In tomorrow's New York Times, I have a short piece about my neighborhood, Los Feliz. It's really more of a piece about the rebirth of Hillhurst Ave., and it's only a start in that regard. In the last 10 years, I've seen Hillhurst change from what seemed like a random and gritty vein of the Valley into a real expression of commerce-meets-creativity since the south-of-the-Boulevard hipsters have turned 30 (or 40, or 50) and become successful alongside their hillside brethren. Obviously Los Feliz isn't surfacing, but Hillhurst, itself, has been resurfacing for a few years, and still awaits more development. Some not so pleasant: on the upside, the owners of Dominick's and the 101 cafe will soon open Little Dom's in the spot previously occupied by the now-closed Belle Epoque; on the other hand, a view-obstructing, traffic-exploding Whole Foods and four levels of condos above it may soon cast a dark shadow over the beloved structure (the current Derby club) that once housed the original--and LA's last--Brown Derby restaurant.
I had originally written in an early draft that Hillhurst's relatively new chic shops and restaurants don't just represent the tastes and styles of the East Side's increasingly sophisticated inhabitants (not that I consider myself one of them) but that these establishments now directly serve the interests of this quantifiable group. There's a significant difference between projecting an image of what a neighborhood seems like*, and coming right out and giving a tight band of residents what they crave. The latter is now Hillhurst's job, and aside from deepening Los Feliz, at large, the street's also now opening up the hood to more inter-city, and hell, international travelers interested in more than a representation of "hipsterdom" and a spoon of Pinkberry.
[*Vermont Avenue, for the most part, save for House of Pies, Palermo, bad jewelry store, and Skylight bookstore, etc... Our movie theater is no longer a true arthouse, and Fred 62 recently hosted the oh-so-fab Britney Spears.]
Simultaneously, young adults, even those without studio development deals, are buying in the storied hills that boast structures by Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright across from the new Observatory that won't guarantee show admission even if you buy yourself a shuttle ride up the hill. Leases, all around, are rising. Inhabitants without rent control are now paying close to $3,000 a month for new apartments. In the flats, a two-bedroom cottage just south of the Derby recently sold for a million dollars. It's getting crazy, to be sure, but these facts shock, with unrealistic intensity, many of my fellow native New York friends and family who don't see the tremendous value in spots like ours, and hence need a real-estate vision-readjustment. What these new-style Alvie Singer-types don't realize is that Los Feliz is more free-spirited and artistic and socially cohesive as any current cross-section of any of today's downtown New York spots. In fact, it's better because of the other tight communities and fantastic nature that surround us--and that includes the Scientologists and aging-Brit, one-hit-wonders grazing on their microgreens. Such virtues, even the comical ones, are now true currency, especially in a sprawling, car-crazy town of people craving more frequent and deeper connections to each other.
With that out of the way, here's a brief addendum to the story: thoughts on other Hillhurst haunts and how they flesh out the street. Have a look, and stay tuned for updates and expansions throughout the week.
+On either side of Vinoteca Farfalla, the new wine bar, you can find some pretty solid culinary choices. Just avoid the newly opened En Sushi (it's overpriced, and always less than fresh). On the north side of the Vinoteca is the owners' initial hit, Farfalla: a bankable trattoria where you can snag a bucatini all'amatriciana that almost comes close to that of NY's Babbo--not very close at all, but Babbo is pretty extraordinary, so that's still high praise. On the other side of the wine bar is Tropicialia, the wine bar owners' new Brazillian joint. What it lacks in decor--it's nearly cafeteria-style on the inside--it makes up for in affordable, braised meat that falls off the bone, and dependable steak salads. Just run from the cheese bread--it's fairly nauseating--and don't expect the polenta to taste like grandma's. It's nowhere close to as creamy and magical.
+Further down Hillhurst is Alcove's older, less bright, wannabe sibling, Home. Except it's far less chic and often easier to find yourself a seat there. Call it a standby: they serve everything your working parents might have cooked for you as a kid--if your working parents made you spinach salads with goat cheese along with sides of waffle fries--but the service is truly lacking, and they really don't do anything innovative. It's simply a relaxed, outdoor patio cafe on which to enjoy strong sandwiches, salads, and burgers with friends. And they deliver. Even to Yummy Yoga across the street.
+ Mustard Seed Cafe. Another organic lunch spot, this is the crunchiest of the bunch. Lots of veggie options, extremely slow waiters, and lingerers. It lacks the power scene of Alcove but might appeal to the more Whole Foodsy, Weeds-watching type who can't stand eating next to TV stars. You know you love sprouts.
