When it comes to LA neighborhoods that look entirely different than they did five years ago, Highland Park is exhibit A, B, and C. Once a sleepy area in Northeast LA, this neighborhood now feels like it's home to every new restaurant, craft beer bar, or trendy belt shop in town. Mix that with the fantastic old-school spots that have been here for years, and there hasn’t been a better time to be hanging out in HP. Here are the 19 spots where should be eating and drinking while you’re there.
If it just hasn’t been your day (your week, your month, or even your year), go immediately to Cafe Birdie. The neighborhood spot on Figueroa is serving some of the best comfort food on the Eastside, in a relaxed space you want to spend a low-key night with friends in (or by yourself contemplating life at bar). The move is definitely to get the Moroccan spiced chicken and pork cheek ragu, but it’s tough to go wrong with anything on the menu here. The cocktails are also top-notch.
There are a lot of new restaurants and a whole lot of old restaurants in Highland Park, but then there’s Good Girl Dinette. This spot just off Figeroa has been in the neighborhood longer than the shiny new places, but hasn’t quite made it to legend status (yet). The place has a diner vibe, but most of the food is classic Vietnamese - banh mis, pho, and vermicelli salads - until you get to dessert: tasty pies. This is a great spot for a low-key lunch, and they do a good brunch on weekends too.
La Fuente is the kind of old-school Mexican restaurant that cures your soul as soon as you walk through the door. The place is miniature, but between the boisterous waitstaff and the plates of food larger than your torso, you feel right at home immediately. Don’t come looking for modern takes on the tamale here. This is your cheese and sauce-doused enchilada combo paradise, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Order the El Rey burrito and have enough food for three separate meals.
We ate two entire donuts from Donut Friend without realizing they were vegan and we’re not even mad about it. The donuts from this York Blvd. shop are what a car salesman would describe as fully loaded: piled with fillings and toppings. The best part is that those extras are added on as you order. Either pick from the big menu (the Jets to Basil with vegan cream cheese, strawberry jam, and fresh basil is a standout), or choose your own glazes and fillings. These are some of the best donuts in town.
The concept of a secret deli in the back of a convenience store that requires a password to access is admittedly over the top. But somehow, the folks over at Tinfoil have made it work and it’s all because of the sandwiches themselves. Once you figure out how to actually get inside (try asking the convenience store cashier if they sell birthday candles), you’ll find a no-frills space with a bunch of people who know exactly how to run a deli. The corned beef is their specialty, but their roasted turkey sandwich is definitely our favorite. Don’t skip the mac salad either.
Maximiliano is Highland Park’s go-to neighborhood Italian restaurant. From a first look around the place, you get the sense that no one drove over 10 minutes to get here. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody is having a great time. Is this the best Italian food you’ve ever had? No. But it also doesn’t matter. The meatballs are solid, the Bianca pizza is a must-order, and you’re a little wine drunk on that back patio.
We love Silver Lake Ramen just as much as you do, but we've also waited in that massive line to get in. Here’s the great news - they have a second location in Highland Park with an almost identical menu and zero wait to get a seat. That means you can get the same fantastic tonkotsu ramen before you spiral into a hungry tornado of death. Don’t sleep on their rice bowls either - the salmon poke is the freshest fish in the neighborhood.
Don’t dismiss Mr. Holmes just because you’ve seen it all over your Instagram feed. This SF import is the rare Insta-famous spot that lives up to the hype. Their cruffins are excellent (even if they have a tendency to sell out early and are sorta hard to eat), and they know their way around weirdly-flavored pastries (the jalapeño strawberry bear claw is weird but good). Between this and Donut Friend, Highland Park has the sweets thing on lock.
Dos Murejes is literally just a grill and a folding table a family sets up along a quiet strip of York Blvd., and it’s easily our favorite tacos in the neighborhood. Open every day from 8pm - 2am only, the move is definitely their mesquite-grilled carne asada and al pastor, but it’s hard to go wrong with anything when it’s wrapped in those amazing handmade tortillas. Don’t you dare forget to put their avocado sauce on top.
