Kokekokko, 203 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 687-0690
Suehiro, 337 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (213) 626-9132
Fugetsu-Do, 315 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (213) 625-8595
Toshi Sushi, 359 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (213) 680-4166
Pico | Aliso
Not too far from the 1st Street bridge across the Los Angeles River, the New York-style Purgatory Pizza is winning customers from across the bridge with thin-crusted vegan pizzas, hip toppings (goat cheese with pesto, Black Forest ham) and peppery Dante's Revenge pizza topped with pepperoni, jalapeños and its own El Diablo sauce. Sharing Purgatory's kitchen is Carmela, an ice cream maker that culls ingredients from local farmers markets, emphasizing seasonal creations: lavender-honey and salty caramel ice creams and lemon basil sorbet have been favorites. Purgatory serves Carmela by the scoop; flavors change daily.
Purgatory Pizza,1326 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 262-5310
A gorgeous stone kiosk and bandstand donated by Jalisco state (the birthplace of mariachi music) is now the centerpiece of Mariachi Plaza, where local bands have long gathered to secure gigs at weddings or events. Local craftspeople and artists are responsible for this station's impressive decorative elements. Beloved neighborhood restaurant fixtures include La Serenata de Garibaldi, famed burrito depot Al & Bea's and Birrieria Jalisco, the 35-year-old, recently remodeled specialty house dedicated to the perfect roasted kid.
Lesser-known finds make this a neighborhood worth serious exploration. A few steps east of the plaza, Primera Taza offers fair-trade coffees, teas and marvelous pan dulce from nearby La Favorita Bakery.
Across the street, the signage at La Placita del D.F. would have you believe it's a mere sandwich shop, but the menu goes considerably beyond cemitasmilanesa and pambazos. Soul-satisfying huaraches (fried masa flatbreads) come topped with eggs or steak; sturdy corn quesadillas get folded over huitlacoche or half a dozen other fillings; and the outrageous taco pioneero, a tire-size tortilla rolled around cubed, sautéed steak and about a pound of cheese (served after 4 p.m.), proves the tiny kitchen's mettle.
Less than half a block farther east, Las Cabañas, a tiny sliver of a place, turns out delicate Texcoco-style home cooking: squash blossoms from the owner's garden fill hand-patted corn tortillas of rough-ground fresh masa. Borrego (braised lamb) and consomé come from her stove daily, as does wonderful sopa de hongos, a meal in a bowl heaped high with fresh mushrooms and meaty chicken legs cooked au point in a clean, rich-tasting broth.
Up on Cesar E. Chavez Avenue near White Memorial Medical Center, Las Brisas is the bargain marisquería of your dreams. High turnover means sparkling fresh campechana (mixed) cocktails that include oysters, clams, octopus, abalone and shrimp at $6.50; crunchy fish tacos drizzled with crema and an elegant soup overflowing with seafood highlight the classic menu.
La Serenata de Garibaldi, 1842 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 265-9732
Al & Bea's Mexican Food, 2025 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 267-8810
Birrieria Jalisco, 1845 E. 1st St. Los Angeles; (323) 262-4552
Primera Taza Coffee House, 1850 1/2 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 780-3923
La Placita del D.F., 1859 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 780-8232
Las Cabanas Restaurant, 1908 3/4 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 261-8384
Las Brisas, 1829 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 222-4686
After emerging from beneath Boyle Heights, look east down 1st Street to Otomisan, a sukiyaki standby and remnant of the neighborhood's Japanese past. If you happen to be riding a night train, seek out the group of street-food vendors recently uprooted from Breed Street (known as the Breed Street Food Fair). Their pop-up food fairs last only a few hours, but they're rich with excellent antojitos and more, including hand-formed quesadillas, steamed tacos, huaraches, pozole and fiery pambazos, chile-soaked sandwiches that are best at Nina's Catering, where there's a remarkable salsa of pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and peanuts.
In the shadow of Evergreen Cemetery is El Rinconcito del Mar. The airy mariscos restaurant has an attached bakery, plus all the dutifully consistent fish tacos you'd expect. There are some exceptionally cheap breakfasts for morning commuters; otherwise, order the tart, fresh ceviches of octopus, fish and shrimp alongside a cold beer or a cocktail from the bar.