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Mexican Restaurants in Echo Park/Silver Lake: why can't I find what I'm looking for? (long)

I've lived in Silver Lake for three years and been exploring the area for longer... and yet my favorite Mexican eaterie is La Cabanita in Montrose. Why can't I find something similarly satisfying in my neighborhood--fresh ingredients, home-made tortillas, good lunch specials, pleasant sit-down area, open from lunch 'till dinner for late afternoon eating? Here's my take on the places where you can sit down along Sunset Blvd. from Downtown to Virgil. What am I missing?
El Compadre, 1449 Sunset: Do you like your food slathered in melted cheese? Do you like insipid margaritas from mix? I don't, which is why I don't go back. Maybe OK for a group dinner where food is not important.
La Esquinita, 1261 Sunset: The place I frequent this place the most, and the food is a bargain and better than most of the other taco stands in the area. But the cooking is pretty basic and I'm getting tired of it.
Barragans, 1538 Sunset: I've tried standards here like tacos & enchiladas, as well as specials like pozole and chilaquiles, and it was all mediocre food served in a depressing setting. Plus my credit card number was stolen here the last time I went. Ouch!
Rodeo's Grill, 1721 Sunset: basically fast food with semi-decent sopes but for me, only viable if I need something fast
Happy Tom's Burger, 1807: See Rodeo's Grill. Interestingly, I've never seen anyone order a burger here.
Costa Alegre, 1901 Sunset: the appealing patio doesn't make up for the wildly inconsistent food and cheap ingredients.
El Siete Mares, 3131 Sunset: I don't like the restaurant, and I OD'd on the fish tacos after eating them 3 times a week when I first moved in.
La Parilla, 3129 Sunset: Probably my favorite in the neighborhood for grilled meats and fresh guacamole. But I still prefer La Cabanita... maybe it just feels like less of a chain than La Parilla.
Allegria, 3510 Sunset: I've never had a good meal here, and have had one downright bad one, so it's off my list of places to go.
El Conquistador, 3701 Sunset: Cute patio, friendly vibe, food that's a cut above El Compadre. I haven't been at night when it gets pretty busy.
Tacos Delta, 3806 Sunset: To me, just OK. I think that the sopes, tacos and tostadas are better at La Esquinita
Malo, 4326 Sunset: I haven't been yet because it seems too much of a hipster place for me... but lots of Chowhounds seem to like it, so maybe I'll give it a shot.
El Chavo, 4441 Sunset: The best thing about this place are the pictures of Dolly Parton above the bar. IIRC better margs than El Compadre.

Here are places I haven't tried (found on the la public health website):
El Autentico, 1400 Sunset
Mariela's Tacos, 2501 Sunset
Los Cobans, 2927 Sunset
La Playita, 3143 Sunset

What else am I missing? Why can't I find the happy mix of good food & inviting setting of La Cabanita in my neighborhood? Or should I stop whining & just try to enjoy what I've got?

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  1. The original La Parilla on Cesar Chavez or the Wilshire Bl have better food than Sunset location and and they feel more unique, historical and less chain-like

    You are so close to downtown so definitely check out Mercado La Paloma for Yucatecan at Chichen Itza or maybe carnitas with fresh tortillas at La Luz Del Dia on Olvera St

    1. Fwiw - El Chavo has been sold, and is soon to be operated by Melanie Tusquellas and friends. Her family owns the Bob's donuts and the fish place in the original farmer's market on 3rd St. and they have been doing food here in LA seemingly forever. Hopefully will improve a dreadful place. Maybe they could even lighten up the place.
      And El Conquistador is no better than Compadre or any of the others for dinner.

      1. Hopefully indeed, except that she also owns Edendale Grill, so...

        I feel your pain. And I don't think you're missing much, even if you added Mexico City and Casita del Campo to your list. However I don't understand why a true Chowhound wouldn't go to Malo and see for himself whether he likes it -- what do you care who the other patrons are?
        For what it's worth, it's the only place I go to consistently of all the places you've listed except El Siete Mares for quick tacos.
        I do like Barragan's but I always get the carne asada tacos. I have a friend who always gets the short ribs soup(?) something like that. I think it's the kind of place that can be ok if you find the one thing you like and stick with it. Too bad about your credit card, though!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chowpatty

          I'm with you on the Edendale Grill, I find it mediocre and over-priced. I do however find the bar very charming and they have bartenders who know how to properly make a drink.

          That said, Melanie Tusquellas has done a pretty good job over the years of gauging the neighborhood's needs. The Edendale is a successful neighborhood spot, and was one of the first semi-ambitious restaurants in Silverlake. It could be a lot better, but they did a beautiful remodel and showed great respect for SL history in restoring it so lovingly. She was also one of the founding partners of Millies, which she sold to start the Edendale. I'm hoping that El Chavo can be the Mexican spot we are all hoping for - they would do great business.

        2. marielas isn't pleasant or cute, but it's got great tacos!

