If you’re in the market for an African dashiki or reggae inspired clothing, there are several shops in Leimert Park that will hook you up. Our primary reason however, for visiting the South Los Angeles neighborhood, is the food: succulent pork ribs, peppery jerk chicken and dreamy peach cobbler. Leave your diets and new year’s resolutions at home, and find out more about the best restaurants in Leimert Park with our Definitive Guide.
Ackee Bamboo is a charming little Jamaican spot with minty green walls and a dozen or so tables. You order at the counter and food is delivered to the table. Many patrons also pop by for a Jamaican patty or two to go. These are flaky, savory hand pies filled with either chicken, beef or veggies. Turmeric that gives the pastry that distinct golden hue. The menu offers plenty of choices, including the namesake ackee paired with saltfish, generally considered Jamaica’s national dish. Don't miss the ridiculously tender jerk chicken, no fork required. The peppery spices will leave our tongue happily tingly. It comes with a couple of big chunks of sweet, caramelized fried plantain, a heap of stewed cabbage, rice and beans and a delicious misshapen fried ball of dough known as festival bread. It’s a lot of food for one. Our advice if you’re dining with a friend: order the combo, which will get you extra chicken, and share.
Located directly across the courtyard from sister restaurant Ackee Bamboo, Adassa’s Island Café (named in memory of the family’s Jamaican matron) is a sharp deli-café. It’s a fine spot to meet a friend in the neighborhood for a cup of coffee or sandwich. Wraps are gargantuan affairs. Perhaps “bundle” would be more apt, given their heft. The tuna fish, made with chopped egg, is popular, as are the wraps with a Jamaican bent. The warm curry chicken wrap pairs shredded chicken with Jamaican style rice and beans, lettuce, tomato and mild melted cheese swaddled in a spinach wrap and finished with a kicky yellow curry. A smooth and snappy lemonade ginger smoothie does a fine job countering the curry heat. Adassa’s serves breakfast too: eggs, pancakes and breakfast burritos, all cooked in the Ackee kitchen. Friday is open mike night.
Last fall, the Dulan family converted their Crenshaw catering facility to accommodate an eponymous restaurant. Dulan's is ultra casual, you order at the counter and get your food in Styrofoam. Want a sample? Just ask. The sides here are excellent and could be a meal by themselves. Dulan’s collard greens, in particular, are exemplary: earthy, smoky, with a wisp of spice and utterly soulful with bits of shredded smoked turkey. Candied yams are dreamy, too. Chunks of sweet melty yam are decadent as dessert. And the mac and cheese is over the top rich. Most meals come with a pair of tender, mini corn bread muffins. If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, there’s good fried chicken or smothered chicken, which is more or less that fried chicken in a creamy gravy and onion bath. On Sundays the menu is limited to a $17.45 all day “dinner special.” If you’re watching your wallet, come for lunch any other day when meals top out at $12.50, sides included.
There's not a lot of vegetarian-friendly quality junk food out there. We’re not talking chips and processed foods, but more along the lines of things like chili fries. Enter Earlez Grille at the intersection of Exposition and Crenshaw. It used to be Jack’s In the Bowl; in fact, the Jack’s name still appears on the south side of the building. Earlez Grille isn’t strictly a vegetarian restaurant. You can get a swell turkey burger or a beef hot dog. But you can also get a slice of vegetarian red velvet cake or an order of veggie chili cheese fries with vegan cheese or standard variety cheddar cheese. It’s a delicious mess, so don’t even think about eating it in the car. It’s a heavy load of thick steak fries tucked into a foil lined paper basket with heaps of mild, vegetarian chili that's made with small red beans and soy, along with oozy cheese.
