Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: West Adams and Jefferson Park | KCET
Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: West Adams and Jefferson Park
The communities of West Adams and Jefferson Park have been defined, redefined, abandoned and rebuilt multiple times over the last century and a half. Though the area is just under 3 square miles, this geographical and historical segment of South Los Angeles has a deep and complex history rooted in community development and discrimination.
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Once farmland, West Adams and Jefferson Park are some of the earliest suburban sections of Los Angeles that emerged during the late 19th century along with the construction of Agricultural Park (now Exposition Park) and University of Southern California (USC). The area came to feature some of the most eclectic and opulent historical homes in the country, many still exist today. One of the last remaining structures that captures this transition is the Joseph L. Starr Dairy Farmhouse on Arlington Avenue, a Folk Vernacular Victorian style house built in 1887. It was part of a dairy that spanned across twenty acres of land.
By the 1920s, affluent residents began seeking desirable and newer developments in Hollywood and much of the Westside. This residential flight increased housing availability for a booming Los Angeles. By the mid-1930s, the neighborhoods began to diversify. One such area was Sugar Hill, an affluent black community in Jefferson Park. New York City transplants named the area after a section in Harlem that was home to prominent black leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois and musicians like Duke Ellington. Some white residents did not welcome the changes in their neighborhood and used racial covenants to restrict non-whites from owning or renting property. Despite systemic resistance and barriers, Sugar Hill residents like Hattie McDaniel (the first black Academy Award winner) fought for and won their rights to live where they chose. This victory ushered in a great influx of diverse populations over the years, such as Armenians, Japanese, Creole, Mexican, Korean and Filipino residents. However, the effects of residential segregation for populations of color left a lasting landscape of inequalities that became the setting for pivotal events of social and economic unrest in the area for years to come, including the 1965 Watts Rebellion and the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising.
Today, with the growing trend of gentrification of Los Angeles neighborhoods, West Adams and Jefferson Park are experiencing a new, but familiar tug-of-war between established residents and new residents. Neighborhoods that were deemed outdated, later dangerous, are now recast as being desirable once again. Whether these neighborhoods fall in or out of favor, the following restaurants have become a vital link between the community's diverse and distinctive past and its hopes for the future.
F & J Bakery (Abraham Partamian, Armenian Baker)
So how does a bakery have two names? It all started when Armenian baker, Abraham Partamian, opened shop in 1948 on West Adams Boulevard. Over the years, the bakery served the small but sizable local Armenian population that grew with every generation, but also with the waves of new Armenian immigrants that followed. Abraham's son Leon eventually took over the family business. In the 1970s, Leon met and hired Francisco Rosales and José González. Originally from Zacatecas, Mexico, both Francisco and José learned how to make Armenian specialties such as boreg (stuffed filo dough) and lahmajune (thin round dough with minced lamb). After the passing of Partamian in 2006, his family honored his request and passed the bakery onto Francisco and José, as in F & J Bakery. Befitting a bakery with two names, also know that you can pick up lahmajune and pan dulce (Mexican pastries) in one spot. Today, entering the bakery will feel like stepping into a time capsule as you’re greeted by an eclectic mix of Armenian and Mexican cultures in baked goods form. (Note: They are closed on Sundays.)
F & J Bakery (Abraham Partamian, Armenian Baker): 5410 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016, (323) 937-2870
Harold & Belle’s
You might not see it now, but Jefferson Boulevard was once known as “Creole Corridor.” One of the last remaining links to that era is Harold & Belle’s. Opened in 1969, the restaurant is named after two New Orleans transplants: Harold Legaux Sr. and his wife Mary Belle. In the beginning, the vision was simple, it was a place to socialize and eat Po-Boy sandwiches. Filé gumbo (a thick Creole stew with meat and shellfish) was served once a week. Second generation owners Harold Jr. and Denise transformed the space into a full restaurant with a fuller menu offering new dishes like étouffée (shellfish gravy over rice or pasta). Filé gumbo was made available daily. Today, as the third generation of owners, Ryan and Jessica Legaux have kept the family business going. They recently remodeled and expanded the space in February 2016, which now includes a full bar, lounge, banquet space and private dining. The étouffée and filé gumbo still remain favorite menu items among patrons, old and new.
