“It is the coldest night of the year,” began one of Jonathan Gold’s 2006 reviews, “and I am driving along Olympic Boulevard in East Los Angeles, ravenously hungry, looking for one of the itinerant flame-throwing taco carts that sprout in that neighborhood around midnight.” Those words would help Gold become, in 2007, the only food critic ever awarded a Pulitzer Prize. But they also convey something of the man himself: unpretentious, lyrical, enthralled by his hometown, and always, always hungry.
Gold, who died on July 21 at 57, changed American food writing. In his long career reviewing for L.A. Weekly and the Los Angeles Times, he brought his intellect and experience not only to the city’s tony dining rooms, but also especially to the no-name taquerias, Thai curry joints and strip-mall noodle houses that crisscross Los Angeles. He was driven by a deep understanding of how food creates community, and often said he hoped his reviews would help convince Angelenos to be more adventurous and less afraid of their neighbors. The legacy of this democratizing mission can be seen in the Instagramming foodies who prowl the world now for a taste of fish kidneys or pig-skin pupusas.
In that 2006 review, he paid tribute to the “great brotherhood of taco eaters” in Los Angeles, “huddled around trucks late at night, balancing three ounces of highly spiced meat and drawing furtively from an icy bottle of imported Mexican Coke.” If that brotherhood exists, it is in large part because Gold created it.
This appears in the August 06, 2018 issue of TIME.