          1. I also love La Cabanita in Montrose especially for their chile rellenos, but I hardly ever get over there. H'ever, right down the street from me in Highland Park is El Arco Iris which is pretty great. Yes, we are friends with the owner (we became friends with him by frequenting his restaurant so often). It's on York at Ave 57 (not far from Silver Lake). My favorite is the calabasistas (since I'm a mostly vegetarian). The homemade mole is delicious and my hub and friends RAVE about the carnitas and chile verde. They just remodeled at the beginning of this year and it's super comfy and satisfying. Not at all like a chain, not a scene (but often crowded and hopping), very good food, full bar. Open all day, from breakfast through dinner. I would definitely give it a try.

            1. Anyone been to that Glorias place on Silver Lake Blvd south of Sunset?

              1. I definitely feel your pain in regards to the neighborhood sit-down mexican places. That's why I tend to stick to the trucks (most preferably the one at sunset and marion.) But I would recommend that you try El Autentico at the corner of Douglas and Sunset. The ambience inside is nice, and the outside patio, while being pretty close to sunset, can be surprisingly pleasant.
                For the food, I would recommend the carnitas, especially if you like la cabanita. tHey are not as dry as la cabanita, but they are also not as consistently delicious. Tasty always, but sometimes cooked a little sloppily. They usually have a special of pork in green chili sauce which ranges from very good to astoundingly perfect, but also with inconsistent portions.
                I would stay away from their ranchera, and practically all of their beef dishes; I've had no luck there.

                1. I've been in the 'hood since 1989, and I've had almost exactly the same thoughts about almost exactly the same places; more so since the Chowspouse has recently taken to periodically demanding Mexican food/drinks on the way home from downtown to S.L.. I also had begun to favor Cabanita over the S.L./E.P. places, even as the peak of the gas prices and thermometer this summer made Montrose a less-than-ideal locale.

                  So, does someone/anyone have a comprehensive review of sit-down Mexican places in the next geographic neighborhood ring AROUND S.L./E.P., which would include, roughly: downtown, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, South Glendale, mid-town/Rampart, McArthur Park, "East Hollywood", etc.?

                  BTW, is the 6th St. Chichen Itza open yet?

                  r gould-saltman

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: silverlakebodhisattva

                    Here is their website which indicates this month to be the opening date.
                    http://www.chichenitzarestaurant.com/...

                    Stay tuned!

                  2. I don't think you are missing anything, except maybe a few really good taco places that are NOT sit down places.

                    For instance, El Gran Burrito, on Santa Monica just west of Vermont, on the south side of the street, has excellent tacos (carnitas are my favorite) and really delicious salsa. And Taqueria Antojito Denise, on Hollywood just west of that big ol' intersection with Sunset and Hillhurst (on the south side of the street), also has excellent al pastor and carnitas tacos.

                    For sit down places remotely near Silverlake, I'm kind of fond of La Cita, on San Fernando Road on the way to the Home Depot, just northwest of Los Feliz. They have true beans, and great salsas. Good mariscos dishes as well. It's a sister restaurant to El Toreo, on Fair Oaks (the west side, just short of Colorado), in Old Town Pasadena. Neither restaurant has a full liquor licence, but both serve beer, and decent chow.

                    There was a thread a couple of months back about a new place that opened in Highland Park that was good, although it's also not a sit down kinda place:

                    There's a restaurant in Highland Park, called El Metate, which might suit your bill for La Cabanita-like food, closer to home, but it still doesn't have the sit down atmosphere you are looking for. Here's a recent thread about it:

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                    You also might check out La Golondrina at Olvera Street. IIRC, there've been some okay reviews lately, and it definitely has the atmosphere going for it.

                    If you hadn't already intuited it, I've been looking for the same place you have in the 'hood, and haven't found it. As Chowpatty mentioned earlier, I do like Malo, despite its hipster reputation. Good salsas, and if you like your chips crispy (they fry them fresh), ask for them crispy, because they do this nutty "al dente" chewy thing if you don't ask otherwise. Everything there is a la carte, including the beans and rice. In season, they have excellent corn on the cob, done street-style, with chile and crumbled cheese. They have great hard shell tacos, and good stewed meat dishes.

                    If you, in your investigations, find anything better, please report back!!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: DanaB

                      If you're willing to go to Highland Park, the world is your oyster so to speak.

                    2. Thanks all for the commiseration and the suggestions! I will definitely check out the other La Parilla, and El Authentico and Malo. La Cita also sounds promising, and I'll start to explore Highland Park more--I've only been to El Arco Iris, which I like.
                      I also hope that the new Chichen Izta is worth the wait--I visit the one by USC pretty regularly.

                      1. One place you left out is Cafe la Paz, which is on Echo Park Blvd, right across from the Walgreens/next to that liquor store, under an old, and now misleading, Burrito King sign. The Burrito Enchilado there is the best wet burrito in the vicinity. Big, flavorful, yummy. Delicious.
                        El Autentico is good. They make a decent mole. Better than that is the short ribs in chipotle sauce. They're never on the menu, and I haven't ordered them in awhile. But, they used to have them as a sort of perpetual "special." A little greasy, but oh so yummy.
                        And then, of course, there's that chicken mole burrito at that place at Sunset and Vermont.