It’s A Small World – Los Angeles
By Margot Black for LA Parent Magazine
Want to raise a kid that grows up to appreciate a variety of foods, people and cultures? The best way to do so is to expose them to many different tastes, ethnicities and cultures at an early age. Lucky for us, Los Angeles is filled with a worldwide buffet of opportunities to expand your horizons. Right in our own back yard, here’s a few neighborhoods that provide a variety of cuisines for all ages, situations and budgets — and even some free, family-friendly activities to enjoy along the way.
Originally constructed in the early 1900s as a romanticized tribute to L.A.’s Mexican heritage, Olvera Street is a charming enclave that provides a peek into the kitschy side of old Mexico with plenty of food choices, free activities and architecture to explore. Some of L.A.’s oldest buildings are in this neighborhood and the street has an Old Mexico ambience in a sort of theme park style. Stroll through the stall laden pedestrian walkway to find Mexican style clothes, instruments, and souvenirs (and, ok, a few things from China). On weekends the cultural possibilities hit their peak with street performers, crafts for sale and the more-than-occasional mariachi band.
Try your main meal at El Paseo Inn (http://elpaseoinn.com) which has live Mariachis on Sundays from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., an area for watching tortillas being made by hand, tableside guacamole and an outdoor patio. You can introduce kids to the tastes of Chile Verde, Sopes Carnitas and Chicken Mole as well as drinks with interesting tastes such as horchata and some bright red and tasty tamarind.
Try Mr. Churro for fresh churros and other tasty sweets (http://mrchurroLA.com) (12 Olvera St., Los Angeles, California 90012 ) and try Cielito Lindo for piping hot taquitos with their famous avocado sauce. We also enjoyed fruit cups and fruit shakes from local street vendors.
Two free activities and tours on Olvera Street not to be missed are a visit to the Avila Adobe which was built in 1818 and is the oldest existing house in the city in addition to the Plaza Firehouse, built in 1884, and that is now a museum featuring nineteenth century tools and equipment for firefighting.
For details contact: El Pueblo Visitor Center (http://www.lasangelitas.org) (622 N. Main St.; tel. 213/628-1274). Avila Adobe, is at E-10 Olvera St. (Tues-Fri 10am-3pm; Sat-Sun 10am-4:30pm. free admission).
As an added bonus for exploring this area of the city – take the train downtown, it drops you at Union Station two blocks away from the center of where you want to be. Kids love trains and without the drive, Mom and Dad can enjoy that margarita!
Tucked between Silverlake and Echo Park, Historic Filipinotown is the only designated community for Filipino culture and heritage outside of the Philippines. It’s also home to some of the best barbeque I’ve ever eaten in Los Angeles.
The Park’s Finest Barbeque(https://www.theparksfinest.com) in Historic Filipinotown had a tall order to fill and it didn’t disappoint. I’m married to an Argentine man who some (okay, me) might consider a barbeque snob. Two bites into our meal Mr. Argentina declared, “This is fabulous, I might have to bring some more family here.” From an Argentine, that’s a 5-star rating.
We tucked into Mama Leah’s Coconut Beef. I had my first spoonful and then wanted it all to myself; it is creamy, spicy, creative – one of their signature “don’t miss” dishes. Pulled pork and corn bread are easy crowd pleasers and simple dishes for kids to enjoy. We ate Timuay Tri-tip and ordered the short ribs that were both fully appreciated and completely devoured. Noel’s Smoked Gouda Mac is a warm bowl of goodness guaranteed to satisfy even the pickiest eater.
Once your bellies are full, explore the nearby Echo Park Recreation Center (https://www.laparks.org/reccenter/echo). Park and rent a swan boat from Wheel Fun Rentals (https://wheelfunrentals.com/ca/los-angeles/echo-park/). You can walk around the lake, feed a duck or two and take a swan boat out on the water (751 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, California 90026, $11/hr, 9 a.m. – sunset). There’s also a café on site for snacks, and public restrooms in the park.
Little Tokyo is home to several condensed mini shopping malls where you can find Japanese bakeries, bookshops, restaurants and stores, as well as the occasional Buddhist temple.
