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El Metate in Highland Park - Great new Mexican

After driving/walking by this gleaming new hole in the wall many times in the last several months, I finally got it together to visit El Metate at 5305 N. Figueroa. The restaurant is tiny, 2 or 3 small tables and counter seating opposite the grill. While studying the short menu on the wall, I watch the chef dip several tortillas into chile and throw them onto the grill where after bubbling for a few minutes, he filled them with a handful of queso fresco, onion and cilantro and then served them immediately topped with a bit more crumbled cheese and salsa. I've been unable to find enchiladas in LA made this way, as I had them in Michoacan, not baked with heavy layers of cheese, but light and fresh, spending just moments on the grill.
On my second visit I had a delicious asada torta, with perfectly crunchy asada and the tortta roll toasted on the grill.
Finally, yesterday I had my first rubenada, a "sandwhich" of 2 tortillas grilled with buche and melted cheese. The tortillas were wonderfully crunchy and with the homemade beans and excellent roasted chile salsas, I couldn't have asked for a better meal. The agua frescas are homemeade and are good, if not great.
Overall, I couldn't reccomend el Metate more highly for a reminder of true Mexican street food. I think it's far superior to Chico's, the La Fuentes, or any of the other Mexican places on the Figueroa corridor in Highland Park and is much more similar to Huarches Azteca. Furthermore, the staff is extremely friendly and obviously take a lot of pride in their food.

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  1. Excellent report. I'll have to check it out.
    Did you ask where in Mexico they are from?
    You should check out Tonny's in Pasadena on the unlikely occasion you spend any time up in the Crown of the Arroyo :)

    1. Great review. Do they have air conditioning?

      1. The waitress is from Morelia (Michoacan), explaining the Mich. connection I guess. This is a description of Morelia enchiladas from http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/d...: "The enchiladas Morelia, a treatment from the interior of Mexico, balances crumbly white cheese with an earthy red-chile sauce to excellent effect. A verdant saladlike garnish, including romaine and radish and red onion, gives these enchiladas a refreshing garden effect that is particularly welcome as the heat sets in."
        I don't think that they have air-conditioning, though I didn't notice the heat being particularly bad. Neverthless, you might want to wait until this awful heat breaks.

        1. Thanks for the great tip! Had lunch there today, and with the front door open, the heat wasn't really that bad. The space is tiny, but cute and very clean, a real old timey lunch counter feel.

          My pollo rubenada was crisp and tasty, with a cool salad of shredded lettuce and crumbled cheese on top contrasting nicely with the warm tortillas. They have very flavorable spiced rice and creamy beans and four good salsas in the bar (all on the hot side). My companion had an asada enchillada, which he liked a lot. We're big fans of Tacomienda out Palms way, and would put el Metate in a similar category. You can tell from the first bite that the cooks are serious about quality ingredients and great taste. A very welcome addition to the neighborhood.

          Total for two combos and two pineapple aqua frescas: $13. We'll be back very soon.

          1. Just came back, based on your recommendation. Thanks very kindly. They were a little overwhelmed (1 cook, 1 cashier and that's it) but it was well worth the wait. Of note: Best refried beans I've had in memory; rice was also great.

            1. I finally made it to this place. This is one of the best non-sitdown Mexican meals I've had in Los Angeles.
              I asked about the beans - which are easily the best I've had - and the owner said that she puts in roasted chipotle to give it that smoky flavor.
              You can tell the ingredients are top notch - even the chopped tomatoes in the side salad were exploding in flavor.
              I had the caritas rubenada and I was very impressed with the quality of the tortillas which made sense when the prep cook started using a tortilla press to make a fresh batch right in front of me.
              I asked and they are from Uruapan in Michoacan State of Mexico.
              The hours seem to be quite variable though.

              This place is a true chowhound find - cheap and amazing.

              1. This place sounds amazing, I can't wait to try it.
                Does anyone know if El Metate is open for dinner, or what their hours are?

                1. Which side of Figueroa is it on? Was driving up Fig the other day and looking for it but didn't see it, maybe it's so small, it just kind of blipped by.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: slacker

                    It's at 5305 N. Figueroa, between Aves. 53 & 54, on the North/West side of the street. It's a tiny place with no sign so it's easy to miss. I've always eaten there around 6-8pm, but according to my friend, the closing hours are somewhat variable. They're probably still working out the demand. They're open for breakfast, but how early I don't know.

                  2. I was just there yesterday. Blink and you will miss the place. We did find parking behind the building if that helps anyone.

                    The enchilada was the way all places should make them and the beans were amazing.

                    Thank you sbudick for bringing this place to our attention.

                    1. El Matate is amazing, thank you for bringing this place to my attention. This is my new favorite Mexican restaurant in the Highland Park/Glassel Park/Mt. Washington/Eagle Rock area. It doesn't look like much from the outside (or from the inside either -- it's basically a counter and three tables, not good for large groups at all -- but it's incredibly clean for a hole in the wall). I asked how late they were open and they told me 7.

                      I had a Rubenada, which is something like a quesadilla but somehow better; two homemade perfectly fried tortillas with cheese and al pastor in the middle. Deelish. Girlfriend had the enchiladas, which she proclaimed the best she'd ever had outside of Mexico City.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: webb

                        had lunch there yesterday. we had the enchiladas and tacos dorado combos (taquitos). the enchiladas were as good and unique as described, and the taquitos were nothing special. nice place, but we need to try more vegetarian items on the menu to convince my wife. the potato sopes at chico's (ave 50) are pretty hard to top.

                        1. re: pbailey68

                          As far as vegeterian food is concerned, I have seen them making chile rellenos, which are not on the menu, but their availability seems to be hit or miss.

                          1. re: pbailey68

                            We went yesterday and one of our party had a meatless burrito that looked pretty substantial to me. That's what I'll have the next time I go.

                            Cheese enchiladas, as described above, were a winner, although you really must like queso cojita, because there's lots of that on/in them.

                            The people were very friendly; the chef seems to take great pride in the construction and presentation of the food.

                            The signs above the grill listing the things they serve don't indicate prices, but I think the combo plates were about $4 and the large aguas frescas about $1.50.

                            I was told they're open until 9, but I'm not clear whether that applies to every day of the week or just yesterday.