Echo Park Walking Tour: A Decadent Pizza Story
“The buildings that line these roads are so familiar that when an aging complex receives a fresh coat of paint, I feel momentarily giddy – as if the world has been shaken for a moment. So how does this street, with structures dating from the end of the 19th century, was it unknown to me after so many years of living here?
A flâneur takes to the streets, discovering surprises, modest and surprising, during walks in a city that reinvents itself at every corner.
In a city the size of Los Angeles, culinary trends follow one another with a sort of regularity that sees yesterday’s poke spot replaced by today’s hot chicken place as rumors begin to swirl about a birria spot. coming. Some of these restaurants will rise above the rest and remain staples of the local culinary landscape, but there are times in the development of food trends where you can see the boat they’re floating on start listing, and suddenly you know that there are simply too many hot chicken options for everyone to survive.
As universally beloved as hot chicken has become, it might have been better not to see so many vendors jumping in with their own secret recipes. So what is it that allows a few cuisines to constantly come up with new takes and never succumb to the dangers of an overcrowded market? I offer you a case study: pizza.
On Portia Street, just off Sunset Boulevard, in a space that once housed the Trencher sandwich shop, Quarter Sheets Pizza Club recently launched into physical existence. It’s a little hesitant here at first, as omicron keeps diners on the sidewalk, eating from waist-high tables, lingering no longer than an Italian might while downing a cup of espresso.
The menu is a bit unconventional for a casual pizzeria, offering wine by the glass to accompany your slice, as well as cakes ranging from princess to chocolate cream. But let’s focus on the main event, a slice they call “Red Top” embodying simplicity itself, made with mozzarella, red sauce, Grana Padano and basil.
You could say that square slice that pulls you in with its weight is a Detroit-style pizza. I’d suggest Quarter Sheets has developed a crust that’s less pizza than focaccia, as my teeth break through the brittle crust around the edges to find a deeply satisfying chew closer to the center of the slice. Of course, it would be an exercise in bread appreciation if it weren’t for those basic pizza ingredients combined into something I had an almost overriding appreciation for.
Was it wrong of me to order another slice five minutes after finishing the first one? I do not think so. Standing around the corner watching the traffic on Sunset, I wondered if I needed to look in an apartment up the street.
I joined the easterly flow on Sunset and left Echo Park, heading for the Music Center plaza, where I drank in the details of the iconic buildings nearby: the louvered glass panels on the side north of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the perennials the modernity of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and, of course, the pyramidal tower of the Hôtel de Ville, its reassuring familiarity like an old friend whose face still reveals the child you knew. From there, you can better appreciate the crazy make-up of downtown Los Angeles. Not wanting to retrace my steps along Sunset, I headed west on 1st Street before cutting north, up Beaudry Avenue to Temple Street, then crossing 101 at Edgeware Road. Two blocks from the 101, on a climb, I came across a sign announcing my arrival on Carroll Avenue and the highest concentration of Victorian residences in Los Angeles.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven along Sunset Boulevard to Echo Park or merged from the Four Level to the 101 heading north and west toward Hollywood. The buildings that line these roads are so familiar that when an aging complex receives a fresh coat of paint, I feel momentarily giddy – as if the world has been shaken for a moment. So how was this street, with structures dating back to the late 19th century, unfamiliar to me after so many years of living here?
Carroll Avenue is not long, comprising only a few long blocks, but it offers us a remarkable journey through the remnants of Victorian Los Angeles. The houses are in various states of repair; some expertly restored, perhaps more stable now than the day their first residents moved in. Others, sometimes right next door, are covered in scaffolding or support a destroyed porch roof with wooden beams that almost sigh aloud with the strain.
Two women carrying cameras and speaking German pass by me and for a moment we dance around each other taking pictures of houses in the street. I hear music emanating from behind a larger house and can see one-story apartments in the back. I stop to listen and try to understand if it’s a full band playing. The accompanying drums don’t have the physical impact I expected, but after hanging on to the singer’s final lines, I hear some applause from grateful listeners and smile.
Edgeware Road forms a semicircle around Angelino Heights so that Carroll Avenue terminates there on both sides of the street. When you reach Edgeware, turn left and go down the hill to where it joins Bellevue Avenue. Turn right and follow it until you come across the corner of Echo Park. Here is another Los Angeles landmark that I have overlooked for far too long.
Following the controversial removal of a homeless encampment in its northwest corner, Echo Park is now surrounded by a chain-link fence, and you can only enter through openings at either end. The old camp remains completely closed and Echo Park is now closed in Angelenos between 10:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. As I walked through the park, I was greeted by a stream of families and couples enjoying the sunny afternoon, picnicking on the grassy slope of the east bank and circling the walkway around the lake. The lake has recently been drained, so its new plantings are still taking hold, with the edges of the lake considerably less cluttered with the reeds and water lilies that once ruled there. But they will return and attract what is my favorite recent development: swan boats are now adorned with thin strands of golden lights that drape around their graceful necks and wings. If you see them at night, they will seem a bit magical to you – beacons floating on the dark lake, its fountain sending constant geysers into the sky.
I exited the park on its north side, continuing on Lemoyne Street to Sunset, before turning right and stopping at Echo Park’s neighborhood bookstore, Stories. Every visit I’ve made to Stories over the past few months has revealed a music-related book I haven’t seen elsewhere and hastened to buy. The latest is a barely fictionalized novel by artist Nick Blinko about his early days leading cult punk band, Rudimentary Peni, with its exquisite drawings of horror dreamscapes. With the book snugly in my arm, I continued up Echo Park Avenue, admiring the wooden enclosure erected in front of the new wine bar, Tilda, and the Roman-style restaurant Bacetti. If Tilda had been open, I might have ended my wanderings, but alas, both were closed. Just a bit further, near the basic neighborhood cookbook, is a new store called pair books – a fair pun for our current reality. It’s the kind of place where you take a chance on a book – only for it to become a favorite – because the little store is well organized. When they’re open, raise a glass to Tilda for the local bookstores that make Echo Park a better place.
After backing up slightly to Scott Avenue and a steep hill to climb in San Francisco, I end my walk with, yes, another slice of pizza. This time it’s from Slasher, which overlooks the corner of Scott and Glendale Boulevard from a window barely big enough to peer through the kitchen. Their name and logo appear to be at least a nod – if not a genuflect – to LA’s major punk-era magazine, Slash. Their offerings feature a more traditional slant, but their cacio e pepe pizza, sprinkled with cooked mushrooms, pecorino and a generous helping of black pepper, is carving out a niche in the ever-growing LA pizza world. In this part of Echo Park, you will feel right at home.