Must Sees and Hidden Gems of Boyle Heights and East LA

Mariachi Plaza, Mariscos Jalisco, the Whittier Boulevard Sign and much more

One of LA's most vibrant and historic regions, East LA was founded in 1870 by John Strother Griffin, aka "the father of East Los Angeles." Cultural highlights in Boyle Heights and East LA include the famed Mariachi Plaza, the bustling El Mercado de Los Angeles, lowrider mecca Whittier Boulevard and the pioneering Self Help Graphics & Art, renowned for its annual Día de los Muertos festivities. Be sure to bring your appetite and enjoy some of LA's best Mexican food, from the OG Mariscos Jalisco food truck to the legendary Manuel's Special Burrito at El Tepeyac.


For a deeper dive into local food and drink options, check out our L.A. TACO Guide.

Photo courtesy of Mariachi Plaza Festival Foundation, Facebook

Mariachi Plaza

Located in Boyle Heights, Mariachi Plaza serves as a historic gateway to the neighborhood and a gathering place for a variety of cultural events, from music festivals to CicLAvia bike rides. Since the 1950s (and as early as the '30s), mariachi musicians have gathered here in the hopes of being hired by visitors who are looking for a full band, trio, or solo singer. On Sunday afternoons, local vendors and live musicians gather for an open-air market. For more than 30 years, Mariachi Plaza has been the site of the annual Mariachi Festival & Fiesta de Santa Cecilia, a free public event held every November 19.

Formerly serviced by the Metro L Line, Mariachi Plaza is easily accessed via its namesake station on the E Line. The station's entrance features a distinctive scalloped canopy with diamond-shaped glass cutouts that cast a spectrum of colors onto the escalators below.

Beneath the canopy is El Niño Perdido, a bronze sculpture created by Alejandro de la Loza, an artist born in Mexico City and raised in Boyle Heights. The sculpture is inspired by the beloved Mexican instrumental song "El Niño Perdido" ("The Lost Child"), a favorite among mariachis. A statue dedicated to Lucha Reyes (aka "The Mother of Ranchera Music") stands behind the kiosk. Artist Juan Solis - born in Zacatecas, Mexico and raised in East LA - was commissioned to paint two large murals. The first features men and women in traditional folkloric dress, symbolizing the cultural heritage of Mexico; the second mural is a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Burritos at Al & Bea’s Mexican Food in Boyle Heights
Burritos at Al & Bea’s | Instagram: @moonboy403

Al & Bea’s Mexican Food

Described by Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold as "one of the greatest of the Eastside’s classic burrito palaces," Al & Bea's is a Boyle Heights institution that dates to November 1966, when Albert Carreon and wife Beatrice opened their casual open-air stand. The brown building features brick, painted concrete and green umbrellas to shield diners from the sun. Order at the window from a wall-mounted menu. Simple, effective burrito options include a steaming tortilla filled with oozing refried pinto beans, molten yellow cheddar and green chile for kick.

"L.A. Latino Flavors" collab series at Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co. in Boyle Heights
"L.A. Latino Flavors" collab series at Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co. | Instagram: @brooklynavepco

Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co.

Chef Mario Christerna opened Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co. on the first floor of The Paramount in November 2020. The historic building was previously home to the Jewish Bakers Union and the Boyle Heights Community Kitchen. The restaurant’s name is inspired by its location along Cesar Chavez Avenue, which was historically known as Brooklyn Avenue.

A native of Boyle Heights, Christerna pays homage to the neighborhood with pies like the Mole Pizza (Queso Oaxaca, curtido, crema, mozzarella) and Meat Lovers (discada, pepperoni, hatch chili, chicken-pork sausage, mozzarella); Cesar Chavez Salad with chipotle Caesar dressing and cotija cheese; Mole Wings (sesame, curtido, pepitas) and thick-cut fries covered in "Chicano Gravy" (beef chorizo, queso fresco, cilantro).

