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A landscape photo of a still lake surrounded by California native coastal sage scrub. Two geese float on the water's surface.
After being closed down for a couple years for additional development, Magic Johnson Park reopened earlier this year with new amenities and improvements like a new community event center, a half-mile lakeside community loop trail, a children’s play area, outdoor classrooms, California native coastal sage scrub and freshwater marsh wetland habitats. Magic Johnson Park is one of several spots recommended by Compton native Dani Solorio of Compton Health Bar. | Jean Lim Flores

Birria and Iced Coffee: 6 Compton Spots for Good Eats and Health

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While Compton is best known for being the birthplace of West Coast hip-hop and gangsta rap and where household names such as Ice Cube or Dr. Dre emerged, it was first actually a city known first for its thriving agricultural landscape. As one of the oldest cities in Los Angeles, it is the true geographic epicenter of Los Angeles County, with community gems powered by its residents.

While rich in history, Compton is not without its share of issues. "The fact that we live so close to freeways is a gift and a curse. It's a gift because you have access to Compton from four freeways," says Dani Solorio, owner of Compton Health Bar. But it's a curse because residents often experience health issues such as asthma or respiratory diseases due to their proximity to the highly-trafficked roadways. "There's no mitigation or preventative measures in place, so people have to figure it out on their own. We're trying to be a part of the solution at Compton Health Bar."

Learn more about "Compton Health Bar," a wellness center that uses herbal remedies & traditions to heal its community
Compton Health Bar

We asked Solorio to share some of her highlights of the neighborhood, to which she immediately responded, "Ah, one of my favorite things is actually the foodscape in Compton." The resulting recommendations are a unique blend of food, agriculture and culture that only a true local would be able to share:

Underground Taco Crawl

In Compton, the secret to finding the best taco stand is not Yelp, but insider knowledge.

"When you go on Yelp and search restaurants, unfortunately, you don't find a lot," Solorio says. "You need to know what streets to go on because the street vendor scene in Compton is pretty robust — there's a lot of delicious food." To give an example, Solorio says that only locals would know that if you drive up Alameda Street between Rosecrans and El Segundo, you'll find about 10 different street vendors/taco stands. "You'll find a variety of street vendors, some making fresh, hot tortillas for the tacos."

Solorio, who grew up in Compton, said that going to taco stands is a nightly tradition for families. "If you drive a little further north on Alameda, you'll find pupusas, you'll find fresh-made churros that this lady makes that are amazing; five for $1, something crazy like that." If that's not enough, the social media-savvy businesses are able to drive traffic to their pop-ups via Instagram or various other apps. "Taco stands are always evolving to reflect the rich diversity of both the Black and Latino cultures which predominately make up Compton's population," says Solorio, "I take friends on the 'Taco Tour' and they can't believe the selection, the quality and the flavors there."

Taco stands are always evolving to reflect the rich diversity of both the Black and Latino cultures which predominately make up Compton's population.
Dani Solorio, Owner of Compton Health Bar

Solorio's favorite stand is on the corner of El Segundo and Central, just down the street from Compton Health Bar. It is run by an Indigenous family from the Oaxaca region of Mexico. She doesn't even know the actual name of the stand. "Most of them just have those neon signs that say tacos," Solorio says. "This stand isn't any different. They're there every night except Mondays. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, they are there till 1 a.m. They are the one of the few that cater to vegetarian tastes. They're super accommodating and all their tortillas for mulitas (a Mexican wrap sandwich usually made with meat, cheese and salsa) are freshly made. They are the sweetest people."

Solorio's weakness is their bean and cheese mulita. "That's by far my favorite. Add some guacamole sauce and OH MY GOODNESS." Solorio is such a regular that the shop already knows her order even before she places it. "I come up and they say, 'Same thing?' and I'm like, 'Yup!'" She says the guacamole sauce is the key ingredient. "I think it has cilantro, a little bit of serrano and avocado that they add. I don't know — it just tastes so good. I'm going to get their recipe next time!"

The Goat Mafia

Although there's a significant lack of green spaces in Compton, there are a few families that have plots of land where they tend to cows and goats. This more pastoral lifestyle harks back to the city's beginnings in 1888, when Reverend Griffith Dickenson Compton donated his land to the city, stipulating that part of it would be zoned for agriculture. This zone would eventually be known as Richland Farms.

