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Where we are now: Notes on Mexican food in Los Angeles (long)

k
ks Apr 7, 2005 12:35 PM

With apologies to Mr. Waldie, here are my thoughts on the Mexican places that stand out to me as great in LA. I’m constantly looking for new places based on recs from this board, friends, and the paper. But even though it tends to be promoted to visitors to our board as one of our strengths, I’m still not satisfied with this list – I’ve been in LA just over a year and a half. Given the demographics of Los Angeles today, I know I’m missing some amazing food.

Where are you finding great Mexican food in our fair metropolis?

I’ve given my favorites and places I’ve been that I’m eager to explore more. There are places I haven’t been to yet including: Babita, La Huasteca, la Taquiza and Mi India Bonita (soon, soon!). There are other places that have been recommended here that I’ve found disappointing or overrated: La Parrilla in East LA, Super Tortas on Vine, Guelaguetza in West LA, Ciudad, etc. If you like these places, tell me why! I’m especially eager to hear about recs in East LA, downtown, and anywhere south of the 10 between downtown and Culver City.

Downtown area:

Grand Central Market: Ana Maria’s for the tortas and Roast to Go for the tacos.

Mama’s Hot Tamales: more than Mexican, more than tamales. One of my favorite restaurants in LA regardless of type of food.

Senor Fish: I’ve gotten the burritos, not the tacos. Pretty good – maybe not great.

GRAND CENTRAL MARKET
317 S BROADWAY
LOS ANGELES 90013

MAMA'S HOT TAMALES
2124 W 7TH ST
LOS ANGELES 90057

SENOR FISH
422 E 1ST ST
LOS ANGELES 90012

East LA:

King Torta: for the, yeah, tortas. I’ve said it here before, I’ll say it again. It’s all about the bread. The other stuff is really good too, but this is one of the best structured tortas in LA.

Ciro’s: Old school, homey food and the salsas.

El Mercado: Lots of potential here, need to explore more.

KING TORTA
4507 E VALLEY BLVD
LOS ANGELES 90032

CIRO'S RESTAURANT
705 N EVERGREEN AVE
LOS ANGELES 90033

EL MERCADO
3425 East 1st St
Los Angeles 90063

South of Downtown:

Alameda Swap Meet: quesadillas and churros most outstanding – but there is much I still need to investigate

King Taco on Pico: al pastor tacos. I got my first order to go and when I opened the foil they were wrapped in, I thought oh! these little gems. Lovely.

Mercado La Paloma: both Chichen Itza and the other taco stand are great

Alameda Swap Meet
4501 S. Alameda
Los Angeles, 90058

KING TACO RESTAURANT
2020 W PICO BLVD
LOS ANGELES 90026

MERCADO LA PALOMA
3655 S GRAND AVE C6
LOS ANGELES 90007

Further South:

Baja Fish in San Pedro: Dang tasty tacos and awesome tortillas (not made in store, but very fresh).

Cinco de Mayo in Long Beach: Little hole in the wall, very good tortas and great looking soup (but I haven’t been back to try it).

BAJA FISH
611 S GAFFEY ST
SAN PEDRO 90731

Cinco De Mayo
351 Pacific Ave
Long Beach, 90802

West LA:

Juquila: my favorite Oaxacan place so far

Gloria’s Cafe Salvadoran and Mexican: Comfortable, great service, everything I’ve tried so far is tasty.

Don Felix’s Meat Market: Best tortas I’ve found in WLA.

El Nopal: I can’t seem to order anything except the carne asada burrito with guacamole. There’s probably other good stuff here as well, but I don’t know about it.

JUQUILA RESTAURANT
11619 SANTA MONICA BLVD
LOS ANGELES 90025

GLORIA'S CAFE
10227 VENICE BLVD
LOS ANGELES 90034

DON FELIX MEAT MARKET
3987 SAWTELLE BLVD
CULVER CITY 90066

EL NOPAL
10426 NATIONAL BLVD
LOS ANGELES 90034

  1. d
    Dommy! Apr 7, 2005 01:17 PM

    Absolutely WONDERFUL list. Being Mexican, I am picky, and at the same time adverse to spending a lot of money on Mexican food (I can make it at home afterall!). So most of my favorites are little hole in the wall places like the Taco Truck at the corner of my grandmother's house or bakeries that sell their 'food' to go and only on weekends. Still, when my friends want to go Mexican, here are the places not listed above that I take them to...

    Luz De Dia: It looks almost like a Mexican $1 Chinese food when you first catch the glimpse of the steam table. But when you peer behind it you see women making the BEST handmade tortillas I've ever tasted.

