Posted on August 24 2017
The only thing we love more than a fabulous vintage lamp in a well-dressed living room is enjoying some quality time with friends over a cocktail (or two) in a great space.
Highland Park is an amazing spot for this. The city is mainly centered around Figueroa and is easily walkable. Bar-hopping is a must. This historic area is experiencing a great re-awakening, and the past year has brought more small businesses to the neighborhood. Many locals have been around for decades, and there is a close-knit community between neighbors. People are friendly and greet you with sincerity; you get the idea that everyone seems to know each other- and it's exciting to become a part of the local crowd. It's been fun exploring the neighborhood after a long day of building renovations- here are a few of our favorite spots, most all an easy 5-15 minute walk from the house. This guide is broken into 3 sections: lunch, afterwork drinks, and full dinner.
Bookmark this space so you can experience all that the neighborhood has to offer when we are ready for our open house!
TL;DR: Highland Park is great for restaurant and bar-hopping. Be sure to try the #16 smoothie at Jugos Azteca, Any pizza at Folliero's, Tacos #1 at Plant Food For People, Moroccan Chicken at Cafe Birdie, Chicken liver paté at RBTA and Roasted veggies & churros at Partido, happy hour at The Greyhound, and a wood-fired pizza and bowling night at Highland Park Bowl.
The city conveniently follows along the 110 freeway. North Figueroa Street is the main drag through the city, acting as a local landmark, with locations as either "North or South of Fig." Most points of interest lie between North Figueroa and York Boulevard. For this guide. we concentrated our adventures to Figueroa, between Avenues 50-57.
We love love LOVE the storefronts on Figueroa- especially the original side-mounted neon signs. So happy to see some of the newer businesses preserving them.
We're fans of a solid, casual lunch that's as satisfying as it is easy to eat. Here are our fave lunch bites that hit the spot after early morning site visits. (There are so many more we haven't had a chance to try yet-Mr. Holmes Bakehouse? Tinfoil Liquor? They're all on the list!)
Best For: Lunch, Snacks
TOSTADAS & JUICE
Because the juice is healthy, and balances out the tostadas...right??
There's no heaviness to have to balance out at Jugos Azetca- the tostadas are light and fresh, and the juices, smoothies, and agua frescas aren't overly sweet: they're the perfect combination. The cheerful and bright rainbow exterior immediately put us in the mood for a fun-colored treat.
We're in for a treat- you know it's legit with the 1-Liter Tapatio!
The best part: $1.25 tostada Fridays! Shrimp cocktail/ceviche tostadas, chicken tinga tostadas and #16 antioxidant smoothie (raspberry, strawberry, grapefruit, orange, honey). Next time, we'd skip the shrimp ceviche- but definitely go back for the chicken and to try more juices!
5213 York Boulevard
Highland Park, CA 90042
You can't truly explore a city without visiting its farmer's market. Highland Park's market is known as the Old LA Certified Farmer's Market. It's conveniently located right in front of the Highland Park metro station, and is open every Tuesday from late afternoon through evening. It's a great place to pick up some fruits, a snack, or even dinner.
Of course, we had to try the best looking food trucks- our surprising verdict to follow!
Pineapple mint agua fresca
Coconut Macaroons from the Little Sweet Place
Of course, we had to try the tacos! Tacos La Mexicana truck.
Carne asada. In the background, we also tried the cabeza and carnitas.
Ian going in for the bite. Verdict: Solid.
Next up: tacos from the Plant Food For People truck.
Vegan jackfruit tacos with coleslaw/tomatoes/chipotle mayo, and tomatillo/chipotle mayo. They were great- fresh, tasty, and overall better than the carne asada tacos!
Surprise! It's vegan! (PS some of the better jackfruit carnitas we've tried)
So great, we went back for seconds- definitely worth a try, you won't miss the meat. It's our surprise highlight from the market!
Old LA Certified Farmer's Market
N. Figueroa & Ave 58 (metro station)
Highland Park, CA 90042
Every Tuesday, 3pm-8pm
Our picks for unwinding after a long day at work. Drinks, and food to go with them, in a perfectly relaxed atmosphere to wash away the day.
Best For: Appetizers, Small Plates, Drinks, Beers
We caught RBTA in its soft opening- curious, we popped our heads in to see what was going on, and an enthusiastic diner lured us in with her excitement. We weren't disappointed.