A close-up photo of goat birria tacos on a paper plate. The birria taco is smothered in a orange-red sauce. The entire dish is topped with pickled red onions and green herbs, possibly cilantro or parsley.
Goat Mafia's famous goat birria Goat Mafia's taco has been featured in Bon Appétit, "United Tacos of America" and "Cheap Eats" on the Cooking Channel. | Jean Lim Flores

On some Sunday mornings, music fills the neighborhoods built around the micro goat farms. "Literally, people just have enough land and they have goats," she enthuses. "I think it's down to one neighborhood now, but there's this one little pocket where almost everyone has either goats and/or cows." Solorio reflects that this neighborhood has the nostalgic essence of a rural rich agricultural region like the Midwest of Mexico.

Three men stand in front of a food vending stand with a banner that reads, "Goat Mafia; Compton, CA." The group of men are posed slightly to the right of the photo. The man on the left, the tallest of the group stands with his hands behind his back and wearing a long apron. The man in the middle, slightly shorter, stands with his hands crossed over his chest. His forearms are inked with various colored tattoos and he's wearing an apron. The man to the far right is the shortest of the group and appears to be older in age. He's wearing an apron and a baseball cap.
Chef Juan Garcia of Goat Mafia, center, stands in front of Goat Mafia's taco stand which vends every Sunday at Smorgasburg L.A. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The stand is well known for its traditional, slow-cooked, Mexican goat birria. | Jean Lim Flores

There's one particular goat-peddling chef from Compton by the name of Juan Garcia that is getting a lot of attention for his family's fourth-generation recipe of traditional, slow-cooked, Mexican goat birria. Goat Mafia's taco has been featured in Bon Appétit, "United Tacos of America" and "Cheap Eats" on the Cooking Channel to name a few. You can find their pop-up at ROW DTLA every Sunday at Smorgasburg Los Angeles from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but they also have catering options to help curb your cravings on the other days of the week. While the recipe is a closely guarded secret, the hint of cinnamon, chocolate and citrus notes sing in perfect harmony with the chorus of peppers and spices. "The Goat Mafia is a pretty cool Compton attraction," says Solorio, "I always tell our clients that when it comes to health, you don't want to overdo it, but they are nice treats from time to time."

Patria Coffee

A hand holds up a cup of iced coffee in a plastic cup. Behind the cup of coffee is a building that reads, "Patria Coffee."
1/3 Located in the center of what used to be downtown Compton, Patria Coffee sources their coffees directly from farmers in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. | Jean Lim Flores
The interior of Patria Coffee. Customers wait by the counter for their orders.
2/3 The interior at Patria Coffee in Compton. | Jean Lim Flores
A barista prepares a coffee drink behind the counter.
3/3 A barista at Patria Coffee prepares a drink behind the counter. | Jean Lim Flores

For your java fix, Solorio highly recommends a visit to Patria Coffee owned by Deanna and Geoffrey Martinez, over by the Compton Courthouse. "They're the type of place you'd expect to find in Silver Lake, maybe somewhere in the arts district in downtown. It has that type of vibe, but it's right in the center of what used to be downtown Compton. Aside from their modern interior vibe, they also very much align with their values of honoring the people and the soil where their products come from. All of their coffees are sourced directly from farmers in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras." She says that it's an essential place for quality coffee. Solorio muses, "I love my Café de Olla — that's my treat – it has that cinnamon-y essence that reminds us all of our grandmothers."

Alma Backyard Farms

A group of people wearing shirts that read, "Alma Backyard Farms" pose for a picture. There are eight people posed in three rows. Two women are kneeling at the front, five people stand behind them and a taller man stands behind the whole group in a third row by himself. The group is surrounded by gardening beds filled with various leafy, green produce.
The team at Alma Backyard Farms pose for a picture at their Compton location. | Jean Lim Flores

Alma Backyard Farms is another nod to the rich agricultural movement that Richland Farms has long modeled. It is the only farm stand in Compton, whose fresh, organic produce is sourced directly from its on-location farm. Co-founders Erica Cuellar and Richard Garcia have cultivated this urban farm concept since the very inception. Having collaborated with them before, Solorio has only the highest regards for the farm's wonderful contributions to the community.

"Throughout most of 2020, every other weekend, they would give away produce bags and fresh-made bread," Solorio says. "We would partner with them to also include some of our products in their free giveaway bags. Their work is amazing in general. They have this program for folks who are reintegrating after coming out of prison." Their community involvement also extends to at-risk children, youth and food insecure families. Apart from their Compton farm stand, Alma Backyard Farms also operates a second stand in San Pedro. Their fresh produce has also graced the refined plates of restaurants like Rossoblu in collaboration with The Butcher's Daughter.

