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Mar 23, 2009 01:43 PM

Yxta Quickie

...mostly because I wasn't taking notes, and we were halfway into the meal when Mrs. O said, "Of course you're going to do a report on Chowhound, right?", interrupting a conversation I was having on an entirely different topic. But it was that kind of evening, beginning with meeting an old friend and his new SO at Edison about fifteen minutes before it opened, a practice I recommend highly if you want to get in before it's packed. After a brilliantly good classic Martini and some nice pinot noir, we bid the now-jumping joint a fond "See ya later!" and headed down to Yxta Cocina Mexicana. Plenty of space in their nice big lot, beautiful room inside, not too busy for nine PM on a Saturday. Service friendly and brisk. The lads, having their first Latino-style meal since getting back from Argentina, got Enchiladas Suizas and another chicken something (told you I wasn't taking notes) respectively; Mrs. O went for chicken mole, her default dish. I thought the carnitas plate looked like it'd be pretty wonderful, and it was. Extremely tender and succulent, exactly fatty enough, lovely fresh herbal flavors from the cilantro etcetera. The tortillas were freshly made (and of random sizes to prove it). My dish came with a reddish rice and pinto beans, while the other dishes had white rice, and the mole came with black beans, all good if not necessarily the best in LA. As I was the driver I just nursed a Stella Artois, but the margs and mojitos the other kids had got rave reviews. It was Mrs. O's treat, so I just got a glance at the tab, but it wasn't too much over $120 for the four of us. This joint is definitely on our Gotta Repeat list, and so is Edison - a really nice pairing for an evening out.

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  1. Try the sexy purple jamaica margarita. It'll knock your socks off!

    7 Replies
    1. re: Waverly SGV

      At which place? I'm assuming Yxta, but Edison is a bit surprising, so you never know...

      1. re: Will Owen

        Yxta Cocina. The smoky salsa roja is quite delicious as well!

        1. re: Waverly SGV

          Oh, I'd want to put that in my pants, except it'd probably hurt! I thought our buddy was going to take a spoon to it, but we all did remark on it immediately. I just wish I'd thought to spoon some over that half-order of carnitas I wound up carrying home, though they made a lovely lunch just as they were.

        1. re: lotta_cox

          The Jamaica Margarita was one of the best margaritas I've ever had. Not sweet or cloying and very interesting.

          1. re: SilverlakeGirl

            It is my next cocktail making goal to figure out how to make jamaica agua fresca, and hence those jamaica margaritas,

            1. re: lotta_cox

              Boil flores de jamaica in water, add sugar (lots), let steep 2 hours, strain.

      2. Have to respectively disagree on Yxta. Took my family (two adults and two grown children) there about 3 weeks ago after seeing a thread here. We've grown up with Mexican food because of my wife's family. The margaritas were ok; good but not memorable. My wife had the enchiladas suizas which were bland; again nothing special. One of us had tacos. Have to say that I can think of at least 3 trucks that serve tacos substantially better than the ones made here. The other two meals were so unremarkable that I can't even remember what we ordered. I wasn't going to post because sometimes I just don't want to start a thread to say something negative, but saw your post and thought I would chime in. By the way, we were there on a Saturday night, and the place was almost empty. The bill was substantially more that I would normally pay for a good Mexican meal. On a positive, our waiter was very nice and the salsa was good, though the chips were ehh. For all of us, this place was the opposite of your reaction: too many other good restaurants to waste a return. So you know my bias, if you like Serenata, you might like this place. We don't, and this place had the same effect on us.

        18 Replies
        1. re: Bruin2

          Bruin, Serenata specializes in fish and seafood and serves only wine-based drinks. The Yxta cocktails discussed here, if I understand correctly, were liquor-based, and I see no reference to fish and seafood nor to any glorious multiplicity of sauces, as at Serenata (the one in Boyle Heights, of course). I haven't yet been to Yxta Cocina, so I need help in understanding the similarity that you find in the two restaurants.

          By the way, I like your dissenting post very much, even though I may end up disagreeing with the opinions, because it's polite, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. I'm just trying to get to the core of what bothers some people about Serenata.

