Among its hip, idyllic neighbors, Atwater Village is the neglected stepchild. It’s not as glamorous as Silver Lake, it's less trendy than Echo Park and Highland Park, and it's not blessed (or cursed) with an “up-and-coming” label like Frogtown. It's less family-friendly than Eagle Rock or Mount Washington, and it's just a little too close to Glendale for comfort.
Yet there are plenty of reasons to sing Atwater’s praises. Glendale Boulevard and Los Feliz Boulevard — the neighborhood’s parallel main arteries — have become great streets for eating, and the options aren’t just limited to fabulous sandwiches and stellar Cal-French cuisine. No, Atwater Village has restaurants that fill needs from early-morning coffee and pastries to late-night tacos to everything in between. In case you find yourself cruising through Atwater in need of a bite, here's some great restaurants to check out, from breakfasts to midnight snacks.
Few things in this world provide the sort of easy mood enhancement that an impeccable cortado and a startlingly perfect chocolate croissant or morning bun can offer. Grab your deliciously carb-laden breakfast and take a seat on one of the little tables outside, soak in some caffeine and sugar and sunlight, and then watch the local Atwater Villagers step into the bakery as grungy, bleary-eyed hipsters — and step out as wide-awake and immaculately unkempt Young Urban Creatives. 3156 Glendale Blvd.; (323) 664-8633, proofbakeryla.com.
Los Feliz Cafe
Atwater is a neighborhood with some history. Which maybe isn’t saying much in young L.A., but even the most jaded transplants will feel the twinge of a consequential past at places like G-Son Studios and the Tam O’Shanter. Los Feliz Cafe, a diner/shack established in 1950, has a similarly historic feel. It’s changed owners several times over the years, most recently in 2009, but we can attest that it’s mostly the same as it was 20 years ago. There have been some touch-ups here and there: a noticeable price jump, the addition of shawarma to the menu, and clean-cut servers and busboys in black shirts in place of tattooed rockers in stained white tees. Despite those changes, the reasons to come are the same – to sit outside and take down big plates of comforting breakfasts, to be pleasantly sandwiched between the gentle hum of traffic on Los Feliz and the quiet serenity of the L.A. Municipal Golf Course, and then to stroll across the parking lot to the L.A. River and walk along the concrete banks under massive power lines and think about nature. Nature, and where to go for lunch. 3207 Los Feliz Blvd.; (323) 661-2355, losfelizcafe.com.
Tacos Villa Corona
Tacos Villa Corona may have made its name on the strength of its breakfast burritos (endorsed by Anthony Bourdain and this very publication, among others), but TVC insiders know that this tiny burrito window’s best time is actually lunch, rubbing right up against the end of TVC's depressingly limited hours of operation. Skip the spinach, chorizo and eggs and opt instead for the steak and potato burrito, a lumpy tube filled with starch and meat and salsa that's heavily seasoned and cooked together on the flattop until the mixture almost takes on the consistency of hash. The spicy red salsa is the perfect complement to sharpen the burrito into a salty, smoky flavor missile. And at only $4 a pop, you’ll have plenty of money left to go next door to the pet shop and pick up lunch for your exotic bird. 3185 Glendale Blvd.; (323) 661-3458.
Much of Atwater Village is organic and urban and varied, composed of little storefronts in old brick buildings, murals and graffiti, and architectural heterogeneity. Not Indochine. Indochine is a little restaurant in a strip mall that looks better suited to Valencia than Atwater (or at least belongs nearer to the big-box Best Buy/Costco/Toys R’ Us lot on Los Feliz). But don’t be put off by its exterior — Indochine dishes out some very pretty and satisfying Vietnamese food, from bún to bánh mì and pho to banh xeo. Sure, the bánh mì prices are a little higher and the bread a little thinner than the very best versions around town, but it is credibly crusty and nicely warmed, and the meats are well-seasoned. The bún is flavorful and generously portioned, and the pho is more than adequate. 3110 Glendale Blvd.; (323) 667-9591, indochinevien.com.
El Buen Gusto
Just two doors down from Indochine in the same odd mall is El Buen Gusto. When you walk in, it looks like any other little storefront pupuseria, with a handful of tables and a counter with a cash register. But then your waiter — yes, there are waiters — will take you to your table around the corner in the shockingly gigantic dining room, painted blue and white like the Salvadoran flag that hangs on the wall and graced with flatscreen TVs showing soccer. He will hand you an expansive menu, which features not just pupusas but also tacos and burritos and Salvadoran plates and a whole fish and a very impressive collection of breakfast items. The pupusas are excellent (are pupusas ever anything but?), and the breakfasts are fun and hearty, but the real star is anything on the menu that comes with the handmade tortillas: perfectly thick, doughy disks like unstuffed pupusas that are hot as hell, elevating any of the already excellent dishes and burning your tongue and fingertips in the process. There are also $4 beers and sangria and $3 house wines to cool you off. 3140 Glendale Blvd.; (323) 953-9032.
