Now that Eagle Rock has become stroller-ridden, Echo Park rents approach Santa Monica’s and Silver Lake has practically become a new Beverly Hills, Highland Park is the center of the new bohemian life in Los Angeles, a neighborhood with great views and multiplying art spaces, decent cafés and the most reliable public transportation in town. And for more than a year, Highland Parkistas have been following the blog of Diep Tran, who used to work at Blue Hen and whose family owns the wonderful Pho 79 noodle shops, as she described the travails of opening a restaurant in and for the community she grew to love. Tran’s diary was one of the most compelling restaurant blogs of the year.
Just off Figueroa under a big catering hall, across the street from the parking lot of the beloved Mr. T’s Bowl, Good Girl Dinette is a clean, airy space, filled with earnest couples and young families, serving bubbly soft drinks they make with farmers market fruit (the Meyer lemon is especially good), preparing a menu of Vietnamese-American comfort food that is especially friendly to vegans.
If your obsessions are centered in South El Monte and along Little Saigon’s Bolsa Avenue, this may not be the place for you. The chicken pho has deep flavor, but won’t remind you much of your favorite pho ga. The imperial rolls are stodgy; the fresh spring rolls, while impeccably made and sparked with fresh herbs, are stuffed with tofu instead of grilled pork and shrimp. The only coffee in the restaurant flavors the brownie that comes with the “chocolate joe.” But the spicy fries are astonishingly good — topped with the mince of cilantro, fresh chiles and garlic you usually see on Vietnamese-Chinese fried crab or squid. The chicken pot pie, made with a yellow Vietnamese curry and topped with a dense, crisp-topped biscuit, is wonderful. And the clove-spiked beef stew, plumped out with plenty of carrots, is a perfect amalgam of Vietnamese flavors and Depression-era diner cooking, a blend that seems to be exactly what this neighborhood, and these times, demand.
Good Girl Dinette: 110 N. Avenue 56, Highland Park, (323) 257-8980 or www.goodgirlfoods.com. Lunch Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Sun. & Tues.-Thurs., 6 p.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6 p.m.-11 p.m. (Closed Mon.) No alcohol. Cash only. Starters $4.50-$6.25; main courses $7-$10.