Why choose between Italian and Mexican when Highland Park’s newest restaurant offers both?

An overhead photo of clams and chorizo with fregula and beans at Highland Park's Amiga Amore
Amiga Amore in Highland Park serves Mexican-meets-Italian dishes such as clams and chorizo with fregola and beans.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Amiga Amore

After years running a “Mexitalian” pop-up and working in some of the best restaurants in New York and L.A., the husband-and-wife team behind Amiga Amore has opened a bricks-and-mortar that blends their respective cultures in Highland Park. What began as mere observation for Alessandro Zecca and Danielle Duran Zecca became their culinary focus, adding masa to their pasta dough and otherwise combining their Italian and Mexican backgrounds.

“I saw just how much was similar — like ricotta and requesón are literally the same things, and how well used the tomato is in both cultures,” said Duran Zecca, who serves as Amiga Amore’s chef. “When we went to Rome to visit his uncle, he had the spiciest little green chiles and he’s cutting it with scissors on his pizza, and I was like, ‘Oh, I like that, tío! Let me try!’ There were just so many things that once I started to dig and do my research, it was like, ‘Oh my God.’”

Naturally their love story revolves around food. Duran Zecca worked at Church & State and Lukshon in Los Angeles before moving to New York City, where she cooked at Le Bernardin and the Modern. She met Zecca, who worked in front-of-house positions in London, Sardinia and elsewhere, before moving to New York. He sought her help in opening his new restaurant, and when his mother visited from Italy she taught Duran Zecca how to make pasta — and the similarities between their two cultures began to take shape in Duran Zecca’s mind: uovo in Italian, huevo in Spanish; kneading dough versus kneading masa. Still, she missed Los Angeles and convenient, ubiquitous Mexican food; she had her mom ship her cans of hominy and menudo, craving home.

Amiga Amore owners Danielle Duran Zecca and Alessandro Zecca stand in their new Highland Park restaurant against a teal wall.
“Mexitalian” pop-up Amiga Amore is now a full-fledged restaurant with an expanded menu of Mexican and Italian fusion from husband-and-wife team Alessandro Zecca and Danielle Duran Zecca.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Upon the move back, after working in L.A. restaurants and catering, they began Amiga Amore in 2018 as a pop-up with a brief menu of six or so items. This month they took over a former denim repair and jewelry shop, converting it to a restaurant for their signature and new dishes, each with hints of Mexican and Italian flavor and technique.

The “noprese” salad — a Caprese featuring nopales, hibiscus salt and house-made stracciatella — and the elote agnolotti, with its house Tajin and dehydrated lime, were two of their first fan favorites. They appear on the menu, as does a seasonal huitlacoche cacio e pepe with corn smut imported from Oaxaca along with Sichuan peppercorn — a direct influence, Duran Zecca says, of her time at Lukshon. “As much as it is ‘Mexitalian,’ it’s also where I’ve traveled, where I’ve been, all the restaurants where I worked at and gained knowledge.”

New dishes include pork chop Milanese breaded with tortilla crust; panzerotti (fried pizza); and a tonnato tostada served on fried cilantro-tinged pasta dough in lieu of tortilla. In the future, they expect to add more intricate items and some served with a flourish, such as tableside pours — “I can’t take the Michelin out of me,” Duran Zecca says.

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Brunch is slated to launch in June with dishes such as chilaquiles, a tater tot burrito with Perroni-braised carnitas, a large requesón-stuffed raviolo carbonara, and birria Benedict.

The beer and wine program, with a focus on Mexican, Italian and California wines, has yet to launch, but the restaurant opened with a range of nonalcoholic beverages such as pistachio horchata and an aguachile-inspired juice.


Baking was Duran Zecca’s first love, and as such they’ve been planning pastries such as an elote croissant and pistachio conchas for brunch service and are already baking the restaurant’s range of breads in-house also blending the two cultures. Even their coffee selection is on theme, offering Italian espresso while the coffee for cafe de olla is made by a small family operation in Oaxaca (it also makes its way into their tiramisu).

Amiga Amore offers indoor and patio seating and is open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 9: 30 p.m., Friday from 5 to 10:30 p.m. and Saturday from 4 to 10:30 p.m.

5668 York Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 739-0894,

An overhead photo of chef Sujan Sarkar's modern-Indian dishes from downtown L.A.'s new Baar Baar
This month chef Sujan Sarkar brought his modern-Indian take on the gastropub to Los Angeles, offering Bollywood-inspired cocktails and new interpretations of classic items such as chaats, butter chicken and nihari.
(Neil John Burger / Baar Baar)

Baar Baar

A modern-Indian restaurant that specializes in Bollywood-inspired cocktails is now open downtown with tandoori monkfish osso buco, red pepper butter chicken, sweet potato chaat, Kashmiri duck tacos and more. Baar Baar first opened in New York City in 2017, and this month it launched an L.A. iteration from chef-owner Sujan Sarkar in the former Faith & Flower space at the base of residential complex Watermarke Tower. With cocktails inspired by Bollywood classics both old and new, the beverage program serves tipples such as the Hera Pheri, named for the comedy series, with guava chutney, mezcal and orange liqueur, and the RRR — which takes its name from S.S. Rajamouli’s recent international blockbuster — with crème de cacao, chocolate, coffee bitters and milk wash, all made from behind a nearly 50-foot bar. Sarkar’s food menu features chaats, small plates and larger options, including a nihari-leaning lamb shank roast, a mushroom pepper fry with sunchoke salan, and paneer pinwheels with red pepper chutney — and a range of other chutneys all made in-house. Baar Baar is open Tuesday to Sunday from 5 to 11 p.m.

