Today we're back in Highland Park, one of L.A.'s oldest established neighborhoods, to explore three varied options for eating-on-the-cheap. The upper reaches of Figueroa are surrounded by a neighborhood of houses and storefronts heavy on charm that seems to bridge the fifties to the aughts. It's also an excellent place to find your next meal. While the neighborhood is a logical place to search out good Mexican and Salvadoran staples, there are also well-known restaurants, one ancient and one fairly new, that are popular for their red sauce Italian and Vietnamese-American comfort food. Join us for this week's strip search as we take a look at a vintage northeast L.A. pizza parlor, a classic for around-the-clock tacos, and a diner where bánh mì and chicken pot pie aren't out of place sharing the same menu.
43-year-old Folliero's is as much about its neighborhood vibe as it is pizza. Stepping under a red neon sign into this bare brick building is like wandering back in time a few decades to an era when Domino's didn't exist and pizza places like this one made for a special night with your brood. Which isn't to say the pizza isn't also very good. The pizza makers stand up front, tossing the Folliero family's famous dough, sliding it into ovens, and stirring a thick tomato sauce, while the back of the restaurant holds a loose arrangement of families who have been coming here forever, co-workers sharing pizza and beer, and random cool kids.
The pizza arrives thin with a chewy crust, heavy toppings, and thick cheese that slides off a little too easily, but still constantly surprises first-timers and old-hands with its rough, traditional appearance and throwback essence. The best part of this old-school pie parlor, which also serves red sauce Italian eats, is the price. When is the last time a large pizza made with dedication by actual human hands came in at $12.50? Folliero's is truly an L.A. treasure.
Folliero's, 5566 N. Figueroa St. Highland Park. 323-254-0505.
Good Girl Dinette is a cozy place of friendly, relaxed service that marries Vietnamese ingredients with American comfort recipes and vice versa. The concept is novel, the food delicious, and mostly everything comes in under ten dollars a dish. Start with a glass of homemade pop, the restaurant's own bubbly, natural citrus soda, and make sure to order the super-crunchy mushroom imperial rolls or standout rice cakes with crispy scallions to start. Porridge and pho are well-balanced cure-alls on a rainy day, while the rich, slightly sweet pork confit and slow-roasted pork bánh mì-style baguettes are both creamy, crunchy, and dependably clean. The signature dish is the restaurant's pot pie, arriving as a piping-hot curry stew of chicken, carrots, and spuds with a biscuit crust. It takes 20-30 minutes to arrive, but is worth the wait for a hot bowl of restorative comfort while you ease into the good-natured vibe of the place. Don't skip a side of spicy garlic cilantro fries or a trip to the panaderia around the corner back on Figueroa for dessert.
Good Girl Dinette, 110 N. Ave 56. Highland Park. 323-257-8980.
La Estrella #3 is a 24-hour taco joint conveniently perched at the corner of 61st and Fig with direct Gold Line access. In addition to this beckoning blue angular building, it has a well-loved, superior taco truck that perpetually posts up on York, plus a few other satellite storefronts and vehicles spreading its gospel of simple authentic tacos. Here you'll find medium-sized corn tortillas stuffed with battered fish and shrimp, and small mountains of carnitas, pastor, asada, and lengua, as well as an assortment of tortas, burritos, and tostadas. Go straight for the tacos (though a breakfast burrito works if it's early enough). When Estrella's on, it's pretty on.
We specifically recommend the messy Baja-style fried shrimp tacos and a taste of the smoky pastor with a splash of salsa roja on request. Meats here are typically moist and flavorful, while at times of varying quality, and the simple scattering of onions and cilantro add a fresh, sharp bite with no fears necessary of westsidey lettuce creeping in. Last year, this joint and its cronies took the crown of L.A.'s favorite taco in the citywide Taco Madness tournament and as always, it remains a low-cost favorite for locals and those passing through at all hours of the day.
La Estrella #3, 6103 N Figueroa St. Highland Park. 323-982-0179.
See previous Strip Search features on Grub Street L.A.