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Main art illustration for Issa Rae story
(Illustrations by Brie Henderson / For the Times)

The 10 best food spots featured in Issa Rae’s ‘Insecure’ L.A.

When Issa Rae moved from Maryland to L.A.’s View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood as a child, she swiftly learned that the reality of the city’s Black culture defies the stereotypes — gang shootings, cyclical poverty — that it’s often reduced to.

What she found instead, despite the city’s gentrification and the criminalization of Black and brown L.A. neighborhoods, was a home that was much more than a war zone and included wealthy Black neighborhoods like Baldwin Hills, known as the Black Beverly Hills.

In 2016, she launched “Insecure,” inspired by her web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” Rae wanted to depict Los Angeles, particularly South Los Angeles, as the hub for cultural celebration and community building it is in real life.

The HBO comedy, created by Rae and Larry Wilmore, tells the story of Angelenos and best friends Issa Dee (Rae) and Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji), with story lines focused on the challenges and victories they experience as Black women in their late 20s in everything from their careers to their romantic relationships. In five seasons, the series has taken on issues of racism, mental health, gentrification and much more, all with the vibrant cityscape of Los Angeles as a backdrop.

In many ways, “Insecure” is a love letter to Black and brown L.A., bringing Rae’s dreams for Los Angeles to fruition by showcasing communities and businesses often overlooked — or actively stigmatized — by the media. Her devotion to the city shines boldly and brightly in ways that not all L.A.-set shows successfully achieve. With the series finale set to air later this month, The Times is taking a look back at a number of local businesses highlighted in the series’ run.

Here‘s our guide to 10 local eateries featured in “Insecure,” which not only offer a range of cuisines, but also in many cases give back to the community. If you have an appetite for more L.A. adventures — even after the series has ended — this guide is for you.

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Illustration for Merkato

Merkato Ethiopian Restaurant and Market

Mid-Wilshire Ethiopian
In the series’ pilot episode, “Insecure as F—,” Issa and Molly head to Little Ethiopia to celebrate Issa’s birthday and treat themselves to Merkato. The restaurant is featured a few times throughout the series, including where fans left off in the Season 4 finale, “Lowkey Lost,” wondering whether the besties will reconcile. Founded in 1988 and located on Fairfax, Merkato is vegan-friendly and offers a selection of Ethiopian specialties like awaze tibs, asa tibs and much more.
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Illustration for Stuff I Eat

Stuff I Eat

Inglewood Vegan
In Season 1’s seventh episode, “Real as F—,” restaurant co-owner/chef Babette Davis got some screen time while serving Issa’s nonprofit, We Got Y’all, her plant-based vegan cuisine during a youth charity fundraiser. Issa’s co-worker Frieda (Lisa Joyce) gives the restaurant a shoutout on the show, saying that Stuff I Eat is her favorite restaurant — and tries to get Davis to reveal the ingredients to her carrot croquettes.

Later, during the Season 3 finale, “Ghost-Like,” Issa aims for a “drama-free” birthday with Molly after Nathan (Kendrick Sampson) ghosts her, ordering the soul food platter, three tacos and a burrito from Stuff I Eat to ensure that her special day is on the right track.

Stuff I Eat is a Black-owned restaurant founded in 2008 by Ron and Babette Davis with a mission to be 95% organic when possible and be eco-friendly with containers and food waste. Stuff I Eat even has its own catchy jingle, which you can hear when visiting its website.
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Illustration for Simply Wholesome

Simply Wholesome

View Park-Windsor Hills Health food
During the third season’s “Familiar-Like,” Issa joins her We Got Y'all colleagues for a (problematic) lunch meeting featuring tasty selections from this Black-owned health food restaurant.

Simply Wholesome, which also has an attached health store offering teas, herbs, vitamins and more, has been serving the community since the 1980s by making healthy food options both accessible and delicious. It advocates for its Slauson neighborhood by promoting wellness while also hosting events, such as lively Party on the Patio Saturdays featuring local live musical performances.
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Illustration for Worldwide Tacos

Worldwide Tacos

Leimert Park Tacos
Appearing in Season 3’s “Fresh-Like,” Worldwide Tacos makes over 100 different types of tacos and burritos, including the BBQ salmon taco that Issa accidentally drops right before her impromptu date with Nathan from the party Lyft gone wrong.

In conjunction with the episode’s premiere, Rae posted to Twitter, “Worldwide Tacos is one of my fav hood spots. 300 types of tacos. Owner makes them fresh (& sometimes buys ingredients on the spot), hence why the tacos take anywhere [between] 15 mins. & 3 hrs. They only take phone orders if they f— with u. WORTH IT. That’s my TED Talk.”
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Illustration for Hot & Cool Cafe

Hot & Cool Cafe

Leimert Park Vegan
When Issa is showing Nathan around L.A.’s Black businesses in the Leimert Park neighborhood during “Fresh-Like,” they pass by Hot & Cool Cafe, known for its innovative vegan food and a dedication to community activism.