The full bar continues the theme with cocktails like the Elote Old Fashioned (bourbon, guajillo honey, roasted corn, Cali orange bitters) and the Mama Mangoñada with mezcal, mango-bell pepper sangrita, lime juice, chamoy and Tajin rim.

Interior of Candelas Guitars in Boyle Heights
Candelas Guitars | Instagram: @eddie_crypto_fx

Candelas Guitars

Brothers Porfirio and Candelario Delgado-Flores founded Candelas Guitars in 1928, opening their first shop in Juarez, Mexico. Word of mouth about Candelas' handcrafted guitars soon spread, and the brothers opened a second location in Tijuana, which led to collaborations with music greats like Mario "Cantinflas" Moreno, Germán "Tin-Tan" Valdés, Pepe Gamboa (a custom three-neck guitar) and Eduardo Ruiz, who played lead guitar for Desi Arnaz.

In 1947, the brothers opened their third Candelas Guitars on Brooklyn Avenue (now Cesar Chavez Avenue) in Boyle Heights. Named after his uncle, Porfirio's son Candelario joined the thriving family business and Candelas opened two more shops, on Sunset Boulevard and in Hollywood. Much like Tijuana, music stars soon came calling, including José Feliciano, Arlo Guthrie, Hoyt Axton, and world-renowned Mariachi bands.

Today, the original Candelas Guitars in Boyle Heights is helmed by third-generation luthier Tomás Delgado, Candelario's eldest son. Delgado continues the family legacy of crafting custom guitars from the finest woods for a wide range of genres - the famous clientele includes Los Lobos, Ozomatli and Gaby Moreno.

Along with new and vintage guitars, repairs and accessories, Candelas offers private, one-on-one guitar lessons in English and Spanish. Led by classical guitarist Kenneth Del Rio, the one-hour lessons are open to all adults and public/charter school students. Lessons are offered Tuesday-Saturday, call Candelas to book. Discounts for full time students.

CASA 0101

CASA 0101

Josefina Lopez, who wrote Real Women Have Curves, was raised in Boyle Heights and launched CASA 0101 in 2000. In September 2011, CASA 0101 moved to a larger venue a block away. The original location was renamed "Little Casa" and both spaces are part of CASA 0101. The theater's calendar includes plays, dance performances and other cultural productions. They also offer classes for both children and adults in subjects like acting, voice and playwriting. CASA 0101 is also home to the Jean Deleage Art Gallery, which features exhibitions of local artists.

Chicano Resource Center at East LA Library
Chicano Resource Center | Photo: LA County Library

Chicano Resource Center

Located in the East LA Library, the Chicano Resource Center (CRC) was established in 1976 to serve the information needs of the Mexican American community and to make information about the history and culture of this group available to the general public. The multimedia collection spans subjects like immigration, the Chicano Movement, mural art, biographies, folklore and the history of Mexico. The collection comprises books, journals, online databases, subject notebooks, videos, audio CDs and microforms - many of the materials are available for checkout. Artifacts from the Chicano Movement include political posters and periodicals such as La Raza, Con Safos and Aztlan. The CRC is also home to pamphlet files on more than 750 topics that cover Chicano Movement events, Latino leaders and East LA history.

MorrisseyOke at Eastside Luv in Boyle Heights
MorrisseyOke at Eastside Luv | Instagram: @alexisdelarocha

Eastside Luv

Steps from Mariachi Plaza, a striking portrait of mariachi Rafael Rubio by Boyle Heights native Robert Vargas beckons partiers to Eastside Luv, a local nightlife staple since 2006. The interior design is influenced by turn of the century bungalows and Chicanismo - the "Chaindeliers" were inspired by the lowrider chain steering wheel; the "Wino Bench" is upholstered in thick black corduroy as an homage to cholo’s business casual wino house slippers.

On the first Thursday of the month, Eastside Luv hosts MorrisseyOke, a no-cover night that invites superfans to belt out their favorite songs by Morrissey and The Smiths. Launched in 2011, MorrisseyOke quickly garnered a cult following. Anthony Bourdain kicked off the ninth season of Parts Unknown with a Latino-themed tour of LA, which featured a segment on Morrissey fans that included MorrisseyOke.