At this point, it’s safe to say Highland Park has the sandwich-counter-in-the-back-of-a-convenience-store concept on lockdown. Located inside the La Tropicana Market, Monte 52 is a tiny sandwich shop/deli that’s serving everything from gourmet fried chicken sandwiches to housemade pickles to a breakfast burrito we can’t stop thinking about. That said, the best sandwich for us is the Cuban - cheesy, ham-stuffed goodness that’s large enough to last you through the entire afternoon. If you’re on a budget, no sandwich at Monte 52 is over $10.
This small Mexican spot on York Blvd. has been around for almost a quarter century, and while it has solid food across the board, you’re there for their namesake Huarache. Essentially a big, long Mexican flatbread, this doughy surfboard topped with a meat of your choosing (choose carne asada), grated cheese, two separate sauces, and all the shredded lettuce they could find is one of the classic Mexican dishes in the city and worth getting into your car right now for.
Sonny’s is one of those spots that’s equally good to roll into for a few $6 Manhattans during happy hour at the bar as it is for a sexy Saturday date night in the restaurant area. The whole place has that old Hollywood thing going for it, and while it’s a touch put-on, it grows on you because nobody here is taking it that seriously. The American-ish food menu is solid and full of things you’ll recognize, the atmosphere is generally far more subdued than other spots in neighborhood, and they do an entire tiki drink takeover at the bar on Tuesdays.
Kitchen Mouse is not the best restaurant in Highland Park. But, if you’re in need of vegan or vegetarian brunch and lunch type foods in the area, this is the place to get them. There’s everything from breakfast tacos and chilaquiles to a big breakfast sandwich with optional tempeh bacon (because tempeh should always be optional). But really, the thing to order is the house pancakes - oat, buckwheat, and corn flour pancakes topped with coconut and maple syrup.
Whether or not you’re an avid craft beer drinker, there’s no denying the Hermosillo is the neighborhood’s favorite place to grab a drink. Come here any night of the week and by 5:30pm this place will be filled with people actually talking to each other and drinking some of the best beer in the city. The Hermosillo is essentially the tap room for Highland Park Brewery, but they also have a very solid bar food menu. And when most of the beer hovers above 7% ABV, the munchies won’t be too far behind.
ETA is one of the newer bars around here, and it's also an ideal nightcap spot. The space itself is small and fairly plain, but it never gets too crowded and the drinks themselves (not to mention the bartenders who are serving them) are excellent. The whiskey-based “Nevada In The Middle Of Summer” is a must-order and as the name suggests, it’s quite spicy.
Block Party is living proof that if you give the people good beer, a cruise ship-sized shuffleboard, and a massive back patio to hang out in all afternoon, no one will leave disappointed. Located in the middle of York Blvd., Block Party is that place you roll into a Saturday and leave five hours later wondering where your day went. Don’t worry - you spent it drinking alcoholic snow cones, eating hot dogs from the cart out back, and wondering why every other bar wasn’t like this.
When it comes to taking run-down old places and making them extremely awesome again, it’s hard to compete with what happened at Highland Park Bowl. The nearly 90-year-old institution had fallen on hard times over the years, but just came back as the coolest bowling alley in the city. The place isn’t massive (there are only eight lanes), so we recommend making reservations ahead of time. Also, make sure there’s a designated driver - those movie-themed cocktails are a dangerous brand of delicious. Order any of the pizzas with confidence.
Grabbing a drink at La Cuevita (or Little Cave, as some know it) is like drinking margaritas in the cellar of a Mexican distillery. It’s dark, somewhat mysterious (bat decorations are present), but also really, really fun. There are tiny nooks for you and your friends to take over, an excellent back patio, happy hour from 5-9pm every day, and free tacos on Tuesdays between 10pm and midnight. Repeat that to yourself: FREE TACOS ON TUESDAYS.
Located in a small, detached building behind Cafe Birdie that can only accessed by walking through the restaurant and out the back patio, Good Housekeeping reads like another high-concept speakeasy bar you were tired of two years ago. But despite its somewhat hidden location, Good Housekeeping is not a speakeasy. It’s just a great little place to grab some tremendous cocktails (the Farmer’s Market Fix is a liquid salad, and we mean that in the best way) and build a solid buzz before you (hopefully) head back in to eat at the restaurant.