The Black-owned, family-owned vegan restaurant was founded in 2018 by Tony Jolly and Tina Amin to combat the food deserts in South Los Angeles and provide healthy local food options in Leimert Park.

Hot & Cool Cafe also makes a social impact through its Senior Meal Program, which has helped low-income seniors access meals during COVID-19; partnering with L.A. community fridges; volunteering to be a polling location; and hosting local live music artists. Hot & Cool Cafe also has a location in Woodland Hills.
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Illustration for Hilltop Coffee and Kitchen

Hilltop Coffee and Kitchen

Inglewood Breakfast, Lunch
In Season 4’s “Lowkey Distant,” Issa meets with Condola (Christina Elmore), her new friend and business partner, at Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen to discuss details for a block party Issa’s planning to celebrate Inglewood and Black L.A. as a whole, including local vendors. (When Issa invites Condola to join her and Molly for their lunch, though, Molly is none too pleased — fanning the flames of the Issa/Molly feud that deepens over the course of the season.)

Hilltop co-founders Ajay Relan and Yonnie Hagos worked with Rae to feature the restaurant on “Insecure” as well as open the real-life Inglewood location, in which Rae is a partner. Hilltop Coffee also has locations in Eagle Rock and View Park-Windsor Hills.

“‘Insecure’ has such an impact on highlighting authentic South L.A. culture,” Relan told The Times. “The acknowledgment it’s given to staple spots across the region says a lot about how intentional their team is with choosing their locations. As a relatively young brand, it was an honor to be featured alongside so many iconic spots. ... I remember saying to Yonnie when we first opened that the block party she was planning in Season 3 would feature Hilltop in some form or fashion. This was before we officially met each other. Fast-forward and it happened!”
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Illustration for Margarita's Mexican Cafe

Margarita’s Mexican Cafe

Hyde Park Mexican
In the Season 4 episode “Lowkey Thankful,” Issa and her brother Ahmal (Jean Elie) spend Thanksgiving at this restaurant enjoying the mariachis and margaritas instead of joining their mom’s boyfriend’s twins for an awkward holiday dinner. Issa also uses this time to avoid visiting Molly and hashing out the growing tension within their friendship, even if it means missing out on some tasty pie.

Founded in June 1964, Margarita’s Mexican Cafe is one of the first family-owned Mexican restaurants in the Crenshaw area. It’s known for its wet burritos and fresh chips made daily.
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Illustration for Southern Girl Desserts

Southern Girl Desserts

Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Desserts
In Season 4’s fifth episode, “Lowkey Movin’ On,” Issa’s block party features some sweet businesses, including Southern Girl Desserts, founded in 2007 by Catarah Coleman and Shoneji Robison.

The Florida natives are dedicated to ensuring that Southern Girl Desserts includes fresh, homemade pastries. It garnered national fame when it won Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” in 2013, along with $10,000 in prize money.

Noteworthy celebrity customers include Orji, Denzel Washington, Misty Copeland and Stevie Wonder.
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DAMA Fashion District

Downtown L.A. Latin American
In Season 4’s “Lowkey Happy,” Issa and Lawrence (Jay Ellis) are reunited and eating well at this Latin-inspired restaurant in downtown L.A.'s Fashion District. The indoor-outdoor spot is where Lawrence once planned to propose to Issa in Season 1.

Co-owners Salvatore Aurora and Mario Guddemi are cousins who cherish the connection between food and family, and DAMA represents that through Pablo Moix’s diverse cocktail menu and chef Antonia Lofaso’s menu of Spanish, Latin American and Caribbean-inspired dishes.
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Illustration for Hank’s Mini Market

Hank’s Mini Market

Hyde Park Grocery Store
In the Season 4 finale, “Lowkey Lost,” Issa meets Lawrence at their local farmers market and audiences see Hank’s in addition to other vendors.

This family-owned curated market has been serving South L.A. since 1997. Kelli Jackson, the current owner and Hank’s daughter, works to remove food deserts from low-income L.A. neighborhoods and partners with the restaurant Sweetgreen, which has a health initiative for food education and accessibility.

Hank’s runs monthly food education workshops and raises awareness on issues that unhoused communities face, police brutality, environmental racism and beyond.

“Hank’s loves ‘Insecure’! We appreciate how thoughtfully and intentionally Issa Rae and the ‘Insecure’ team have highlighted Black Businesses in Los Angeles, Inglewood and beyond each season,” Jackson said. “We have always dreamed of Hank’s Mini Market being featured since the character Molly does say she is from Florence and Crenshaw, and that is exactly where Hank’s Mini Market is located.”
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