RBTA, short for robata (Japanese grill), is a modern grill izakaya collaboration by Chef Justin Baey with Allen Wong and David Tewasart. The restaurant fuses the experiences of each of the collaborators, combining Japanese, Singaporean, Thai, Peruvian, and "Los Angeles" flavors into a unique Pan-Asian cuisine. The modern, narrow space transported us to a hidden back-alley haunt in Tokyo's Omoide Yokocho (piss alley), and we're excited to see the transformation of the back patio once it's complete.
When you're stocking the bar with cult faves like Okinawan Orion beer, you're doing something right. (A voyeuristic view of Chef Baey behind the grill)
The chicken live paté with yuzu and chilies was the standout of the night. Rich and savory, with a hit of acid and spice, was both an umami-bomb of a treat and somehow familiar- hitting a note of something from childhood. Definitely a must-order.
Unagi fried rice
Sweet shrimp with uni and deep fried heads. (our lucky day- this was a mis-fire so we got to try it!)
Miso Black Cod.
Ubiquitous uni pasta was a given for our order. We also ordered the NY steak skewers on the recommendation of our server, but ate it before remembering to take a pic.
Outdoor patio seating coming soon!
The dishes were all good- but the stand-out dish of the evening was definitely the chicken liver paté. So clean, so smooth. We'll definitely be back, it's the perfect spot to knock back a couple of beers and sake with a modernized izakaya menu of flavorful, tasty dishes.
5629 1/2 N. Figueroa Street
Highland Park, CA 90042
Who doesn't love a melty, gooey, drippy pizza? Our first stop was to Fidel's Pizza, but our pizza cravings went unfulfilled- they were on vacation for a month! We'll be back for you next time, Fidel. Seriously, it's just around the corner from Recess Flip. Onward we go!
Next stop: Folliero's! Folliero's is a Highland Park establishment that has served Highland Park for nearly 50 years. Prices are super reasonable, the food is great, and the atmosphere is perfect for a neighborhood joint (both classy and casual). The staff is very friendly, and it felt as though we were stepping into their home. They were efficient, fun, and joked around a lot- it really looked like they were all enjoying themselves.
Nothing beats a pizza and a glass of happy hour wine! Vegetarian with added sausage, and house cab.
It's a two-person cheese stretch!
Folliero's is ready for your take-out order!
Concentrating on that crust! The verdict: The pizza crust was definitely the winner here. It was fluffy, soft, and had an addictive breadstick-like quality to it. Not doughy at all, and the perfect base for the toppings. A++ crust!
HAPPY HAPPY HOUR
Sports fan? Or more of a traditionalist for after-work drinks? Then The Greyhound is your spot. This clean, modern sports bar is home to Tottenham Hotspurs Support Club- and we witnessed the fan spirit the evening we stopped by. Soccer fans cheered their team on while chowing on burgers and wings. With a 7-day happy hour offering and solid pub-grub menu, The Greyhound makes the perfect neighborhood gathering spot.
We decided to try out one of the many wing offerings- these were the Medium. Unfortunately, they were a little salty for our taste, but we'd definitely come back again to try the burger- recommended by the tables seated around us!
Quirky crochet art on the defunct telephone booths in front of The Greyhound. Put a smile on our face!
These spots are great for lingering over drinks and dinner. Solid food and cocktails, a unique ambiance, and a mission to keep you in your seat, wins us over at these spots.
Best for: dinner, drinks, after-dinner drinks
FILIPINO FRENCH FUSION
We're big fans of Happening In Highland Park, and Marie jumped after seeing a post highlighting the launch of the new Filipino-French pop-up restaurant, Partido. Through the power of instagram, we made reservations and were able to get the Recess family in for dinner and a Mukbang (let us know if you saw our live stream!) We got to try pretty much everything on the menu!
Partido took over the old El Arco Iris spot, which closed after 53 years in Highland Park. Currently operating as a pop-up, open weekly Thursday through Saturday, Partido Chef Lynne Tolentino and her team decided to keep the face and interior of the landmark space as it stood, honoring the neighborhood establishment's long run and loyal customers. The only visual hint at the refreshed cuisine is the graphic black side wall.
Manila Sunrise cocktail
Cheers! We were greeted with a welcome drink and addictive snacks to start the night: lime spiced peanuts, cornichons with a Filipino twist, and taro chips with a light, tangy coconut cream dip. It was a great start for what was to come- Chef Tolentino's cooking draws from her Filipino heritage and transforms with her classically French training.
The starters: Longanisa poutine fries and deep fried chicken skins (daily special) were guilty but oh-so-good pleasures.
Lumpia (filipino pork eggrolls) were light and crispy. Our favorite sauce was the garlic vinegar, but the sweet chili was close behind.
