Ya, this is something that has been a craw under my skin for many, many years. I moved to the 90026, Silver Lake neighborhood in 1994. I had been living in Pittsburgh. Now if you know much about Pennsylvania, it is not a hotbed for any type of food from South of the Border. So, I thought to myself, that I am in store for some AWESOME food. This area HAS to have amazing and authentic fare. I’m speaking of the sit-down restaurant with a full bar. There are actually amazing taco stands and trucks in this area. But, to really appreciate the whole food experience, I like to sit down, have a good margarita,and enjoy the meal. THAT, my dear friends, is the pain of my existence living in this area. There are literally no excellent sit-down Mexican restaurants. At All. And, I am not the only person I know who thinks this, my friends are always in discussion about this. We can fight about the best taco or burrito. But no such fight over the best restaurant.
Why is this so? There are a lot, a ton of sit down restaurants in this area. Why are they no good ones? I know this area has been gentrified the past 18 years. So that might be one reason. I was not quite the culinary juggernaut I am today. So my tastes and palate are much different today. But why would they go down so dramatically? We spent a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago driving though our neighborhood looking, looking, looking, for a fantastic lunch spot with the appropriate margarita’s.
There are taco stands. Glorious, amazing tacos and burritos to gorge on. Which I have done many, many times. And not the hipster overpriced “manufactured” tacos that sprung up on Sunset. I’m talking about authentic, delicious, INEXPENSIVE, tacos and burritos. I’m talking about Guisados, I’m looking at El 7 Mares, I’m jonesing for Yuca’s (the original on Hillhurst), I have had a love affair with Tacos Delta, and also have even been known to cruise further down Sunset to Mexicali Taco Co on Figueroa. These are all authentic food. But alas, it is small plates and no liquor. They are all great spots with food I love. But they aren’t sit-down restaurants.
We failed in our sit-down restaurant quest. That is the reason I started asking around to friends about this. And across the board, people agreed. No one knew where to go. I had drawn a big fat blank from my culinary EastSiders.
Let’s review. I can cruise down Sunset Boulevard between Dodger Stadium and Vermont Avenue, and on the side streets in between, and not find a delicious sit down Mexican restaurant that has a full bar. Because yes, we do like a nice cocktail with our lunch, or dinner. I mean I’ve seen beans that look like they’ve been re-fried and burned more times than Midwest tourists at Venice Beach. Pair that with an ice cream scooper scoop of plain elementary school rice and I’ll show you some terrible Mexican food. I mean who thinks this is good. Hard, bland rice? Seriously? Just because you give me a pound of it doesn’t make me happier. Especially if the rice has those little carrot bits in it. Didn’t like it as a kid, don’t like it now. Nothing says rice from a box like that. And melting a bunch a cheese on hard, overcooked beans does nothing for my appetite.
If we start on the far eastern end, we sit down at El Compadre. A place I had not been to in years, since we had a cockroach on the wall behind us and the manager seemed to care less. I’ve been back since, and the food has been good. Just good. Not terrible. Just ok. Filled the void of my hunger, but not enough to make me want to come back. I wouldn’t imagine that if I were to go to someone’s home in Mexico, I’d be served these dishes. In a pinch it will do.
There are some others in Echo Park, Barragan’s and Rodeo, which I don’t fancy much. To me, Barragan’s is like calling Sizzler an authentic Steakhouse. I’ve had people tell me Rodeo is excellent. I just don’t see it. Again, it’s good. It’s OK, and it’ll do in a pinch, but I don’t have cravings and need to go there. I will admit that I have yet to be to Senor Fish which has popped up in this stretch as well. I have been to others, and while it is quite tasty, it doesn’t meet my sit-down restaurant criteria in my eyes. It is still more a taco-centric establishment. Also nearby here is Costa Alegre which is good as well, not great. Also only beer and wine. So there goes that margarita.
Now as you travel West, there are some more options, none which strike me in a good way. There is another place I’ve never been, but is also beer and wine only; Tarascos. And I’ve actually never talked to anyone who’s been there. I will investigate myself soon. There is Alegria, which I used to frequent quite often. Taking it out a lot as well. And then they stopped allowing BYOB which I understand, but also the prices seemed to jump dramatically! I ordered two burritos, chips, salsa, guacamole and paid through the nose. It was a big turn off. If I’m going to spend nearly 60 bucks I want more than this. And you also can’t get a margarita. Then there is much loved local main stay, El Conquistador. Which I have been to more than one occasion, and serves a great mango margarita. It is a sit-down restaurant, waiters, the whole nine yards. But again, the food is just OK. My last time there the rice and beans were so blah, beyond blah to a low depth of inedible. Another turn off. Which basically I can turn into the same thing at Casito Del Campo. I’ve had some really good meals there, and some not so really good meals. Nice people, good strong margaritas, good chips and salsa, just lacks the consistency to make me want to constantly go back.
Then there is my old, old, old amigo El Chavo. I have spent many a night stuffing my stomach and liver with their food and libations. Imagine my surprise when they did a little remodel, opened up the next door bar, and seemed to me like the food suffered. Also, the prices seemed to jump. I’ve seen this a lot, a place is popular with the locals, remodels, raises prices. (Lucy’s El Adobe I’m looking at you!) El Chavo has a soft spot in my heart, as it taught me about Mexican food many, many years ago. But has left me wanting the last few times I have been.
There is also a horrible chain restaurant across the street where I got dragged to watch a football game because they had special happy hour prices. Boy, what a mistake. That food was straight up terrible. I was literally grossed out. And learned not to trust this amigo on restaurant recommendations again. There is a bar, there are TVs, that’s about it. Leave them be.
My final critique is of the oft-beloved Mexico City on Hillhurst. Again, another place I used to frequent many, many years ago. And another place, as my palate grew refined, and more critical, realized this was yet another hit or miss. One terrific meal can be followed the next day by a less than stellar plate. And seems to have some crazy turnover. I don’t think a month has passed without their help wanted sign being up. That to me is another red flag. Somethings amiss. It has also seemed to get more greasy through the years. Unless I didn’t mind it years ago. Which could be the truth. But if I’m going for greasy, I’m going in deep, into some good grease. Not this kind.
Well, there it goes, my critique of our local food options in the Mexican Food genre. There are great food movements happening all over the city, and owners are taking note. Seems like some people are just content in the past. Which I am not. I want new, exciting, flavorful, delicious. If you are doing tried and true recipes, do them excellent each and every time.