The newest addition to Highland Park’s international food offerings is Parsnip, a tiny teal café that has been serving up hearty Romanian classics since it quietly opened in March on the 5600 block of York Blvd. Parsnip, named for the underrated root vegetable prominent in Eastern European cuisine, is helmed by Anca Caliman and Aracelly Flores, who are no strangers to the neighborhood, having begun their collaboration at Glassell Park’s veggie-friendly gem Lemon Poppy Kitchen. For their second offering, Caliman, who immigrated to the United States from Romania at age 12, decided to return to her roots, focusing Parsnip’s robust menu on the classic and flavorful Romanian dishes of her youth.
The interior of Parsnip is small yet cozy, with a walk up counter separating the kitchen from the dining area. There are two tables inside, two on the sidewalk out front, and a few more in the side yard that functions as an outdoor patio. The overall vibe is intimate and easygoing, like a European café or a friend’s kitchen, with Romanian music and the smells and sounds of the kitchen providing a lovely ambiance. It feels like the ideal spot for a long and lowkey dinner with good friends and good conversation (although keep in mind they don’t serve alcohol). While Parsnip is small in size, the well-curated menu is mighty, serving up Romanian comfort food that packs a punch both in portion size and in flavor.
There are relatively few traditional Romanian restaurants in Los Angeles, and I admit that heading into Parsnip for lunch, I did not exactly know what to expect. The menu is separated into categories: Dips, Dumplings, Plachintas (stuffed flatbread served with hot sour cream), Soups, Salads, Wraps, and the enticingly named Hearty Plates. Although all of the entrees involve meat, the rest of the menu is surprisingly vegetarian and vegan friendly, featuring items such as the Bulz, polenta dumplings stuffed with red peppers, sauerkraut, and cheese, a combination that results in a delightful blend of warmth and spice and tanginess.
Their selection of sweet and savory dumplings served with sour cream is perfect for an afternoon snack or an evening appetizer, complex and flavorful without being too filling. The entrees are a delicious homage to the simmering heartiness of Eastern European cooking, from slow-braised beef goulash to spicy chicken paprikash to cabbage rolls stuffed with beef, pork, rice, and spices. All entrees come with your choice of polenta or veggie barley pilaf, and the portions are generous enough to split and still take home leftovers for tomorrow. The flavors are fresh and unexpected, and despite the portion size, the dishes feel healthy instead of heavy. They also continue Highland Park’s tradition of incredible food at affordable prices, with dumplings priced at $5 for two, and all entrees maxing out at $9.
Long story short, you’ll walk away from Parsnip feeling satisfied, both in your wallet and your stomach. In LA’s fast-paced culture, there is something to be said about sitting down to a steaming hot home-cooked meal that sticks to your ribs, made with flavors that transport you around the world, and plenty of love. Welcome to the neighborhood, Parsnip!