“It suggests a place of respite, with a fuchsia-colored burst of bougainvillea on one side of the lot and madly overgrown pepper trees on the other. A no-trespassing sign keeps a lonely vigil among the trees, daring you to dip a toe onto the property.”
A flâneur takes to the streets, uncovering surprises — both modest and startling — on walks through a city that’s reinventing itself around every corner.
Look along the stretch of Broadway as it cuts through Lincoln Heights, and you’ll see sycamore trees lining both sides of the street. In summer, they offer a bit of shade in the business district. But now, as fall pivots between 60-degree and 80-degree days, the leaves dry on the branches of the trees, not yet falling but withering before your eyes. Soon, with another day or two of Santa Anas, they will collect on the sidewalks and in the gutters, accompanying your every step here with a crunch as they turn to dust underfoot.
Just past where Broadway crosses over the 5 Freeway, a line threatens to spill past the doorway of Moo’s Craft BBQ, proudly advertising its Texas origins on its windows. A scan of the fluorescent backlit menu on the wall suggests the possibility of a transcendent journey to the Hill Country near Austin, all while remaining firmly in Los Angeles. Brisket, red potato salad and Key lime pie beckon, with only the esquites having been scrawled as “sold out” on the butcher paper roll. It deserves to be in demand, this side dish of roasted corn cut from the cob, combined with cotija cheese and a dusting of chili powder that is so satisfying it stands as the main event next to the meat itself.
El Huarachito — One of the Best Moles in Town
The warmth of the day has driven many inside. But as you head east down the boulevard, you see a vendor baking in the full sun, selling straw hats tied together in a spider’s web of thin rope which hangs between street signs. The hats are all wide-brimmed and made of pale straw, and you can pick between a classic cowboy, a Panama or one that offers enough coverage to rival a small umbrella.
In the next block and across the street, you reach El Huarachito, a cocina that rises to serve breakfast at 7 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. after satiating the lunch crowd. You settle into a table on the sidewalk outside the restaurant where a fortunate sycamore tree is the recipient of many a half-drunk glass of water. A couple lingers at a table nearby, sipping second cups of coffee in their post-meal languor. On the specials board is a mole enchilada that quickly establishes itself as among the best in the city. It’s served on a bright, celebratory platter with rice, beans and slivers of bright green avocado, and you can’t help but feel your spirits rise when it’s set in front of you. Everything on the plate tastes better when swirled in the mole, and you find yourself spearing even lettuce and bits of tomato to run them through the chocolate-brown sauce.
Home of the Tigers
It is now that you begin your ascent, to the highpoint of Lincoln Heights, at least, so far as where Broadway will take you. You pass a gateway pocked with river rocks and marked at the center — Holgate Square. If you walk up to investigate, you’ll find a small collection of houses representing a few eras of L.A. architecture, the latest, a modern construction nestled comfortably among its vintage neighbors. A dusty orange cat initially looks welcoming before streaking away down his driveway. At the top of the hill, surrounded by homes and the little u-shaped road, are the remains of what must have been a house at one time, its walls still marked by river rock foundations. It suggests a place of respite, with a fuchsia-colored burst of bougainvillea on one side of the lot and madly overgrown pepper trees on the other. A no-trespassing sign keeps a lonely vigil among the trees, daring you to dip a toe onto the property.
As you return to Broadway, you see Lincoln Heights High, home of the Tigers, positioned somewhat grandly on a bluff across the street, taking a royal’s view of downtown L.A. There’s a football game in progress, and, drawn by the crackle of the PA system urging on the home team and their fans, you walk up an alley that leads into the stadium. They respond with a cacophony of cheers building to a crescendo when a black-helmeted Tiger grabs a punt and runs a tightrope down the sideline, leaving the defenders in chaos as he crosses the goal line.
At the eastern end of the stadium, you look back across Broadway and see a steel staircase that resembles a mighty fire escape, leaning against a hill. You begin climbing it, pausing at the landings to look out over the streetscape below. After four stories, you reach the top and experience a moment of woozy vertigo as you position yourself against the railing. The breeze has picked up, setting the trees nearby into motion and cooling the sweat from the climb. Broadway stretches out below you, cresting a hill to the east and dipping back the way you came to the west. In that direction, the street chases the setting sun, back through Lincoln Heights and on, along the base of Elysian Park and bisecting Chinatown, to the center of the city.