Other themed karaoke nights include JuangaOke (Juan Gabriel), SelenaOke, 90s and Post-Punk. A rotating lineup of DJs spins a wide range of music in English and Spanish from the 1950s to the latest hits. Live music features local bands like La Santa Cecilia, which performed some of their first shows at Eastside Luv. Check the online calendar for upcoming events.

El Mercado de Los Angeles
El Mercado de Los Angeles

El Mercado de Los Angeles

El Mercado de Los Angeles (known affectionately as "El Mercadito") is a bustling, three-level marketplace that opened in 1968. Vendors pack their stalls with everything from religious figures to cowboy boots to Misfits t-shirts. Set aside some time to explore - the stalls bleed into each other, with eye-catching items popping out at seemingly every turn through the aisles.

Nosh on traditional Mexican fare and homemade treats such as mole, raspados (shaved ice with syrup), churros, dulce de leche (caramel), nieves, aguas frescas and Mexican candy. The third-floor restaurant, which hosted dueling mariachi bands pre-pandemic, is currently closed.

Note: if you're walking to El Mercadito from the Metro E Line stop at Indiana, follow the parking signs to enter through the nearby alley.

Manuel’s Special Burrito at El Tepeyac in Boyle Heights
Manuel’s Special Burrito (Original Pork) at El Tepeyac | Instagram: @fivemunches

El Tepeyac Cafe

Open since 1955, the family-run El Tepeyac is beloved for its massive burritos and homestyle Mexican fare. Clocking in at five pounds, the famous Manuel’s Special Burrito is stuffed with rice, beans and guacamole along with choice of filling, including Original Pork, Asada (beef), Machaca (shredded beef), Pollo (shredded chicken) and Veggie (no meat, not vegan). Manuel's Special is meant for 2-4 people, though some warriors have taken down the behemoth by themselves.

Other favorites include the equally hefty Original Hollenbeck Burrito and budget-friendly combos like the Enchiladas in Red Sauce and Chile Relleno Dinners.

Espacio 1839 in Boyle Heights
Espacio 1839

Espacio 1839

Located on 1st Street near Mariachi Plaza, Espacio 1839 mixes t-shirts, accessories and books with an emphasis on feminism and cultural identity. The fantastic book selection gathers authors like science fiction hero Octavia Butler and feminist theorist bell hooks, along with multiple titles on subjects like the Zapatistas and books from famed Latin American writers like Pablo Neruda. T-shirts and accessories run the gamut from humorous to political and include some fun odds and ends for music fanatics too.

More than a unique shop, Espacio 1839 is also a community space that hosts meet-ups, showcases local artists and produces Radio Espacio.

Evergreen Memorial Park & Crematory
Evergreen Memorial Park & Crematory

Evergreen Memorial Park & Crematory

Established in August 1877, Evergreen Memorial Park & Crematory is LA's oldest cemetery and one of the city's largest, with more than 300,000 interments. Notable burials include John Strother Griffin (founder of East LA), "Biddy" Mason (founder of the First AME Church), George Albert Ralphs (founder of the supermarket chain), Isaac Newton Van Nuys, and several former LA Mayors.

The cemetery is non-denominational, so its permanent residents come from many backgrounds - portions of the cemetery represent different ethnic communities that have settled here for generations. Evergreen never banned African Americans from being buried at the cemetery, while a large area devoted to Chinese Americans dates to the Gold Rush. A monument in the heart of the park honors the Japanese Americans of the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team who fought in World War II. The unit was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2010.

Evergreen is also a popular jogging spot, thanks to a 1.4-mile track that encircles the cemetery. Film fans will recognize Evergreen from its appearances in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street and Mask.

