Food in the Media

Meet Your Food Blogger: Valentina Silva of Eastside Food Bites

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Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge VALENTINA SILVA
  • Valentina Silva
At the Antigua Cultural Coffee House on a recent afternoon, Valentina Silva talked with us about Eastside Food Bites, her voice carrying over the coffee grinder's noisy whirr and the stereo's booming cumbia. Silva often eats at local spots such as Antigua, close to her Mt. Washington home in northeast L.A. Many of those eateries become topics for her almost 2-year-old blog. The site features first-rate photos alongside crisp, engaging prose. How could you resist mole poblano chilaquiles from CaCao Mexicatessan in Eagle Rock after reading...

The combination of rich sweetness from the mole mixed with the perfectly yolky fried egg and raw onions made for the disarming contrast. Addictively disarming contrast. A detectable but not overwhelming amount of Monterey Jack cheese is melted within the layers of tortillas, and there's even some crema to smooth things out. I'm now of the conviction that eggs and mole should never be apart.

We asked Silva about northeast L.A., eating local, and the food blogging craft. She shared her infectious good humor and enthusiasm, plus the secret to tender carnitas.

click to enlarge Wet burrito at the Taco Spot - VALENTINA SILVA
  • Valentina Silva
  • Wet burrito at the Taco Spot

Squid Ink: How do you define Eastside? Many Angelenos debate which neighborhoods that term includes.

Valentina Silva: Even as someone with strong family roots in East L.A. and who understands the political history of the term "Eastside," I accept that language and regional identity are fluid. My grandfather still calls Cesar Chavez Avenue "Brooklyn Avenue," so I get how important these identifications can be. [Brooklyn Avenue was renamed in 1994.] But change is inevitable. While I do write about East L.A., my blog mostly focuses on northeast Los Angeles, so I write a lot about Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Echo Park and Atwater Village. I also include anywhere that an Eastsider can get to without too much hassle, so I do posts on downtown, Hollywood and Los Feliz. But I don't consider those areas the "Eastside" by any stretch of the imagination.

SI: What are your thoughts about the northeast L.A. dining scene? Some praise the influx of hip new restaurants, saying it boosts the area's economy and trendy character. (Fatty's, Larkin's, The York and Good Girl Dinette all opened within the past several years, for example.) Others express ambivalence about possible gentrification. Meanwhile, mom-and-pop spots abound. Many of these serve ethnic fare, such as the acclaimed El Huarache Azteca with Mexican dishes. Old-timers include popular pizza joint Casa Bianca (1955), and Colombo's Steakhouse (1954). Then there are countless taco trucks and stands roaming the streets.

VS: I hope and think it will be balanced between old and new. Places like Maximiliano's are coming in, putting a valet stand on York Boulevard. The owner Andre Guerrero grew up in Glassell Park and knows the neighborhood. The prices are good, and there's a family atmosphere. And they offer locally grown fruits and vegetables -- I hope that aspect spreads. Of course there will always be mainstays like La Abeja. I'm hoping northeast L.A. doesn't follow that same path as Silver Lake, where some areas are so bourgie, for lack of a better word. At certain spots there's no semblance of what it used to be.

click to enlarge Spaghetti with mussels at Maximiliano's - VALENTINA SILVA
  • Valentina Silva
  • Spaghetti with mussels at Maximiliano's

SI: Who is your blog intended for?

VS: Mostly it's for people who live around here. A lot of us don't leave our areas because of traffic. I'm the biggest criminal in that! I think of the blog as a way to introduce people to new restaurants, or reintroduce them to spots they may have heard about but never had the motivation to visit.

SI: We recently interviewed Amy Shuster, whose blog Backyard Bite aims to encourage diners to support local, independent businesses. How does that relate to your blog's philosophy?

VS: There are so many L.A. food blogs, and a lot tend to focus on Mid-City and the Westside. Restaurants like A.O.C. and Providence get written about so much. It's more interesting for me to write about something small, local, to give business owners attention they would never get otherwise. Some people think, "Why would I write about El Huarache Azteca? It's been around for so long." But a lot of people new to the area don't know about it yet.

SI: Do you see more people starting to embrace a local lifestyle by dining in their neighborhoods?

VS: So many people get in their cars and drive far. Still, a lot of people I know in Silver Lake and Echo Park tend to stay in their areas. I don't know if it's desire to explore the neighborhood or just because they can walk to a certain place. Meanwhile, there is an emphasis on local produce, meat and cheese. "Local" is such a buzzword that you don't even know what it means anymore. Local ... as far as what? Napa? Or Highland Park?

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