JUST OVER THE BRIDGE from downtown L.A., Boyle Heights combines traditional Mexican flavors with East L.A.-style Chicano traditions. It’s close enough for downtown workers to head over for lunch, but the bustling carnicerias and crowded tamale shops are a world away. This neighborhood, which now boasts light-rail service from Downtown and Pasadena via the Gold Line extension, is clearly L.A.’s next in line for gentrification. Though the area’s a bit rough around the edges, it’s perfectly safe for shoppers and diners, and the rewards are many.
Start on East Cesar Chavez Avenue by stopping for breakfast, lunch or dinner at LA PARRILLA, which specializes in parrillada grills with meats and seafood and guacamole prepared tableside.
A stop at longtime L.A. hangout EL TEPEYAC is a must, for gargantuan Hollenbeck or even more huge Manuel burritos. Also on Cesar Chavez is GUISADOS, a gourmet taco shop run by the owners of East L.A.’s delicious Cook’s Tortas. Choose from complex and spicy tacos with beef, chicken or vegetable fillings stewed with a dizzying array of spice and chiles.
Where Cesar Chavez Avenue meets Indiana Street is called Five Points, or Cinco Puntos. At LOS CINCO PUNTOS meat market, all the makings for an authentic feast are ready to be assembled, starting with corn tortillas made while you watch, prepared carnitas and other meats, and cactus salad, guacamole and salsa in bulk.
Cross over to East 1st Street and head east to TERESITA’S, where home-style dishes like albondigas soup, costillas (ribs) and enchiladas are served with homemade tortillas. Heading back toward Downtown on 1st Street, stop in at TAMALES LILIANA. Take home a bag of freshly made tamales or try chilequiles or huevos divorciados (eggs “divorced” by a row of beans down the middle) for breakfast at this homey diner, which also makes menudo on weekends.
Just down the street is EL MERCADO, a marketplace that’s similar to Downtown’s Grand Central Market, but with the addition of mariachis and margaritas at the upstairs restaurants. Stalls sell everything from chiles and seafood to toys and cowboy hats. Further west on 1st Street, the large, colorful EL RINCONCITO DEL MAR RESTAURANT is the place for seafood cocktails of shrimp or octopus and hearty seafood stews called caldos.
Finish your walk or drive at MARIACHI PLAZA, the closest thing to a Boyle Heights meeting point, on East 1st Street near Boyle Avenue. Mariachi musicians hoping to be hired for parties gather in the small park, which includes a charming old-world bandstand.
Near the plaza is the area’s most upscale restaurant, LA SERENATA DE GARIBALDI, where diners often spot the mayor and other politicos. The handsome place (which now has two westside offshoots) emphasizes creative preparations of Mexican seafood and offers valet parking. Finish off the evening at EASTSIDE LUV , a sure sign—along with the new Metrolink station right outside—that the neighborhood is on the rise. The wine bar/music venue is livening up the neighborhood with everything from burlesque shows to Chicano art exhibits.
— Pat Saperstein
Eastside Luv Wine Bar
1835 E. 1st St., 323.262.7442
El Mercado de Los Angeles
3425 E. 1st St., 323.268.3451
El Rinconcito Del Mar Restaurant
2908 E. 1st St., 323.269.8723
El Tepeyac Cafe
812 N. Evergreen Ave., 323.267.8668
2100 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., 323.264.7201
La Mascota Bakery
2715 Whittier Blvd., 323.263.5513
La Parrilla Restaurant
2126 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave.,323.262.3434
La Serenata De Garibaldi
1842 E. 1st St., 323.265.2887
Los Cinco Puntos Mexican Foods
3300 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., 323.261.4084
3448 E. 1st St., 323.780.0839
3826 E. 1st St., 323.266.6045