+Places to avoid: Mexico City (mediocre food; you can do much better in Silverlake); Tangier (overpriced continental gourmet in a bad Moroccan design, though I like the quiet outdoor bar for drinks when it's not overtaken by wannabe gangsters; look for a new, overly ambitious owner to make it even more upscale soon); and the new Vegan place across from Home (not very tasty, but that's coming from a carnivore).
+You should, however, hit Cafe Los Feliz, run by a local family, for your coffee instead of the Coffee Bean. And do try a croissant--I argue that they compete with good French patisseries.
+You won't feel good about yourself for it, but drinking at dive bars like the Rustic and Drawing Room has its merits--for one, you may end up at 4 a.m. cursing all farm animals and studio executives inside Keifer Sutherland's nearby loft.
+And the Village Gourmet store next to Alcove sells some excellent Parma proscuitto even if they charge way too much for food that shouldn't even be considered gourmet (say, Cento tomato sauce, which is a budget item in New York supermarkets) and really have no ethical problem with raping you on boutique wines.
+Yes, Yuca's taco stand is nationally famous. But let's be honest: it's just a taco stand. Good street food, but god knows where it comes from. [UPDATE: One of my favorite local writers/music lawyers/cultural scions writes in to say that: "Yuca's is NOT just a taco stand. It's all about
what you order that makes the difference: (a) the Cochinita Pibil -- a yucatecan pork specialty which is pretty
much unavailable at any other taco stands/trucks I've been to in L.A....Sweet, BBQ goodness.
(b) the burgers - actually a pretty good, low-priced burger. Probably because they are made on the same grill as the carne asada, so they pick up a little of that marinade. Also, as opposed to most of the taco trucks in the city, Yuca's street tacos are a bit LARGER. Street tacos tend to be about 3" long from a taco truck/stand. Yuca's are standard taco size." She is right, of course. But I still stand by my street food comment. Must promote the health these days.]
+Buy jewelry at Liza Shtromberg's shop, and I hope I'm spelling that right. She's just up the block from Cafe Los Feliz--one block up from our increasingly popular Nature Mart. Liza makes her own pieces, and those shall-we-say smart celebrities wear it. But it's also affordable and just beautiful. The love of my life has always been pleased.
+One cool fact about the Hollywood Gelato company than I couldn't get into the piece (aside from the fact that they are the hood's only place to get a true Illy brew): It was apparently once a front for the Armenian mafia, who rented it from Annette's family (the current owners). Also, Annette's grandma still lives in the back of the building. And her late husband was a waiter at the original Brown Derby, back when Los Feliz was a sort of Little Italy. Annette, who played on Hillhurst as a child, also is reportedly trying to bring in only the best all-natural and sustainable gelato. Reason enough to get your ice cream here, no? Let's support the locals and show Whole Foods what we're made of (when we don't need giant bags of organic onions). Of course, there's also Pazzo Gelato in Silverlake--but Giada de Laurentiis just did a feature on it on the Food Network, so now it's really busy. Plus, it's not in Los Feliz-walking distance, and I think that certain of Annette's flavors really win--certainly the Chipotle Chocolate Chip and the superbly creamy and caramelly Cajeta.
+As a local grad student has recently mentioned: Yes, the wobbly chairs need some retooling at the Alcove. And no, it's not the quietest place to get work done. And yes, you will not find Internet there. However: It's around the block from my house--an excellent place to conduct work meetings--and I'm a big fan of laptops with cellular Internet cards that get you Web access everywhere. Plus, there's something about working in a nicely populated, somewhat foreign/uncomfortable environment--it juices me to get stuff done quickly, and that's swhat I'm looking for when I leave the house with computer in tow. That, and a grilled veggie salad with salmon. (I'm trying to avoid the See's candy chocolate cake.)
+I wouldn't get in a dither about seeing famous people here (although plenty gallop about). It's just that there's no point in mentioning some of the more interesting ones (let's let them live in peace), except of course for the L.Ron-loving Beck and his Ribissian possee.
+I'm sorry I haven't provided any addresses, phone numbers, or Web links, but I have to encourage a little research on your part because of the next +
+Please support but don't bombard the hood, says the occasionally reluctant travel writer. I live here, and hope to be able to continue to eat my Alcove lunches--and walk Hillhurst--in some sort of peace!
P.S. Yes, people already writing in, I'm aware of the fact that we didn't mention many new spots on Vermont and Sunset, and throughout other corners of the area. And I know, too, that we didn't cover Silverlake at all. But it had to stay short and focus on Hillhurst. Thems the rules.