Humbly nestled between the neighborhoods of Echo Park and Koreatown, is Historic Filipinotown, one of LA’s lesser-explored ethnic enclaves. Follow this guide for a list of recommended food spots and other hidden gems waiting to be discovered, as you navigate the streets of Historic Filipinotown.
Start your morning exploration off at The Park’s Finest BBQ, which is anything but your ordinary barbecue joint. Though it stays true to traditional Southern barbecue with large portions and quality meat, Park’s Finest incorporates the sharp and savory flavors of Filipino home-cooking into their dishes, adding distinct subtleties to a familiar American cuisine.
For a taste of soul food with a Filipino twist, order Mama Leah’s Coconut Beef — a nod to coconut-based dishes from the Bicol region of the Philippines. Top round beef is smoked for sixteen-hours then stewed in a tangy concoction of coconut cream, vinegar, chili and fish sauce. The result is magical — a generous portion of beef melts into a velvety, gravy-like sauce, which carries a pronounced smokiness underlined by a low, lingering heat. It’s extremely rich, so it’s best to ladle it over a plate of steamy jasmine rice. For an added layer of flavor, try it with their signature house-made BBQ sauce which uses pineapple, soy sauce, and cane sugar. Don’t forget to ask for a side of their famous cornbread bibingka. Dense, moist and utterly addicting, the cornbread comes free with a check-in on Yelp.
Make your way towards Unidad Park for a quick history lesson from one of Filipinotown’s most notable landmarks — a massive public artwork called Gintong Kasaysayan, Gintong Pamana (Filipino Americans: A Glorious History, A Golden Legacy). Painted on a 150-foot wide wall more than two decades ago, this panoramic mural remains the nation’s largest artwork dedicated to the Filipino community. Showcasing 5,000 years of history through brightly colored, interweaving images, the mural highlights key people and events that have contributed to the Filipino-American narrative. National heroes like Lapu-Lapu and Jose Rizal are featured, as well as modern-day icons like Manny Pacquaio, Lea Salonga, and Apl.de.ap. Aside from educating its visitors, the mural serves as an inspirational reminder for Filipino-Americans to always value their heritage and reclaim their identity.
For a quick refreshment, make your way to Tribal Café. The tropical-themed hangout offers an extensive menu of healthy, flavorful comfort food. With a low-key bohemian vibe and homey feel, the cafe has become a neighborhood favorite.
Order a Boracay açai bowl and be instantly transported to that beautiful island in the Philippine sun. Avocado and almond-coconut milk are used for its creamy smoothie base, then topped with fresh mangos, bananas, and pineapples. Shredded coconut and honey-baked granola add crunch and texture.
For an on-the-go energy boost, choose from any of their green juices or smoothies, loaded with antioxidants and derived from farm-fresh fruits and veggies. Get the Pacquaio punch for a delicious cold-pressed beverage made with pineapples, oranges, ginger, and parsley. Turmeric or cayenne is sprinkled on top for extra oomph.
Aside from offering nutritious and affordable food, Tribal Café supports the local community by offering a safe space for collaboration and creativity. Colorful paintings by local artists can be seen throughout the café, and live acoustic performances and open mics are hosted every week.
As you stroll down Temple Street – one of the main arteries of Filipinotown, you may stumble upon a man belting tunes out on a karaoke machine. Keep walking till you reach a strip mall on the corner of Carondolet St. Once you hear the old-school Filipino hip-hop blasting, you’ll know you’ve arrived. With a backyard, family cookout ambiance, Dollar Hits calls out to both homesick Pinoys and bizarre food-seekers alike, offering authentic Filipino street food at just $1 a pop. Pick from a buffet line-up of skewered meats, pay in cash, then cook them yourself over charcoal grills in the parking lot.
You can go the traditional route with their pork and chicken skewers, marinated Pinoy-style in garlic, soy sauce and sugar. But if you’re feeling particularly brave, you can channel your inner Khaleesi and feast on a skewer of chicken hearts, or earn some bragging rights with a balut egg — infamous for containing a partially-formed duck fetus. Other bold options include betamax (cubes of coagulated pig’s blood), adidas (marinated chicken feet), kwek–kwek (bright orange deep-fried quail eggs) or isaw (chicken intestines). Wash all that grilled grub goodness down with unlimited cantaloupe juice (also $1), refreshingly sweet and served agua fresca style in a huge, pour-it-yourself barrel.
At the same strip mall on Temple Street, Dollar Hits has transitioned from humble storefront stand to bustling food truck to a permanent brick-and-mortar space. This is probably the closest you can get to a street corner in the Philippines. People come may come for the cheap food thrills, but they stay for the nostalgia and a familiar food experience that brings them a little closer to home.
Tactile Coffee is another former business on wheels. Once serving the Downtown LA weekday crowd from a mobile coffee truck, Tactile has recently found a permanent home in a beautiful, brick-walled space on Beverly. Go here for quality coffee served with a simple but unique approach.
Order the blackstrap latte for a deep, caramelized and earthy dose of caffeine with just the right amount of sweetness. The house-made blackstrap molasses syrup intensifies the richness of the coffee while enhancing its nutritional value. Considered a superfood, blackstrap molasses is highly concentrated with mineral nutrients from sugar canes. Pair the latte with a flaky, buttery biscuit with apple butter, both made from scratch, with love.
Continue your journey and head across the street to the Gabba Gallery. On the color-blocked sidewalk outside, you will see a sign quirkily hand-painted in yellow letters, “ART IN THE ALLEY.” An arrow indicates which way to go. As you meander your way through three hidden alleys, you will discover a stunning art display of over 100 murals, juxtaposed side-by-side in a medley of colors and styles. Walls, fences, garage doors, even dumpsters are used as a canvas. (Use the suggested route above as a guide.)
The Gabba Alley project started as an effort to bring the art experience out of the gallery and to the streets, where it can be shared and appreciated by the community. It has become an internationally acclaimed outdoor street gallery right in the heart of Historic Filipinotown, inspiring a collaborative movement from artists all over the world.
As your day of exploration winds down, find some respite and cap the evening off at Genever. Look for a mysterious gold door and gin glass logo, walk inside and feel time freeze — as if you stumbled into a private room in Gatsby’s mansion. Dimly lit chandeliers, gold ornate ceilings and velvet curtains all contribute to Genever’s ethereal ambiance. There is an understated but majestic energy here, one that evokes the glamour of early Hollywood. And at Genever, gin is the star. But it is anything but old-fashioned.
Order the Diamonds and Pearls cocktail. Served in a blue ceramic fish-shaped mug, this drink is both exotic and playful. Green-tea infused gin is combined with a well-balanced medley of tart, sweet, Filipino-inspired ingredients: pandan, calamansi, and coconut. Soft and tiny tapioca balls, called sago, add a quirky, dessert-like touch. Genever is doing exciting things with gin — exploring unique, cultural flavors and giving it a modern twist. Echoing the seductive charm of a 1920s speakeasy, Genever brings an intimate cocktail experience to Filipinotown. It is also the neighborhood’s first and only woman-owned bar, and one of the few real gin joints in Los Angeles.
With a complex blend of Spanish, Chinese and Malay influences, it’s no surprise why Filipino cuisine has gotten recent acclaim in the social media spotlight. But behind the trend exists a rich culture and important stories of the past, told through its food, art and community. And in Historic Filipinotown where the people are passionate about their roots, a part of this story is told. Amidst a rapidly-gentrifying city, Filipinotown reclaims and preserves its culture, while adapting to LA’s ever-changing landscape.
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