Harold & Belle’s: 2920 W Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90018, (323) 735-9023
Honey Bee's House of Breakfast
Pupusas and pancakes? Yes, please. Honey Bee’s has been serving up Salvadoran and American breakfast and lunch food in the neighborhood since 2012. They are known for their delightfully soft pancakes as well as cheesy pupusas (stuffed and griddled tortillas). Among their pupusa options is queso con loroco (cheese with an edible Central American flower that taste a bit like squash blossoms). Also, if you’re going to order the pupusa de chicharrón, know that chicharrón refers to pork meat and not pork rinds within this food cultural context. This casual eatery reflects its down to earth approach to good food as stated in their menu by Chef Gladys: “Cuando se cocina con amor la comida sabe mejor/When cooking with love, food tastes better.”
Honey Bee's House of Breakfast: 4715 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016, (323) 731-7203
Mel’s Fish Shack
The origin story of Mel’s Fish Shack began in 1982 as Mel's Fish Market a few blocks away. Owner Mel Powell taught at Crenshaw High School. Outside of the classroom, he was driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and developed business plans to make things happen. His interest in cooking and personal reflections on his identity as an African American who spoke fluent Spanish, motivated him to think about opening up a Mexican restaurant. Someone in the neighborhood suggested that a fish market would be more appealing to the community. Mel’s Mexican food venture would have been delicious, but we’re sure glad he chose fish fry instead! Today, Mel’s daughter Georgette Powell owns and operates Mel’s Fish Shack. Fried to order is what you’ll get at Mel’s. Popular items include shrimp, catfish and oysters. As with any fish fry, french fries are always a side favorite. For health-conscious folks, you can also get your seafood grilled instead of fried. Grilled salmon salad is a non-fried favorite. With limited indoor seating, plan for take out.
Mel’s Fish Shack: 4524 W Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016, (323) 732-6357
Just two cousins from Keachi, Louisiana and the rest is Los Angeles barbeque history. Woody Phillips opened Woody’s Bar-B-Que and Foster Phillips opened up Phillips Bar-B-Que. While each opened their own businesses, Los Angeles clearly has room for multiple barbeque spots. A few decades and additional locations later, Phillips Bar-B-Que is an established neighborhood favorite. Nothing can quite describe the smell of hickory smoke that greets you in the parking lot. When you walk in, follow the signs. Know what to get so you don’t hold up the line, because there will likely be one. Next to deciding which sides, the hardest part is deciding which meat: pork ribs, beef ribs, baby backs, small ends, sliced beef, beef links, rib tips or chicken. If you’re indecisive, there’s a combo option with your choice of two or three meats. All orders are take out with very limited outdoor seating. Remember that hickory smoke that greeted you upon arrival? It will fantastically linger on until long after you leave. Oh yeah, you’re going to need more napkins.
Phillips Bar-B-Que: 2619 Crenshaw Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016, (323) 731-4772
Hassan, A. (2015). Loren Miller, civil rights attorney and journalist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Lee, S.S. (2017). From Noxious Quarters to Affluent Ethno-Burbs: Race and Space in Asian American History. In C.I. Cheng (Ed.),The Routledge Handbook of Asian American Studies (pp. 273-284). New York: Routledge.
Park, E. J. W. (2015). Riot. In C.J Schlund-Vials, L.T. Võ, & K.S. Wong. (Eds). Keywords for Asian American Studies (pp. 220-224). New York: New York University Press.
Sides, J. (2003). L.A. City Limits : African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the present. Berkeley: University of California Press.
The Los Angeles Conservancy. (n.d.). Joseph L. Starr Dairy Farmhouse. Retrieved from https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/joseph-l-starr-dairy-farmhouse
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