From “Little Manila” to “Tommy’s District” to most recently “Hi-Fi,” Historic Filipinotown, a compact, 2.1 square-mile neighborhood in East Los Angeles, has cycled through more nicknames than Ronald William Artest Jr.
And while its exact boundaries still remain pretty hazy - its borders bleed into Echo Park, Rampart Village, and Westlake - it’s crystal clear that Historic Filipinotown has become a hotbed for new restaurants, particularly ones opened by second-generation Asian Americans. And since many of these spots began as pop-ups and passion projects, it’s really no surprise that so many of them feel fundamentally rooted in risk-taking. From Filipino street food and ultra-colorful coffee shops to a Cuban cafe that’s been around since the moon landing, these are the best places to eat and drink in Historic Filipinotown.
Porridge & Puffs is a prime example of what makes eating in Historic Filipinotown so exciting. From a coleslaw made with Vietnamese coriander and umami trail mix to the best brown butter mochi on this plane of existence, much like an ’80s remix of Lady Gaga’s “Perfect Illusion,” everything here mixes the old with the new. The bowls of porridge, which are not quite traditional congee, nor the nutritionally devoid dinosaur oatmeal you used to eat as a child, are subtle, complex, and crafted with extreme care. Those porridges change seasonally, but our favorite, the poultry and mushroom, is available year-round. Creamy, savory, and topped with soy-sauce braised chicken and crispy shallots, this bowl is incredibly well-balanced, nourishing, and worth breaking and entering just to eat, Goldilocks-style.
In one of the most ambitious crossovers of all time (second only to when LeVar Burton visited Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood), The Park’s Finest marries the flavors of the Philippines with the BBQ techniques of the American South. Previously a backyard catering company in Echo Park, this comfy spot on Beverly Blvd., now serves dishes you can’t get anywhere else in Los Angeles, such as smoked beef top-round that comes stewed in a coconut-cream sauce and infused with vinegar, and their cornbread which is baked on banana leaves and incorporates elements of Filipino bibingka, or traditional rice cake. Plus they’ve got the best deal in town - once a week, for just $13, you can order the “Worker’s Wednesday” meal, a loaded box filled with pulled pork, BBQ chicken, hot links, coconut beef, veggies, and cornbread, all served over a bed of rice.
Gigi’s is one of the last remnants of the days when this area went by the name of Little Havana, and was less of a scene for young people who look like they own tasteful collections of local ceramics. When you first walk into this Cuban cafe, your eyes will immediately gravitate towards the glowing cases of decadent cakes and pastries, but put your annual Headspace subscription to use and channel all of your willpower, because you’re going to want to head straight to the cashier to order one of their perfectly pressed Cubanos, or plates of ropa vieja, which are a MasterClass™ in the balance of sweet and salty. Also, if you come early enough, they might still have a few pastelitos de guayaba queso (guava cheese strudels) and papas rellenas, an excellent, fluffy potato ball filled with spiced meat that rivals the ones at Porto’s.
Although there’s plenty to appreciate about life in 2020, (like legitimately being able to blame your bad personality traits on your Virgo moon), there are a few disadvantages. Namely, the dollar bill no longer goes as far as it used to. This is why Dollar Hits, a Filipino street-food truck turned grab-and-go restaurant, feels like such a revelation. Almost everything here is both $1 and a skewer, and while the more recognizable meats are great, it’s the more traditional sticks where things start to get really fun. The grilled isaw, or large pork intestine, is thick and creamy, and the enrile (fried chicken head) and betamax (congealed pig’s blood) are full of flavor, especially after being dunked in the Dollar Hits’ special vinegar-based BBQ sauce. Once you’ve secured your skewers, head out to the parking lot where you’ll join large groups of families congregating around the communal grills at one of the best street parties in town.
At first glance, Tactile kind of looks like it was created in some sort of Trendy LA Coffee Shop factory, complete with a sleek, minimalistic design, high ceilings, brick walls, and sleep-deprived patrons on laptops. But that’s just about where the generic-ness ends. The cafe, which started as a gourmet coffee truck and is owned and operated by two brothers, has a long list of innovative caffeinated drinks, like the Hibiscus + Espresso Sparkler and the Five-Second Rule, a chilled shot of espresso that, according to the menu, must be consumed within five seconds of being served (although we’ve never stuck around long enough to find out what the punishment is for noncompliance). Plus, in a delicious Bonus Jonas-style surprise, they’re also cranking out some of the best buttermilk biscuits in town. Dense, buttery, and served with a side of either raw honey, agave, or apple-butter, it’s a little unexpected for a cafe in Historic Filipinotown to have such great biscuits, but then again, you probably didn’t expect that a post-credit singing competition would be the best part of the Shrek 2 DVD, either.
Whether you ruled over your high school cafeteria with an iron fist or were so traumatized by its internal politics that you now talk about it every Thursday with your therapist, don’t let your past history with lunchrooms stop you from eating at Bahay Kubo. This very affordable Filipino restaurant is set up “turo-turo,” or cafeteria-style, where you build your own plates by literally pointing at what you want from their broad display of hot foods. If you’re familiar with the cuisine, you’ll recognize Filipino favorites like heaping pans of pancit noodles, turon (sweet, deep-fried lumpia made with bananas), and kare kare (a thick, savory stew made with peanut sauce). But if you’re more of a novice, worry not, the people behind the counter will patiently walk you through what’s on the steam table, which of course, means lots of tasting.
