Neighborhood Spotlight: Highland Park

By Lesley Balla  |  February 18, 2014
Credit: Highland Cafe/Arnie Miller

Whether its inhabitants want us to say it or not, Highland Park has become one of the hotter neighborhoods in LA right now. An early haven for intellectuals and artists, the demographic has fluctuated through the years, but the the funky bohemian spirit has always jibed with the predominantly Latino residents and businesses. Today a fresh wave of creativity is blowing through its streets. New galleries, vintage boutiques, design shops, cafes and gastropubs are popping up consistently along the Figueroa and York corridors, bringing everything from vinyl to locally made pottery and French crêpes to the hipster masses. (Hence the neighborhood's newish nickname: Highland Parque.) Comedian Marc Maron is so proud of his neighborhood that he regularly features locals in his weekly podcast and IFC show, Maron. Not to mention, it is one of those uniquely walkable corners of the city: there's even an art walk on the second Saturday of every month. Here's a neighborhood primer on where to eat, drink and shop in Highland Park. 

  • Credit: Sonny's Hideaway

    New Restaurants and Bars

    The newcomers along York and Figueroa aren’t out to replace the neighborhood vibe - they're just adding more local color. The Greyhound Bar & Grille wants to stay away from the gastropub label, but the big, airy corner bar has a great selection of spirits, amari, craft brews and cocktails, along with bar food like Buffalo shrimp po' boys, chicken wings, pastrami sandwiches and deep-fried snacks.

    On York, Sonny’s Hideaway replaces the Highland Park Kitchen with its big booths, dark decor and an eclectic menu, offering everything from Andouille-stuffed squid and buttermilk-fried chicken to ricotta dumplings with chard and bone marrow hash.

    New French restaurants include Ba, an artist-owned, bright sunny spot with a Marie Antoinette vibe and French classic dishes with a California spin. There's also the new Chez Antoine, specializing in sweet and savory crêpes served in a room that's perpetually filled with locals and Edith Piaf songs on the speakers.

  • Must-Try Mexican

    The demographic may be shifting a bit, but the Latino community still makes up the majority of HP residents. Its small, independent, family-run restaurants are some of the best around. Hit El Hurache Azteca for tratidional huaraches, foot-long, bean-filled masa discs topped with meats, salsa, crema and cheese. Carne asada tacos are mandatory at La Estrella restaurant and stand on Figueroa or the truck on York. Antojitos Guerrero is also known for its handmade tortillas and birria on the weekends. El Arco Iris has been serving local families Mexican staples like chile verde and mole poblano since 1964.

  • Credit: Cafe de Leche

    Where to Drink Coffee

    Like The York, Café de Leche set up shop in the early days as an anchor for the changing neighborhood. At this hangout for local artists and musicians, patrons order up Stumptown coffee, espresso with horchata, bagels, pastries and tamales while their kids stay busy in the play area. 

    On Figueroa, the colorful Antigua Bread is a good perch to linger over coffee and espresso. There are freshly baked goods in the cases, and a full breakfast menu is served all day.

  • Credit: Good Girl Dinette

    Where to Brunch

    Off of Figueroa, chef Diep Tran serves up American diner food with a Vietnamese twist in the spacious, friendly Good Girl Dinette. Think: Red Boat bacon and eggs, turmeric dill hash and coconut oatmeal with ginger maple syrup.

    Most of the York restaurants bustle on the weekends, especially on the blocks between 50th and 51st. The Highland Cafe serves breakfast all day, which means the funky dining room and sidewalk tables are always full of hipsters eating chilaquiles, vegan breakfast burritos, kale scrambles and Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches while drinking Handsome Coffee.

  • Credit: The Hermosillo

    Where to Drink Booze

    Bar crawling along York is that much easier with The Hermosillo, a former dive bar that was cleaned up by a few Bar Covell guys and given new life with craft beers, artisanal wines, sandwiches and bar snacks. Former Craftsman Brewing Co. brewer Bob Kunz will begin operating the Highland Park Brewery from inside the bar very soon.

    The newcomers join divey classic Johnny’s Bar, where the juke is punk, the prices cheap and the barflies regular. Another longtime favorite, The York, was the first gastropub to anchor the new Highland Park world order with a great beer list, cocktails, big open windows and great burgers.

    On Figueroa, Le Cuevita, owned by the same guys behind Bigfoot Lodge, Sassafras and Thirsty Crow, has an extensive tequila and mezcal selection, dark Mexican decor and great happy-hour specials, including free tacos on Tuesdays.

  • New Staples

    The Oinkster's Andre Guerrero opened Maximiliano in 2011, a trendy but casual spot with old-school Italian pastas, great meatballs, pork chops, pizzas, craft beer and weekend brunch. 

    Fusion Burger is a full-service joint with boldly flavored burgers that might look familiar to Umami fans. That's because the father and son who own it used to work at one of the burger outposts. Think beef patties topped with oozing housemade cheese, Parmesan crisps, roasted tomatoes and even pineapple - a nod to some of the al pastor trucks down the way.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Sweet Stops

    Create your own pastry masterpiece from an array of fresh-baked donuts, fillings, frostings and toppings like goat cheese, blueberry jam and quince at the bright and friendly Donut Friend. Also on York, Tai Kim offers his small-batch ice cream flavors like malt Oreo, brown bread, root beer and bourbon butter pecan at Scoops, and the decades-old Elsa’s Bakery has new owners but the same baker making pan dulce and galletas. Finally, no trip to Highland Park would be complete without a spin through Galco’s, where you can peruse the hundreds of old, new and sometimes completely off-the-wall sodas, old-school candies - or, for something more adult, check out the fantastic beer selection.