          1. re: sbritchky

            For the record, I love Serenata. Have yet to try Yxta but it is owned by El Arco Iris which I can't remember ever standing out.

            I'm keeping an open mind. I'd love to find a Mexican restaurant in the US that doesn't round all of their dishes out with beans and rice.

            1. re: SilverlakeGirl

              Chichen Itza and Mariscos Chente... both offer dishes with no rice and beans...


              1. re: Dommy

                Sorry, but I don't understand why anyone would prefer no rice and beans, unless he just had a major thing for potatoes. Okay, I don't want rice and beans with my chicken-fried steak, but with enchiladas or chiles rellenos? What could possibly accompany them better? Grain + beans = complete protein, and hey, it tastes really good too! What's not to like?

                1. re: Will Owen

                  I suspect she was thinking of the usual Mexican combo plate -- your choice of tortilla objects or fried objects coated in cheese or processed cheese food, with dry rice, mushy beans with more cheese or processed cheese food on top, and maybe the Mexican flag of crappy pico de gallo, sour cream, and rapidly-deteriorating guacamole on one side.

                  You know, like El Cholo.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    That's exactly what I was thinking, Das Ubergeek.

                    I have a thing about Mexican restaurants falling into the "chips and salsa", "beans and rice" trap. Maybe it was all of my past trips cooking with traveling and cooking with Diana Kennedy, Patricia Quintana, Lula Beltran and others ... but Mexico has so much more to offer than the cliches.

                    I DID finally make it to Yxta however. Without going into it I'm tempted to say that the the restaurant does fall into that trap. I have yet to make it over to Rivera which I suspect has broken free of the Mexican-American resto mold.

                    1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                      Here's the problem. If you serve rice and beans, a small group of people say, "But this isn't at all like what they serve in Mexico City!"

                      If you DON'T serve rice and beans, an absolutely huge group of people say, "What kind of Mexican restaurant doesn't serve rice and beans?"

                      From a pure authenticity point of view, the no-rice-and-beans is maybe preferable, but from an economic point of view (i.e., keeping your restaurant in business) the rice-and-beans is much, much better.

                      Also, I have certainly had my share of rice and beans in Mexico. I haven't travelled extensively in Mexico but even in Chiapas the common foods were beans and tortillas for exactly the reason Will Owen states -- it's a complete nutritional powerhouse and it's cheap.

                      I personally hate all the greasy cheese melted all over everything -- and Yxta is NOT guilty of that particular sin.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        You said:
                        <<<I personally hate all the greasy cheese melted all over everything -- and Yxta is NOT guilty of that particular sin.>>>

                        See Ricky Bayless's great Topolobampo or Frontera Grill in Chicago. He uses them sparingly and creatively.

                        I thought Yxta's chips and salsa were a hindrance, they did not appear homemade but I did like the salsa and pico de gallo.

                        I had the Camerones de Ajillo which someone on Chowhound correctly labeled as too rich and buttery. It was. But the absolute crime with the shrimp came with the side dish of broccoli. No only was the broccoli old but they covered it with cheese and put it under the broiler!!!

                        When the cheese melted the broccoli stuck to the bottom of the dish. I was not able to eat the broccoli, it was fused with melted [probably Monterey Jack] cheese.

                        My contention is that Yxta hasn't strayed far from the El Arco Iris model.

                        I still wish them luck. I hope they survive at that location and in this recession.

                        Did I tell you that their Jamaica Margarita is alone worth a trip? And I am going back. I will concentrate on the Mexican-American classics, tacos, sopes and the like ... possibly off the Happy Hour menu.

                        Dollar for dollar I think Rivera has them beat. My dinner the other night was $62.00 with tip even with the appetizer comped. That is putting it perilously close to the price point of Rivera.

                        Haven't been to Rivera yet but they do seem to understand my years of experience dining all over Mexico ... no American style Chips and Salsa. Beans and rice seldom, if ever used.

                        1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                          Haven't been to Rivera. I haven't been to Chicago, other than the airports, for ten years or more.

