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Restaurateur Justin Foronda’s Guide to Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown

Filipinotown local Justin Foronda knows LA’s Historic Filipinotown like the back of his hand. Here’s his guide to the neighborhood.

Hi, I'm Patricia!

Patricia Kelly Yeo is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles who has traveled to over a dozen countries. She has written for the New York Times, Eater, and Bon Appetit, and is currently the food and drink editor for Time Out L.A.

Between nursing and running a restaurant, HiFi Kitchen’s Justin Foronda is on his grind right now. Born and raised in LA’s Historic Filipinotown, Foronda is a lifelong Angeleno whose hard work and creativity knows no bounds; outside of (still) working full-time in healthcare and overseeing the new-school eatery serving what he’s dubbed “Filipino Angeleno” cuisine, he also loves to break dance.

The neighborhood, which officially became a city district in 2002, wasn’t very safe while growing up, Foronda says. As he got older, the neighborhood changed, with more white, middle-class residents moving in. Back in 2019, the year HiFi Kitchen first opened, it felt more important to him than ever to develop a local business that represented HiFi’s heart and soul. “I can’t really tell people where to live, but I can tell them about where they live,” he adds.

Inspired by LA’s rich culinary diversity, Foronda launched HiFi Kitchen as a casual neighborhood eatery, a move that’s helped solidify Historic Filipinotown as a neighborhood people love to hang out in as much as, say, Downtown’s Little Tokyo or East Hollywood’s Thai Town. Today, diners flock to HiFi Kitchen for Filipino rice bowls, including their signature la-ing (taro leaves braised in coconut milk) with lechon kawali, as well as LA-inspired cross-cultural mashups including chicken adobo tacos.

Justin Foronda’s Historic Filipinotown recommendations

Modeled after Chinatown, Koreatown, and Little Tokyo, Historic Filipinotown is now home to a mix of older Filipino-run small businesses, critically acclaimed bars, and new-school eateries.

Enjoy Filipino cuisine from classic and new-school spots alike

The neighborhood’s most recognizable eatery just might be Dollar Hits—a no-frills skewer joint that’s been featured on Netflix’s Street Food. In the same strip mall, however, Foronda enjoys ordering pandesal, or Filipino dinner rolls, from My Mom’s BakeShop. Freshly made daily, the rolls are perfect for breakfast sandwiches at home. “No joke, they’re so good,” he says.

You also can’t really leave HiFi, he says, without sampling the cornbread bibingka from The Park’s Finest, which serves Filipino American barbecue with all manner of delicious (and creative) sides.

Take in the art in and around Gabba Gallery

Head to this local art gallery on HiFi’s western edge for a bit of inspiration, then walk up and down Beverly Boulevard for additional murals and street art. In the area, Foronda also enjoys picking up a patty melt from Jim’s Burgers. It’s also worth checking out the public works of Eliseo Art Silva, which you can find in Unidad Park and along the stretch of Beverly Boulevard flanking Historic Filipinotown’s Eastern Gateway arch.

Visit the local church for potato tacos

Foronda spent his childhood Sundays attending Mass at Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church, where he still can be found picking up the church’s after-service potato tacos on Sundays. Also known as La Iglesia Católica de Nuestra Señora de Loretto, the church sells the simple, crunchy taquitos as part of their overall fundraising efforts.

A brief history of Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown

In the early 20th century, a small community of Filipino migrants formed the basis of Little Manila, a Downtown LA enclave that would later be razed in a 1950s era “revitalization effort.” In the aftermath, Filipino Americans moved westwards en masse to a small corridor around Temple Street and Beverly Boulevard, where they became homeowners, started local businesses, and created community organizations.

By the end of the 80s, several mom-and-pop restaurants had become HiFi staples, including Bahay Kubo, a turo-turo style restaurant best known for its cafeteria trays. (It still exists today under the name Kubo Restaurant.) By the 90s, HiFi’s once-sizable population of Filipinos had given way to a more ethnically diverse mix of Mexican and Central Americans, who now make up more than half of the area’s residential population.

Though lobbying for the neighborhood’s designation as a business district began in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 2002 that Historic Filipinotown received official status from the city. Now, the 2.1-square-mile (7-square-kilometer) zone between Glendale Boulevard to the east and Hoover Street to the west carries a name, as well as two commemorative gateways. Colorful murals by Filipino American artist Eliseo Art Silva—which include Filipino cultural symbols including the parol (a Filipino ornamental lantern); the gunamula, or hibiscus flower; and the Sarimanok, a legendary bird from Filipino mythology—flank the eastern archway on Beverly Boulevard.

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