

Post-viewing, plan for a trip to your favorite taqueria. It would make Gold proud.



City of Gold
Directed by Laura Gabbert. With Jonathan Gold, David Chang, Roy Choi, and Andrew Zimmern. Distributed by Sundance Selects.
Running time: 89 mins.
Parent's guide: R (language).
Playing at: Ritz East.