Perfect Middle Ground of Kinda Old-School, Definitely Some New School Italian: Maximiliano, Highland Park

by Jessica on November 18, 2011

Kid Hit Menu Items: Maximiliano’s self-branding says a lot. When a stylish new restaurant in a Northeast L.A. bills itself as “kinda old-school Italian” and is run by a chef/owner who’s an expert at operating a family-friendly, high-quality operation, you know you’ll be in very good hands. The Oinkster won us over years ago with its “slow fast food” and other charming qualities, and chef/owner Andre Guerrero has done it again with a menu of pizzas, pastas, Italian apps (burrata & heirloom tomato crostini, baked polenta, calamari salad), some hearty proteins and many seasonal vegetable dishes. I was hoping my guy would go for a Margherita or pepperoni or squash blossom with guanciale pizza ($10-14), but a heaping steaming dish of sloppy — in a good way — spaghetti and meatballs it was ($14), with dainty triple scoops of caramel sauce-drizzled olive oil gelato for dessert. The kitchen will make plain pastas with butter and cheese upon request. I sneaked him a few bites of the roasted fennel buried under piles of bacon pieces.

Adult Perks: Guerrero has designed this place to appeal to lots of demos in the area, so there’s a bar at the facing the tile-clad pizza oven and kitchen under the warm green-glowing soffit, with craft beers on tap and a list of Italian wines, mostly priced in the $7-11 per glass range, with more available by the bottle. Sharing a split of prosecco ($9) is a practical way to have a modest drink with dinner. The vibe appeals to both families and people who just want to have a beer at the bar and hang out with a friend.

Pros: I can get annoyingly ranty when I see more reclaimed wood, communal tables, oxidized metals and Edison bulbs, but in this room these materials are fun and warm and lively, especially in combination with the spaghetti-motif on the walls. I noticed a lot of kids last night sitting with their parents at tables, with NELA type grown-ups comfortably nestled into the clever shared table and bar. We were at a corner table in the window next to the bathroom corridor with a banquette and chairs. I recommend reserving this area if you have a party with kids or more than four people. Our waiter was awesome and understanding, too.

Cons: Truly, not many I can think of. That fennel really does have a LOT of bacon and fat. (Could be a pro.)

Changing Station: No

High Chairs: Yes

Parking and Access: Valet parking for $3.50, but we found street parking on York.

Other Tidbits: The architectural firm of Freeland Buck totally nailed it, with interior details and smart spatial planning that bring energy and visual dynamism to a wedged-shaped corner building. Not a red checked tablecloth in sight. (Read my friend Marissa’s piece to learn more about the design and see great pics.) Guerrero’s soulful menu brings much more than just a new chic restaurant to Highland Park, where Galco’s is just a couple blocks away. For 12 bucks, I think you’re hard-pressed to find a better price-quality-ratio Bolognese with fresh tagliatelle within about a 10-mile radius. While I can’t say I prefer it to our homemade Marcella version, how often are we organized enough to make a sauce that requires five hours of total cooking time?

Because of this and all the other many reasons why Maximiliano has the makings of a perfect neighborhood restaurant, I predict having many more kinda old-school Italian family meals at the corner of York and Aldama. Then we’ll have to schedule a visit to the Los Angeles Police Historical Society museum down the street one of these days.

MAXIMILIANO


5930 York Blvd., Highland Park
Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 739-6125
Cuisine: Italian
Price: $$
Hours: Monday – Thursday, 5 – 11 p.m.; Friday – Saturday, 5 p.m. – midnight; Sunday 5 – 10 p.m.

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