The OG Sampler at Guisados in Boyle Heights
The OG Sampler at Guisados | Instagram: @ly.eats

Guisados Tacos

"Born & Braised" in Boyle Heights in December 2010, Guisados has since expanded to locations in Echo Park, Downtown LA, Burbank, Hermosa Beach, WeHo, Beverly Hills and Pasadena. Owned and operated by Armando De La Torre Sr. and Armando De La Torre Jr, Guisdados features homestyle braises on corn tortillas that are handmade-to-order from masa that's freshly-ground next door at Carnitas Uruapan.

As he did so many times with under-the-radar restaurants, Jonathan Gold elevated Guisados to must-try status with his LA Weekly review, singling out the fiery Chiles Toreados taco: "It is a taco that could go 15 rounds with Oscar De La Hoya. It is a taco that could play badass trumpet in a mariachi band and sing sweet love songs to your girlfriend. It is a taco that will sneak out of the house in the middle of the night to do things that no taco should ever do, but you will always take it back, because you have tasted the complexity that lies three layers down."

L.A. TACO's Erick Gallindo shared his own Guisados favorite with Dine LA: "There’s something so perfect about the Bistek en Salsa Roja, a perfectly simmered guisado – of flank steak, red bell peppers, and tomatoes – served on beautiful bed of black beans, and topped with chile de arbol and avocado. Pair that with an Armando Palmero agua fresca and you just might understand the true meaning of life – which is obviously tacos."

Can't decide from the numerous options? Order a sampler with six mini-tacos, like The OG (Steak Picado, Bistek Roja, Tinga, Mole, Chicharron, Cochinita Pibil) or the Vegetarian with 2 Calabacitas, 2 Hongos, Frijoles con Queso and Quesadilla.

Skateboarder at Hollenbeck Skate Plaza in Boyle Heights
Saturday morning session at Hollenbeck Skate Plaza | Instagram: @havalina_skate

Hollenbeck Skate Plaza - Hollenbeck Park

Located at the corner of St. Louis and 4th Streets, Hollenbeck Park has a long history that dates back to 1892. The popular neighborhood spot features picnic tables, BBQ pits, children's play area, a lake, and a stretch of the 5 Freeway running through it.

One of its more recent features is the Hollenbeck Skate Plaza. Designed by California Skateparks, the 13,000 square-foot skatepark features long flat rails, ledges, manual pads, 7-stair rail and a kicker wedge. It's not the most visible portion of Hollenbeck Park, though - you'll find it near the freeway bridges.

Tamales at La Mascota Bakery in Boyle Heights
Tamales at La Mascota Bakery | Photo: @lamascotabakery, Instagram

La Mascota Bakery

Serving Boyle Heights since 1952, La Mascota Bakery remained practically unchanged until a few years ago, when third-generation owners Francisco and Patty Aparicio gave the space a facelift. Not to worry, the baked goods are better than ever and the tamales are prepared with the same recipe that made them famous.

Tamales are available year-round with six filling options: Red Chile with Pork, Red Chile with Beef, Green Chile with Chicken, Green Chile with Cheese, "Vegetal" (Veggies in Banana Leaf), and Dulce con Piña (Sweet with Pineapple).

The wide range of Pan Dulce includes Bread Pudding, Beso, Concha, Capirotada, Chilindrina, Chorriada, Elote, Empanada, Libro, Mantecada, Niño Envuelto, Semita, Oreja, Puerquitos and more.

The extensive menu includes a selection of breakfast items and several tortas, plus there's Champurrado every morning and Menudo every weekend!

Latinx with Plants in Boyle Heights
Photo: Latinx with Plants

Latinx with Plants

What started in 2019 as an Instagram account sharing plant-related memes and gardening ideas became, within a year, a brick-and-mortar storefront in Boyle Heights. Latinx with Plants is crammed with cactus, pothos, ferns, monsteras and much more. But there’s more to Latinx with Plants - it aims to build a more equitable community through plants, including spreading ancestral plant knowledge to combat the environmental racism that plagues brown and black communities. Owner Andi Xoch attributes her passion for horticulture to fond childhood memories of cost-saving family trips to parks and hiking trails and strives to pass that sensation along to budding plant parents everywhere.