    El Tepayac: To me, their MASSIVE taquitos are superior to Ciros flautas. I also steer my friends away from the regular hollenbeck (The pork in it can be REALLY hit and miss) and towards the CHICKEN Hollenbeck or the Machaca. I took a Claremont blond boy there for the first time and it became his FAVORITE restaurant.

    Gallos Grill: I'm not a big meat girl, but their grilled meats have so much flavor that I seriously could just eat a pile of it. I especially love their skewers with bacon in between each chunk of flavorful meat!

    Tamayos: Most of the menu is very typical, but they do an EXCELLENT Mole Poblano. Smoother and More mild than the Oaxacan Mole Negro, but the flavor works SO much better to penetrate the chicken or in Enchilada form.

    Guelagetza: One of my perfect meals, Mole Negro eaten in 'scoops' made from Oaxacan tortilla. Their Horchata is also amazing. And go the 'dirty' route. The best branch is still the one on 8th.

    Babitas: FINALLY, high end mexican that is worth the price. The only better Chiles en Nogada I've had was in an ULTRA high end Mexico City restaurant where the Dish originated from!

    Enriques: A little tip of the hat for my home town carnitas master. I'm southern Mexican and did not grow up with Carnitas, so now it's my favorite Mexican dish... Enriques honestly has the best I've tasted, and I've eatten it a lot through out Mexico.

    Tacos Baja Ensenada: This place always reminds me of my favorite taco stands in the Yucatan not only for all the great tacos, but also for the wonderful condiment stand that includes the most AMAZING roasted white chiles. In fact, for me it's better because in the Yucatan, we don't fry the fish... LOL! Further, aside from the tacos, they serve the BEST alternative version of Mexican rice I've eaten at any mexican restaurant. Not a mushy orange mess and it stands up WONDERFULL against beans...

    --Dommy!

    14 Replies
    1. re: Dommy!
      c
      chris o Apr 7, 2005 01:42 PM

      What exactly does going "the dirty route" entail?

      1. re: chris o
        d
        Dommy! Apr 7, 2005 01:56 PM

        There are several Guelagetza's, the BIG formal place on Olympic. The 'too lazy to go past the La Cienega' place on Palms. Then, there is the 'dirty' (As in no ambience, the inside is very clean) tiny place on 8th. In my experience, for the best food, it's best to suck it up with the street parking and cracked side walk and go to the place on 8th.

        --Dommy!

        1. re: Dommy!
          w
          Will Owen Apr 7, 2005 06:57 PM

          First time we went there I fell in love with the little joint, especially after devouring a rolled-up thing the size of a donkey's...well...stuffed with goat, and tasting everyone else's mole. Never even tempted to try the other locations.

          It's not at all a scary neighborhood if you go in daylight, or on a warm evening when the sidewalks are swarming with families. Kinda nice.

          1. re: Dommy!
            lotta_cox Jun 28, 2008 09:36 AM

            and the one on 8th will serve you cricket tacos

        2. re: Dommy!
          s
          slowrider Apr 7, 2005 02:31 PM

          Where is Enrique's?

          1. re: slowrider
            d
            Dommy! Apr 7, 2005 02:39 PM

            The one I speak of is in Long Beach...

            Enrique's Mexican Restaurant
            6210 E Pacific Coast Hwy
            Long Beach, CA 90803-4867
            Phone: (562) 498-3622

            It's semi-upscale mexican (What Tamayos tried to be), heaven on EARTH is their Carnitas Shank, still on the bone chunk of roast pork... It's simply pork perfection...

            --Dommy!

            1. re: Dommy!
              e
              Ernie Apr 7, 2005 02:40 PM

              Dang that sounds great, maybe my search for awesome Mexican near home (San Pedro) is about to end!

              1. re: Ernie
                d
                Dommy! Apr 7, 2005 02:43 PM

                Oh! You are too close not to give it a shot! :D The Ceviche is also very good. The only 'downer' is that it doesn't have a full liquor license... so no margaritas, but it's not a loss for me, Bohemia goes SO much better with Carnitas anyway! :D

                --Dommy!

              2. re: Dommy!
                c
                condiment Apr 8, 2005 02:14 PM

                It's kind of an aside, but Tamayo was just amazing in its first six months. There were whole goats and pigs turning on spits over wood fires, a ton of tableside cooking, and the same caliber of fish you find at Spago and Campanile. I have always regretted that it mutated so fast into a happy-hour joint.

                1. re: condiment
                  d
                  Dommy! Apr 8, 2005 02:46 PM

                  Yes, I am very aware, there was an article about it's rise and fall recently. I DO hear though, if you call ahead, they can still do Cabrita...

                  --Dommy!