A closeup of an array of produce are on display on a white table. Poblano peppers are piled in a wooden crate. Next to it is a crate of eggplants. Various other produce surround the crates like eggplants, long beans, peppers and other leafy produce.
The produce on display at Alma Backyard Farms in Compton. | Jean Lim Flores

"They have seasonal produce. So right now, this is the season for all the nightshades," says Solorio. "Chilis, eggplants, tomatoes and squash are in season right now. They have a bunch of cherry tomatoes, heirloom potatoes, herbs, chards and kale." Their house-made banana chips are perfectly crisp and sweet, they won't last a day in your home. Delightfully refreshing agua frescas and green smoothies that display the natural sweetness of their seasonal fruits are sure to cure your morning thirst. No matter the season, it's never a wrong time to experience this special farm in Compton.

If this leaves you wanting more, here are a few more gems Solorio offered in Compton:

Compton Creek Natural Park

A landscape photo of Compton Creek Natural Park. A dirt path leads to a small, footbridge. Trees dot the landscape and a bright blue sky stretches above.
Adjacent to George Washington Elementary School, Compton Creek Natural Park is a three-acre park boasting fitness equipment, picnic tables, walking paths, a small amphitheater, interpretive signage and more. | Jean Lim Flores

In a park-poor city like Compton, Compton Creek Natural Park is a humble little oasis for the neighborhood and the children at the adjacent George Washington Elementary School. Owned and developed by the Mountains Recreations and Conservation Authority, this special three-acre park packs a small punch with its fitness equipment, picnic tables, walking paths, little amphitheater, interpretive signage and more. Additionally, The Los Angeles Conservation Corps takes up residence by maintaining onsite operations and training up local conservation leaders at their onsite office. Solorio can't help but have a vision of wellness for this quaint park, "We're trying to work with them. Those garden beds are just sitting there and it pains my heart. There are so many medicinal plants that we grow and have folks come out and remember their connection to the earth. There's so much potential!"

Compton Community Garden

If you're not already convinced of Compton's green thumb, the Compton Community Garden is proof that the neighborhood has a lock on bringing restorative practices to their community. Owned and operated solely by the neighborhood, this little gem represents the heartbeat of a community that aspires towards a powerful and positive impact on burgeoning and seasoned gardeners alike.

Magic Johnson Park

An angular building stands against a bright blue sky. Landscaped shrubs and trees stand in front of the concrete building.
1/3 Magic Johnson Park in Willowbrook reopened earlier this year with a new 20,000-square-foot, environmentally sustainable community center on its grounds. | Jean Lim Flores
A playground with yellow tarp above providing shade. Children climb the various parts of the playground while parents watch from nearby benches. Above the playground is a clear bright blue sky.
2/3 The playground at Magic Johnson Park in Willowbrook. | Jean Lim Flores
A concrete picnic table stands in between a dirt path trail and a lake. By the picnic table is a tree and a trash can. Beyond, birds float on the surface of the lake.
3/3 Among the park's various additions and renovations earlier is a half-mile lakeside community loop trail with picnic areas. | Jean Lim Flores

Just outside the Compton city limit, Magic Johnson Park in Willowbrook is named after its famous benefactor, Hall of Famer and household name, Earvin "Magic" Johnson. After being closed down for a couple years for additional development, the originally 104-acre park has just re-opened with some 20 acres more of recreational space, including a 20,000-square-foot, environmentally sustainable community center with all the interactive amenities you could imagine. Solorio reflected, "I actually grew up going to that park. It was the nearest park with a lake, ducks and fish. It's so beautiful. And the best part, at least for me, is that they planted all sorts of native medicinal herbs — so there's sagebrush, white sage, black sage, they have buckthorn out there and there's two types of lavender. I saw mugwort there! I was like 'Oh my God, they have everything!'" Solorio has also been co-facilitating a weekly meditation circle with Self Love House that ends with a sound bath, free of charge to the community, every Wednesday at 6 p.m. Solorio sees this as, "work towards improving our community and raising the community vibration."

How to get to Compton Health Bar

A room's walls are lined with two shelves stocked with glass jars of various sizes and shapes and filled with different powders, grains and dried leaves. A warm yellow lamp illuminates the room from the far left corner. Plants are dotted sporadically throughout the room — in the corner, on different shelves.
The interior at Compton Health Bar. | Jean Lim Flores

By Bus: The benefit of being at the hub of four major freeways is the accessibility. While you have choices of the Metro C Green Line to the Harbor Freeway Station or the Metro A Blue Line to the MLK Transit Center — an additional bus ride is necessary to the Alondra Bl & Central Ave stop is needed to get you about a .1 mile walk to Compton Health Bar.

By Car: The most direct route from Los Angeles would be to take the 110 S to W Redondo Beach Blvd. Take Exit 11 from the 110 S and continue on W Redondo Beach Blvd, directly to Compton Health Bar.

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