The city of Los Angeles is not shy of film and TV appearances. However, the HBO series “Insecure” sheds light on a place that Hollywood rarely explores — South Los Angeles.
Creator, writer and star Issa Rae’s Emmy-nominated series has featured some of the most beloved neighborhoods, businesses and restaurants south of the 10 freeway, including Inglewood, Highland Park, Leimert Park and Windsor Hills.
As fans bid farewell to the hit series’ fifth and final season (dubbed #SeasonByeve online), Intersections South L.A. pinpoints Issa’s stomping grounds, details series highlights and shares South L.A. residents’ perspectives on having their community featured on screen.
1. The Dunes Apartments
Home is where the heart is and, in Issa’s case, home is the Dunes Apartments — a real 52-unit complex located in Inglewood. Issa, played by Issa Rae herself, spends a better part of the series between the walls of her millennial-chic apartment with her boyfriend, friends and of course, herself — since it’s a prime spot for her positive self-talks in the bathroom mirror.
Now, the two-story apartment building has become a popular photo stop for “Insecure” fans to visit and step into the character’s shoes.
When ShaKayla Giles, a long-time fan of the series, first moved to L.A. last year, she immediately checked to see if there were vacancies at the Dunes Apartments. Though the location was fully rented out at the time, Giles still paid a visit for a photo-op.
“After I moved here I told my good friend ‘hey, the first thing we have to do is go to the apartment because I had to see it,’” said Giles, who moved from Dallas to Hollywood a year ago. “I was like ‘I have to get a photo in front of the Dunes — it’s like mandatory.’”
Giles believes that South L.A. is most often depicted “as an area of gang violence or crime, or it’s shown as a less affluent area.”
“But the way the show portrayed it, I mean it’s so much beauty out there…,” Giles said.
2. South Market Street
In season four, episode five, Issa throws a block party on Market Street in Inglewood. South Market Street is the commercial center of the city. It runs several blocks, and many well-known Inglewood establishments like Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen and the long-running Inglewood Swap Meet can be found there. The all-vegan Stuff I Eat restaurant, which was also featured in the series, is on Market.
3. Worldwide Tacos
When Rae’s “Insecure” character walks through the streets of Leimert Park, she ends up on Martin Luther King Blvd. where she stumbles upon the bright red bungalow that is home to Worldwide Tacos — one of South L.A’.s most popular taco spots.
When season three, episode four aired back in 2018, Rae even tweeted her love for the taqueria: “Worldwide Tacos is one of my fav hood spots. 300 types of tacos. Owner makes them fresh (& sometimes buys ingredients on the spot), hence why the tacos take anywhere b/t 15mins & 3 hrs...”
Fredrick Sennie, the owner of Worldwide Tacos, made a cameo in the show, serving Issa through the window of his shop. Now visitors and locals alike can’t get enough. He said people from out of state put Worldwide on their must-eats list when they visit the city. It’s been “wonderful” for business, he said.
Sennie also appreciates being a part of a show with such broad impact.
“I like the fact that she tries to highlight things in the inner city that don’t usually get the light,” Sennie said.
4. Highland Park Bowl
In season four, episode one, star-crossed lovers Molly and Andrew share their first kiss, getting a roll on their romance while bowling at Highland Park Bowl. The Prohibition-era landmark is recognized for its all-wood paneling and historic feel that is enjoyed by many Angelenos.
Since it was founded in 1927, the bowling alley has been refurbished and repurposed and displays many artifacts from a bygone era. Its lore includes second floor doctor’s offices where patrons in the ‘20s could acquire legal “prescriptions” to buy alcohol downstairs.
Swingers is a Los Angeles restaurant in Fairfax, known for its diner ambience and long hours. It was featured in season two, episode four, when Issa and her friends had a late-night bite after going to the club.
Before it was featured on the series, Swingers owner Stephanie Wilson received an email request from HBO to film at her restaurant.
“I was happy to be asked,” Wilson said. “We do get asked to film by other large companies like that, and so it wasn’t the first time that had happened.”
Wilson also felt very proud the city was getting the attention it deserved.
“I do live in South L.A., and so I was very happy to be a part of the production that brings attention to South L.A. because it’s a beautiful neighborhood,” she said. “And there’s a lot of history there … so I was very happy to be a part of the filming of ‘Insecure.’”