If one were to imagine from scratch an appealing, of-the-moment space, you would probably come up with something pretty similar to Dune. The interior is pretty but spare, and the menu is written in white chalk pen on a mostly clean mirrored wall. There is a little white arch over the counter where you order your falafel wrap, your pickled beet sandwich, your little plate of seasoned sliced blood oranges. And you get a clean line of sight into the kitchen, where busy cooks fire your flatbread to order and then artfully top it with falafel, hummus, brown fried potato sticks and bright pink pickles. The falafel wrap comes out in a gorgeous heap, ingredients falling from that thick and chewy, expertly charred flatbread. The beet sandwich is similarly beautiful, with layers of red-pink beets and greens and white feta and yellow just-slightly-runny egg sandwiched between thick slices of ciabatta. It is an under-the-radar favorite, with an excellent interplay of acid and salt and yolk. You will probably wait longer than you’d like, but that just leaves more time to bask in Dune’s ambient coolness. 3143 Glendale Blvd.; (323) 486-7073, dune.kitchen.
India Sweets & Spices
Unless you count Costco, Atwater Village doesn’t have a supermarket. But it does have India Sweets & Spices — which is half Indian market, with a wide selection of affordable spices, snacks and Bollywood DVDs, and half vegetarian restaurant. The restaurant side is more cafeteria than café, and it is in no way trendy. Fluorescent lights blast sharp white rays at rows of long tables, which run parallel to a counter and glass case at the head of the room. In the case you'll see massive trays of curries and vegetable dishes, along with samosas and rice and a vast collection of unlabeled Indian pastries. Order your wonderfully cheap combo meal and enjoy excellent curries — from a bright and sweet mango-pumpkin to a hearty potato — along with saag paneer and various forms of dal. The accompanying bread is whole-wheat and earthy, and the samosas are large and well fried, crispy but not greasy and bathed in a sweet and herbal sauce. Indian pop music bumps from TV speakers in the far corner of the room, and as you polish off your thick, delicious mango lassi the decision between browsing the market shelves and pointing at something random in the pastry section becomes an easy one – do both. 3126 Los Feliz Blvd.; (323) 345-0360, www.indiasweetsandspices.us.
No neighborhood is complete without a pizza place, and Crispy Crust fills that role in Atwater. At just about any time of day or night you can see cars bearing CC's little red and white signs winging around the neighborhood. Despite the name, the crust is actually a little thicker than most, with more chew than crunch, and the pizzas are substantial. The sauce is bright, the toppings solid and the salads noticeably better than the perfunctory versions at your standard slice joint. 3111 Glendale Blvd., #4; (323) 661-3111, crispycrust.com.
At the north end of the Glendale Boulevard strip, in a squat, gray building that's only barely recognizable as a former Acapulco, All’Acqua serves up a very different kind of pizza than Crispy Crust. All'Acqua is Atwater’s buzzy Italian spot, loud and fun and pretty, mature but not exactly grown-up. All’Acqua is as well suited to a quiet snack and a glass of wine at the bar as it is to a celebratory gathering of friends. There are interesting pizzas and good pastas, a long cocktail list that relies heavily (and to its benefit) on fresh citrus, a surprisingly decent beer selection and a great happy hour (both traditional and late-night). 3280 Glendale Blvd.; (323) 663-3280, allacquarestaurant.com.
El Flamin’ Taco
Not long ago, an El Flamin’ Taco truck — one of four in El Flamin's garish armada — could be found parked in the car wash that was made famous by a Nathan Fielder business idea. In those halcyon days a big, beautiful trompo spun in front of the truck, with a tower of meat so perfectly seasoned and crisped that it made the Mid-City al pastor legends almost obsolete. Now, though, after a slight southeastern migration, El Flamin has been barred from serving from that fabulous trompo. But the tacos are still above average. The pastor is seasoned the same as it was on the trompo, bright and citrusy and accompanied by a few slices of pineapple. The other meats are good, too, and the toppings lined up in buckets along the truck include zippy salsas, juicy limes and a wonderfully floral and sharp mix of pickled red onion and habanero peppers. The tortillas are still made by hand on board, thicker and more flavorful than most. And, perhaps most important, this new location is even closer to Los Feliz Boulevard’s smattering of bars, making a last-call taco run that much easier. 3050 Los Feliz Blvd.; elflamintaco.com.