Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Bell and Bell Gardens | KCET
Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Bell and Bell Gardens
Bell and Bell Gardens, two incorporated cities in Los Angeles ever-sprawling county, are twins separated not so much by birth but bisected by the Los Angeles River and the 710 freeway at Florence Avenue. Peopled by a range of immigrant Pan-Latino families, as well as a large Lebanese community in Bell, that have settled into Southern California with their traditions, these two cities, part of Southeast Los Angeles’ Hub Cities, have small populations both under 45,000, less than 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles and also have the distinction of surviving a string of recent scandals by their governing bodies. But to see the bustle on Florence and Gage Avenues in Bell Gardens or Atlantic Boulevard and Gage in Bell, one can arrive to the conclusion that these town emanate resilience and the desire to move on with aplomb.
While on most days and nights and days bleeding into each other, Bell Gardens welcomes a range of visitors coming to the local Bicycle hotel and casino, where its parking lot is always full.
A pair of fresh eyes may descend along Atlantic Boulevard in Bell and see a lot of Mexican influences with many of the storefront signage shouting tax services and car washing en Español. The streets, like many in LA, are built to fit the scale of the car not so much the pedestrian and the strip malls offer a variety of food offerings as much as they do oases for parking. The perimeter around Southeast High School though on any given day at the arrival of the magic hour you’ll see a range of señoras walking in groups getting their laps in before sundown.
Both the areas that we know today as Bell and Bell Gardens had starring roles in the history of California and date back into the pre-colonial era where the indigenous Gabrieleño settled and buoyed by agricultural production. As the Spanish Empire took its hold in the mid 16th century, Bell Gardens was a major market center. Commerce continues to prove its strong suit as both cities welcome and boast a range of independent businesses that fiercely compete with the big box stores that dot the western side at the corner of Florence and Eastern.
The restaurants profiled here represent a gamut of off the beaten trail favorites, new and old, that reflect the tastes of its residents, many of whom are low income yet still want to enjoy a great cut of meat or a nice night out without breaking the bank.
Fatima’s Halal Meat Market and Grill
Ali Elieda, owner of Fatima’s Halal Meat Market and Grill, started off with a meat market selling Halal meats and poultry. Then, after a successful three years introduces Halal meat tacos. And they were a hit with the locals as he says there is no color line when it comes to food, especially the passion that great cuts of meat inspire across cultures. So after adding burgers and burritos to the menu it was only natural that shawarma got introduced. The most popular item on the menu is the beef and chicken shawarma mix seasoned in a heavenly garlicky marinade to the gills and spilling out out its grilled pita bread burrito.
“The role we play here is a diverse one, we bring in that love [of meat] into the city of Bell and it’s all love when it comes to Arabs and Mexicans,” he says in an interview after the lunch rush.
Halal is basically meat or chicken that is slaughtered according to Islamic law, as laid out in the Qu’ran. According to Elieda there’s a blessing and a prayer said over that animal whenever it is slaughtered. It’s the Halal meat in all of its presentations at Fatimah’s that attracts a huge crowd of Yelpers into of the city of Bell. Customers from Los Angeles, El Monte, the Valley and even San Diego consistently give Fatimah’s five star ratings and that says Elieda is kind of tough to do in the city of Bell. They travel for greatness.
Fatima’s Halal Meat Market and Grill: 4846 Florence Ave Ste A-103, Bell, CA 90201
Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen
Rocio Camacho’s restaurant has only been around for a year, seats a cozy 25, has no bathroom, but has consistently seen lines out the door each weekend for her Oaxaqueño style breakfasts and lunches of squash blosson mole drenched salmon and grilled chicken in the mouth watering pumpkin seed mole with a glass of sweetened cucumber water to wash it down.
With 16 years of working in kitchens with different restaurants she decided to open up Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen in Bell Gardens because she and her family live there.
“When we opened, people saw that we were doing something different with a new concept,” she says in an early morning interview before opening up for breakfast. “They came to seek other types of Mexican food and while the house specials are moles, we had to do a lot of explaining [when it came to] the ingredients.”
Rocio offers Bell Gardens a welcome yet as she says a different touch to Oaxacan cooking without the frills of an expensive dining experience, creating dishes that bring salmon and mahi mahi and their unique to Bell Gardens plating presentation to a public that is eager to savor it all. With no plans to expand, Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen is as Rocio says meant to be a order to go spot.
Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen: 7891 Garfield Ave, Bell Gardens, CA 90201
Corazón Y Miel (6626 Atlantic Ave, Bell CA 90201)
Corazón Y Miel feels like it belongs on Mateo Street in the Arts District with all of the other finely designed eateries and meticulously crafted cocktails. They boast a rock star chef in Eduardo Ruiz who has seen his gorgeously curated establishment written about by all of our trusted food gurus in the Los Angeles Times, The OC Weekly, and has four stars with Zagat. But let us all remember that this fine dining experience is in Bell, California! And the happy hour menu is one of the reasons why #BellCA is even a hashtag.
Spend a couple of happy hours with the fresh Ceviche de Corazon which features tender bites of shrimp alongside a sweet peanut crunch in a chilled savory lemony broth to balance the fire of a jalapeño infused tequila shot and its spicy boilermaker can of Montejo companion, the mouth of the can heavily dusted with chile powder and sea salt.
While Corazón Y Miel dinner menu has many meat and poultry options for the most adventurous carnivores (wild boar chilaquiles indeed sound wild), there are a lot of gorgeously textured vegetarian options such as the Diosa Verde watercress salad that cushions lightly sauteed cauliflower, roasted brussel sprouts and slices of jalapeño. Pair it with Corazón Y Miel’s take on the Michelada for a satisfying cap to a long work commute back to the comforts of Southeast LA.
Corazón Y Miel: 6626 Atlantic Ave, Bell CA 90201
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