Best Of :: Echo Park
Best Handmade Jewelry: Esqueleto
For Angelenos who want to sample the creative wares of the Bay Area without the annoyingly long drive, Echo Park's Esqueleto offers a wide array of handmade jewelry, household goods and original artwork by Oakland artisans. Shop owner and jewelry designer Lauren Wolf's light-filled shop is based on her eclectic flagship store, which is hidden away on Oaktown's Temescal Alley, nestled among some hipster guilty pleasures including an artisanal doughnut shop and an old-timey barbershop. Since 2015, her L.A. outpost has presented a mix of global discoveries such as Middle Eastern kilims and Moroccan rugs, handmade pottery and works by indie jewelers. Alongside her cleverly curated objects, the real treasures are Wolf's own creations, some of which are influenced by her time studying jewelry design in Mexico. If you're looking to put a ring on it, the shop also sources non-cheesy vintage engagement rings that don't look like something out of Blanche Devereaux's jewel box. Then there are Wolf's own one-of-a-kind, understated wedding rings, whose otherworldly visions provide ample proof that you didn't get it at Jared.
Chef Zach Pollack has already helped to define L.A.'s Italian food scene, first at Sotto and then at Alimento, his fantastic restaurant in Silver Lake. Now at Cosa Buona he's helping to define the new school of Italian-American food, serving pizzas and classic pizza-parlor fare with a cheffy spin. That means smoked mozzarella sticks and chicken wings slathered in a house-made "red hot" sauce that's spicy but also fruity, the sweetness of the peppers shimmering throughout the sting of heat. There's gorgonzola sauce for dipping — it's really good. Also really good: a square stack of eggplant Parmesan, its layers so sticky and dense with sauce and cheese and eggplant smoosh that it's basically a paragon of Italian-American eggplant greatness. Unsurprisingly, the pizzas are wonderful — the crust dappled with just enough char and imbued with a mellow tang, the structure sturdy but stretchy. There's no one pizza that's obviously superior to all the rest, but I do recommend ordering the calzone, which is almost a pizza/salad hybrid, its contents of slightly wilted romaine in a caesar dressing spilling out of the crust along with a ton of capers and burrata. It oozes funk and crunch and freshness, and redefines the form in the best way possible. This is the food of your youth but better, and the pizza of your adulthood (but also probably better).
It's only its tiny size that keeps Tsubaki from being a drinks-first izakaya, because if people used this place even remotely like a bar, the economics of the enterprise would fail spectacularly. The drinks, however, are what make Tsubaki so exciting, thanks to sommelier Courtney Kaplan, who co-owns the restaurant with chef Charles Namba. Kaplan's clear, conversational tasting notes and her delight in talking to customers about what's on the list offer an easy way to dive into your own personal sake education. The seasonal section is especially fun, showcasing special sakes that are particular to the time of year. Namba is Japanese-American but has spent the majority of his career cooking mostly in high-end French kitchens. His menu at Tsubaki brings in elements from his European-style training — there's a foie gras terrine that's marinated in sake but is classically, deliciously French in every other way — but mainly, this is a menu inspired more by Namba's heritage than by his fine-dining career. Much of the food is a simple celebration of the ingredients at hand. Hiramasa sashimi is cut into fat slabs of silky fish and presented naked, with a touch of wasabi on the side. Chicken meatballs seem as if they've been created to distill the idea of chickeny-ness, their juicy poultry essence ramped up by the addition of a runny egg yolk to use as a rich dipping sauce. There's a lot of love in this little box of a restaurant, a lot of knowledge, a lot of generosity. It may not channel the drinks-first function exactly, but Tsubaki does channel the spirit of a Japanese izakaya beautifully.
For two weeks back in January, Iam8bit Gallery transformed into the Jerry Maguire Video Store, an installation from the willfully weird dudes at Everything Is Terrible! Upward of 14,000 VHS copies of pukey 1996 rom-com Jerry Maguire lined shelves from floor to ceiling and were configured into a pyramid along one wall. Clerks in red polo shirts manned a counter where no one actually rented anything. The tagline on the video's box is "Everybody loved him ... everybody disappeared," but that wasn't the case on opening night, as a line of people wound its way down Sunset just to get inside to see the Jerrys. After that brief, wonderful stint as a video store, the gallery resumed doing what it does best: hosting video-game–centric art shows such as "Iam8bit: A Love Story," in which 30 artists remixed classic video-game romances. From constructing a version of Scrooge McDuck's money vault to celebrate the launch of a DuckTales Capcom video game to an X-Files–themed art show called "Conspiracies, Monsters & Mythology," there's always something going on at Iam8bit to appeal to the pop culture–obsessed Angeleno.
We're not sure when American Apparel's pervy aesthetic became more boring and basic than its clothing, but the store that moved into its flagship Echo Park locale is bringing a whole new kind of sexy back. The Stockroom, which moved from a less auspicious stretch of Sunset Boulevard a few months ago to the bigger space at Sunset and Alvarado, is a bold and bountiful house of lustful delights, a place for sex-positive types, BDSM lovers and the kink-curious to shop and learn. It's also about style and aesthetics. The store features one of the largest selections of latex clothing in L.A., from Stockroom's parent company, Syren Latex, as well as designers such as Jane Doe Latex and Vex. Latex has definitely come out of the closet fashionwise — as evidenced by its popularity among artists such as Nicki Minaj, who's a customer — and these brands' well-crafted rubber couture is a big reason why. Other goodies on the clothing side of the store include corsets, bondage gear and vinyl pieces, but it's the sex-toy side that seems to get the most play in the 'hood so far. Whips, nipple and clit clamps, vibrators, cock rings, actual hoods, gags and restraints, even those funny butt plugs that give you a pretty ponytail — all are on full display, and the store's friendly staff (doms and gals from the adult industry) are there to answer questions in an open and shame-free way. Fifty Shades of Grey may have brought sexual deviancy into the mainstream but at Stockroom, it's no Hollywood novelty, it's a lifestyle. Stockroom is now Echo Park's one-stop shop.