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Strip Search: Cypress Park

El Atacor #11
El Atacor #11 Photo: Hadley Tomicki

Cypress Park is a small sliver of a historic Northeast neighborhood elbow-jointed between Highland Park and Glassell Park, located less than three miles north of Downtown. There’s not a lot to do in this tiny city but work, walk, visit, and eat, and fortunately, the neighborhood provides. Along the main vein of Figueroa Street, you’ll find two incredibly dependable Mexican restaurants, plus a homey Salvadoran restaurant with so-so food. Of the former two, the elder has a serious Three Stooges fixation, a cute name, and superior standards, while the other is famous for its fried potato tacos, classic cool decor, and an suggestive burrito made famous by Jonathan Gold. Follow us as we look at three eating options in Cypress Park.

El Atacor #11

This is El Atacor #11, not to be confused with El Atacor #1 several blocks to the north. Where Atacors #2 through #10 are we’re still mostly not too sure (#9 is in Downey) or too concerned. This spot encompasses everything we love about Cypress Park. The diner space is a bit of a throwback, with ancient video games, animal heads, and loud music blaring from a juke, while a steady stream of regular customers swings by. We’ve never gotten around to trying that “porno burrito” Jonathan Gold put on the map, as we’re too obsessed with their fish and shrimp ceviche and of course, the famous papas tacos.

For the ceviche, a mere two dollars buys you a mound of raw chopped fish between two flat tostadas, with a little onion and cilantro and a few generous wedges of avocado. And yes, there’s beer, though taking your eats to neighboring dive-bar Footsie’s is always an attractive option if you prefer The Black Keys to Banda. This two-buck ceviche lunch is incredible and you’re sure you should be eating simple seafood like this every day. But then those potato tacos (nearly $4 for four) extend an invisible arm, hook it around your neck, and next thing you know you’re sinking into soft divinity itself in the form of a soft shell taco made hard in oil, sealed up almost like an empanada, and splaying out steaming hot mashed potatoes with every silky bite. When it comes to other standards, El Atacor still shines as well, be it in simple tacos or more elaborate offerings. A must-visit!

El Atacor #11, 2622 N. Figueroa St. Cypress Park. 323-441-8477

Maria’s Restaurante

Maria’s doesn’t have the city’s best pupusas by a looooong shot, but sometimes you need a temporary space to call home and Maria’s does the trick. Especially when it’s Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, when said pupusas are offered for only $1.50 each (though they were somehow much better when they were a dollar). The staff here is incredibly welcoming and kind, while the rounded vestibule of the building itself is a classic diner space that has probably provided tables for a few neighborhood generations. In addition to the expected pupusas, Maria’s features many Salvadoran specialties from the standard yuca frita and platanos fritos to beef salpicon and Gallina India soup. This is a relaxing spot that will take comforting care of you, no matter what you order, even if the food won’t really blow your mind.

Maria’s Restaurante, 3401 N. Figueroa St. Cypress Park. 323-221-1488.

La Abeja

The most difficult task to shoulder upon entering the cozy confines of La Abeja (The Honeybee) is deciding on which one or two items to order, and which meat to put with it, as the restaurant dependably satisfies with just about every heartfelt item it prepares. This includes the usual asada burritos and tortas, plates of enchiladas, killer chile rellenos, stupendous adobado (our favorite), and carnitas tacos, as well as weekend menudo, early morning machaca, and sublime pork chops (chuletas de puerco). With a proprietary homemade salsa recipe as a foundation and a lot of buzz about its beans, La Abeja is one of the most consistent Mexican cafes for miles and probably has been that way since opening in 1969.

Still, it’s almost as much about the atmosphere and people as it is about the fantastic food here. The restaurant has some of the friendliest faces in town, including owner Rogelio, a foreign currency collector who’s usually on the scene, and his aunt, an ancient waitress known to many of the restaurant’s fans as “abuela.” Weekends pack ‘em in, with many coming for huevos Mexicana in the early hours or the bulk offer of menudo-to-go, while we can quickly gauge the high standards of genius within from the restaurant’s fixation with The Three Stooges. In short, La Abeja is a jewel for its food and its people, and you shant hesitate to get thyself there STAT! Just be prepared for some cramped crowds come the weekend.

La Abeja, 3700 N Figueroa St. Cypress Park. 323-221-0474.

Strip Search: Cypress Park