This must be Boyle Heights
Every neighborhood in Los Angeles brings its own unique culture to the city, but perhaps none as proudly as Boyle Heights. Ask any local to define it and they’ll say it’s the real Eastside — and that it has an identity that’s separate from neighboring East L.A.
Get to know Los Angeles through the places that bring it to life. From restaurants to shops to outdoor spaces, here’s what to discover now.
A stone’s throw from downtown, Boyle Heights was the gateway for many different ethnic and religious groups to Los Angeles before World War II. With its lack of racially restrictive housing covenants, the neighborhood was considered the Ellis Island of the West Coast, and has been home to Mexicans, Jews, Japanese, Russians, African Americans and more.
The remnants of this unique melting pot can still be seen across the neighborhood, from the Japanese Hospital to the Breed Street Shul and the Evergreen Cemetery, one of the oldest in Los Angeles. Today, Boyle Heights has one of the highest concentrations of Latino residents in the city — mostly of Mexican descent. Landmarks like the kiosk at Mariachi Plaza and El Mercadito are cultural symbols of this Latino enclave.
Through the decades, it remains a working-class community, evident in the hustle and bustle of 8 a.m. traffic on its major thoroughfare, Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, known to longtime locals as La Brooklyn. Here, mothers pushing strollers rush their kids to school while street vendors wrap around corners selling tamales and fresh fruit. Go west along the iconic avenue and you’ll walk past long-standing panaderias, pharmacies and discount stores sandwiched among newer kids on the block like Latinx With Plants, Other Books and Re/Arte, spaces that are connecting with younger generations. Travel east and follow the tantalizing scents of the many taco stands tucked on side streets or the carnitas from Los Cinco Puntos, named after the five-pointed intersection where Boyle Heights ends and East L.A. begins. For new neighborhood favorites, try Milpa Grille or Brooklyn Avenue Pizza before catching an intimate concert at the historic Paramount.
But Boyle Heights isn’t just great food and cultural landmarks. The community has a rich history of political and social activism, depicted on walls as colorful murals inspired by the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and ’70s. More recently, the push against gentrification and displacement has garnered national media attention and inspired TV series like “Gentefied” and “Vida.”
While Boyle Heights has not seen the same level of gentrification as nearby Highland Park, business owners and residents alike continue to be priced out of the neighborhood. But people are stepping up. One example: the First Street Corridor. After the Metro Gold Line expansion in 2009, new businesses and mixed-use housing developments sprang up. But entrepreneurs with ties to the community as well as nonprofits stepped in to help preserve the area’s cultural makeup and respond to residents’ needs.
Now along the First Street Corridor, vibrant art spaces, bars and restaurants are mixed in with shuttered storefronts. On weekdays you can find mariachi musicians grabbing a bite at La Santa Cecilia between booking gigs. Come the weekend, crowds of millennials and Gen Zers crawl up and down the thoroughfare hopping from artisan shopping and poetry readings at Espacio 1839, to noisy Dodger fans at Distrito Catorce and drinks and DJs at Eastside Luv. Art lovers can stop in for birria at Don Boni or vegan pozole at Un Solo Sol before catching a play at Casa 0101 Theater down the road.
Farther east, the oldest Japanese restaurant in the city has stood the test of time. Otomisan has survived demographic shifts and gentrification, with little changes to its original menu and interior decor but with a loyal clientele. It’s evidence that wherever you venture in Boyle Heights, you are never too far from a neighborhood favorite or a relic of a more diverse past.
What's included in this guide
Anyone who’s lived in a major metropolis can tell you that neighborhoods are a tricky thing. They’re eternally malleable and evoke sociological questions around how we place our homes, our neighbors and our communities within a wider tapestry. In the name of neighborly generosity, we included gems that may linger outside of technical parameters. Instead of leaning into stark definitions, we hope to celebrate all of the places that make us love where we live.
See the skyline at dawn on the 6th Street Viaduct
Early risers may get the clearest pedestrian sidewalks. Clock in a more-than-half-mile run one way, or get your steps in as you make your way across the bridge’s span of 10 twin arches.
Sunset provides dramatic views of the downtown L.A. skyline. And when darkness falls, the arches light up in different colors. If you need some extra motivation, consider joining an evening run with the Boyle Heights Bridge Runners, who take off every Wednesday at 8 p.m. from nearby Mariachi Plaza.
