Highland Park Kitchen on York Blvd. had been open for only about ten days in early March before a front page L.A. Times article declared Highland Park a soon-to-be “outpost of hipster cool” with York Blvd. its “ground zero.” In recent years, the northeast L.A. neighborhood has seen an influx of hip, trendy businesses in an area dominated by long-standing, largely immigrant-run mom-and-pop shops.
Among Highland Park Kitchen's York Blvd. neighbors are a pawn shop, tattoo parlor, contractor's office, party-supply business and several liquor stores. Plus an art gallery, and shops with records, vintage clothes, and artsy home design accessories. As for food? There's The York gastropub, Cafe de Leche with gourmet joe, sandwich shop Schodorf's Luncheonette, and Italiano's, the neighborhood pizza standby. The La Estrella taco truck and El Huarache Azteca are down the street too. And Andre Guerrero's Italian restaurant Maximiliano's opened just a few months ago.
Chef Huntley See told us that Highland Park Kitchen — which he calls simply HPK — “hopes to help with the neighborhood's transformation.” The newcomer certainly stands out on the block with its brick red paint and railing adorned with fork shapes. “HPK” is stenciled in big, black letters near the front door. See says he and owner Rudy Martinez chose the name to reflect community pride. (Locals will likely recognize Martinez; he ran against Jose Huizar last year for city council, has appeared on A&E's Flip This House, and owns Mia Sushi in Eagle Rock.)
Inside, only one window looks onto the street, and you might forget that the restaurant sits between an empty lot and an auto repair shop, across from Uneek Car Alarms & Stereos. Comfy brown booths with paisley pillows line a brick wall on one side, and a bar stocked with spirits lines the other. White tables fill the middle of the room. Look close, and you'll see that they're panel doors covered with glass tops. Behind the restaurant, you'll find a patio with booths and heat lamps. You may also notice, near the front door, several board games. “Food should be fun and social, not stressful,” See said, explaining why families or couples might want to play a game of Monopoly over martinis or shrimp skewers.
See, who has worked in restaurants since he was 15, attended culinary school and has held positions at a slew of restaurants from Gyu-Kaku to Drago Centro, envisions the menu as “contemporary tapas.” For dinner, there's soups, salads, skewers, tacos and sliders. Entrees include chicken breast, salmon, short ribs and filet mignon. See considers the shrimp ceviche topped with pomegranate seeds one of HPK's specialties. Another is carne asada with lightly battered fries topped with avocado crema and chipotle aioli. Specials have included bacon-wrapped shrimp in a pineapple reduction. HPK is also a lunch place, serving sandwiches, soups and salads. And it's open Saturday and Sunday for brunch at 9 a.m., with pancakes, waffles, eggs, and “hangover sliders” accompanied by bacon and hash browns.
Meanwhile, Highland Park continues to evolve, or at least its food and drink options do. Last January, Highland Cafe opened a couple of doors down from The York, replacing Guatemalan eatery El Chapin. Ba, a French restaurant from chef-owner James Graham plans to open in a few weeks on the same block as HPK, according to Eater L.A. And on the other side of the empty lot next door to HPK, Hermosillo Club is facing its last days. Described by the Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch as “beloved for its unpretentious atmosphere, cheap Mexican beer and a corridos-bumping jukebox,” the club is being transformed by Ross Stephenson into a craft beer and wine bar.