A community is growing on the blocks of Pico between Fairfax and Hauser, and CJ's Cafe is going to feed it. On an evening walk through a seemingly nondescript stretch of Pico a year or two back, I discovered a few small shops and restaurants that were unexpectedly interesting. Among a bunch of ramshackle storefronts, upholsterers, car repair shops, and barbershops, there was an adorable fancy Latin-fusion cafe called Posh, next to a cozy coffeehouse. A few stores down, an upscale salon/spa called Bink'n Heads shared a block with La Petite Gallery, and across the street was a small theater, The Black Dahlia. A couple funky clothing stores rounded out the bunch. What had I just happened upon?
The Wilshire Vista neighborhood is a hidden gem in Los Angeles. The effects of the vital residents' association are conspicuous, and you can feel a strong sense of community in all these shops. The flagship (to us anyway) of all this activity is CJ's, a bustling corner diner where normal people come together for substantial breakfast served by smiling faces. There is nothing showy about CJ's. The sidewalk seating is not of the vintage French bistro variety; the art on the walls is garish and mostly pointless. But this is why we like it. Living so close to Hollywood, breakfast can be a scene. Take Toast for example. Granted the fruit is delicious and includes exotic things like starfruit, the iced hazelnut latte is nothing to scoff at, and they actually have shakshuka on the menu, but is it really worth wading through Von Dutch microskirts and purses with puppies in them to get to your breakfast? Don't think so.
It's hard to believe CJ's is in the same city as Toast. Yes, there are young fashion plates at CJ's, but they're a little more urban, a little less Paris Hilton. And there are families. Adorable little kids in basketball jerseys and braids, old couples reading the paper over a cup of CJs' smooth mild coffee, groups of men simultaneously conversing with each other and the person on the other end of the cell phone. Is it sad that the idea of sharing a restaurant with normal people is novel to me?
The closest thing CJ's has to a gimmick is that it feeds the appetite of its community. I've only ever eaten breakfast here, but the breakfast menu says a lot. You have your standard diner fare, eggs, griddle stuff, denver/spanish/veggie omelets. You might have to stifle the slightest protest the first time your order yours with no meat, egg whites only, fruit instead of potatoes, dry wheat toast, but it's no problem, and after a few visits, they know your style. If you're going that route though, at least indulge on a glass of juice -- freshly squeezed combos of orange, grapefruit, celery, beet, and more. They've also got a complete Mexican breakfast menu -- served with rice, beans, and tortillas, you can get huevos rancheros with a just-the-right-amount side of chorizo (really the best around), machaca, chilaquiles, fried plantains, or huevos a la mexicana -- eggs scrambled with tomatoes and jalapenos, in the colors of the Mexican flag. The latter makes a substantial primary meal for me on many a Saturday or Sunday. Be sure to ask for salsa -- you'll get a trio of distinct varieties. Or you can go for southern breakfast -- catfish and eggs, chicken wings and eggs, grits, and more. Just as the kitchen is the heart of the home, CJ's is the heart of the diverse Wilshire Vista family.
After another delicious breakfast, we waddled our stuffed selves out of the restaurant and discovered a new shop on the opposite corner! The Home Grown Store sells artsy housewares, funky greeting cards, delicious candles, and the works of local artists in a gorgeous industrial/swanky space. Again the community feel came to the forefront the minute we went in -- the conversation between the locally residing owner and his old landlord turned to the public schools in the area, the rising rent as the location becomes a "hot-spot", and the backstory of Sierra Bonita Cafe, the coffeehouse down the block.
So, go to CJ's. It's good, and it's cheap, and it's not annoying.
CJ's Cafe is at 5501 W Pico Blvd at Carmona (1 block west of Hauser).
The Home Grown Store is at 5455 W Pico Blvd at Carmona (1 block west of Hauser).