Interior of Libros Schmibros Lending Library in Boyle Heights
Libros Schmibros Lending Library | Photo: RADAR

Libros Schmibros Lending Library

Founded in 2010 by bibliophiles David Kipen and Colleen Jaurretche, Libros Schmibros Lending Library has put 50,000 low- or no-cost books into circulation in Boyle Heights and beyond. In 2018, Libros Schmibros moved from its self-described "shoebox" across Mariachi Plaza to an 800 square-foot storefront in the historic Boyle Hotel. The redesign by Chinatown-based RADAR (Rachel Allen Development Architecture Research) features a floor-to-ceiling "skyline" bookshelf and sunset colors inspired by the library's mission - "bold presence, openness to the community, and optimism about the future of the city.”

Described by Publishers Weekly as a "Los Angeles Literary Fixture," Libros Schmibros offers programs such as the monthly Reading Group on Mexican Philosophy & Culture, Children's Reading Hour, and the Libros Schmibros Summer Fellowship. Available to Boyle Heights students, the month-long Summer Fellowship includes field trips to architectural, historical, and cultural sites; guest speakers, special readings, discussion and debate with fellow students; and deep dives into the histories of Boyle Heights and other LA neighborhoods. A $1,200 stipend is paid to participants at the end of the program. This year's applications are due by Feb. 16, 2024.

Donation-based library membership starts at just $5 and includes admission to the Anniversary Celebration, a free book, borrow three books at a time, and email invitation to all in-store events.

Red & Beef at Lupe's Burritos in East LA
Red & Beef at Lupe's Burritos | Instagram: @lupesburritos

Lupe’s #2

The late Adeline "Tuchie" Portillo opened her beloved burrito stand in 1972, and Lupe’s Burritos has remained family-owned and operated ever since. Located a short walk from the Maravilla Station of the Metro E Line, the open-air East LA destination features speckled Formica order/pick-up counters and bright red covered picnic tables in back.

The menu touts more than a dozen burrito options. There's a deluxe Bean & Cheese with larded refried beans and molten yellow cheese. But even better is the Red & Beef, featuring tender beef chunks slathered with a fierce red salsa. There's also a relatively mild Green & Beef, fiery Chicharron, and the California Burrito with steak, beans, cheese, fries, guac and sour cream.

Tacos de Camaron at Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights
Tacos de Camaron at Mariscos Jalisco | Instagram: @garythefoodie

Mariscos Jalisco

In his 2012 LA Times review of Mariscos Jalisco, the late, great Jonathan Gold described Raul Ortega as "a rock star among taco chefs" and wrote, "In some circles, admitting that you live in Los Angeles but haven’t visited Mariscos Jalisco is like confessing that you’ve never been to Dodger Stadium, or driven through the four-level freeway interchange, or eaten a corn dog on Muscle Beach — inexcusable, really."

Ortega launched his acclaimed taco truck in Boyle Heights in 2001. Fans from near and far queue up for the signature Tacos de Camaron (Shrimp Tacos), along with the Tostada Poseidon (shrimp ceviche, octopus, spicy red aguachile) and Ceviches. In addition to the OG location, Mariscos Jalisco trucks are now parked in Downtown LA and on La Cienega in Mid-City. In July 2023, Ortega’s brick and mortar in Pomona received Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition.

L.A. TACO's Tien Nguyen described the Tacos de Camaron for Dine LA: "Based on a recipe from Ortega’s hometown, San Juan de los Lagos, the taco is stuffed with a mix of fresh shrimp and potatoes, then folded in half and fried wholesale. It’s topped with a generous spoonful of fresh salsa and a few slices of avocado before being handed off to you, at which point you’ll crunch into it and savor the burnt bits at the edges. Some say this is the best taco in the city. They would not be wrong."

