For several years now, Highland Park tends to dominate conversations about rapid gentrification taking place in Los Angeles. Sure, Silver Lake and Echo Park may pop up in these conversations too.
But from 2013 to 2014, it's this part of Northeast Los Angeles (NELA) often named in reports of unprecedented real estate turnover -- and speculation on property development. What's followed, whether real or imagined, is a portrait of young, urban professionals and land developers hustling a community out of house and home. And it's led to occasional bouts of antagonism.
For some long-time residents, many who are Latino, there's both anxiety and wariness in their acceptance. With changes in the demographics often come shifts in what's accessible to the original community living there. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the restaurants, cafes, and markets now on York and Figueroa, two intersecting thoroughfares that break up the winding residential avenues. Agua fresca alongside pressed juices. Cafe de olla and soy agave lattés. Pambazos dipped in guajillo sauce and a fried chicken sandwich with gluten-free bread.
To this day, some of the better, and more memorable, Highland Park eats stay affordable. There are plenty of options for you to eat well for under $20.
Folliero's Italian Food and Pizza: Before Maximiliano and Town Pizza, there was Folliero's Italian Food and Pizza. Tony Folliero opened the family-friendly eatery some 47 years ago at the Figueroa near Ave 56 address. Now managed by older daughter Teresa, it's been been a neighborhood go-to for Italian American comfort food, namely thin crust pizza and hearty pasta, ever since. The one-two punch of quality meets more-than-reasonable prices has made regulars out of many locals, who will point you to the Bianca, a sauce-less white pie fragrant with garlic, rosemary and mozzarella. You'll also be reminded that's it's cash-only. 5566 N. Figueroa St, Los Angeles; (323) 254-0505.
Las Cazuelas Restaurant & Pupuseria: A streetside snapshot of Las Cazuelas, bookended by Antigua Bread and Pop Physique, reveals a now too-familiar scene of stark change for residents. The rather extensive menu is a hybrid of Mexican, Salvadoran, and Americana tastes. You can dine on chile relleno or a teeming bowl of caldo de res. A pupusa with requisite curtido can be packed with cheese, vegetables, beans, meat, or a mix of all. There's also a cheeseburger combo (or sans cheese) with fries and of course drink if you'd really prefer. 5707 N. Figueroa St, Los Angeles; (323) 255-4719.
My Taco: My Taco's origin story is humble -- and inspiring. Until settling at its strip mall digs in 2006, the restaurant started out as a makeshift food stand. On any given night, or day, there's a cross-section of folks, young and older, enjoying a three-taco platter or carne asada fries. Like most of the restaurants mentioned on this list, My Taco aims to please with variety, expanded since their days of slinging tacos. A family recipe, the barbacoa de borrego, or lamb barbecue, paired with chopped onions, cilantro, a fat stack of warmed corn tortillas and a piping cup of goat broth, remains a favorite. 6300 York Blvd, #4, Los Angeles; (323) 256-2598.
Tacos La Estrella: Tacos La Estrella is a food truck, unfussy and almost perennially parked on the corner of York and Ave 54, which if you're headed east will be on your left. For roughly $5-6, you can feast on a paper plate of made-to-order tacos -- whether lengua, cabeza or asada. Closer to midnight, the demographic ratio is fairly even in ethnicity and age. The consensus: It's always a good idea whether you just closed a long night of craft beer drinking at the York or a long day of work at a construction site. York Ave and Ave 54, Los Angeles.
El Pescador Number 9: A scion of the El Pescador restaurant family that took root in Bell Gardens, this Highland Park location has been a staple for aguachile and ceviche. As its name indicates, the restaurant is ninth in a string of joints individually owned and operated by an Ortiz family member, established by Manuel Ortiz in 1983. A long-time resident will extol about the "7 Mares", which counts octopus, calamari and clams among the seafood packed in the soup, with fondness. 5230 N. Figueroa St, Los Angeles (323) 255-8164.
Via-Mar Seafood Restaurant, 5111 N. Figueroa St, Los Angeles; (323) 255-4929.
Villa Sombrero, 6101 York Blvd, Los Angeles; (323) 256-9014.
Good Girl Dinette, 110 N. Ave 56, Los Angeles; (323) 257-8980.
Maximiliano's, 5930 York Blvd, Los Angeles; (323) 739-6125.
Chico's, 100 N. Avenue 50, Los Angeles; (323) 254-2445.
El Huarache Azteca, 5225 York Blvd, Los Angeles; (323) 478-9572.