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Ciudad - don't get it

Went to Ciudad for dinner last night for the first time (I've been there a few times for happy hour) and I just don't get why this place is popular. The place is so loud that we had to ask our waitress to repeat herself constantly, and the food...well, it's mediocre at best.

The red sangria is terribly overpriced at $12 a glass, and their wine glasses (they have one size for all varieties) are quite small. For appetizers, we shared the ceviche, the scallops (which we did not know was also a ceviche because the menu description gave no idea of that fact) and the potato fritters. The "fritters" were basically like mashed potato empanadas, and they were overfried and terribly greasy and bland in flavor. The scallops were okay, but again we were so surprised that it was in ceviche form as the menu description made it sound like it would be a cooked dish with a sauce. The regular ceviche was actually quite good, so we were hopeful for the entrees.

We ordered the drunken turkey leg, and the Pollo CiUDAD. The drunken turkey leg consisted of shredded pieces of dark meat, some sort of broth, pieces of bread and whole, fresh cranberries and some greens. It was kind of like Thanksgiving on a plate - not what we expected from a Latin restaurant. The meat was fine, but the pieces of bread were completely soggy from the broth, and there were way too many cranberries on the plate. It was a matter of poor execution and thought (or lack thereof) put into the dish. It was unattractive to look at and the flavors were just all right. The Pollo CiUDAD was tasty - essentially it was arroz con pollo, though totally overpriced for a basic chicken and rice dish.

The service was so-so; the waitress was friendly enough but the drinks were slow in coming and even slower with the refills.

Seems like a good place for a few happy hour drinks and apps, but definitely not a place I'll try for dinner again.

Clare K.

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  1. ciudad for me is a late night spot. good food, good service, good booze. their promotions (20 percent off and more) make the place attractive.

    1. I went there for before a NYE celebration two years back and we had a set dinner. I didn't think much of the food then either.

      3 Replies
      1. re: mstinawu

        yeah, not a destination. still, it's a decent late-night spot in my book. the ubiquitous 20 percent off coupons make the place attractive.
        deb and i were last there two/three months ago. we'd go back.

        1. re: steve h.

          The bottom line is the food isn't very good. I would have been happier had I received 20% off what I thought was an overpriced meal, but it still wouldn't make me go back.

          1. re: Clare K

            no worries. deb and i enjoyed the chicken.

      2. Been there for Happy Hour and Paella on the Patio.. Regardless of Discount or not. The food looks nice but is lacking depth.. I prefer a more rustic palate ..

        3 Replies
        1. re: Foodandwine

          always looking for a more rustic palate within walking distance from the financial district. any advice?

          1. re: steve h.

            Do you reside downtown or work there.. Walking day or night? access to a car? or interested in Public Transportation? That will help with my reply..

            1. re: Foodandwine

              howdy foodandwine,

              i'm a visitor from the east coast. i used to be part of the times-mirror family thus a frequent traveller to your city. deb and i were in town not too long ago: we ate at osteria mozza shortly after it opened (yes, the nancy bar); restaurant at the getty center; cafe pinot; ciudad; many others.
              yes, we walk and take mass transit. i've posted about this strange proclivity of mine on your board.
              here's a link:

              we generally stay at the omni.

        2. I agree. I had such high hopes for Ciudad but had to admit defeat after several attempts. Bland food with so little care put into most of the dishes we tried. Even the special Paella On The Patio was mushy and lacking the essential flavors of paella the time we tried it.

          1. I've been there probably five times. I think my colleagues overrate the food and drinks because they enjoy the atmosphere. It's not bad, but it's not one of my favorites downtown. I did have a nice ceviche there--the best thing I've ordered.

            1. If you want tapas, go for Cobras y Matadors or head to Pasadena to a place called Bar Celona ... both of these places completely outclass Ciudad. Ciudad has a nice atmosphere and it's ok if you happen to be downtown late at night and you aren't too picky about the food, but if you really want good spanish food, you'll be much happier at one of the other two places.

              1. You're not alone. I don't get it either.

                1 Reply
                1. re: whatsfordinner

                  any taco truck in la executes better.

                2. I've never been much of a fan of Ciudad. I went a number of times for pre-theater dinners, and invariably was disappointed. My experience is that Ciudad has a few very good items (mainly appetizers) and, if you stick to those, you can have a decent meal, but beyond a few reliable dishes, the food is mediocre, which contributes to the feeling that it is overpriced. I personally enjoy the goat cheese fritters, ceviche and romaine hearts. But three dishes are not enough to keep Ciudad on my pre-theater rotation.

                  1. Ummm... may I be so bold here to imply that Ciudad absolutely s#cks. I have been there several times over the past three years and found the food consistently salty - lack luster - overpriced and bland. I've had far better frozen tamales and street food than what this place has to offer (don't even get me started on their desserts). I also don't understand why this place stays in business except that for a time it was the only choice for the downtown work set. Let's see how it fares in the coming years with all the new options opening up downtown - my bet is not so well. Ciudad is honestly something I would expect see posing as a hot venue somewhere inside a strip mall outside of Bumblef#kc Iowa. The decor reminds me as if Bobby Friendly and Paris Hilton had a retarded child and dressed him up as a pinata (and the food equally tastes as if they are preparing it as well). The drinks are fine - but this isn't "drinkhound" its "chowhound".