One of LA’s greatest charms is that some of the best restaurants exist in strip malls that you could drive past a thousand times and never notice. Bloom & Plume, however, is not one of those places. From their bright violet walls and bold orange accents to a glowing neon sign out front, this coffee shop feels like someone slid the saturation bar all the way to the right. Which makes sense, given the fact that they’re run by the same person behind the whimsical and wildly popular floral store next door of the same name. Our favorite things on their limited menu are the jam and ricotta toast and the best-looking breakfast sandwich we’ve ever seen, which comes with a fried egg, arugula, Havarti cheese, and strategically placed edible flowers. Plus, drop by any day of the week and you’ll find a diverse assortment of community-based events, like free budgeting workshops, underwear donation drives, and weekly meditations.
Hitting this neighborhood bar after dinner at Park’s Finest (which is located right next door) is by far one of our favorite combo packages, right behind our nightly “Bed + Will It Blend? videos” regimen. The space inside is gigantic, and ideal for everything from first dates to after-work drinks to hosting the support group for people attracted to Roger Deakins you’ve been thinking about starting for weeks. And while there are some Southern-ish food items on the menu, again, we recommend starting with the real deal next door. Because you’re here for the drinks. All of the cocktails, like the La Frutera, which is made with tamarind and mango, are strong and delicious, plus they’re one of the only bars in LA serving a wide variety of Madeira, a rich, sweet fortified wine that tastes so good it’ll make you forget about your crush on a 70-year-old man who’s been married for nearly 30 years.
Woon is a family-owned restaurant that can handle just about any occasion. From the compact menu of mostly Shanghainese dishes like pork belly bao and wood ear mushrooms to the airy, modern space, this is the kind of rare, fast-casual restaurant that’s quick, efficient, and actually nice to hang out in. Need an affordable, last-minute date spot? Head to Woon. Had a horrible day at work in which you not only spilled an entire coffee on your sweater but also posted an inappropriate .GIF in the company-wide Slack? As extremely niche and specific as that situation is, surprisingly, Woon’s got something for that as well. Namely, a bowl of their excellent, chewy beef noodles, followed by an ice cream bao.
We’ll keep this simple - if you like drinking gin, go to Genever. Whether you’re a novice or full-blown pro in the world of distilled juniper juice, there’s something for everyone at this fun, upscale bar. The sparkling chandeliers, velvet couches, and sexy flapper mural kind of make you feel like you’re in a deleted scene from the The Great Gatsby, plus this Prohibition-era speakeasy is owned by three women, with a cocktail menu filled with drinks that are named after female-focused films like Knock Down The House and The Farewell, and tropical ingredients like pandan, pineapple, and a house-made banana puree.
From hungover twentysomethings to elderly couples sharing the same newspaper and food writers procrastinating on assignments, Doubting Thomas is an all-day cafe where you’ll find the entire spectrum of the human experience. Grab one of their expertly made, seasonal pastries (think tangy passionfruit pies and dense, jam-filled financiers), as well as one of their heartier dishes, like a bistecca rice bowl or tremendous breakfast burrito made with braised pork shoulder, before firing up Microsoft Word and penning your 5,000-word cereal manifesto.
Clark Street Bakery is a Grand Central Market stall turned full-blown bakery, and a place that constantly causes us to fantasize about ditching the city life and moving to a self-sustaining farm. Not only did they keep the things that we liked from their original outpost, like a very caramelized, very buttery kouign-amann pastry, they also added some new things, like the Nordic Breakfast, a massive platter that comes with a sourdough roll, Comté cheese, ham, butter, jam, and hard-boiled egg. This is the kind of simple, filling meal that makes you feel like you’re on a picnic in the Scandinavian countryside, or living the life of a humble farmhand - which is kind of the best way to start the day.
If this video of Ko Hyojoo ever came to life as a bar, it would be 1642. Which is to say, this hidden spot on Temple St. is extremely cool, and almost effortlessly so. The chalkboard behind the bar is constantly being updated with local wines and beers, they host a tamale-filled Happy Hour every Thursday, and if you stop by after 9pm on any given night of the week, there’s a good chance that one of their many house bands will be playing. Ranging from blues to swing to honky-tonk and ragtime, it’s time to put those hundreds of dollars spent on improv lessons to use and listen.
Crawfords is a dive bar on Beverly Blvd. that, unlike a conversation with your mom where she tries to explain who she saw at the grocery store last week (spoiler alert: it was Micah from high school), is simple and to-the-point. Despite what’s painted on the awning outside, Crawfords serves more than just fried chicken and ice-cold beer (like wine and Southern sides such as potato salad and coleslaw), and is the kind of low-key drinking spot every neighborhood wishes it had. Part dive bar, part excellent fried chicken joint, and entirely easy and fun, Crawfords is the perfect place to grab a booth with some friends, order a few rounds, and talk about how to set boundaries with your parents.
Whether you’re shopping for yourself, a loved one, or the man that is literally ghosting you (which, btw, why??), Valerie Confections is a cafe/bakery/chocolate shop and a one-way-ticket to Romance Town. With an excellent assortment of truffles, petit fours, prepackaged charcuterie meats and cheeses, and grab-and-go-gourmet sandwiches, this one-stop-shop is not unlike those “emergency love” kits that can be found in the hotel minibar - there’s something in here for everyone.