Heading north on Figueroa through Highland Park, you take a left on York Blvd. and head west towards Glendale. You've been in a hot zone of great Mexican eats, but the best could be yet to come. This strip has received national attention for its new nightlife, but it could be the past that this street specializes in, with a holy temple of super-cool, hyper-colored, old-school sodas and a diner dedicated to huaraches, that remains a crucial component of L.A.'s cheap eats scene. Depending on the time of day, it is also haven for food trucks, the traditional variety that put in the work and paved the way for today's new breed, with two of the city's favorites open long before the rest wake up. Where are you going to eat? Take a look at four classic options on York Blvd. in Highland Park.
Even your most cynical, most perpetually "over it" friends will drop their jaws when coming to Galco's, a shrine to vintage soda, craft beer, and classic and British candy. You can easily wander the aisles in amazement for 30 minutes, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the regional favorites and depth of the owner's soda-pop knowledge. A head-spinning assortment includes such cult classics as Faygo, Dr. Brown's Cel-Rey, Black Lemonade, birch beer, Jeff's chocolate egg cream, Virgil's, Lenin-Ade, coffee soda, Colombian kola, root beer from Louisiana brewers Abita, (as well as Sprecher's and old school Dad's) and even, hilariously, an Ed Hardy energy drink. The selection of craft beer is similarly astounding, with a stock of variously shaped logo'd glasses to quaff from. A must-see!
Galco's Old World Grocery, 5702 York Blvd. Highland Park. 323-255-7115.
The last few years have seen the establishment of a few gentrified drinking spots on York and fortunately, there's no shortage of great taco trucks on the boulevard to soak up the late-night damage. The best contenders are probably the entry from the La Estrella chain and lonchero-solo, El Pique, both exactly what you want a taco truck to be and both with their cadres of allegiant fans. They each serve simple tacos (as well as burritos and the like) and an inclusive variety of meats from the three standards to the more coveted body and head cuts. Fortunately, both trucks are cheap enough, good enough, and close enough that you can try both with a short walk between the two and decide which you want to back in the taco wars.
El Pique, York Blvd. and Ave 53
La Estrella, York Blvd. and Ave. 54.
This Northeast L.A. institution (and mainstay on Jonathan Gold's essentials list) holds the bar high for inexpensive, flavorful dining with Mexico City-influenced cooking, rich rubs, expansive salsas, and bright, refreshing aguas frescas that seem to mend whatever stress/hangover/dehydration you might be going through. It seems you can't go wrong in ordering in this small, family-heavy restaurant where a tiny kitchen crams in a few furiously grilling ladies, but soulful highlights that come steaming from the narrow corridor include their pastor, weekend lamb barbacoa, asada, lengua, adobado, quesadillas with calabaza, and huitlacoche quesadillas that are known to appear out in front on weekends. The aforementioned meats are great in tacos, but the namesake delight is of course the huarache, an oblong oval of fried masa topped with grilled meat, cream, crumbled cheese, onion, and cilantro. Too sturdy for the plastic-ware but still one of the silkiest, creamiest things we've tasted at a rock-bottom price.
Huarache Azteca, 5225 York Blvd. Highland Park. 323-478-9572.