99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Eagle Rock/Highland Park

Cacao Mexicatessen

photo by Anne Fishbein

There are so many glorious things crammed into this small, cozy shop in Eagle Rock that it’s hard to assimilate them all in one visit. There are the much-lauded duck carnitas tacos, the huge mugs of cocoa for which the place is named, the vat of mole fries (mole fries!), the outstanding plates of chiles rellenos, and whatever awesome daily specials are chalked on the menu by the cashier. Since you’ll probably be standing in line for a while to order, getting hungrier and hungrier as you watch somebody make the tortillas by hand right in front of you, you’ll have time to get a handle on things. If you’re lucky enough to live in Eagle Rock, Cacao Mexicatessen is the quintessential neighborhood spot, a place where you could happily eat most nights without getting bored, where you can pick up freshly made tortillas and containers of mole, where you can stop by for breakfast and then go shopping at the Trader Joe’s next door. Maybe it’s time to move to Eagle Rock.

-- Amy Scattergood

El Huarache Azteca

photo by Anne Fishbein

El Huarache Azteca is one of Highland Park’s many gems, a small restaurant on York Boulevard that specializes in the eponymous huarache, a thick, oblong wedge of masa shaped into something that roughly resembles a men’s size-7 sandal, then fried and topped with zigzags of cream, crumbles of cheese, lettuce and meat. You’ll need just one or two of these, plus any number of the restaurant’s other terrific antijitos (Pambazos! Sopes!) for a very satisfying lunch, one that’s bested, perhaps, only by lunch here on the weekends. That’s when longtime and newer residents alike crowd the entrance, waiting to pick up the pound or so of the restaurant’s barbacoa de borrego, lamb prepared in the style popular in Texcoco: roasted over a pit, slowly, until the meat collapses off the bone with the slightest nudge of your fork. Everyone, apparently, loves a great roast.

-- Tien Nguyen

photo by Anne Fishbein


With a few notable exceptions, part of the problem with Los Angeles’ abundance of pastrami and burger joints is the quality of the ingredients in the kitchen. That’s where Oinkster comes in. It’s a restaurant that takes all that history — the sloppy burgers, the towering sandwiches — and adds the care and ingredient sourcing that’s the hallmark of our new wave of chefs. Indeed, chef/owner Andre Guerrero has dubbed the cuisine served by his refurbished midcentury burger stand “slow fast food.” Lest you think this means high prices or pretension, think again. This is still a spot where cops mingle with bikers over towering sandwiches, and where a side of hand-cut Belgian fries costs only a little more than your standard fries at a chain restaurant, even though Oinkster’s are a big improvement. The Oinkster serves one of the city’s better pulled pork sandwiches, one that’s actually true to its Carolina roots, and a bunch of giant entree salads that showcase exactly why better produce is … well … better. Another bonus? There’s a great selection of craft beers on tap, many of them local.

-- Besha Rodell