The Japanese American National Museum is here, as is the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (http://www.jaccc.org) (244 S. San Pedro St., tel. 213/628-2725), which regularly offers traditional Kabuki dramas and modern music concerts. Browse Blooming Art (129 Japanese Village Plaza, tel.213/628-8811) for gorgeous Japanese arts & crafts.
For Japanese cuisine try: sticky buns at Yamazaki Bread & Cake (https://www.yelp.com/biz/yamazaki-bakery-los-angeles) (Japanese Village Plaza 123 Japanese Village Plaza Mall); red bean cakes at Mitsuru Café (http://mitsuru.top-cafes.com/) (117 Japanese Village); and ice cream at HoneyMee (http://honeymee.com). You can dine on sushi at Kura Revolving Sushi Bar (http://www.kurausa.com) and pick your dishes up off of a moving conveyor belt and introduce your family to tastes of unagi, edamame, miso and entertaining food delivery. For sweet treats don’t miss Donatsu (http://donatsudoughnuts.com) at 330 East 2nd St. 213-265-7545. Donatsu offers a wide variety of vegan donuts including Creme Brulee (these sell out every day, arrive early if deeply desired), Ube, which is a sweet purple yam type of doughnut and Matcha with pistachio and rose.
The Japanese American Network provides a community calendar, a map of Little Tokyo points of interest, and useful Web links online at www.janet.org/janet_little_tokyo/ja_little_tokyo.html.
Various malls in Little Tokyo sell electronics, china, gadgets and toys — especially fun for kids who are into anime or Sanrio. There’s also the Japanese American National Museum (http://www.janm.org/).
Chinatown in Los Angeles is an upbeat and engaging way to introduce your family to a variety of new foods and a new way of eating them — in a colorful cultural setting. For a first foray try dim sum, which is basically an introduction to small plate eating. The entrance of Ocean Seafood Restaurant (http://oceansf.com) features many fish on display for added entertainment. Tiny carts showcasing many dishes allow you to try a wider selection of items and reduce the risk of waste (“If you don’t like it, I’ll eat it!”).
Doesn’t hurt to watch Kung Fu Panda the day before and then top your visit with a great variety of dumpling tasting. In addition to seafood you can sample a variety of different meats including duck and pork as well as different types of noodles, hotpots, fish and vegetables. And if all else fails, hey, there’s always noodles.
When you’re done eating there are lots of little mom-and-pop shops to explore that sell everything from paper lanterns, umbrellas and colorful robes.
Chinese railroad workers settled in L.A. in the mid-19th century in a then-rural area less than a mile from here, but were relocated to make way for construction of Union Station in 1938. The center of the “New Chinatown” is Mandarin Plaza mall (http://www.mandarinplaza.com/), 970 N. Broadway.
We finished our visit to the Thien Hau Temple (http://www.thienhautemple.com/) with its bursting color and elaborately curved roofs on Yale Street, and spent time peering into food shops offering everything from full ducks to a fruit called Buddah’s Hand.
An area also known as East Hollywood has been dubbed as “Little Armenia.” In this neighborhood you can explore Barnsdall Art Park (https://barnsdall.org), a historic cultural center and arts park that surrounds the Hollyhock House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This famous dwelling was originally designed for the oil heiress Aline Barnsdall and can still be enjoyed today.
The Park often offers children’s activities and free art workshops or classes on Sundays. Each workshop focuses on a global culture and different media are explored including painting, textile art and collage. The program is open to all ages including children, families and adults.
When finished, stop by Marouch Restaurant (http://marouchrestaruant.com) for authentic kebabs, hummus, and fresh pitta bread. The food is a combination of Lebanese, Armenian and Middle Eastern cuisine and we explored tasty and unusual varieties of sausages, cheeses and sweets.
Around the World in a Month of Sundays
That summarizes five countries spanning the globe, all offering authentic culture, food, people, crafts, sights, sounds and smells. We’re lucky to live in the City of Angels offering such rich ethnic and culture diversity. All the recommendations above were curated to appeal to the budget conscious family with room to splurge a bit if you have a big appetite or enjoy shopping native art, toys or other mementos of your cultural family day. You and your family can explore an entire world of eating, no passport or packing necessary, and it’s all just around the corner.