Start the day with L.A.'s OG green juice at Velarde's Fruits
Locals frequent Velarde’s for its jugos “curativos” and “energeticos,” fresh-pressed juices with claims to heal or energize you. The jugo verde, labeled the “diabetes controller,” includes cactus and chayote, balanced by the citrus of grapefruit and pineapple. The vampiro, or “energy booster,” is blood red with a mix of beets, carrots and oranges. Licuados are just as popular, and the best part: If you’re not in a rush, they top off your cup with any leftovers.
If a more hearty meal is what you’re looking for, the tiny kitchen in the back whips up traditional home-cooked Mexican dishes like huevos rancheros, chiles rellenos and tacos with handmade tortillas. Don’t forget to load up at the salsa bar — no one’s judging if you try a scoop of each.
Get a matcha de olla boost at Picaresca Barra de Cafe
You know you’ve arrived when you’ve made your way to an indoor mini-mall, past stalls with flower vendors, tailors and even a barber shop. It may be an unconventional place for a coffee shop, but as owners Elisa Hoyos and Leonardo Abularach put it, Picaresca is “sandwiched between all these beautiful people filled with love, stories and dreams.”
Picaresca prides itself in offering locally roasted, ethically sourced coffee from different regions across Latin America and Africa. It also partners with small local businesses to sell their products in-house, such as breakfast burritos and waffles from some daze L.A., tacos de canasta by Gasterea and crinkle cookies made by Butter-Lab.
It’s easy to see why the most popular menu item is its version of the nostalgic Mexican cafe de olla — a latte, with the aromatic flavors of cinnamon, anise, orange peel and brown sugar. It’s so good, Picaresca went rogue and created the rich and earthy matcha de olla.
Grub on the longaniza burritos from Macheen at Milpa Grille
Pair your meal with Cafe Cafe’s refreshing berry jamaica or green tea limeade. For something sweet, sip on the lavender horchata, or if you need that caffeine kick, the 48-hour cold brew will do the trick.
Stopping by during lunch hour? Milpa Grille has you covered with ingredients indigenous to Mesoamerica (think corn, squash and beans). The Milpa salad and bowl are fan favorites, with the option for chicken, pork or grilled cactus, along with beans, corn, grilled veggies and pickled onions. The crema de elote soup will satisfy your comfort-food cravings. There is limited indoor seating available so prepare to get cozy on the streetside patio.
Taste every mole ingredient at Tenampal
On weekends, you’ll find customers waiting outside the small, casual teal-colored eatery — most likely for brunch. After all, it takes time to treat ingredients with the same attention to detail as Tenampal does. The cacao beans used for the mole chilaquiles are prepared in-house, and the maiz for the pozole is prepared from dry hominy. Everything in the kitchen is made from scratch and you can taste it in the flavors, which are simultaneously bold and sweet.
The menu changes as the seasons change, so you know you are getting the freshest ingredients. This is also your excuse to visit often, as no Tenampal visit is exactly the same.
Borrow a book from Libros Schmibros Lending Library
With a free membership, your first book is free; then you can borrow three and return them whenever you want (working on an honor system). The library also functions as a community center, with a calendar of events such as film screenings and a children’s story hour.
If you’re looking for a unique find, or feel inspired to write a book yourself in the community corner, Libros Schmibros welcomes any and all to its tiny nook.
Buy a T-shirt to show your Boyle Heights pride at Espacio 1839
Here you can find custom T-shirts emblazoned with Boyle Heights logos, books by BIPOC authors, handcrafted finds by local artists and every knickknack in between. Its walls and ceilings are adorned with colorful art displaying Chicano and Latin American culture and social activism. But what you’ll find here extends beyond material goods.
The place constantly shape-shifts into a community venue hosting poetry readings, workshops, art exhibits and book readings. Owners Nico Avina and Myra Vasquez, artists themselves, have created a space that centers on community and culture. Its recording studio, Radio Espacio, provides a place for youth and other community members to start their audio journey.
Check out CaminArte, its bimonthly art walk featuring local artists and vendors, every second Friday of the month from 6 to 10 p.m.
