Breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Watts and Willowbrook. Could we do it? You bet.
This week, we set our sights for best eats in Watts and Willowbrook for our fourth South LA food crawl. Like in our other three crawls, we looked for three things when picking our top three restaurants: Good food, good reviews, and a little bit of experimentation. And in the end, we’ve found quality breakfast, lunch, and dinner options that all had surprising appeals.
Watts Coffee House
First up on this list is the Watts Coffee House, located just off of 103rd Street and Wilmington Avenue. Sitting right in the Watts Neighborhood Center, the Watts Coffee House has been serving hot breakfast and even hotter coffee since 1997. From the jump, we were awestruck at the exterior, which is lined with gorgeous murals. Inside the coffee shop you’ll find posters, records, and homages to black music, art, and history. You could easily be distracted by the decades of history pinned to the wall. But every one of these pieces gives this so much character to this humble eatery.
Outside is an outdoor patio that I’m sure has come in handy more than once during COVID.
Ari dove into Yelp to find the best options on the menu, and we ended up getting Salmon Croquettes with a side of eggs and grits; a heavenly flaky biscuit; and an a la carte order of dunkables waffle sticks. Like with most of our crawls, my wife Ari and I split a meal intended for one. Oftentimes, it’s more than enough for the both of us.
The most surprising thing on the menu were the salmon croquettes, which isn’t a common breakfast item in South LA. Nor are they easy to make—but we appreciate Watts Coffee House for aptly diversifying its menu. Made to order in about 25 minutes, these delectable balls of salmon were lightly seasoned, and packed plenty of underwater flavor.
The coffee house also included a hearty serving of fluffy scrambled eggs and grits that dripped with butter. In fact, we had so much butter on our Grits, Ari used the butter from the grits as a creative spread for the biscuits. Between the two of us, we devoured the meal in a matter of minutes. Luckily, I still had room for the dunkable waffle sticks, which were simple as they were satisfying.
Next up we’ve hit a food truck, Tamales Elena. This local truck has two pop-up food truck locations: The one we visited in Watts off of Wilmington Avenue, and another one in Lynwood, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
This truck is absolutely no frills, but they saved the excitement for the food and it’s unbelievable flavor. We first learned about this restaurant when we were looking for tamales this past Christmas. Though, we didn’t dare wait in the line for them.
For under $8 we snagged two street-style tacos, topped with carne asada, and two chicken tamales. When we unwrapped the tamales, they were fresh and piping hot. Digging in, we loved the soft and consistent texture of the masa. The food truck also offered beef- and cheese-filled tamales, which we would love to try next time.
The carne asada tacos were a surprise, especially since tacos aren’t in this restaurant’s name. Nonetheless, that taco was one of the best that I had ever eaten in my life. The meat was tender, juicy, and seasoned to perfection.
Hawkins House of Burgers
Right down Imperial Highway, across from the Nickerson Gardens, is Hawkins House of Burgers. For all of you who are stricklers about neighborhood boundaries: Hawkins House of Burgers is technically in Willowbrook, but who’s discriminating?
Anway, neighborhood lines aside, this place doesn’t need much explanation, being one of the most iconic burger joints in all of South LA and LA. The establishment is still family owned, actually. Though the crazy thing is, I’ve lived minutes away from this place, but I’ve never been. Ari chewed me out for it, even though she’s not even from South LA.
We went ahead and called in our order about 35 minutes ahead of schedule, and it was right on time. After a very interesting wait, we couldn’t wait to try it out. Recently, we’ve tried this place in Gardena called Oh My Burger, and it set the bar pretty high.
We ordered two separate burgers: Ari got a turkey burger decked out with both turkey and pork bacon. (That was partially my fault because I didn’t understand that she just wanted pork bacon when I called in the order on the phone. Sorry, Ari.) She loved the toasted bun and the tenderness of the turkey burger. The bacon tasted of high quality, which often is not a quality of turkey bacon at many restaurants.
I had the colossal burger, which was a beef patty, pastrami, red onions, and cheese that sat on a toasted bun. The pastrami was well-seasoned, and the burger was as tender and juicy as I could ask for.
Since Oh My Burger is in Gardena, and our food crawls are limited to South LA, I’ll join the hype and call Hawkins as the best burger in all of South LA. However, I would love to put two of these restaurants’ best burgers head to head one day.
Do you have a restaurant in the Watts and Willowbrook area that you’d like to share? Leave it down in the comments below.