A bathrobe isn’t a necessity. Regular towels work just fine, and if you want to hang out on the couch, that’s why sweatpants were invented. But, as any stay in an even slightly-fancy hotel will tell you, these inside-only coats improve whatever time you spend in them. Hippo, the sort-of-Italian, very LA restaurant in Highland Park, is similar. This place is easy to overlook, but once you know it’s there, you’ll want to use it all the time.
Walking into Hippo, you might think you have enough of this kind of restaurant in your life already. The room is industrial, with high ceilings, lots of wood, pendant lights, and a wall painted with a graphic flower pattern that someone will probably take photos in front of. And if you’ve eaten anywhere new in LA recently, the menu of crudos, pastas, and meats cooked on a grill will look very familiar. But it’s worth remembering that pendant lights and walls painted with flowers look nice, and almost everyone likes to eat crudos and pasta. Especially when they taste this good.
On a closer look, the menu is way more interesting than it seems - and for a semi-upscale restaurant, also pretty affordable. One of those crudos is a fantastic ceviche served with housemade tortilla chips. If you order the “cool summer wax beans” mostly because you want to find out what makes a bean cool and summery, you’ll end up with one of the best dishes here. The pastas (all under $20) are excellent too, especially the sweet corn cappellacci that comes with a rich mushroom sauce. Not all of the food works - the barbecued quail is overly sweet, and the griddle’d cauliflower is just another giant roasted vegetable you don’t need to order. But overall, this restaurant is serving interesting versions of things you already want to eat.
Hippo is a place you can use for almost any situation. Especially when you want an excellent meal, and you don’t want to have to give up your cheese-of-the-month subscription to pay for it. That might be the birthday dinner you planned weeks in advance, an emergency night out on the patio with your kids because there are only half-empty containers of olives in the fridge, or a casual date. Just like that bathrobe, you might not need Hippo - but you’ll definitely be happy you have it.
We’ve never felt that beans deserve to be called cool, until now. These are fantastic, with a salty, lemony vinaigrette and the kind of crunch you’d swear could only be created with sound effects.
This comes out as a big hunk of blackened cauliflower, and it certainly looks impressive. The tahini underneath is pretty great, but the cauliflower itself is underseasoned and ultimately a bit tasteless.
We’re not sure why this is “ceviche” and not ceviche, but ultimately we’re not complaining because this dish is fresh, light, and is delicious.
All the pastas at Hippo are excellent, but this one is the star of the team. The sweet pockets of corn are nicely balanced by the savory mushroom sauce, and our only complaint is that we’d like more of both.
On first bite, this tasted like any other pasta with a rich ragu sauce. But after a few more, you’ll realize that that it’s a really fantastic ragu sauce.
This is our favorite entree by far. The trout is great, but the green goddess soaked corn underneath is even better.
We generally like quail, but the pancetta, sage, and honey don’t work together. This dish is unnecessarily sweet.