When we think of Asian communities in cities abroad, we often think of specific neighborhoods associated with them. Case in point: Little India, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Koreatown, and so on. And while Filipinos abroad are far and many — especially in the United States — it’s not really that often we hear about similarly recognised neighbourhoods. Well, good news: there actually is one. It’s called Historic Filipinotown and it’s right in the city of Los Angeles!
Historic Filipinotown is arguably one of the more underrated ethnic enclaves in LA. It was originally referred to as Little Manila, as it has long been a place where the Filipino-American community thrived. Its history dates back to the early 1900s, during the first significant wave of Filipino migration. Though, it was only in 2002 that it was officially recognised by the city and designated as a historic-cultural neighbourhood.
This neighbourhood sat quietly under-the-radar for years — until a global magazine ranked it as the ‘fifth coolest neighborhood in the world.’ Not only does it have a burgeoning food scene, but also, its vibrant community spirit remains unparalleled. And if you’re from the Philippines heading to LA for vacation, you’re probably wondering: why should you visit when your home country is obviously very Filipino already?
Well, wouldn’t it be nice to get to know the diaspora? If anything, it’s always interesting to experience our culture from the eyes of those who have been living far from the motherland. That said, we’ve come up with a quick guide on the best things to do in Historic Filipinotown — or HiFi, as some have nicknamed it. (And no, we don’t really want to get into a debate whether that term is proper or not…)
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Top things to do in Historic Filipinotown
Including what to see, as well as where to eat and drink around the neighbourhood!
1. Take a jeepney tour
Some of you might argue, “Why would I ride a vehicle that I see all the time back home?” Okay, valid, but have you ever tried riding a jeepney in the United States? Didn’t think so. Jeepney tours around Historic Filipinotown are organised by the Pilipino Workers Center once a month, usually on a Saturday. Though, if you’re travelling with a bigger group, you can also request for a private one!
2. Learn more about Filipino-American history
Head over to Unidad Park, where you’ll find one of the most notable landmarks in Historic Filipinotown: a massive 150-foot-wide mural called Gintong Kasaysayan, Gintong Pamana. It’s also referred to as Filipino Americans: A Glorious History, A Golden Legacy in English. Created by Eliseo Art Silva, it depicts over 4,000 years of Philippine history from pre-colonial to present-day.
This includes the 1965 Delano Grape Strike, an integral part of Filipino-American history. In fact, the leader was an immigrant from Pangasinan named Larry Itliong. The mural also features other historical figures like Lapu-Lapu and Jose Rizal, as well as Pinoy icons like Apl.de.ap and Lea Salonga.
Fun fact: Silva was born and raised in the Philippines, and even participated in the EDSA People Power I Revolution. At age 17, he migrated to the States to pursue an arts degree.
3. Check out artworks from Gabba Gallery
Step inside this contemporary art gallery on Beverly Boulevard to see works from both upcoming and established artists from around the world. While Gabba Galley does showcase art in different disciplines — from photography to collage and fine art — it mainly focuses on street art. Outside, you’ll find a hand-painted yellow sign that says “Art in The Alley.” This will lead you to three nearby alleys, where there are over a hundred murals in different hues, styles, and themes.
These murals are all part of the gallery’s Alley Project, which aims to bring art outdoors and therefore more accessible for the community. And mind you, the walls aren’t the only surfaces where you’ll spot murals; there are also some painted on garage doors, electric poles, and even dumpsters!
4. Get your caffeine fix from a former gourmet coffee truck
Tactile Coffee became popular among the Downtown LA crowd back when it was still housed in a mobile truck. Eventually, it found a more permanent home along Beverly Boulevard. They’re known for serving speciality coffee, ranging from standard to innovative. Should you opt for the latter, we recommend the Blackstrap Latte, which is both sweet and nutritious, thanks to the blackstrap molasses syrup.
There’s also the Five-Second Rule: chilled espresso shot over almond milk that must be consumed within five seconds of being served. (Or at least, that’s what the menu says — dare to see what happens if you don’t follow it?) Don’t forget to pair your coffee with their house-baked buttermilk biscuits, which many Angelenos have dubbed as the best in town! You can pair these with either raw honey, agave, or apple-butter.
5. Feast on good ol’ Pinoy street food
I mean, if you already went ahead and rode a jeepney abroad — might as well enjoy some street food, too! Clearly, we’re talking about the likes of isaw, kwek-kwek, balut, betamax, and pork barbecue skewers. Your best bet for these would be Dollar Hits on Temple Street, right at the heart of Historic Filipinotown. Oh, and they even serve palamig straight from pour-it-yourself plastic barrels, too! Once you step inside, you’ll feel as if you’re in a local karinderya back in the Philippines.
6. Experience Filipino cuisine with an LA twist
For less traditional and more experimental dishes, we recommend HiFi Kitchen. The owner, Justin Foronda, is actually born and raised in Filipinotown. The best-selling rice bowls are a nod to his Pinoy heritage, whereas the store’s ’90s theme is a homage to the era he grew up in. (You’ll love the hiphop beats playing in the background!)
Of course, these aren’t just your regular rice bowls! Take your pick between straightforward staples like the lechon kawali and chicken afritada bowls; and vegetarian options like the mushroom adobo and seared cauliflower laing bowls. In fact, the latter is actually a nod to Foronda’s other career as a nurse.
For even more healthy bites and drinks, check out Tribal Café. We don’t know about you, but it definitely reminds us of our fave vegan-friendly spots in La Union, Siargao, and the like! It’s got the same rustic-bohemian vibe with tropical accents here and there. Try their Ubeng-Ube Açai bowl, paired with something from their wide range of green juices and protein smoothies. Yum!
This crowd fave Filipinotown café is also a hub for creativity and community collabs. You’ll find paintings by local artists on the walls, and even live performances every now and then. Oh, and did you know that this used to be one of Carlos Bulosan’s hangouts — back when it was still called Traveler’s Cafe? He’s a Filipino writer who’s one of the notable immigrants featured in the mural in Unidad Park.
7. Visit the Filipino World War II Memorial
In Lake Street Park, there are five slabs of polished granite, each one with a letter that collectively spell out ‘valor.’ This is the Filipino World War II Veterans Memorial, which honors the 250,000 Filipino and 7,000 Filipino-Americans who fought in the war. On the back of each monolith, there are photographs and text that tell the harrowing story of the veterans’ experiences.
You’ll also spot two granite benches, one has the word ‘valor’ etched on it, while the other says ‘kagitingan.’ Both the monoliths and benches are designed by Cheri Gaulke, a visual artist who played a huge role in Southern California’s Feminist Art Movement.
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What’s next for LA’s Historic Filipinotown?
In June 2020, the news broke out that a stunning gateway structure along Beverly Boulevard is in the pipeline. The project is called Talang Gabay: Our Guiding Star, and it’s set to be completed later this year. Oh, and guess who will be designing this architectural feat? The previously mentioned Eliseo Art Silva himself!
The renderings (pictured above) feature iconic cultural symbols like the parol, the gumamela, and the mythical sarimanok. We don’t know about you, but we’re definitely looking forward to seeing this up close and in person — once we can travel again.
Also read: 18 Stunning Places in the Philippines That Look Like Foreign Destinations
Is this the first time you’ve heard about LA’s Historic Filipinotown? Or have you been in the know for quite some time already? Either way, we’d love to hear your thoughts about it. So, go ahead and share in the comments!
Featured image credit: Jezreel Cruz | Instagram