Echo Park hasn't reached the yupster heights of its neighbor to the west, Silver Lake. But it might have better food. Some hip spots have opened recently (Ostrich Farm, Winsome, Button Mash) and Elf Cafe, a mainstay since 2008, makes some of the sexiest food of anyone on this list and is one of the best plant-based eateries in L.A. We've also included places that aren't necessarily destination restaurants – you might not drive across town for them, but when you do stumble in, you're met with comfort. That familiarity is an integral part of Echo Park, and all these places – listed in no particular order – are its beating heart.
To paraphrase Besha Rodell's review, come here to hang with the cool kids, stay for the tamarind chicken wings. The food is way better than it has to be for a place that has Mortal Kombat II. The garlic noodles are super garlicky, just as we like them, and are a standout main dish. The cheese corn side dish is served flat on a plate under a saucer of unctuous cheese and looks almost alien. It's ridiculous in the best way possible, as are the lurid green crispy fried tofu balls, which are just as good as you've heard. Dirty jokes, on the side.
1391 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 250-9903, buttonmashla.com.
Gigi's Bakery and Cafe
Don't let the '90s serif logo fool you, this place is legit. The line begins at 6:30 a.m. here for the Salvadoran tamales, and that's where this bakery really shines. If you've ever suffered from attack of the dry tamale, know that you'll be safe here within the moist embrace of Gigi's securely wrapped banana leaves: inside, potato, masa and chicken meld into one savory, glistening unit, punctuated by a green olive. Gigi's also has Guatemalan and Mexican tamales, as well as potato balls, which some say are better than Porto's. You'll just have to see for yourself. (Note: Gigi's is technically one street over the Echo Park boundary into Historic Filipinotown – but it's so close, and so delicious, that we're including it in this list.)
2200 W. Temple St., Historic Filipinotown. (213) 483-6152, gigisbakeryla.com.
Yeah, you knew it’d be on this list before you started reading, and who are we to disappoint? At the Sqirl of Echo Park, brunch is definitely a scene, so dress the part if you care about that kind of thing. The spicy chickpeas in tomato sauce with poached eggs is one of the stronger brunch items; the blueberry lemon ricotta pancakes are a close second (even if you’re not a sweets person). Instagram, and dig in.
1525 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 537-0657, ostrichfarmla.com.
We've got to give it up to the OG of Echo Park: Masa was among the first new-wave restaurants to open in the neighborhood in 2004, and for that, respect. If you don’t like deep dish pizza, don’t come here. Masa gives Chicago pies a run for their money, and while they might not be exactly as you remember from points east, they’re probably the closest you’ll get in Tinseltown. Can’t have it all, kid.
1800 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 989-1558, masaofechopark.com .
Seriously, can all plant-based restaurants in L.A. take a tip from this place? Elf Cafe knows vegetables. The fried oyster mushrooms are sauteed with the most delicate finesse, and the pools of tomato-tinged oil they leave behind begged to be licked off the plate. The kofta and polenta plates are somehow perfectly spiced, salted and utterly saturated with flavor. Sit outside under the heat lamps, munch on some lentil croquettes, and stare at PETA’s disturbing billboard across the street without an ounce of guilt. More cashew cream, please.
2135 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 484-6829, elfcafe.com.
Echo Park's latest restaurant, Winsome, is the best place that you haven't heard of or eaten at (yet). Its potato rostis are killer, though tiny; its batik cushions Instagrammable; and its brunch sausages satisfying. The creamy polenta is a bit bland, but the fig salad and the rockfish dish from the dinner menu make up the flavor deficit. Sit outside on the patio on a December day and be glad you escaped Milwaukee/San Francisco/New York.
1115 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 415-1818, eatwinsome.com.
For a taqueria, of all things, to distinguish itself here is hard — but Guisados has done it for six years running. Almost since it opened its first location in Boyle Heights in 2010, it became something of a sensation. Its namesake stewed meats still get us every time: the chicken tinga and chicharrón tacos are excellent, and the conchinita pibil is very good. Our own Besha Rodell has asserted that Guisados' taco sampler is the best way to spend $6.95 in the city. Be stingy with the hot sauce here; the stews take center stage.
1261 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 250-7600, guisados.co.
Pizza Buona, we're so glad you're back. This 56-year-old restaurant has been through a lot in recent years, including a car crash through its front doors and being priced out of its original spot last year. But it reopened in September just one block south, and everyone's relieved. There are few comforts as reliable as its pizza rustica: a sauceless pie with mushrooms, bell peppers and garlicky marinated tomatoes, all buried in a thick blanket of cheese. The pizza with breaded eggplant is also satisfying, and coincidentally vegetarian. Alimento's Zach Pollack is slated to open his own pizza concept at Pizza Buona's old location, and there's no way it won't be delicious; but Pizza Buona, you'll always have a special place in our hearts.
922 N. Alvarado St., Ste. C, Echo Park. (213) 413-0800, pizzabuonala.com.
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You may be led to Mohawk Bend because you’re a craft beer fan – it has 70-plus taps, many of them California-sourced – or because you’re vegan (the menu is mostly plant-based, though it serves meat, too). Either way, Mohawk Bend is worth a visit for group happy hours or dinners — its menu has as many options as a Country Buffet. The fried Brussels sprouts are caramelized to a snackable level and the cauliflower “Buffalo” wings scratch that deep-fried itch. There are pizzas and burgers too (and fish tacos and fries). All are pretty solid. Don’t leave without taking photo booth pictures.
2141 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 483-2337, mohawk.la.
If Dinette got any cuter, Pinterest would break. To outsiders, it might seem odd to be enjoying $7 avocado toast from a takeout window next to the discount clothing store while the occasional police siren wails. Amateurs. This is how we roll in L.A. Dinette’s waffle topped with one conclusive strip of bacon and a delicate poached egg is luscious, as are the breakfast pizzas. If you’re going to get a tartine, get the one with scrambled eggs — almost always perfectly undercooked — and shaved ham. Welcome to L.A.
1608½ W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 278-0301, instagram.com/dinette.