If you revile “the hipster,” don’t worry. You aren’t doomed to confront swarms of them at Maximiliano. Even though Highland Park’s new Italian restaurant, with its modern decor and valet stand, sits a little conspicuously on the 99-Cent-Store end of York Boulevard, it still manages to attract a mixed-bag crowd and not look (or feel) ridiculous.
Attribute that to the fact that owner Andre Guerrero, also responsible for The Oinkster in Eagle Rock, isn’t some carpetbagger restaurateur— he grew up in Glassell Park and seems to have nothing but love and keen understanding for L.A.’s northeast corner. Consequently, Maximiliano, from menu to waiter, brims with authenticity.
The tagline for the menu at Maximiliano is “kinda old school Italian.” Translation: Guerrero is doing here what he’s known to do best, which is take accessible (Italian-American, in this case) favorites and give them upgraded oomph. For instance, the Meatballs Pomodoro starter looks like your basic meatballs in red sauce, but these are made with a mix of veal, beef, pork and pancetta for juicy, fork-slides-through-like-butter results.
This extra effort also comes to play with the pasta. According to our waiter, all but one of the pastas is made in house, which was evident with the spaghetti and mussels special we tried. Cooked al dente, the spaghetti was able to stand up to spicy chorizo and a smoky tomato broth that we made sure to soak up with our pizza crust.
And as for the pizza, there are seven to choose from, and they run the gamut from classic pepperoni to one topped with squash blossoms, guanciale and salsa verde. I tried the eggplant, roasted peppers, olive tapenade pizza, which had a crisp crust and a nice dollop of burrata on every slice. While it could have used more tapenade to give it a bit more zing, it was still a success.
Other menu highlights include a selection of vegetable sides made special by the fact that they’re locally grown from Italian seeds—the sautéed spinach was especially good and especially garlicky—along with entrée plates, including chicken marsala and a pan-roasted pork chop with sweet potato puree and Tuscan kale. I’ve also heard that Maximiliano pastry chef Jan Purdy makes a mean spumoni, a fact I wish I’d been aware of before I turned down dessert.
Valentina will join food critics and observers Jonathan Gold, Evan Kleiman and Elina Shatkin on Tuesday, Nov. 15 during a Creative Seeds panel discussion in Historic Filipinotown. Click here for details.
Valentina Silva is a regular contributor writing about food and restaurants. You can also find Valentina’s reviews and stories on her new blog, Eastside Food Bites.