Wilson said guests come into Swingers just to replicate “Insecure” scenes in real life.
“We have had a few guests that come in that asked if they can sit in the area the filming took place,” Wilson said. “We have had some customers that come in just to have the same experience as Issa did.”
6. Merkato Ethiopian Restaurant & Market
Merkato, an Ethiopian restaurant and market located in Little Ethiopia is featured in various seasons of “Insecure.” Merkato is filled with artifacts, pantry goods, CDs, T-shirts and more, and the small kitchen in the back serves a wide-ranging menu specializing in vegetarian dishes.
In season four, episode six, the crowded, over-stocked entrance to the eatery becomes almost a character in itself. The scene signifies a major cliffhanger in the series — in which Issa stands outside watching her friend Molly while deciding whether to talk with her after a major falling out.
7. Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles
Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles is a staple for tourists and native Angelenos alike. Roscoe’s has five restaurants throughout Los Angeles, including its Mid-City location, featured in season one, episode five of the show.
Sherryl Mortis is a hostess and server at Roscoe’s and a devout “Insecure” viewer.
“I was excited about it. I loved it. It was a moment for us,” she said. “I felt like definitely also for the Black community because a lot of us live in that area that they film and so I thought it was a moment for us for sure.”
8. Pann’s Restaurant
Issa and Molly often meet up at Pann’s Restaurant, a historic L.A. coffeeshop, which has been the site for any number of movie sets from “XxX” to “Bewitched.” This 1950s-themed eatery provides the perfect backdrop, with its throwback appeal and classic coffee shop design.
It even played backdrop to Lil Jon, Steve Carell and Cardi B in a Pepsi commercial for Super Bowl LIII.
9. Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen
In season four, episode two, Issa and Molly meet up at Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen where Condola, their frenemy who fans love to hate, comes to join them. Located in Inglewood, Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen is co-owned by Rae in partnership with co-owners Ajay Relan and Yonnie Hagos. The charming cafe-style coffee house has an engaging loft area where customers can connect to Wifi and spend time reading, studying or writing the next hit screenplay.
In celebration of the show’s farewell season and the “Insecure Fest” premiere, the cafe took to Instagram to express its gratitude for the creator.
“There aren’t enough words to say all of the good things about @issarae and her team for their creative vision over the years to elevate our voices and community,” wrote Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen. “The cultural impact you’ve had on us all will go down in history and we’re so proud to be a part of that story. Congratulations on this incredible milestone! 🖤✨”
10. DAMA Fashion District Restaurant & Bar
DAMA Fashion District Restaurant & Bar served as the setting for one of “Insecure” fans’ most anticipated reunions — Issa’s meetup with her estranged ex-boyfriend Lawrence. In season four, episode eight, Issa and Lawrence dine at DAMA, a Latin-inspired eatery in downtown L.A. located in the fashion district.
L.A. native and actor Noelle Mahasin had the opportunity to play the role as the date of Issa’s past fling. Mahasin plays distracted and nonchalant as Issa, Lawrence and Calvin go through a dicey exchange about who’s dating whom and whether the squash flowers on DAMA’s menu are a good bet.
Mahasin said she was thrilled to get a callback for the role.
“I’m born and raised in South Los Angeles and now I live in DTLA, like minutes from DAMA, so it felt kind of full circle for my acting career,” Mahasin said.
As “Insecure” comes to a close, Issa’s story might be over, but Rae’s impact on the entertainment industry is only just beginning. Her Inglewood-based media company HOORAE Media will continue to amplify voices from every corner of L.A. and beyond.
In fact, Rae is already using her platform to spotlight the next generation of female directors through HBO Max’s new documentary series, “Project Greenlight.” This cross collaboration between Alfred Street Industries and Miramax invites female filmmakers to apply for the chance to be featured in the docuseries, receive mentorship from Rae and other industry professionals, and direct a studio feature film to be released in 2023.
But until Rae’s next creative venture, fans will have to find a new way to enjoy their Sunday nights.
“Issa is my best friend in my head,” Giles said.
While Giles said the series finale will be bittersweet, she is excited to watch Rae’s future projects.
“She’s definitely made lasting impacts on every community. She’s opened doors for people who maybe have gone unknown or who were well known underground,” Giles said. “There’s so much talent, so much experience out here that we don’t really share and I appreciate the fact that she’s been the one to pretty much showcase it and bring it to the forefront.”