Diversity is just part of the fabric of Echo Park, the Hispanic/hipster neighborhood just minutes from downtown Los Angeles. Its center is the junction of Echo Park Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, but you can now find shops and restaurants strung along both those streets in either direction.
Now that Echo Park Lake has been so beautifully restored, this is the neighborhood's grand promenade, where you can see everybody strolling, running, doing tai chi or yoga, fishing, napping, painting or having a picnic on the grass. In terms of eating in the neighborhood, the choices are vast, from taco trucks and new-wave tacquerias to vegan and vegetarian spots, great coffee shops, diners, dive bars, and one of L.A.'s longest-running French restaurants, Taix.
Billed as a “neighborhood greengrocer” by owners Marta Teegan and Robert Stelzner, Cookbook is a serious cook’s dream. Filled with the kinds of hard-to-find ingredients adventurous home cooks crave, the small store stocks La Quercia pancetta, beurre de Baratte butter from France, fresh ricotta cheese, frozen puff pastry, Anson Mills grains, and flours from Central Milling. Look around: It’s astonishing how much the couple have fit into the 500-square-foot space, including Sightglass coffee beans from San Francisco, June Taylor jams, skinny baguettes from Bread Lounge and, on Fridays, country white from Clark Street Bakery. They’ve managed to fit in a miniscule butcher’s counter; and they make takeout dishes with recipes from the well-curated selection of cookbooks for sale. 1549 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park, (213) 250-1900, cookbookla.com.
Café Stella owner Gareth Kantner has taken a tiny storefront on Sunset Boulevard, sheathed it in glass and turned it into Dinette. Most of the metal tables and stools are on the sidewalk: You order the food at a sleek take-out window. But first admire the pies, cakes, scones, meringues and individual tarts displayed in the window. There’s also savory items, mostly for breakfast right now, including a breakfast pizza with an egg in the middle, waffles with poached egg and bacon, savory tarts, dreamy avocado toast and soft-scrambled eggs with palest pink ham on toast. There are well-made espresso drinks, but no pour-overs. Still to come: sandwiches. 1606 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (no phone or website).
A Grocery Warehouse
A Grocery Warehouse has saved many an Echo Park cook a trip to Chinatown or Monterey Park. It’s really the only market in the area with a full selection of Asian ingredients, including the usual tofu, soy sauce, oyster sauce, short-grained and jasmine rice and more. The produce department also stocks a wide array of herbs for Thai and Vietnamese cooking, vegetables for Indian dishes, Japanese mushrooms and all sorts of roots and tubers — even already-grated green papaya for salads. A cookware section in the back has clay pots, steamers, ceramics and utensils for Asian cooking. 1487 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (213) 482-4803, (no website).
The Echo Park Guisados is a must-stop for sumptuous tacos, made with chile-laden braised meats on freshly made tortillas. A favorite lunch is the sampler of six miniature tacos. Once you know what you like — and it might be just about everything on the menu — order up the tinga de pollo, mole poblano, cochinita pibil, or the chicharron (velvety pork rinds simmered in chile verde). Vegetarians can go with the frijoles con queso or mushrooms with cilantro. You'll want to try and grab a spot on the patio out back, shaded by umbrellas. 1261 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (213) 250-7600, guisados.co.
Square One at the Boathouse
When Echo Park Lake reopened after a three-year renovation, the contract to run the café at the Boathouse went not to an big company caterer but to the owners of the popular Square One Dining café on Fountain Avenue. That means you can pop in after a walk around the lake for Intelligentsia coffee, croissants and blueberry scones, or toast with Sqirl jam. The kitchen turns out French toast with maple cream, and bacon cheese grits topped with a farm egg. At lunch, there’s a grass-fed burger on a brioche bun, a patty melt made with grass-fed beef, or an organic hot dog on a whole wheat bun. But also kale salad (of course) or potato taquitos with guacamole and salsa verde. There are also snacks, like the housemade potato chips and organic salted caramel corn. And anytime, you can buy treats for your dogs. 751 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 481-8495, squareonedining.com/boathouse.php.
Look for the black awning on Portia Street, just steps north of Sunset Boulevard: That’s Trencher, a rustic, handmade sandwich shop opened by longtime L.A.-area friends Justin Foster, Hussein Katz and Danny Zackery. The Reuben — juicy corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and caramelized onions on rye — is a classic. The brisket sandwich is terrific too, slow-braised beef brisket with pan gravy, roasted garlic parsnip purée, wilted kale and Swiss on sourdough. But you can get some appealing vegan options too, including a grilled Portabello sandwich and a tofu banh mi, all $10 or under. And all come with deep gold, housemade potato chips. Pretty much everything is made in-house, including the mayo. Brunch on the weekends as well. 1305 Portia St., Los Angeles, (323) 604-9621, trencherla.com.
Woodcat Coffee Bar
Just a short stroll from Echo Park Lake, Woodcat is owned by Janine and Saadat Awan, who turn out a mean flat white and a strong cappuccino using the 40th anniversary edition of the revolutionary 1961 Faema E61 espresso machine. The beans come from San Francisco's Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters and the pastries from Sugar Bloom and Sugar Bird. Woodcat is actually the only full Wrecking Ball shop outside of the Bay Area. It turns out the Saadats worked for the owner in Washington, D.C., at the seminal Murky Coffee. They designed the space themselves, building bar, benches and tables from weathered wood and metal. The place has a happy clamor and a warm, lived-in feel. Patrons are a real cross section: students, writers, computer/coffee geeks, hipsters, new moms and the sociable chatting up anyone and everyone at the communal table. 1532 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (213) 537-0147, woodcatcoffee.com.
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