Grow your green thumb at Latinx With Plants
Succulents, monsteras and snake plants spill onto the sidewalk outside Latinx With Plants. Inside, greenery hangs from the ceilings and potted plants are stacked on shelves, nearly covering the bright orange walls. The smell is a refreshing, aromatic cleanse.
The plant shop and community space was inspired by D’Real Graham’s Black With Plants, and bloomed out of a desire to celebrate people of color in the plant world. Before opening up its bricks-and-mortar shop, Latinx With Plants was a pop-up called Planta Parenthood. It all started with the need to raise money for a family member during COVID-19, but founder Andi Xoch recognized the power of healing through plants.
“We saw folks all around us (re)connect with their plants and nature,” Xoch says on her website.
At the shop, you can purchase a cactus or join in on a printmaking workshop in the back lot. Latinx With Plants also travels to pop-ups around Los Angeles, bringing the love of plant parenthood all over the city.
Indulge in Mexican tradition at El Mercadito
The three-floor indoor shopping center offers stalls with a variety of Mexican goods, including crafts, clothing, spices, religious relics and authentic food. Although the third-floor restaurant known for hosting mariachi performances has been closed since the pandemic, you can still find eateries serving up breakfast and lunch favorites such as gorditas and mariscos.
Spend a full day here and wander the aisles to find a tortilla press, a molcajete, a variety of moles or botas vaqueras. But don’t leave without a sampling of snacks available in the main entrances. From handcrafted ice cream to esquites preparados or tejuinos, there’s something for everyone.
Weekends can get crowded, but being in community with others is part of the experience.
Devour a shrimp taco at Mariscos Jalisco
The tacos are made to order, freshly fried, with creamy bits of shrimp, topped with a tangy tomato salsa and ripe avocado. They are best consumed standing right next to the food truck (if any cravings linger, you can get right back in line). Those who prefer to devour them with grace can take a seat on plastic chairs and tables set up in the business’ indoor space. If you’re curious to explore beyond the legendary shrimp taco, the aguachile packs a spicy punch, and the Poseidon tostada is filled with shrimp ceviche, octopus and red aguachile.
The Mariscos Jalisco food truck is stationed near the industrial strip of Olympic Boulevard, steps away from myriad murals at Estrada Courts houses. Why not walk off your meal by heading over to see some art created at the height of the Chicano civil rights movement?
Veganize your pozole at Un Solo Sol
Whether you’re looking for a meatless meal or want traditional Latin American (and more) dishes, Un Solo Sol has you covered. The restaurant offers a global menu, with dishes like bok choy soup from China, ghormeh sabzi from Iran, saltado from Peru and a pupusa platter from El Salvador (Ortez’s native country).
Its green mushroom pozole is as spicy as it is flavorful — and suitable for any weather but especially a nice cold day. Try the al pastor taco, packed with flavorful slivers of mushroom meat marinated in sweet pineapple. If you have room for dessert, take a banana-date almond milkshake for a walk to explore what the 1st Street corridor has to offer.
Take a stroll around the lake at Hollenbeck Park
If you aren’t derailed by a little traffic noise, take a gentle, flat walk around the manmade lake that features fountains and quacking ducks. On weekends, picnic alongside families who take turns watching their kids on the playground and hopping on the exercise equipment for a quick set.
While the park has ample open spaces, its hills don’t allow for any organized sports. However, teens flock to the skate park, where they put on shows doing kick flips and other tricks. The Hollenbeck Recreation Center also is in the park, and offers community activities such as dance, karate, music classes and more.
Devour the tabbouleh salad at X’tiosu Kitchen
The restaurant is tucked away in an unassuming mini-mall with tight parking on the edge of Boyle Heights near the City Terrace border. Walk up to the window and place your order for takeout, unless you score a seat at one of the few tables and chairs set up out front.
If you’re skeptical of the combination, try the chicken shawarma taco, which is topped with Arabesque salsa, a blend of garlicky tahini and salsa verde, and pink pickled turnips. It’s gone in three bites but worth it.
X’tiosu’s take on tabbouleh salad is also a must-try. Soft nopales replace the bulgur, balancing the already citric salad. The texture itself is playful, with the little squares of cooked cactus feeling almost gummy-like.