Café Latte and Almond Croissant at Mystyx Coffee Ritual
Café Latte and Almond Croissant at Mystyx Coffee Ritual | Instagram: @mystyxkafe

Mystyx Coffee Ritual

The brainchild of Julian Anguiano and Sol Castillo, Mystyx Kafe launched as a wildly popular goth-themed coffee pop-up in 2020. Their first brick-and-mortar, Mystyx Coffee Ritual opened in December 2022, serving up favorites like Voodoo Coffee, White Magic Latte (Horchata) and the Shakerato - shaken espresso with brown sugar and a caramel-lined cup.

Open daily at 7am, Mystyx offers an expanded menu that includes pastries, "Immortal" avocado toast, Satanic Pig (pizza on a bagel) and Deli "Sadwitches" like the Black Vinyl (everything bagel) and the veg-friendly Caprese.

Zines at Other Books in Boyle Heights
Zines at Other Books | Instagram: @otherbooksla

Other Books

It's very easy to lose track of time inside Other Books. With an emphasis on POC creators in literature and art, the shop's outstanding selection of new and used books includes rare and out-of-print titles; coffee table art books, the latest fiction, and non-fiction books that delve into subjects like Native American history and violence in Central America. The alternative and international comics selection is great, but what's even more impressive is the collection of zines. If you want to support local writers and artists, Other Books is the place to be.

Self Help Graphics & Art
Photo: Self Help Graphics & Art

Self Help Graphics & Art

Self Help Graphics is an integral part of art history in Boyle Heights, as well as Los Angeles at large. Founded in 1970, the studio emerged from the Chicano Movement of the Civil Rights era and was part of the related rise of Chicano art. It's primarily known as a print studio, but they host workshops for other arts as well, and they are also home to an art gallery. The studio's major annual event is Dia de los Muertos in early November. They also hold a number of other events throughout the year.

Saltado at Un Solo Sol in Boyle Heights
Saltado at Un Solo Sol | Instagram: @sothisiswhatieat

Un Solo Sol

Conveniently located across from the Metro E Line's Mariachi Plaza Station, Un Solo Sol features the plant-based cuisine of Carlos Ortez. Highlights of the globally-inspired menu include vegan Pupusas, several Bowls (Nopalitos, Caribbean, Cholay, Ghormeh Sabzi), hearty Pozole (Green and Red), Bok Choy Soup, and numerous mains like "Anti-Chilaquiles," Platters (Pupusas, Taquitos, Soft Tacos) and Peruvian-style Saltado: portobello mushrooms or organic tofu tossed with tomato, red and yellow peppers, red onions and house French fries; served with organic brown rice and house citrus salsa.

A mural by Rafael Escamilla, "Un Solo Sol" ("A Single Sun") depicts the lifecycle of Pachamama (Mother Earth) from creation to destruction and back. A new exterior mural by @lunaxvivi features a mariachi violinist surrounded by natural elements (butterfly, hummingbird, flowers, plowed earth) and symbols of staple foods and cooking tools used in Latin America.

Vincent Price Art Museum at East LA College in Monterey Park
Photo: Vincent Price Art Museum

Vincent Price Art Museum

Located on the campus of East LA College, the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM) was established in 1957 with the donation of 90 pieces from the personal collection of Vincent Price, the legendary actor and noted art collector. The wide-ranging collection has since grown to more than 9,000 objects and is a reflection of Price's interest in world art - African, Mesoamerican, Native American and European artworks have all been exhibited at VPAM.

Lowriders in front of the Whittier Boulevard Sign
Cruising Whittier Boulevard | Instagram: @amigojoe.626

Whittier Boulevard Sign

Spanning the Los Angeles River in Downtown LA to Brea in Orange County, Whittier Boulevard is world-renowned as a mecca for generations of lowriders. Located on Whittier between Arizona and McDonnell Avenues, the Whittier Boulevard Sign was erected in 1986 and has since become a centerpiece of the weekly Sunday cruises. In 2019, Motor Trend said the 65-foot arch "cemented the legacy of [Whittier Boulevard] as the most iconic boulevard in lowriding."