The Los Feliz drag of Hillhurst Avenue is a mixed bag when it comes to eating well. Up top, you have the glories of Little Dom's and McCall's Meat and Fish, while making your way down the street, the options shift between gimmicky traps and decent dining. Our favorite activities on the street come down to the two killer dive-bars anchoring its center, Ye Rustic Inn and The Drawing Room. But we all need something to sop up those suds, and Hillhurst happens to have strong lunch spots like James Beard-winning Yuca's and new Papa's Place. Follow us as we take a look at two great eating options, one place to drink in smooth surroundings, and another to load up in sheer mayhem, while hiking down Hillhurst Avenue.
Yuca's is the realization of powerful dreams. The tiny orange and brown taco stand opened in the mid-70's and in due time, taco by taco, founders Jaime and Socorro Herrera were able to send their kids to Ivy League schools. Then, in 2005, Yuca's won a James Beard Award in the "American Classics" category, among an avalanche of other accolades. Today, it's a pretty popular stance for the food crowd to slam the place for weak tortillas (fair) or for tacos that go heavy on the lard (ditto), but a consistent throng that fills its parking lot and idles for a seat attests to an enduring popularity. Yuca's is the kind of place you bring an out-of-towner just to make them super-jealous they don't have better tacos back home.
At Yuca's, you place your order with "Mama" Socorro from a tiny menu of tacos, tortas, dogs, and burgers, then do your best to find a place to sit. A few minutes later, your tacos or tortas arrive in options of asada, machaca, carnitas, chile verde, or cochinita pibil. There are cheaper tacos in town, that's for sure, but especially for first-timers, it's worth having your own taste. The slow-cooked Yucatan pork known as cochinita pibil is without a doubt the stand-out here; juicy shredded pork with citrus undertones that drips buttery oil in every melting bite. We know people who flip for the tortas and burgers as well, while our own recommendation is not to go for every different taco on the menu at once, as a buttery homogeneity sets in and quickly bores the palate with too much pork fat. Stay focused on one or two tacos at a time and any short-comings are less perceptible. Yuca's has stood the test of more than 30 years, long before this street hummed like it does today. Given its widespread legend and devoted fan-base, it wouldn't be surprising to see it right here in the same small shack for 30 more.
Yuca's, 2056 Hillhurst Ave. Los Feliz. 323-662-1214
There's a lot we find charming about Papa's Place, from the name to the lunch-friendly menu of burgers, sandwiches, brat, and Mediterranean sides, to the sheer enthusiasm of the owner, who noticeably seems to enjoy preparing food for and welcoming the neighborhood. A tiny cute cafe of white tiles with small Turkish and U.S. gee-gaws, Papa's Place looks after vegetarians with eight meat-free dishes, but it's the tongue and pastrami sandwich that we like the most and the alligator sausage is a popular option. The big brat here are great, while some of the sides at this German-Turkish seem to embody the most passion, be it a side of the ceviche available only on weekends or the fluffy tabouleh salad, both are high on fresh flavors. Another thing that has us grinning here are the prices, with nothing going over ten dollars, be it a sizeable blue cheese or half-pound Angus burger or one of the daily specials that get scrawled on the streetside chalkboard. Papa's Place is more than 30 years the junior of its neighbor, Yuca's, but is fast on its way to becoming a neighborhood staple.
Papa's Place, 2044 Hillhurst Ave. Los Feliz. 310-913-0478
Tropicalia reminds us very much of Qusqo, that lame excuse for Peruvian food that you find in West L.A. There's incredible potential in the relaxing, sophisticated wine bar setting here and more potential in a menu of Brazilian cuisine, but the food is of generally poor quality. A black bean soup (Sopa De Feijao) has excellent flavor, but wavers in a watery consistency. The pao de queijo, usually one of our favorite nibbles, is a struggle to even finish here while entrees like the "Brazipork," (which, like many menu items, is somewhat unnecessarily trademarked!), is tough and lays in a cheap sauce that could barely cut it for school spaghetti. The heavily pushed seafood specialty in coconut sauce resembles and tastes like sub-par Thai food. So what is it recommend here? It's a nice atmosphere and Maudite is only $6 a goblet, while a list of mostly Italian wines by the glass, while not spectacular, will do for an evening rendezvous. We want to like Tropicalia, but when it comes time for Brazilian, we see no need to dash here instead of hoofing it to El Sereno or Culver City.
Tropicalia Brazilian Grill, 1966 Hillhurst Ave. Los Feliz. 323-644-1798
One of our favorite things to do on Hillhurst is drink in the dive bars like Drawing Room and Ye Rustic Inn. Hit Rustic for burgers, beer, karaoke, Dodger games, and general debauchery.
Ye Rustic Inn, 1831 Hillhurst Ave, Los Feliz. 323-662-5757.