Home base during my hectic, fun, do-everything-you-can, two-week-stay in Los Angeles was my best friend, Stephanie’s, place. Her charming spot in a Spanish-style villa was smack in the middle of Silver Lake and Echo Park, which happens to be arguably the coolest, up-and-coming, neighbourhood-of-the-moment. Between carefully curated, if small, shops and the countless take-away and dining options–every one worthy of a visit in my experience, you can see why.
Echo Park is eclectic a little sketchy at night, but also alive, fun, real. If you’re there at night, there’s probably a band or DJ worth checking at out The Echo and/or the Echoplex (at The Echo you’ll be pointed down the street which means cross the very busy street, go down the stairs and under the bridge, cross the street the other way, head into the only parking lot with an attendant this late at night and into the Echoplex). In the day, drive up to a small stretch of coffee shops and stores among an otherwise non-destination (to date) and visit Cookbook. This is a tiny shop, well-edited and beautiful too, with super-fresh produce, heirloom beans and house-baked bread that you will buy for its looks, whether or not you “need” (what does that have to do with it) bread. And grab lunch: my raw kale salad with carrots roasted to bring out potential you may never have known they had outshone even the silky goat cheese quiche.
The night I got in, Steph had to go to class which suited me fine, I welcome time alone to wander through new places. I didn’t have to wander far through Silver Lake before deciding I’d have dinner at Local. All of the seating is outside in a covered area that seats about 25 (oh yeah, HI consistently warm, sunny, dry climate!), the squash fritters I ordered rather randomly were perhaps the best fritters I’ve ever had. NB: the snap pea quinoa salad which made no mention of spice was almost too hot for me to handle. Me. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying I like chilies and this was still almost too much. Also in Silver Lake are an almost hidden Pho Café serving everything you’d expect but to my pleasant surprise, an actually decent vegetarian pho too. Wat Dong Moon Lek is a Thai noodle house whose walls are art canvases and menu boards alike. They are famous for their noodles but Steph’s favourite curried fried rice with a fried egg is common, spicy, perfect comfort food. I wished I’d had time to check out Forage–I peeked in and their fresh salads, Blue Bottle coffee and impressive menu were equally inviting.
But back to Echo Park for a second… Around there on Friday afternoons? Lucky you, ‘cuz the Echo Park Farmer’s Market is the perfect place to grab fresh produce for the weekend, coffee beans, and a snack…like a fresh corn tamale and sip of fresh coconut water. A little detox before the “tox” that a weekend can bring, which you can prepare for in style at Bar Keepers in nearby “Sunset Junction”. People have gone on about their huge selection of bitters, but the wall of gin took me from awe to jealousy to defeat in seconds. Defeated by the fact that there was no way I could smuggle enough of their impressive-looking gins home with me across the border. Do not drink and shop, however, so visit Mohawk General Store first.
In said Junction, the lineups are long at Intelligentsia where they know their espresso, but you can also get stunning flowers, shop a world of cheese or grab a formal lunch a stone’s throw away–all these vendors share a courtyard with the coffee spot at W. Sunset and Sanborn. It would be easy to overlook Casbah cafe a block east but it would be your loss. There are fresh spinach empanadas that shouldn’t be missed, a long list of loose leaf teas to be tried, and you can order a single soft-boiled egg and toast for breakfast, or a mound of lettuce and avocado simply dressed. But those big white bowls on everyone’s table seem to be full of a Moroccan stew. Along the side and in the back are Mexican crafts, linens, small instruments and hats that almost spurred a very expensive impulse buy on my behalf. Everywhere you turn, there’s another little surprise in the decor, on the menu, and especially around the side where two-seater iron tables and chairs are tucked into private “gardens” so secret that you can’t notice them or the patrons until you’re four feet from them as you walk by. Too much to love. If you can’t secure a spot there, there’s another hideaway even more beautiful and you’ll have no trouble getting a spot. Silver lake juice has exactly my kind of combinations on their tight menu –optimum dark greens mixes and optional blood-beneficial toppers like my kale smoothie and a heap of cayenne (delicious!!)–and you can enjoy it in the closed courtyard, set back from the street that’s shared with (owned by) neighbouring Cowboys and Turbans.
But the reason many diners are flocking to this area at night is to wait patiently for a table, wine bottle in hand (no liquor license yet, but corkage is free!) at Black Hogg. Eric Park, formerly at NY’s Spotted Pig, has opened his first restaurant in a tiny (cramped?) but welcoming spot on West Sunset Boulevard. We enjoyed fried olives (I thought I was the only one capable of such utter genius!), the mushrooms on a brioche box (it really was that substantial a slice), the chai churros, of course, and a the 9-lettuce salad which was refreshing and necessary on an otherwise uber-rich table. In mid-April, they weren’t finished decorating and you’ll probably always have to walk through the hectic kitchen to get to the bathroom (Paris-esque eccentricities) but the food and service was so good, that what could have been unattractive became endearing. The same could be said of the whole damn area. No complaints.