You won’t find the L.A. native in neighborhood favorite Donut Friend, but Mariscos el Faro is his second office, Cookbook is his go-to spot for super fresh ingredients and he’s a Highland Park Florist regular.
Worth the Hype/Not Worth the Hype is a regular series on what L.A. spots are — or aren’t — worthy of a line, long wait or Instagram following, neighborhood by neighborhood, according to a savvy local.
A lifelong Angeleno, the self-described “vato loco” food writer and former Jonathan Gold restaurant scout, Javier Cabral grew up in East L.A. and Alhambra before moving to Highland Park.
“When I moved to Highland Park in 2012 or 2013 I was taken aback because I’m one of those maybe overly staunch Angelenos where I’m like, ‘If I wanna live here, I’m gonna die here.’ Especially with East L.A.,” Cabral says. “And then I was taken aback by how much I fell in love with Highland Park.”
Cabral loved Highland Park so much he joined the neighborhood council at a time when the neighborhood looked a lot different than it does today.
“Highland Park Bowl was boarded up, The Greyhound was still a pupusa shop, all that stuff, what people call the ‘Colonizer Square’ like Triple Beam Pizza and all the shops there [were boarded up].”
Cabral’s love for writing began in the third grade when the cartoon “Doug” inspired him to begin a journal. Then, at 16, his brother bought him a MacBook, which served as the impetus for him to launch his blog: The Teenage Glutster.
“I just really liked food, and I liked writing, so I combined the two and apparently there weren’t many Mexican-American writers from, like, the hood who were doing this shit so people liked it and started reading it,” Cabral says. He just finished a cookbook on homestyle Oaxacan food slated to be published by Abrams Books in the fall, works as an associate producer for a Netflix taco documentary airing soon and serves as an occasional editor for L.A. Taco while penning columns for the likes of Food and Wine, among other publications.
The conversation circled around gentrification without ever having to say the word aloud. Instead, Cabral discussed the difference between what he calls new-school and old-school L.A.
“I’m actually able to pinpoint the exact month and year that Highland Park [became] what we call ‘stopped being white on weekends’ — February of 2018 was the first month that you started to see white people walking the street on a weekday,” he says. “Before that, it was only on weekends that people would go to the Kitchen Mouse and stuff, and that was the exact month and I was like, OK cool, like something’s changing, there’s a change here. So that’s what I call new school Highland Park. The weekday shift. Which is, for me, a little more important.”
Who’s considered new-school? “Young parents,” Cabral says. “Young white parents with really nice strollers, sunglasses, very fashion-forward dressed people. And a lot of people who go to yoga.” He laughs, and points in the direction to the left of us. “The big one right there, next to the Highland Theater. That one was kind of a big moment. If you were to make a timeline of critical points in Figueroa’s history, that one was a big moment. As a writer, as a reporter, I’m very conscious of seeing both sides. I go to yoga there too sometimes. I like supporting the business sometimes if they offer a good product. I go to yoga and I love it and my body loves it. It’s complex.”
Cabral shared with Los Angeleno places in Highland Park he thinks are worth the hype, or not, in the ever-evolving neighborhood. His guiding principle? “Good food attracts all, it doesn’t matter your background,” Cabral says.
WORTH THE HYPE
Tropical Fruits and Juices
5729 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90042
This juice bar with a walk-up window is easily identified by its bright blue awning and storefront covered in hand-painted fruits and juices and other tropical scenes. Cabral says this is one of his favorite places. He frequently orders the jugo verde: cucumber, lemon, spinach, ginger.
Highland Park food truck Mariscos el Faro specializes in Sinaloa-style seafood. “Mariscos el Faro is probably my office. That’s where I eat at least once a week,” Cabral says, calling them the epitome of Highland Park.
“Cookbook is a little supermarket that came out of Echo Park. Super boutique, handpicked things [that] before, you would have to only get at a farmers market, so really fresh, high-quality produce,” Cabral says, adding that it’s expensive, but sometimes a $9 loaf of bread is worth the splurge if you can afford it. “They’re also one of the only places in L.A. that carry Kernel of Truth masa from Boyle Heights, and that masa is two pounds for like three bucks — you can’t beat that price. Cookbook is worth the hype because it saved me so many times for last-minute herbs or last-minute ingredients, and the fruit there is amazing.”
“I buy my flowers here once a week,” Cabral says. “They’ve been here for 15 years or 20 years … There are days where I don’t have enough cash to pay them, so I come in and I get whatever’s pretty and I just pay them back the next day.”
“Greyhound was arguably the first new-school business on the Figueroa side of Highland Park, opened by these dudes who used to work at Father’s Office, which is known for a really good burger,” Cabral says. “They’ve done a really good job with their Dodger happy hour. They made it a comforting, inviting place for old-school Latinos who have been here forever.”
The chicken wings are affordable and Cabral calls the menu “approachable.” “If you go there during any kind of Dodger game, especially as it gets into the finals, it gets crazy,” he says.
“La Cuevita still has the bones of a true dive bar,” Cabral says. “That’s the kind of place where the bartenders are rude — and they’re not really warm.” He says that attitude — and their strong drinks — are what make it feel genuine.
5511 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90042
“[This] Peruvian place that just opened up is super under-hyped, and they deserve more love,” Cabral says. “It’s called Rosty, and it’s right in front of The Greyhound … They make really good ceviche.”
In addition to Highland Park Florist for fresh flowers, Cabral also frequents a plant shop across the street called Nature’s Beauty where he purchases houseplants. Not too long ago, The Juicy Leaf, a trendy plant shop, added themselves to the scene, parking themselves in between the two long-standing plant stores. Cabral says that between the three businesses, Juicy Leaf isn’t worth the hype.
“As a punk lifer who lives on the Figueroa side of HLP, I prefer my pop-punk and emo revival in power chord and shouted form, not through cheesy punk puns and fried dough. Besides, I usually prefer pan dulce,” Cabral says.
Cabral says that while he appreciates beer — specifically Highland Park Brewery beer, which he says is one of the best breweries in L.A. — he’s not one for the hip bar vibe. In that sense, Block Party doesn’t quite live up to the hype. “I just don’t myself frequent these places, you know? But I do understand there are people who party there and stuff,” he says.
“I understand that it took a lot of money and I appreciate the decor and how much they took to make it beautiful inside, but I don’t know for some reason, I just don’t go. I’m just not attracted to that kind of place,” Cabral says.