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A little foodie to go with that indie

Echo Park is attracting young chefs who bring a sense of the good life to the alterna-crowd.

June 11, 2008|S. Irene Virbila | Times Restaurant Critic

Lot 1 may have the highest-profile chef -- Josef Centeno -- now cooking in Echo Park, but foodie haunts are sprouting all along Sunset Boulevard in a neighborhood that until recently was better known for its indie music scene. Young chefs and entrepreneurs are moving in and wrangling up interesting spaces faster than you can pull on a pair of skinny jeans and zip up a hoodie.

Last October, Rick Huschitt, Toby Donnelly and chef Alex Eusebio opened 15 on Echo Park Avenue in the old Cafe La Paz space, a few doors up from Sunset. Its modernist, brown-painted facade is an anomaly in this part of town, with its saturated colors and hand-painted signs. Inside, a neighborhood crowd perches on stools at the bar in back, watching a game with the volume turned low or trading stories with affable co-owner Huschitt, who seems to know everybody.

Eusebio's short menu is very California in spirit, and based on good products. There's a refreshing hearts of palm salad with avocado and sweet red peppers, a roasted beet salad with goat cheese, and mac 'n' cheese in several permutations.

As for entrees, you can always count on the Kobe beef burger or pork loin. Unlike Father's Office, 15 takes reservations, and hey, the "15 Burger" with Gruyere could hold its own against FO's famous burger. The real bargain at 15 is the three-course meal for $15 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. daily. Late nights, you can also get a burger and a beer for $15.

The Park opened in March in a funky corner building that once housed a Mexican restaurant. With a Kelly green paint job, it's easy to spot, harder to park. Upfront there are a few stools for waiting, a good thing because the Park takes reservations only for six or more, and with most entrees under $15, it's often very crowded.

The budget decor features a black-and-white checked tile floor, mismatched chairs and empty picture frames. From a tiny kitchen, chef Joshua Siegel turns out a mix of American comfort food (delicious mini cornmeal pancakes with shrimp, New England clam chowder, spaghetti and meatballs, burgers) along with more ambitious contemporary dishes with Mediterranean or Asian inflections (grilled wild salmon in black bean sauce, grilled polenta and asparagus, hanger steak). Sichuan-style calamari packs some heat. The big draw, however, is no corkage fee.

After dinner at any of the new places, it's fun to scoot a few blocks west to El Prado on Sunset Boulevard (at Lemoyne Street, next to Par Paint). Once a grittier hangout, the bar has morphed into a hipster spot that offers "beer, snacks, records," according to the website. There's no sign hung at the moment (it's leaning just inside the door), and according to the guy who mans the front, the hours are from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

At 10, we can barely squeeze inside, and all but one of the "snacks" is crossed off the blackboard. Better eat before you come anyway, because El Prado doesn't offer much in the way of eats -- cheese, salami, etc. There's good beer, though, on draft. And as for the music? Hard to decipher what it was over the din. Oh, well, it was fun hanging with the hood.

-- S. Irene Virbila

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15, 1320 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 481-0454, www.restaurant15.com. Entrees, $12 to $19; corkage fee, $15.

The Park, 1400 Sunset Blvd. (at Douglas Street), Los Angeles, (213) 482-9209; www.thepark1400sunset.com. Entrees, $12 to $15; BYOB, no corkage fee.

El Prado, 1805 W. Sunset Blvd. (at Lemoyne Street), no phone number, www.elpradobar.com. Wednesday through Saturday starting at 8 p.m. Snacks, $2 to $6; beers, $4 to $7.

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