                          I didn't have the cheese problem at Yxta either time I went. I did get rice (which is, apparently, a perfectly normal side) which I thought was uninteresting -- couldn't taste the flavour in it because the sauce from my fish had run into it -- but I didn't get broccoli.

                          Why is the choice between cheap places with combo-glop problems, or breathtakingly expensive places with creative sides?

                          Honestly, how hard would it be to make a jicama salad, or some nopalitos, or chayote, or...

                          1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                            You're certainly right about Topolobampo and the Frontera Grill, SilverlakeGirl. I went to both quite often the last time I lived in Chicago (early Nineties), because they were almost exactly midway on the hike from my office in the Loop to my home on North State. Lots of imitators now, but back in the day, Rick Bayless was creating an unfamiliar and delicious alternative to the queso, arroz, y frijoles approach. Chicago has always had wonderful Mexican restaurants in the neighborhoods -- and not just tacos and burritos -- but this was the first where millions of tourists walked (and often kept walking because of the strange-sounding foods, but Bayless delivered a great product and is a fine showman, so he survived and prospered). I haven't been to Topolobampo in years and assume it's still as good.

                            Getting back to Yxta, you're partly right when you speculate that their chips are not homemade. As my waitress explained the other night after I objected to them -- and I gave details about the lousy texture, the stale flavor -- the tortillas for the chips, unlike the ones they use for soft tacos, come from elsewhere, but Yxta cuts them up and fries them in-house. When I heard that, I put my foot down (not too hard -- she was very cute) and insisted on new chips made from their own good tortillas. I paid a $1.50 surcharge, which I'm sure they invented on the spot, but these were infinitely better, as I said to this perplexed girl, who apparently had not received the overwhelming number of complaints the original chips deserved. I also got her to replace the rather ordinary table salsa with a nice mole and had many pleasant nibbles between courses.

                            P.S. You cooked with Diana Kennedy et al.? Very impressive -- what else could anyone need on a resume! Have you written about the experience for the chowhound topical boards?

                            1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                              I was the one who wrote about the camarones de ajillo being too buttery. I thought the flavors were delicious, but the butter overwhelmed my dining sensibilities. And I hated their chips. Bleh. I did love those squash blossoms and that margarita though.

                2. re: sbritchky

                  Yes, Serenata is a fish and seafood based restaurant, and the drinks are wine based. I suppose, and I don't mean this to be as pejorative as it may sound, that I always felt at Serenata, and did at Yxta, that just serving good Mexican food, at a fair price, was not good enough for the place, and they had to be a littly Hollywoodish, and "cool" about everything and again, in my opinion, failed at least a little in all respects. While I don't mind going to a French place, or even a place like Hatfields, which I love, or a place of that ilk, and having dishes prepared in a way that is a little over the top, somehow, to me, having a Mexican meal try to be more than just simple and good tasting, trying to be hip and cool, just starts me off on the wrong foot, and if the food is not really good, I mean substantially better than the Pacos, Casa Vega's, and Gilberts, of the world, I think they ought to spend more time on the food, and less on trying to be hip. The food at Yxta, and by the way I remembered one of the other dishes which was the Pastor, which had been highly recommended here, was Ok, I'm not suggesting it was bad, just not nearly worth the drive, or having to put up with the slight pretentiousness of the place.(Again, recognizing that pretentiousness is a relative term: it would not be pretentious if it served Michelin French food, but is, in my universe, for only OK Mexican food). The Al Pastor I had was OK (notice a trend here) but not the ethereal dish described by some, at least not to my taste buds. And as some have commented, they must have had a sale on pineapple, because that was a predominate flavor.

                  I'm probably going to be in the minority here on this one. And that's OK as well. More tables avaiable for the rest of you there and leaves me a table at Hatfields, or Chaya, or Pacos or Casa Vega, where I like to eat.

                  1. re: Bruin2

                    Just curious here. What do you like to eat at Casa Vega? I have always found it to be just OK and fairly expensive for what it is. I really want to like it, help me.

                    1. re: xoxohh

                      Before I answer, the legal disclaimers: First, I almost always have a margarita before I eat. Second, it is dark. Third, I don't want to set this place up as having great food; only good food that I like. So when you say its just OK, we might be saying the same thing.

