The redeveloped core of Watts has a sparkling new library, a glistening shopping center, hundreds of paint-barely-dry residences and a new youth center, complete with full-size basketball court.
What it does not have is a restaurant.
Of course, Watts has more than enough quick-serve hamburger joints and fried-food chain establishments, residents say. There is also Jordan's, which has been serving Southern cuisine to handfuls of customers for more than 50 years near the corner of 114th Street and Wilmington Avenue.
But more than 30 years after the Watts Riots, which dramatized complaints about a lack of public services taken for granted by the rest of Los Angeles, some residents believe they're still fighting the same old battle.
These days, a common complaint is the lack of a large, family-style, sit-down restaurant.
"I'm so tired of going to South Gate, Lynwood, Inglewood and downtown Los Angeles--everyplace else trying to get a bowl of soup," said 79-year-old Adell LaRue, who has lived in Watts since 1956. She says she and many older residents who rely on public transportation cannot go out to dinner for fear of riding the buses after dark.
"We love fried chicken," LaRue said, acknowledging the many places in her area that offer such fare, "but we get a little tired of it."
LaRue wistfully paints a picture of walking to 103rd Street or Central Avenue and finding a scene that people in Northridge or Covina expect: servers ferrying steaming plates of food to dressed-up diners seated around cloth-laden tables. She wants a place to go for special occasions, celebrations or just a relief from cooking for the family.
For all the improvements that have come to Watts, particularly in the past few years, the vision of such a restaurant has yet to be completely realized.
Jordan's, on the outskirts of the community and able to serve 40 or so customers at a time, cannot by itself be the answer to an improving community's needs, community leaders say.
Even Oscar Neal, the former owner of Jordan's who still serves as the eatery's manager, said he would welcome new dining options in Watts.
"We want the same things in Watts that everybody else wants," he said. "I don't try and compete with the big boys, and I don't mind running second."
Besides, Jordan's menu doesn't include soup.
Denny's "N" the 'Hood offered some hope when it opened in the adjacent Willowbrook community in 1992. In addition to being the first family-style restaurant to open in the area in almost 30 years, the restaurant was the first African American-owned Denny's in the country.
But the establishment in the Kenneth Hahn Shopping Plaza wasn't in Watts and wasn't as classy as the restaurant many Watts residents had in mind.
"That's almost fast food," LaRue sniffed.
The next great possibility seemed to lie in what was described as an ironclad provision in the city development contract for a new Watts Civic Center Office Building, scheduled to be completed in the spring of 1997 at 103rd and Compton Avenue.
The city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which tries to attract developers with tax incentives and low-interest loans, stipulated that it would not grant a development contract unless the builder agreed to include a sit-down restaurant in the development plans, said Alvin Jenkins, a CRA project manager for the Watts area.
But, once again, a new restaurant was not to be. Neither the CRA nor the developer it selected could find a willing restaurateur.
Faced with either delaying the building process by dissolving the contract or moving ahead without a restaurant, the CRA chose the latter.
"Burger King, McDonald's, they have no problem going up and doing good business," Jenkins said. "The [full-service] restaurants seem to doubt the ability of the community to support a restaurant, and they also seem to doubt their ability to draw in other customers from outside the area."
So residents are stuck with the 30-year-old dilemma: eat at home, leave the area for a meal or eat fast food.
The latter has become an increasingly less desirable option, particularly for African Americans, who constitute half Watts' population.
In addition to the problems of obesity and heart disease that have been on the rise in the poorest segments of the African American community, a September study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that poor African Americans are not eating as well as their poorer counterparts ate 30 years ago.
In 1965, the researchers found, wealthy Caucasians, more able to afford meat and dairy products, ate the worst of any group surveyed in terms of what is now accepted as good nutrition.
"In the '50s and '60s, the desired food in America was a high, animal-protein diet," said Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "If you didn't have the income, you ate whatever was cheaper."