Best Of :: Highland Park/Eagle Rock
Best Old-School Shop Still Holding It Down in Highland Park: Mi Vida
What does it take to stay open as an O.G. Latino boutique shop specializing in handmade clothing and accessories in some of the most sought-after real estate in all of Los Angeles? According to Noelle Reyes, the power Latina behind Mi Vida, one of the last standing pregentrification locales on York Boulevard in Highland Park, the secret lies in "keeping it real, being there for the community and simply staying positive." On any given day, the store that offers everything from original Chaz Bojórquez artwork to a saguaro cactus–shaped iPhone case doubles as a meeting place for the neighborhood, acting as a pop-up location for local chefs serving Mexican-American–style Hawaiian musubi, or as a donation-based, six-hour-long meditative "coloring station" in collaboration with a local independent artist. As the shop is about to turn 10 years old, Reyes has no plans of moving anywhere: "We are strong, we know how we impact our community, and we will continue to showcase our identity here."
Even in a neighborhood as jam-packed with bars as Highland Park, this tiny building in the alley behind the recently opened Cafe Birdie is a welcome addition: a craft cocktail joint that manages to feel both upscale and unpretentious, with a stylish but spartan brick-walled interior and a drinks menu that rivals anyplace in town. Named after the peeling sign left over from the space's former days as a discount furniture store, Good Housekeeping is the work of bar director Alex Barbatsis and an A-team of mixologists who keep the specialty cocktail menu regularly updated with deliciously original concoctions and riffs on old classics. When they opened last fall, the star of the show was a charcoal-filtered Manhattan; this past summer, it was a toss-up between Barbatsis' Los Angeles Sour, a whiskey sour variation with peach liqueur and habanero bitters, and Lauren Pool's Down Under, an aromatic mix of rum, orgeat and the German digestif Underberg. With no TVs and no happy-hour specials, it's a quiet, candlelit refuge from its noisier, hipster-swamped neighbors.
[Correction: A previous version of this write-up incorrectly credited Nicholas Krok, Jeremy Simpson and Ryan Duffy as still being involved with Good Housekeeping. Although they were formerly associated with the bar, it has been run since May by bar director Alex Barbatsis. We regret the error.]
The catharsis of the mosh pit is given form — albeit a soft, doughy one — within the punk-fueled deep fryers of Donut Friend, Highland Park's DIY/vegan/straight-edge answer to sugary desserts. Founded in 2014 by Drive Like Jehu drummer Mark Trombino (who also produced such tasty classics as Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American and Blink-182's Dude Ranch), Donut Friend and its panoply of 100 percent animal product–free, post-hardcore treats have withstood the shifting tides of culture, retaining a devoted underground fan base as gimmicky mainstream trends (the spaghetti doughnut?) come and go. You don't have to be a music lover to enjoy these doughnuts, but it helps. The "Jets to Basil," stuffed with goat cheese, strawberry jam and fresh basil, takes on new depth if consumed to Jets to Brazil's third record. The "GG Almond," with its Gruyère-honey filling and topping of toasted almonds, is as transgressive as its degenerate namesake, GG Allin. Punny names aside, Donut Friend stands out thanks to its punk-rock ethos, best expressed through its DIY, build-your-own-doughnut menu. Raspberry habanero, olive oil and maple pumpkin butter on vanilla cake? Sure, why not? At Donut Friend, it's OK to be weird.
We can now add Romanian food to Highland Park's ever-growing array of international cuisines. Parsnip, a tiny cafe on York Boulevard, is a great value, even in a part of town with a lot of wonderful, inexpensive food. A $9 bowl of chicken paprikash, a mild and creamy stew served over polenta, was enough for both my lunch and leftovers for dinner. Entrees come with either polenta or veggie barley pilaf. I especially loved the pilaf — it had that perfect grain-salad balance of being hearty enough to fill you up while also containing no filler and avoiding heaviness. I had it over the "red red braise," a stew made of beef braised with red wine and tomatoes. There are also bulz — Romanian dumplings a little like arancini, made with polenta instead of rice — salads, wraps and lovely homemade soups, as well as a few sweets, including a dessert dumpling made with potato and served with apple sauce. I'll be back for the stuffed flatbreads, and dips that look as though they may broaden my eggplant dip horizons.
A 100 percent vegan street taco that can hold its own against even the tastiest in L.A.? Yes, it exists, and it can be found in a sky-blue trailer with the words Plant Food for People, every Tuesday morning and afternoon in Highland Park. It's OK to be a skeptic when first trying out Jeremy and Genise Castañeda's meaty, seared, plant-based alternative to carnitas, served on a locally made, organic, yellow corn tortilla — just don't get pissed when you hear us saying, "Told you so!" Genise admits that her secret recipe was born out of desperation after a night of drinking at the local bars: "I went vegan and realized that I couldn't eat my usual late-night tacos anymore!" Instead of taking the easy way out and giving up her beloved tacos altogether, Genise made a marinade for green jackfruit that matched the sazón of the tacos that she used to gorge on. In addition to roving all over Northeast L.A. and downtown (follow them on Facebook or Instagram for updates), Plant Food for People sets up every Tuesday morning at Civil Coffee and Tuesday afternoon at the Highland Park Old L.A. Farmers Market.
Runner-up: All Star Lanes
Runner-up: Angel City Brewery
Runner-up: Ring Baked Tofu Donuts