                      OK, having said all that I usually get the carne asada tapiquena with the cheese enchilada, and the salad to start. Albondigas, which I like, is too salty there. Is it fabulous, no. Worth starting a thread on Chowhound? No. Decent Mexican? Yes. But as you know, it gets way too crowded so I don't go that much. But I have to say I enjoy my meals there more than I enjoyed my meal at Yxta.

                      1. re: Bruin2

                        Thanks for the feedback (pardon the pun). I don't feel like I need to go there, but never is a long time.

                      2. re: xoxohh

                        If you like El Coyote, you will love Casa Vega. Senor Fred and Mexicali Cantina in Studio City and even Mucho Mas in NoHo(Burbank Blvd) are better. The vega is one of the poorest examples of Mexican food in the greater LA area, especially given its reputation.
                        Margs are good enough, but no better than any other place you could name, assuming you like the bottle sweet stuff - eeeeyew!

                        1. re: carter

                          I personally have never been to Casa Vega despite having lived up the street for years, but it's shocking to hear that Mexicali Cantina is better than anything, because I have had better Mexican food in rural Iowa than I had at Mexicali Cantina.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                            "I have had better Mexican food in rural Iowa than I had at Mexicali Cantina."

                            I haven't been to Mexicali Cantina, but I once had outstanding Mexican food in rural Iowa while traveling cross-country on a bicycle. I happened upon a small town where several restaurants catered to migrant farm workers, and the Mexican food was simple, delicious, and very cheap. For those who won't be in Iowa anytime soon, try La Simpatia in Guadalupe (near Santa Maria) for a similar experience.

                3. I am going tonight. Can't wait. Will report in.

                  3 Replies
                  1. I revisited Yxta for dinner. I had previously been for lunch and LOVED it (see link below). Dinner, not so much.
                    --Drinks: margarita was mediocre, mojito tasted exactly like the margarita. We sent it back and got another mediocre margarita instead.
                    --Antojitos: the best items. Machaca empanadas were xlnt. Tacos de papa are good drinking food. Coctel de camarones (i think that's what it's called - definitely shrimp cocktail) was mediocre and too sweet.
                    --Main courses: Pollo en mole was served over a bed of rice and you can get better on the west side. I got the vegetarian squash dish - "calabeza" something or other (look, I don't take pictures or notes at dinner - just givin' you the facts as best I can) - clearly on the menu to satisfy the vegetarian in the group. They could do better. Presentation is awful and taste was just ok. Squash and cheese are served over rice. Would be better to parcel out the items and add some beans. The squash was cooked properly and was fresh and they are blowing it with this dish.
                    --Tortillas: were a highlight at brunch. They were still good but more like typical LA torilleria quality, not Mexican quality. The large female chef who presided over brunch was nowhere to be found.
                    --Meat dishes: CLEARLY the way to go here. We didn't order any other than the machaca empanadas which were great. The machaca is fanTAStic here.
                    --Service: spotty. Took a while to find someone despite the fact that it was not crowded and they were well staffed.
                    --Conclusion: will go back for the meat dishes and if the drinks aren't right I'm gonna send them back until they are. This place has potential and has a nice menu.


                    1. have eaten here twice now. very good. especially like the shrimp dish with the rajas. those rajas blow our minds. would love to do a tasting dinner there.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: revets2

                        No recent reports on this place; is it still there? We have since visited their associate, El Arco Iris, and liked the food OK but found the margaritas overpriced and underwhelming, and then had a deeply unpleasant non-food-related experience that caused us (and our friends, who had been great fans of the place) to cross it permanently off our list. So how about Yxta? Anything new to report?

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          I went to Yxta a few times back when it was all the rage and wrote it off as hype. I don't remember a single thing I ate there that I thought was particularly good.

                          Then again, I feel the same way about Rivera. Time will tell.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            It's still there (I live a few blocks away in Little Tokyo). Food is decent, but a bit on the bland side. Margaritas are excellent and well worth it during the happy hour prices. Although not a destination spot for me, living a few blocks away makes it a default sit down Mexican restaurant for me and my wife.