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: chowpuppy

                      Chowpuppy: I totally agree with you and chickened out on saying that I basically thought it sucked in my OP. The thing that gets me about Ciudad is that the founding chefs/owners are famous. In fact, the reason why I decided to go the other day is because I'd just finished watching a segment about them on the Travel channel. I know that fame doesn't necessarily equal skill/quality, but in most cases in my own experience, it has to some degree (Mozza, Grace, Spago, Lucques). These "Hot Tamales" need to revisit their Ciudad and fix a few things, er...everything.

                    2. The caprihinis are the best thing there. Also I enjoy the live music (Fridays in the summer are amazing when people actually dance on the patio to the live salsa band) -- so for me it's a Happy Hour place. Food is touch and go. Depends on the chef at the moment.

                      1. Ciudad has been a hit and miss for me, though I'm still tempted try their Paella Tuesdays. Otherwise, I'd only consider going on Happy Hours.


                        1. We've eaten there a couple of times pre-theatre, the most recent time was last Tuesday (10/9) before Avenue Q. We had one of the $20 coupons. I drank a Pisco Sour and the others had various versions of Mojitos which I don't like so can't comment. The Pisco Sour was enjoyable. The ceviche appetizer was quite tasty. The appetizer of anchovies that was part of that night's paella menu was also decent. No one had paella but I liked that you could order just the appetizer and it was $6.75. My dad had the drunken turkey, he seemed to enjoy it. It looked like it had a lot of cranberries to be sure. I had the curried goat - it was supposedly Indian curry - not much curry flavor whatsoever but I still enjoyed the dish as the goat meat was trimmed well, taken off the bones, served on coconut rice, sided by some fried plantains which were done well. I thought the goat dish was better than whatever I ate the previous time there, which was apparently unmemorable but adequate. My husband had the pollo Ciudad which he enjoyed. Stepmom had the empanada appetizer for her entree, she seems to like the empanadas there. For dessert we had the mini-banana splits which were definitely weak, as the bananas weren't ripe enough and the whipped cream tasted fake. Other than once several years ago, we haven't made any special trips downtown to eat at Ciudad, but we will probably continue to eat there occasionally before our Ahmanson shows. Maybe once a season. The only problem is that the shuttle doesn't seem to run as regularly as at other restaurants, and on the return trip the shuttle driver left without us although we weren't particularly late getting out of the theatre, so we had to snag a ride with one of the Maguire shuttles. I don't think this has anything to do with Ciudad, obviously, but it can be a factor as to whether a particular restaurant is suitable pre-theatre.

                          1. First time I went there, I was very disappointed. The restaurant was half full, but service was very slow. Food came out luke warm and tasted very bland. I think a meal at El Cholo would have tasted better and the plates are so hot they'll melt your skin (not endorsing El Cholo. Decent Tex-Mex place [YES!! TEX-MEX not Mexican], but price/taste ratio blows.)

                            But, since I love Border Grill, I tried Ciudad a couple more times. Sorry to say I had the same experience every time and will not go back.

                            The wait staff needs to drink some red bull or at least try to get our orders taken and brought out to us a little quicker. At least that way, us customers will get out faster so the apathetic staff don't have to be bothered with the people who make their paychecks a reality.

                            1. I had a similar reaction to Border Grill -- loud, extremely overpriced, and very average food (despite all their attempts to gussy it up).

                              I love the Border Girls' offerings at Whole Foods, but that coupon at the checkout is a tease, since $20 barely covers a drink and an appetizer.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: nick_r

                                Border Grill was a very good restaurant, and very cutting edge, when it first opened up on Melrose Ave. in the old City restaurant space (when City moved to La Brea). But time and the evolution of Oaxacan cooking and other more gourmet restaurants like Monte Alban, Guelaguetza, Babita and La Huasteca have left Border Grill gasping for air in the more rarefied atmosphere that makes up South of the Border cuisine in the greater Los Angeles area.

                              2. ciudad, in general, is lackluster and always leaves me wanting to go somewhere with solid, delicious food.
                                i'm brought here numerous times since its close to work and the coworkers think its the greatest place in the world to pick up on girls. the drinks are alright, but i've learned to always go somewhere else for dinner.

                                1. Perhaps oddly, I don't like Border Grill but I love Ciudad. I really love all their small plates, I think they all taste wonderful and are unique. But I also like Ciudad because it is one of the few fun, relaxing, different, and non-dive places to go to whenever I happen to be stuck downtown on a weekend (going to the MOCA or theater for example). I do agree that dinner there is nothing real special and it does get very loud. So I really only go for their apps/tapas/whatever they're calling them...

                                  1. Yeah, Ciudad was on my "to do" list for a very long time. However, I dont make it to downtown too often. I went on a Friday night, and reservations were sort of a hassle - but when we got there the place was dead. On top of that, they made us wait in the bar before seating us, as if there were no tables avail yet (which there were plenty of.) We ordered the mojito's which I've always heard great things about and were presented with 3 different options: Expensive, very expensive and cheap. I opted for the expensive and have to say it was quite good, but not worth the price. Once seated the restaurant itself is good looking, but arranged in an odd way. What's with that big wall towards the back? I felt like the menu was somewhat bland and nothing really paid off for me. I ordered the Halibut which ended up being in some strange broth and did not work for me. Someone ordered the mahi at my table and really enjoyed it - I thought it was just ok, which sort of sums up my whole trip there. Service was decent.