On She Goes

‘Insecure’ Is Hella LA

Issa Rae’s TV show feels like a love letter and the perfect guide to Los Angeles.

D.S. White
D.S. White
August 22, 2017
Story hero image

Tupac Shakur’s romantic fatalism, Sandra Tsing Loh’s wry realism, and Cheech Marin’s farcical good nature: each one of these artists has written an ode to Los Angeles, a city with an unfair reputation for being hard to love and easy to dismiss. I’ve spent a lifetime defending my hometown to tourists, new transplants, and long-term New York expats who complain about bagel selection (as if bagels aren’t an even trade for to-die-for tacos al pastor). I’ve always been proud to say I’m an Angeleno—born and raised—but after the recent episode of HBO’s Insecure, I might just start saying I’m “Hella LA” too.

The show Insecure is the latest love letter to Los Angeles—with beautiful cinematography that treats every location tenderly and thoughtfully. Instead of a gang-ruled war zone or a beach-adjacent wealthy playground, Insecure creator Issa Rae is giving audiences a nuanced and realistic look at a South LA that’s a little bookish, a little bougie, a little broken—but always home. I love Insecure for reflecting my city back to me, and here’s a guide to some of my favorite Los Angeles locations seen on the show:

Market Street, Inglewood

A teaser promo for Insecure’s second season featured Issa Dee stopped at a red light at the intersection of Queen and Market Streets. The location was no accident—that’s right in the middle of downtown Inglewood, the city where Issa Rae grew up and where her character, Issa Dee, currently lives. Market Street is the “high street” of Inglewood, with brick-paved sidewalks that showcase a number of shops, theaters, and eateries that draw visitors from all over the city. When I was a little girl, my mom and I would drive down here to the only Stride Rite in the city, where I’d operate the pedal-powered in-store carousel while my mom paid for my new penny loafers. Sadly, the Stride Rite is long gone, but visitors should head there for the incredibly popular vegan soul food offered at Stuff I Eat (114 N Market St, Inglewood). The owner, Chef Babette, was even featured in her own Insecure cameo—as the chef catering the swanky We Got Y’all fundraiser, naturally!—at the end of last season.

Lawrence and Issa at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in happier times.

Baldwin Hills Crenshaw
3650 W Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd

Midway through the first season of Insecure, Issa and her boyfriend Lawrence stopped at a jewelry shop in a mall to look at engagement rings. I’m used to seeing Los Angeles play itself on TV, but I am less used to watching characters walk into a store where I’ve shopped, looking for the exact same thing I wanted when I was shopping there. About two years ago, my now-husband and I were in that exact store in that exact mall, scoping out engagement rings. (The ease with which Issa and Lawrence were able to see a tray full of sample rings was definitely TV magic, though: of the half-dozen jewelry shops I visited with my then-fiancé, we weren’t allowed to see actual rings until sitting through at least a 15-minute primer on gemstone certification and enduring heavy sales pressure. Hella unromantic.) Instead of ring shopping, I’d recommend that visitors to the mall today check out a movie at the Cinemark (this location was previously, and still is in spirit, the oft-name-checked “Magic Johnson Theatres”) and then grab one of the fresh dinner options available at the hip, newly renovated food court (which even has free Wi-Fi).

Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles

Roscoe’s House of Chicken N Waffles
5006 W Pico Blvd

It seems like every restaurant has added a chicken-and-waffles option to its menu in the last five years, but no one has improved on the Roscoe’s recipe (and trust me, I’ve sampled my share). Recently I invited a friend visiting from Brooklyn to dinner here, and he took a dramatic pause after his first bite of their signature dish. “When you said we should eat here, I thought: How great can chicken and waffles be? But I was wrong, I was so wrong. This is great.” Roscoe’s has a handful of Southern California locations, but my favorite has always been the one on Pico Boulevard featured on Insecure. None of the other locations boast the fantastic pink-neon tube lights running along the wall. Before Instagram filters, this was a guaranteed way to get great lighting for a selfie. You should definitely make this a stop on your tour of LA, but come prepared: Roscoe’s doesn’t do reservations or split checks!

Molly and Issa at Merkato restaurant. 

Little Ethiopia

Issa and her best friend Molly have a low-key birthday dinner here, and I am embarrassed to admit my mind wandered from their on-screen conversation and I started wondering how they managed to snag a table on such short notice. Merkato Restaurant (1036 S Fairfax Ave) is located in Little Ethiopia, a busy, tiny block that’s just a little south of the Museum District on Wilshire Boulevard. The strip itself seems to pop up out of nowhere: one moment you’re driving past a generic corner with a gas station and a Starbucks, and the next moment you’re in the thick of a bustling, colorful street fair, with restaurants, boutiques, and music stores packed onto a single street. And these places aren’t mere tourist-trap storefronts: I once (briefly) worked as a PA for a celebrity who wanted a rare reggae album by a particular artist—and while it wasn’t online and wasn’t at Amoeba Records, it was in a head shop in Little Ethiopia. Drop by for a meal—or, if Ethiopian food isn’t to your liking, you can get a quick, sweet treat from Hansen’s Cakes (1072 S Fairfax Ave).

Molly at the Staples Center.

Staples Center
1111 S Figueroa St
I’ve worked in some industries where companies doled out perks like the corporate box seats where Molly goes to watch a Kings game and try to network with her white, male bosses. My experience in a corporate box has been similar to Molly’s: hella awkward, and full of bros who are there to talk to each other, not to actually watch the game—and not really talk to me, either. As an introvert and a sports fan, I much prefer to be in the stands (although the bathrooms for boxes are much more convenient). Staples Center isn’t the oldest or grandest arena in the city, but it’s done a great job of honoring the combined sports histories of the teams that play there, and it’s a great place to see the “stars” mingle with the hoi polloi—I mean, as much as possible from their courtside seats, in the name of support for their team. Sports fans should definitely make a night of it! Tickets for Lakers, Clippers, or Kings games can be expensive and hard to come by at the last minute, but admission to a WNBA Sparks game is a solid value starting around $16 (don’t sleep on these women ball players), and it’s a great outing for friends, couples, or families.

For me, one of the most exciting location-spotting moments of Insecure wasn’t an entertainment complex, a mall, or even a restaurant; the biggest thrill of recognition for this Angeleno was seeing the uniquely decorated building that serves as the office space where the We Got Y’all staff works. It’s actually the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center (3351 W 43rd St), and I’ve even taken a corny selfie in front of the building out of giddy pride. Los Angeles is sprawling enough to contain hundreds of small nods to folks who live here, and part of the joy of watching Insecure is seeing which part of the city it will reveal next.