Coconut mussels & fries. Giant mussels in coconut milk broth were silky and perfectly cooked. This take on moules frites was refreshing with leeks, mushrooms, and calamansi. Some toasted bread to soak up that broth would have been killer! (I wanted to drink the bowl)
Chef Tolentino presenting her majestic Cote de Boeuf.
Partido's team bringing out the whole menu for us!
We originally didn't order the cote de boeuf- but so happy Chef Tolentino brought one out for us to try. (thank you!) Perfect, with a nice crust, and the adobo jus brought the traditional dish to a whole new level. Glossy, rich, slightly acidic, and everything you could want in a sauce. Served with leek fried rice and roasted kale.
Today's daily special: Bistek- flat iron steak with pickled red onions, garlic mashed potatoes, and a soy-lemon sauce.
Pancit, Filipino rice noodles with farm vegetables.
Farmer's market vegetables with coconut milk and shallots.
Whole fried chicken adobo with roasted cauliflower and beer sauce. So good we ordered a second!
The most amazing ube churros. Light, fluffy and addictive- served with buko (young coconut) pandan anglaise.
Check out all that social media-ing! It's not a meal with the Recess fam if we're not documenting it all. Live streaming, photographing, instagramming it all- just for you!
Filipino cuisine is the next new trend- must be, if Anthony Bourdain says so. (We've been saying it for years now!) Chef Tolentino's dishes are full of bright flavors, and while her meats are top notch, it's her vegetable dishes that really sing. The freshness of her farmer's market hauls combined with the sweet, salty, rich, and acidic flavors of the Phillippines really stands out. We'll definitely be back- can't wait to see what happens for Partido as you continue to grow!
5684 York Boulevard
Highland Park, CA 90042
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Cafe Birdie was one of the first eateries to bring elevated style to Highland Park's dining scene. They actually led the way in creating the "scene" where there was none, and many new establishments are flocking to Highland Park, following suit. Cafe Birdie is one of our favorite all-around spots in Highland Park. It has food, drink, decor, and ambiance- everything we love when we're not spending an evening at home! Chef Joey Booterbaugh brings to Cafe Birdie an upscale cuisine that seamlessly accompanies the seasonal cocktail menu- so much so, that Cafe Birdie passes as both serious restaurant and craft cocktail bar with equal strength. (Too often, one of those is an afterthought)
Check out that sexy showpiece of a bar! We're not usually one to use the word "sexy" when describing inanimate objects, but it is the only word to describe this decor: That marble countertop, full bar spanning the entire wall, art-deco inspired rose-gold pendant lights, the perfect sage-green chair rail, that sage-tinted textured concrete, vintage-inspired wallpaper, and marble-topped bistro tables- all right up our alley! Combined with the food and drink, it all created the best laid-back-luxe space. Patrons were equally relaxed, and we wanted to settle in and stay all night.
Birdie's Pimm's Cup with pineapple, cucumber, and strawberry; Aperol prosecco spritz
Bartender's recommendation: Moroccan spiced fried chicken with harissa aioli. It was so good- amazingly juicy and soft chicken tenders, like none we've ever had. With a texture similar to delicately poached shrimp, we're guessing they're either twice cooked or even brined- but either way, definitely memorable.
Pasta Special: Couldn't resist the house-made gnocchi with seasonal greens in brodo.
Cafe Birdie is now one of our favorite Highland Park spots. Perfect for either a date night, or a relaxed night out, we love the all-around vibe- it's a perfect pick-me-up. Even better it's just minutes from the house. We'll be back, Cafe Birdie!
BOOZING & BOWLING
Highland Park Bowl was originally built in 1927, a Prohibition-era bowling alley that also filled "pharmeceutical" prescriptions for medicinal whiskey. Over the years it endured many coats of paint and repurposing, but in 2016 the bowling alley underwent massive restorations to bring it back to its glorious state. Original fixtures and visible pin-setting machinery lend a futuristic steampunk air to the space, while a full bar, wood-fired pizza oven, and live-music spaces (coming soon!) pay homage to the forms of entertainment that the space had filled over the years. It is a one-stop entertainment hub for Highland Park, complete with karaoke nights.
Look at that original paint, still visible on the exterior.
We snacked on some calamari- but next time would come try their wood-fired pizzas!
The bowling lane rates were slightly pricey, but considering how few there were, and how much maintenance the space must need, it didn't seem all too bad. Rates depend on the day of the week- weekday mornings were cheapest at $20/hour/lane, and peak weekend nights started at $60, with a limit of 1 hour; up to 6 people per lane. We didn't bowl, but perfectly enjoyed ourselves in the beautiful space with beers and snacks, and could definitely see ourselves coming back often.