Travel back in time with Otomisan, the oldest Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles
This charming spot is beloved by locals and visitors alike, and owner Yayoi Watanabe is part of the magic. She greets customers with a smile every time and makes sure there’s enough room for anyone who wants to visit, shuffling any paperwork and plates out of the way for additional seating. In business since 1956, and declared a historic city landmark last year, Otomisan feels like a time-travel experience. The bar-like wooden counter and stools are still there, and so are the red-cushioned booths. Watanabe still uses an old-school calculator to total amounts.
The fried veggie tempura packs a satisfying crunch with every bite, and the vegetables retain their natural flavors. The chicken teriyaki is juicy and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Other local favorites include the udon, oyakodon bowls and karaage.
Dance at the Paramount, 'the last surviving ballroom'
Owner Frank Acevedo acquired the Paramount in 2004, and worked to restore it to its original purpose before opening it as a concert venue in 2019. On the first floor, the Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory offers free music and media lessons to local youth. Acevedo told The Times that he wanted a place for the community to gather.
Today, the Paramount hosts a wide range of events with a diverse calendar of musical acts and performances including punk, indie and alternative acts from across the U.S. and Latin America. Since its opening, Mexican indie artist Silvana Estrada played a sold-out show as part of her first U.S. headlining tour, and Los Angeles DJ collective La Junta had cumbia lovers swinging and shuffling on the hardwood floors.
Its midsized space, which can hold up to 400 people, provides an intimate artist-guest experience. The full bar serves specialty drinks and chef-driven bites. Try the Boyle Heights Iced Tea for a remake of a classic drink, or the Hollenbeck Girl if you’re looking for a fruity sparkling buzz.
Catch a play at Casa 0101 Theater
Over the years, CASA 0101 has produced more than 200 plays, many of them focusing on the Latino experience. Countless actors and writers have been part of the “Casa family,” including “Blue Beetle” stars Xolo Maridue?a and Belissa Escobedo.
In addition to its mainstage productions, the theater hosts art exhibits, produces popular one-act festivals like “Chicanas, Cholas y Chisme” and provides classes for adults and children year-round.
If you’re attending a play, make sure to get tickets early, as the 99-seat theater tends to sell out for popular shows. Tip: Sandwich your date night with dinner before the show and drinks after — as several restaurants and bars along the 1st Street corridor are walking distance from the theater.
Celebrate with a cheladito at Eastside Luv
And much of that celebration is in the details. The red exterior stands out on the sunny 1st Street corridor, its mural of a mariachi paying homage to the musicians who have made this Boyle Heights nook a home. The red theme continues indoors, where the decor is Chicano-inspired: Lowrider steering wheels hang overhead, Mexican movie posters line the stage walls and Day of the Dead accents are sprinkled throughout. The plastic-wrapped furniture reminds you of immigrant grandmothers’ incessant desire to protect household valuables.
Here, crowds are treated to high doses of nostalgia as DJs mash up Mexican classics like Juan Gabriel’s “El Noa Noa” with top hits from Bad Bunny and Shakira, rock en espa?ol anthem “Oye Mi Amor” and cumbia sonidera to the West Coast rap sounds of “California Love.” The drinks carry on that same feeling. Micheladas are a win, but for a lighter take, order a cheladito — it’ll have you chugging on your beer in search of the saladito candy at the bottom.
Look out for special performances from local bands like Grammy-winning La Santa Cecilia — Eastside Luv regulars — and come back for themed karaoke nights including MorrisseyOke, MariachiOke and SelenaOke.
End the night with Tacos el Xolo Estilo Tijuana
Angel Moreno has been serving his popular tacos al carbon for five years, a dream for the 21-year-old East L.A. local. Every Wednesday to Monday evening, he sets up his taco stand in front of a car wash on Lorena Street. By then, he’s already prepared green, red and avocado salsas and slathered the trompo meat with his own adobe marinade for tacos al pastor.
The best part about Tacos el Xolo is the handmade tortillas. As soon as you place your order, Moreno’s mother digs into her giant bowl of masa, grabbing the exact amount for a three-bite taco.
Moreno artfully tops the tacos with a blend of green, red and white toppings and individually wraps them in yellow parchment paper. The meat is juicy and perfectly crisped, making for an indulgent bite every time.
Seating is limited, with a few plastic chairs and stools available for the luckiest customers, but some patrons don’t wait for a seat before biting into one of the best tacos in L.A.