For graduations, date nights, birthdays and other celebrations, Harold & Belle’s is the neighborhood destination. It's the swankiest spot around, with white tablecloths, votives on all the tables and gracious, professional servers. Meals start with a basket of toasty, butter slicked, soft white bread: garlic bread minus the garlic. The kitchen turns out a fine beef meatloaf smothered in tomato sauce. The seafood offerings are top notch, particularly the crawfish etoufee, a rich stew with plenty of tender crawfish tails, served over rice or linguine. The fried catfish is another standout, strips of moist catfish in a wonderfully crunchy, seasoned cornmeal jacket. Monday nights, there’s live jazz in the front lounge area.
Tucked behind one of several Louisiana Fried Chicken outposts in the neighborhood, M&M Soul Food is popular for family gatherings, business lunches and Sunday post-church feasts. The menu’s top bargain is the veggie plate: three sides for $7.50. Especially memorable are the simple and straightforward greens, as well as the yams, soft as baby food and naturally sweet. Like most entrees, this one comes with a pair of tender, crisp edged corn bread muffins. M&M also serves breakfast, the usual pancakes and omelets as well specialty items like catfish and eggs.
The wonderfully named O’So Juicy N Tasty, directly across from the park itself, is the local burger joint. There is just one table in the cramped area in front of the window where you order from the proprietor-cashier-cook. But most patrons get their burgers to go. Still, it’s something of a meeting place, with regulars slapping one another on the back and catching up on the latest. True to their name, the burgers are juicy and tasty. They start with hand formed patties that are griddled until they get those irresistible crispy edges. “Everything” here means sliced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, mayonnaise, mustard and a choice of raw or grilled onions. All this goes on a soft, sesame seed flecked bun. It may not be on any critics’ top ten burger lists, but it’s wholly satisfying. And the sub $4 price is right.
There are three Phillip’s Barbecue locations, but the general consensus among barbecue cognoscenti is that the original Leimert Park location is the best. Phillip's is located in the rear of a parking lot. When you arrive at the discreet storefront, be sure to pause a few seconds and take a few deep breaths and take in that heavenly, sweet smoke. It is intoxicating. First timers might be flummoxed by the directions on the door: “Step 1: If you called in an order, please pay inside first. Step 2: If you called in an order and you paid inside, please wait to hear your name called at outside window.” Does this mean you have to call in your order? No, just walk on in and order. And talk about customer service: Phillip’s has the distinction of being the only place where a cashier drew a diagram to answer a question about the various cuts of meat. One of the best items is “small ends,” the smaller, super meaty, lean end pork ribs. And when we say lean, don’t get the wrong idea; they are still meltingly tender with plenty of those satisfying chewy bits here and there. They come about a dozen to an order in a pool of tangy, finger licking sauce (your choice: spicy or mild) with a couple pieces of bread to sop up the excess. Note there is no seating here and this is not car friendly food. Those too impatient to make it home or back to the office sometimes take their ‘cue to one of the nearby fast food eateries, purchase a drink and settle in.
At Southern Girl Desserts, the signature sweet potato cupcakes are piled high with dense frosting and finished with a dot of sweet potato puree. And the banana pudding, sold in clear plastic cups so you can see the layers of vanilla wafers, is delish. But it’s the peach cobbler that is the real draw at this charming bakery, near Sears and TJ Maxx in the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Mall. (This is the second Southern Girl; the original location is on Pico.) Buttery and gooey and doughy and not overly sweet, the peach cobbler has the perfect ratio of pastry to fruit. Baked in big, aluminum pans, the cobbler is sold in pint size containers that the nice ladies behind the counter are happy to heat up for those who want to park it at one of the café tables. This is rich, buttery stuff, so be sure to share with a friend or two.
4305 Degnan Blvd., Los Angeles, 90008
4305 Degnan Blvd., Los Angeles, 90008
4859 South Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, 90043
3630 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, 90008
Harold & Belle’s
2920 West Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles, 90018
M&M Soul Food
3552 West Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Los Angeles, 90008
O’So Juicy N Tasty
3347 W. 43rd Pl., Los Angeles, 90008
4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles 90008
Southern Girl Desserts
3650 Martin Luther King Blvd., Los Angeles, 90008