Neighborhood Gems: Maximiliano

Andre Guerrero does Italian his way in Highland Park

The sign at Highland Park's Maximiliano promises "kinda old school Italian."

For owner Andre Guerrero, a chef who has launched many of L.A.'s most formative restaurants over his 35-year career (including Oinkster), specificity seems less important than great food.

"I grew up in Glassell Park eating at places like Casa Bianca," explains Guerrero. "People in this neighborhood know spaghetti and meatballs. I wanted to offer more than they expected."

At Maximiliano, named for one of Guerrero's sons, Italian-American red-sauce cooking is merely a jumping-off point: Jalapeño slices add kick to pasta puttanesca ($15), while the fingerling potato pizza ($12), a crowd favorite, comes loaded with garlicky clumps of ricotta and spinach on a crispy crust. Pasta is made fresh daily; pâté and coppa di testa are cured in-house for the charcuterie platter.

"We can do anything that any other Italian restaurant in L.A. can do," says Guerrero intently.

Charcuterie board (Photo: Maximiliano)

The combination of craftsmanship and affordability makes an open table hard to come by on a weekday night. The neighborhood's younger couples and older families share plates of baked eggplant with mozzarella ($7) and sautéed rapini ($6) surrounded by walls splashed with modernist green-and-red designs.

Guerrero plans on opening an adjacent bakery and deli called Sugar and Bone next year, which will offer pastries and house-made Italian meats.

Guerrero says, "I imagine it being like a little Bay Cities for Highland Park."

How's that for "kinda old school"?

Other Highland Park Neighborhood Gems: Sonny's Hideaway, Ba Restaurant, The York, My Taco