On Hillhurst Avenue, comfort food is available both dressed up and down. At the just-opened hot spot Mess Hall, I ate an incredible pork chop with Tabasco butter and cheddar cheese grits for $26. The next day I downed an equally enjoyable lunch for less than $5 at a place semi-accurately named Best Fish Taco in Ensenada. (The fish tacos are indeed the best, but Ensenada is in Mexico.)
Likewise, friendly vintage shops and high-end boutiques co-exist side by side on Vermont, where I quickly got a big chunk of my Christmas shopping done: Nirvana and Bowie T-shirts at La La Ling for the kids, and a selection of graphic novels for older picturebook fans at Skylight Books.
You know you’re in a good neighbourhood when not only are the indie bookstores expanding, but local cinemas thrive. After a day of walking, the Vista, by the corner of Sunset and Hillhurst, is the place to rest: The classic Hollywood single-screen theatre had its seating cut in half about a decade ago, leading to a luxurious amount of legroom.
If you prefer your culture on stage rather than screen, performers practising their skills between film and TV gigs make for a lively cabaret scene. Rockwell: Table & Stage on Vermont hosts a series of film-themed concerts called For the Record. When I was there, Anderson Davis – who spent months in Toronto with South Pacific – directed and starred in Scorcese: The Concert, a mix of short scenes from the filmmaker’s famous movies and songs from their soundtracks.
While there was always a subway at Vermont and Sunset able to whisk me away to other parts of L.A., I never felt a compelling reason to hop aboard – especially with such friendly locals. Even at Bar Covell, a hip wine bar with dauntingly gorgeous clientele, it didn’t take long for someone to engage a tired traveller.
Sean, a self-described “real Lebowski,” entertainingly humble-bragged about his lack of work ethic, while his makeup artist friend Carla outlined the best nearby purveyors of smoothies and vegan goods. The secret to Los Feliz, she said, is that the folks who live there are “people with a conscience, real people in the midst of the smoke and mirrors.”
As I sipped the perfect glass of Napa wine (recommended by the bartender after he sized me up), her words rang true. I felt Zen and Lebowskian. Que syrah, syrah.
IF YOU GO
WHERE TO EAT
Messhall In 1940, Cecil B. DeMille bought what was then Willard’s Chicken Inn and transformed it into a Brown Derby. As of this fall, it’s a farm-to-table joint serving twists on American comfort food. The Hog Chop slathered in tabasco butter is the talking point, but the killer app is the steak-tartar taco. 4500 Los Feliz Blvd; 323-660-MESS; messhallkitchen.com
Edendale Strictly speaking, this gastropub is, in Los Angeles real estate lingo, “Los Feliz adjacent.” But sneaking a block or two into Silver Lake is worth it to sit on this one-time firehall’s spacious patios or at its stylish bar. Recommended: the pork belly tacos with spicy kimchee and sunflower sprouts, and the company of chatty screenwriters. 2838 Rowena Ave; 323-666-2000; theedendale.com
Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada L.A. foodies know price ain’t nothin’ but a number – the $1.75 fish tacos and $2.50 camarones abrigados (sort of a shrimp taquito) here are excellent. Buy half a dozen so you can try out all six types of homemade salsa at the condiment bar, and briefly admire the painted surfboards on the wall. 1650 N Hillhurst Ave; bestfishtacoinensenada.com
The Covell With 120 bottles of wine available by the glass, the bartenders encourage their cool and classy clientele to order by adjective rather than grape – then they’ll have you try a few that fit the bill, before you choose. A private room called Sidebar is entered through a secret bookcase near a wall of skeleton keys. 4628 Hollywood Blvd; 323-660-4400; barcovell.com
WHAT TO SEE
Griffith Park Free public talks on astronomy and space in a room called the “Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon” the first Friday of every month. 213 East Observatory Road; 213-473-0800; griffithobservatory.org