Remezcla Яedescubre: San Pedro

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The majority of folks in L.A. don’t even realize San Pedro is part of the city because of its southernmost tip location. But drive south of downtown L.A. on the 110 freeway until it ends—skimming Compton, Carson and Lomita—and about 30 minutes later (okay, an hour and a half in traffic) you end up in the highly underrated neighborhood of San Pedro. Population: about 80,000, the majority of which are working-class Mexican-Americans, an eclectic mix of whites (Croatians, Italians, Portuguese, Greek and Middle Easterners) and a nice chunk of African Americans. Cholos mix comfortably with hippies, rednecks and Eastern European ravers. What’s not to love about this place?

Living in Echo Park, I had no reason to venture that far south until I met my boo, who lives in San Pedro, and so I started a long-distance relationship within the city. Despite the 26 miles that divide us, I look forward to escaping my trendy ‘hood for this laid-back, family-oriented beach community where tattoo artist Mister Cartoon grew up, and dope weekend yard sales, delicious family-run Moroccan, Italian and Mexican restaurants and cool 70s-style signage abound.

Fun Facts about San Pedro:

•  The Port of Los Angeles, aka San Pedro, became America’s umbilical cord to world trade after Manifest Destiny caused the U.S. to believe they could take over huge pieces of land like the one we now know as southern California. Today, furniture, apparel, auto parts, tires, toys, computers, paper, cotton, pet food, mixed metals and soybeans arrive in ships mainly from China, Japan, and Taiwan. Why? Because they’re cheap.

•  In 1944, Bill and Helen Grace opened their first chocolate store in San Pedro to celebrate her 30th birthday. Today, we can’t get enough of those melt-in-your-mouth Helen Grace Chocolates sold door-to-door in the form of candy bars by spoiled Catholic school kids.

•  Other famous people from San Pedro include actress Sharon Tate, Mike Lookinland (“Bobby” on The Brady Bunch), script writer Robert Towne (Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather), 70s and 80s rock band Ambrosia, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, Eric Erlandson (lead guitarist of Hole), Joe “Pegleg” Morgan (ex-godfather of the Mexican Mafia) and writer/poet Charles Bukowski who described the town as:  “Real quiet. It used to be a seaport full of whorehouses and bars. [The latter are still in abundance.] I like the quietness. They ask you how you’re doing, they really want to know.”

I like San Pedro because you can get your eyebrows threaded, eat breakfast at a Food Network-approved cafe, drink a very strong cup of coffee, get anything possible at the 99¢ Only Stores, pawn that old engagement ring, have your tarot cards read at a Moroccan restaurant and eat real New York style pizza all on one stretch of block.

When in San Pedro, hit up these spots:

Bonello’s New York Pizza
832 S. Gaffey St.
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 832-7544

The guys from New York who run this pizza place are so friendly, fast and efficient you wonder why folks from the Big Apple always get that played-out “rude” stereotype. The pizza’s always fresh, hot and delicious—I recommend the meatiest one you can handle—and the antipasto, a fresh assortment of cured meats, marinated vegetables, olives, pepperoncini, peppers, and provolone and mozzarella cheeses tossed with balsamic vinaigrette.

99¢ Only Stores
938 S. Gaffey St.
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 547-9999

For real, I don’t know what I’d do without this place. I mean, I won’t even need anything but I still manage to stumble into these brightly lit, perfectly even-rowed stores at least three times a week. Last time I was in the San Pedro one, I scored on some hot fishnet stockings, fresh blueberries, a hair net (I’m bringing these back, by the way), a gold cross, Indian-esque champagne flutes and a dorky/cute pair of non-prescription reading glasses. There’s always good people-watching and crazy old ladies buying stuff they don’t need who you pray you don’t end up like.

Simi Threading
312 N. Gaffey St., Suite 203
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 221-0044

You can’t miss this threading joint; it’s on the right hand side right before you hop back on the 110 North towards downtown. I’ve gotta admit, I’ve never actually made the turn off into this mini-mall location in time, but I’m prepared to make a pit stop on my return down south for my hairy eyebrow’s sake. The sign alone, with its perfectly manicured and arched brows, are enough to make the drive out there worth it on its own. Oh and in case you have no idea what threading is, it’s a Middle Eastern technique—called khite in Arabic and fatlah in Egyptian—for removing hair at the root with twists of cotton thread held firmly in the mouth. Women who do this for a living are my idols.

Babouch Restaurant
810 South Gaffey Street
San Pedro, California
(310) 831-0246

There are two reasons why I’m obsessed with this place: tableside tarot card readings and hummus. Although the service is horrible, the waiters are rude, and the owners offer these weird printable coupons online for 50% off dinner when you pay with cash but don’t honor them when you present it with the bill, this place is the closest you’ll get to Morocco in L.A. The exterior mural is beautiful and the interior, mysterious and moody. It’s worth the trip just to peek inside and ask if you can use their bathroom. You know what the answer will be: No!

Rex’s Café
2136 S Pacific Ave
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 519-7190

Jose, the busboy, greets you upon entrance as if he’s known you for years and understands just how desperately you need that cup of coffee in the morning. This brightly painted, country-style decorated café reminds you of your mom’s taste back in the 90s. I’m a creature of habit: the scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausage and lemon poppy seed muffin (they’re made in-house first thing in the morning) for breakfast never fails me. Seriously, the muffin alone—blueberry, strawberry, or coconut—with melted butter is the best thing on earth. Pair it with a cup of coffee and call it a day.

Korean Bell of Friendship and Bell Pavilion
Gaffey and 37th Streets
Angels Gate Park
San Pedro, CA 90731

My boo and I trek up a steep hill to visit this bell once a week. It’s our weekend ritual and spiritual outlet. When we finally get to it, I make a wish for all my friendships to blossom and he fantasizes about actually making it ring (apparently this is illegal). Whatever you’re reason for visiting, know that the bell and its pavilion were donated in 1976 by the Republic of Korea to celebrate the bicentennial of U.S. independence, honor veterans of the Korean War and consolidate traditional friendship between the two countries; or at least that’s what the plaque says.

San Pedro Brewing Co.
331 W 6th St.
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 831-5663

Okay, so this place attracts the tribal tattoo armband-wearing crowd that’s probably racist, but who cares. They all get trashed at the sticky bar while you sit safely on the outdoor patio with an ice-cold pint of award-winning Hefeweizen and some of the best southern-style macaroni and cheese on the planet. The salads are huge and delicious and so are the burgers. You’d never guess it by the crowd, but the food here is always on point thanks to the hard-working Mexican chefs in the back. Que viva mi gente!

Baja Fish
611 S Gaffey St.
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 521-1931

My homegirl Marlene was born in Ensenada, Mexico, the birthplace of fish tacos, and made some at her son’s birthday party. They were so good, I pretty much ate 20 and jotted down the recipe with greasy fingers in between shots of tequila. I never had a fish taco quite as right as Marlene’s, until I stumbled into Baja Fish (not to be confused with the chain Baja Fresh). Owner Carlos Hernandez, who stems from Ensenada también, has these tacos down: a crispy, brown battered outside with fresh and flaky fish inside and coleslaw-like crema on top, along with a buffet of different salsas to choose from. Order the combo ($6.95), which comes with two fish tacos, white rice (tasty), and refried beans (así-así). Wash it all down with an horchata – theirs is packed with cinnamon and is super frothy! As for the selection of fish sold at the counter: pricey, but fresh.