705 W, 9th St., Los Angeles, (213) 266-8989,


Planta Cocina

Two plant-based tacos from vegan restaurant Plata Cocina in Marina del Rey
Plant-based chain Planta just opened the first of two L.A. locations. At Planta Cocina, the Pan-Latin menu offers vegan tacos, plant-based queso fundido, dairy-free tres leches and beyond.
(Planta Cocina)

A fast-expanding, plant-based restaurant chain opens its first L.A. location this week, marking the brand’s first Mexican-leaning restaurant. Planta Cocina is the new offshoot of New York and Toronto’s Planta, founded in 2016, and launches May 25 in Marina del Rey with a pan-Latin menu that subs watermelon for ahi in tacos, cashew mozzarella for dairy in queso fundido, and hearts of palm for crab in a tostada. Some of co-founder and executive chef David Lee’s signature (and non-Latin) dishes also can be found in the nearly 6,000-square-foot restaurant, including mafaldine in salsa verde; udon with mushroom cream sauce and shaved truffle; corn cavatelli with árbol chile; vegan nigiri; Oaxaca-inspired pizza with pistachio crema and potato chorizo; and tofu-and-shiitake lettuce wraps with lemongrass and rice noodles. Planta Cocina also offers a robata section, where Lee says he hopes to spotlight locally grown produce, as well as desserts such as corn cake, horchata sundaes and passion fruit tres leches. Cocktails, wine, beer and a range of nonalcoholic concoctions are available. Planta Cocina is open Monday to Wednesday from 4 to 10 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 4 to 11 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. A Brentwood Planta, also plant-based but with a separate cuisine focus, is slated to open in July.

4625 Admiralty Way, Suite 104, Marina del Rey, (310) 362-7730,


Espelette, a new restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, is drawing on the South of France, Spain, Italy and beyond. The menu from chef Steve Benjamin, who is also the hotel’s culinary director, includes the restaurant’s namesake, espelette pepper, which can be found in dishes such as tuna carpaccio with sun-dried tomato oil or caviar with scrambled egg and crème fraîche. Other items include Dover sole, grilled lamb chops, beef tartare, whole artichokes with mustard vinaigrette, roast chicken in toum sauce and pappardelle carbonara, plus a range of steaks and seafood grilled over wood. The wine program highlights vintners of the Bay of Biscay region. Espelette can be found in the former Jean-Georges space on the ground floor and is open daily for breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m. and for dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

9850 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 860-6666,

Broad Street Oyster Co.

One of L.A.’s top seafood spots is expanding, and its next stop is the end of Huntington Beach Pier. Malibu’s Broad Street Oyster Co. — with outposts in Grand Central Market, Smorgasburg L.A., Santa Barbara and soon, San Francisco — is bringing its lobster rolls, fried clams, oysters, fish and chips, natural wines and more to the restaurant space held by Ruby’s Diner for nearly 30 years. Founder Chris Tompkins’ modern take on a classic California seafood shack is expected to open this summer in Surf City and can accommodate more than 100 guests.

1 Main St., Suite 1, Huntington Beach,

An overhead photo of a tray of raw oysters on ice from Broad Street Oyster Co.
Some of the region’s best oysters, lobster rolls, fried clams and other seafood-shack bites are headed to Huntington Beach this summer.
(Liam Brown / Broad Street Oyster Co.)

CVT Soft Serve at home

For years, fans of CVT Soft Serve have had to track owner Joe Nicchi and his three brown-and-cream-colored trucks across Los Angeles for a taste of his nostalgic sweets. Starting this month, fans can simply trek to a grocery store to bring it to their own freezer. Jeff Bezos became the first home client of CVT when he installed a machine specifically to serve Nicchi’s product, but the new, freezer-aisle pouches found in Gelson’s — and more planned locations — won’t require a machine. Nicchi worked with food scientists to reproduce the flavor of his beloved product found on the ice cream trucks. It took years, but they finally nailed it. “I said, ‘Guys, we need to make this L.A.-mom friendly,’” he said. “It’s all natural — even the stabilizers are natural.” Special machines whip air into the soft serve as it’s inserted into the pouches, which then, after the product softens slightly, can be squeezed and eaten sans utensils. CVT is equally famed for its chocolate, vanilla and swirl soft serve made with California dairy as it is for its policy of charging influencers — or anyone else who asks for free soft serve in exchange for a social media post or any other form of nonmonetary exchange — double the cost for the item; don’t bother asking for free soft-serve pouches, either.

De Buena Planta relaunches

After temporarily shuttering for the winter, Silver Lake’s plant-forward, patio-centric Mexican restaurant De Buena Planta is back with a new focus. Now called De Buena Planta Garden Club + Mezcaleria, the project from the team behind the Butcher’s Daughter is more bar than restaurant, with new cocktails from Dave Purcell (NoMad, Winston House) as well as a “garden club” component that lets guests shop the greenery on display around the patio. The two worlds combine in cocktails that feature herbs grown on the patio, such as the Green Goddess, with snap-pea-infused gin with celery, poblano, lime and dill. The food menu is more limited but still focused on vegetarian and vegan dishes such as quesadillas featuring Oaxacan cheese and squash blossoms in house-made blue corn tortillas. La Casita, the indoor bar, serves as the concept’s dedicated mezcalería. De Buena Planta Garden Club + Mezcaleria is open Thursday and Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Saturday and Sunday from noon to midnight. La Casita is open Thursday to Sunday from 6 p.m. to “late.”

2815 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles,