Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Pico-Union | KCET
Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Pico-Union
Nestled just in between Downtown LA and the popular Wilshire District, Pico-Union was the quintessential up and coming neighborhood in the early 1900s. Affluent, mostly white families began flocking to the area around 1910 and soon it was one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. It remained as such until after World War II when residents of Pico-Union began ditching their two-story Victorian homes in the middle of the city in favor of a quieter life in nearby suburbs. By the 1960s, properties in the area had significantly reduced in value and most homes were left empty and decrepit.
The 70s and 80s saw an influx of Salvadorian and Guatemalan immigrants to Pico-Union and the surrounding neighborhoods. Having escaped the civil wars raging in their own nations, these immigrants were drawn to the array of inexpensive homes in the area, which soon became a Central American haven in the middle of Los Angeles.
Situated at the epicenter of LA’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, Pico-Union, Harvard Heights and Arlington Heights have, at least for now, remained some of the most diverse communities in all of Los Angeles. While a large percentage of residents are still Salvadorian and Guatemalan, many in the area now hail from Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, China and Korea to name a few. And while it may not be the wealthiest area in terms of household income, Pico-Union does have a wealth of local restaurants, shops and bars that truly exemplify the community’s mixing pot culture.
El Parian Restaurant
From the outside, El Parian looks like your average hole-in-the-wall Los Angeles Mexican joint. However, this little cocina has been cooking up dishes for over 50 years that food writers and chefs around the globe have hailed as some of the best. Named after a restaurant plaza in the Mexican town of Tlaquepaque, El Parian’s claim to fame is their mouth-watering rendition of birria, a traditional Jalisco-style goat stew. The goat consommé is served up with homemade corn tortillas and a tangy, kick-you-in-the-butt habanero salsa that gets your taste buds tingling. Many argue that it is the best birria in all of Los Angeles, rivaling even some of the best dishes in Guadalajara itself.
El Parian: 1528 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015, (213) 386-7361
Dino’s Chicken & Burgers
Dino’s Chicken & Burgers perfectly defines the mix of cultures that make up this part of Los Angeles. A Greek man by the name of Demetrios Pantazis opened the roadside stand in 1968. He had been working in the restaurant business since he was 15, not long after moving to Los Angeles. Pulling in from the diverse cultures of the area, Pantazis built a unique, melting pot menu and set up a 40-foot sign to advertise it. The sign still stands today, proclaiming Dino’s as the home of Burgers, Chicken, Pastrami and Burritos.
The menu is still just as eclectic with a mix of dishes like the Pastrami Quesadilla and the Chili Cheese Fries topped with a carne asada and pastrami cheese sauce. But everyone knows that the go-to at Dino’s is Dino’s Famous Chicken. Drenched in a secret sauce with a color that seems almost iridescent, this sinful bird is served a la carte, with rice and beans or on a bed of Fresh cut French Fries.
Dino’s Chicken & Burgers: 2575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006, (213) 380-3554
Opened in 1994 by Mexican immigrants Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio, Guelaguetza was one of the very first Oaxacan restaurants in all of Los Angeles. Today, there are plenty of spots serving traditional Oaxacan food, but no one offers quite the experience of Guelaguetza.
The dishes at Guelaguetza aren’t your usual Mexican fare. One dish unique to Oaxacan cuisine is the Tlayuda, a meal reminiscent of an Italian pizza, but instead made with a tortilla and topped with Mexican ingredients like chorizo or queso fresco. For the more daring there are also the Chapulines Tacos, filled with sautéed grasshoppers. But the true star of Guelaguetza is the mole, particularly the Mole Negro. Traditionally served over chicken, this slow-cooked sauce offers a depth of flavor that keeps hitting new levels with every bite. It is no wonder that in 2015, the restaurant won five James Beard awards for it.
It’s not only the food at the Lopez’s institution that is keeping the Oaxacan experience alive in Harvard Heights. Saturday through Thursday, Guelaguetza offers dinner with a side of live music and traditional Oaxacan dance performances.
Guelaguetza: 3014 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006, (213) 427-0608
Road to Seoul
Despite not technically being in Korea Town, Road to Seoul is one of the most popular AYCE KBBQ restaurants in all of Los Angeles. For those who are new to this phenomenon, AYCE KBBQ stands for All You Can Eat Korean Barbecue. Yes, that’s right – for three price points ranging from $16.99 to $23.99, dinners at Road to Seoul can fill bellies to their breaking points with meats cooked by hand on personal hot plates. The different meats offered range from more conservative options like the chicken bulgogi and pork belly to a bit more daring choices like cuttlefish or tongue.
The service at Road to Seoul is attentive and they are more than willing to repeatedly fill your plates with beautifully marbled and perfectly seasoned meat. Be sure to bring your appetite; just don’t wear any clothes that you don’t want smelling like meat for the next few weeks.
Road to Seoul: 1230 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90006, (323) 731-9292
In 1948, long before Papa Cristo’s existed, Sam Chrys opened the C&K Importing Company in Pico-Union. A Greek native, Chrys wanted to bring the tastes of Greece to Los Angeles so he made sure that all of the products sold at his market were imported directly from his home country. When his son Chrys Chrys inherited the business in 1968, he decided to convert part of it into a restaurant. Keeping his father’s mission close at heart, he traveled throughout his homeland for many years, learning what he could about the flavors and dishes of Greece. Finally, in the early 1990s, Papa Cristo’s was born.
Today, Chrys Chrys runs Papa Cristo’s with his daughter Annie. The Chrys’s are incredibly proud of their heritage and they show it not only in their food, but also the culture that surrounds their business. Each Thursday night, they put on a “Big Fat Greek” Family-Style Dinner where $18.95 can get you a taste of Greece, including a full meal, wine tasting, and live music with belly dancers.
Papa Cristo's: 2771 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006, (323) 737-2970
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