Los Angeles is not a normal “city”. The very concept of the origin of city was a metropolis, a city center, an existence more vertical and centralized than horizontal. Of course, with population growth and this phenomenon called gentrification all cities are getting a bit more wide than tall and lanky, but this is nothing new for LA. It was started this way.
LA was actually more of a marketing ploy than anything in its birth. It’s actually a desert. Life shouldn’t really exist here in the mass that it does. Publications like Sunset Magazine boasted the promise of settling new land, having space to let your “id” run wild, having a place to plant your orange trees in your own backyard and roads to drive your own car in. In fact, Los Angeles was one of the first towns to have public transportation, but since it developed right at the invention of the automobile, and of course trends are trends, they immediately converted these trolley lines into highways. Thanks guys. Thanks.
I love driving in 5 p.m. traffic.
Basically, Los Angeles was founded upon people’s quests to be more private, to have their suburban life in a metropolis. To film movies at all times of the year, to profit from agriculture that would be constantly nourished by the sun (and artificial abundance of water), and to spread wide in house-lined neighborhoods. This sprawl is not surprising. It is curated and still felt today. For a city, it can be really distant. It can be isolating, unless you know where to look. Which is why I chose today to write about my new neighborhood, one that I love, and one that I didn’t even know existed until leaving Paris earlier this year.
Highland Park is a neighborhood, my neighborhood, that lies in between Downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena. Pasadena is a rather rich suburb of LA (even though LA is essentially a mass of suburbs with some larger streets intertwined), and downtown LA is, well, far less interesting than other downtowns. Say, Manhattan. But that’s neither here nor there.
As with many cities, the artistic communities are pushing culture East, and this is no exception to LA. Northeast LA, or “NELA” as is termed by locals, is a happening scene. What was once, I guess, “dodgy” is now brimming with concert venues, mystical boutiques, vintage shops, and cafés galore. The thing I love about Highland Park right now, and this will probably only last 5-8 years at most given the rate of this sprawling expansion, is that it’s still very local. There are many families who have lived here for years and years, people still smile at their neighbors, they even look out for them. I cannot say that’s the case in a place like Silver Lake anymore — a place I lived in 2010 that is weirdly reminiscent of what this is like here. I loved Silver Lake then. I love Highland Park now.
One of my favorite restaurants in the ‘hood is in fact a very local, supremely authentic Mexican place. Its prices are cheap (like, $10 gets you at least two meals), and the service is friendly and not phony. They’re not trying to please anyone. Their food simply does.
If you’re in Los Angeles, I do encourage you to come by and check out Highland Park. It’s the closest to resembling something LA once used to be. You can even take a private cooking class and get a 6-course meal served to you by yours truly (check out my gluten-free culinary week “Trip” here: http://www.airbnb.com/city-hosts/46)
So, for the sakes and purposes of this site, I decided to share a few of my favorite places to eat and drink in Highland Park. Safe for us of gluten-free fancy. Delicious for everyone.
Enjoy this neighborhood, and take advantages of the insider tip. Without the heads up, this place could just feel like a series of over-crowded highways, when it could be so much more.
TOWN PIZZA (http://www.townla.com/)
TOWN pizza is located in the heart of the bustling York Blvd. This, and Figueroa, are the two main streets where things are “happening” in Highland Park. TOWN pizza not only has a daily selection of homemade gluten-free pizzas either by the slice or pie, but there are many of these that are also vegan. Cha ching! You can either order pizza quickly at their pizza café counter on the left side of the building, or sit and eat a rather romantic pizza and wine type thing at their restaurant next door. Three cheers gluten-free pizza. It’s good, too.
MY TACO (http://my-taco.com/)
This is very literally one of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever eaten at, and it’s conveniently one of the least expensive given what they serve. A family-owned joint, their food just tastes like it’s made with love. And I believe it is. Especially their “barbacoa” platter, which is a traditional braised lamb dish. For vegetarians and vegans, there are a wide array of options as well, and their homemade corn tortillas make the food safe for each and every one of us “special diet” eaters.
AMARA KITCHEN (http://www.amarakitchen.com/)
I almost reluctantly put this on the list, because they call their avocado toast “The Truth”. That’s, like, 50 bars over the hipster line.
They also charge $5 for tea. But the fact is, their food is good. Really good. And really healthy. They make their own almond milk for those of you who can have it, as well as their own paleo and gluten-free pastries. Their outside and inside seating is both charming and comfortable. So, I guess suck up the extra 3 bucks for some homemade healthy food that tastes good, and welcome to hipster-ville.
THE HI HAT (http://hihat.la/)
So, I can’t really call this place a good place as a “gluten-free eatery”, but it’s certainly a great place to get your drink on and hear some excellent music. Oh, and play some billiards if that’s your jam, too. This old pool hall was recently converted into a very nice (and nice sounding) concert venue and their wine selection is both good, simple, and inexpensive for what you get! (Read $6 glass of pinot noir. Not bad for a city.) The food is also very good, they have classics like fries, braised beef, etc, but really this is more of an “after dinner” experience in my book. And really one worth going to. They have concerts nearly every night of the week, and everything from up and coming local acts to nationally touring bands. I love this place. So it had to make the list. Wine is gluten-free, right?
EL HUARACHE AZTECA (http://www.elhuaracheaztecala.com/)
OK. Back to food. Huaraches are delicious. They’re like, uh, corn flour boats topped with everything good about Mexican food. Sauce, avocado, protein, queso, crema, veggies, all the things. For those of you who knows sopes, they’re like their big brother. And enough to feed a tiny army. Well, I guess a person with a voracious appetite counts as an army. These huaraches are phenomenal. The ambiance is charming and real.
ETA is a very new addition to the Figueroa part of Highland Park. It’s a quality bar. Everything: drinks, atmosphere, and even a nice selection of small plates (charcuterie, etc.) All things are tip top here, and the bartenders and patrons are generally lovely. I’ve actually never had a negative encounter, so I don’t even know why I said generally. Just seems safer.