            2. re: Dommy!
              b
              Bob Wollman Apr 7, 2005 04:57 PM

              Thanks All!
              There is so much here for a gringo to chew on.

              Dommy, would you give me/us your other thoughts, recommendations and the location of Bebitas, please?

              1. re: Bob Wollman
                d
                Dommy! Apr 7, 2005 05:26 PM

                Sure Bob! Babita is located in San Gabriel right off the 10.

                Babita Mexicuisine
                1823 S San Gabriel Blvd
                San Gabriel, CA 91776
                Phone: (626) 288-7265

                It's a small little place (Reservations are recommended) and it's very nice inside. I've only been once, and it was WONDERFUL. I ordered Chiles en Nogada which is one of the most complex dishes mexican dishes. It's a Chile Relleno stuffed with a slightly sweet ground beef mixture. Then is covered with a creamy walnut sauce and then garnished with pomegranate seeds. It's considered the national dish of Mexico because it was originated in Mexico City and the dish has the colors of the flag, Green Chiles, Red Pomegrante and White Walnut Sauce. It was EXCELLENT! My girlfriend had the Spicy Shrimp dish, another signature of theirs that she LOVED.

                Service is wonderful and honestly it was the best fine dining mexican experience I've had in the U.S. (As I mentioned in another post, I've had better in Mexico City, but that's a TRUE fine formal dining town from breakfast to Cena -late dinner-)

                I definatly hope to return soon and I'm so glad to guide you guys to the great stuff out there because believe me, I've tried some of the awful stuff too! :P

                --Dommy!

                1. re: Dommy!
                  b
                  Bob Wollman Apr 7, 2005 05:39 PM

                  Thanks, Dommy, I 'll have to try it. I probably shouldn't say that you are a national treasure (as the Chowhound Team will have to remove this compliment to some other board), but you are!

                  1. re: Bob Wollman
                    s
                    slbear Apr 7, 2005 08:04 PM

                    unfortunately, the chiles en nogada is only available when pomegranate is in season, sometime between oct-jan.
                    can't wait until then..
                    but i also like their lamb shank and shrimp topolobampo

            3. m
              mc michael Apr 7, 2005 01:35 PM

              Try the cocido and the burritos at Dona Vicky's, 153 N. Glendale Bl., LA 90026.

              1. m
                Mr Grub Apr 7, 2005 01:40 PM

                Terrific topic & great list.

                El Grubo will add three to the mix:
                EL SAZON OAXAQUENO (Washington Place at Grand View) Everything -- including bakery goods -- is exceptional, w their mole negro being "best in class," the Guelaguetzas notwithstanding.

                CHABELITA (Western just n of 10 Fwy) -- fast food extraordinaire. Loooove that all-carnitas burrito.

                MARIA'S SEAFOOD (Grand Central Market) -- It's about the fish taco. The "regular" non-fried one, not the Ensenada-style.

                1. e
                  Ernie Apr 7, 2005 01:44 PM

                  Good list, I would like to add:

                  Taco Village on Beverly Bl on Montebello/East LA border for their carne asada tacos and burritos and fresh salsa bar. One of the few places that I like the flavor of the carne asada meat and its very lean.

                  Macho Cafe in San Gabriel off Mission Rd and San Gabriel Blvd for breakfasts and soup specials.

                  Pepe's Drive-Thru in Alhambra on Valley Blvd for their chile verde, taquitos, and nachos -- the only nachos I have ever enjoyed, although they have a tendency to put too much grated cheese on things which does not melt enough, so I ask for easy cheese.

                  And speaking of taquitos, try the large flautas at Ana Maria's. They are excellent and a meal on their own with a tangy tomatillo salsa, onions, lettuce, and good beans on top.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: Ernie
                    s
                    slowrider Apr 7, 2005 02:29 PM

                    Ana Maria's on 1st in E.L.A. ?
                    If so, I love that place !
                    Perfect Saturday/Sunday hangover restaurant....

                    1. re: slowrider
                      e
                      Ernie Apr 7, 2005 02:42 PM

                      The Ana Maria's I was mentioning is the stand in Grand Central Market, but now you've got me curious. What cross street off of 1st?

                      1. re: Ernie
                        s
                        slowrider Apr 7, 2005 03:24 PM

                        It's on 1st just East of Indiana on the North side of the street.....
                        It's not the greatest Mexican food or anything, but it is pretty good and a great place to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning.....very comfortable w/big booths to relax in.....always nice and cool.....ice cold beers......
                        Good breakfast dishes, mole, and mojarras fritas.....shrimp cocktails are good too.......
                        It's the type of place your older tios/tias Y abuelos/abuelas love.....

                        1. re: slowrider
                          k
                          ks Apr 7, 2005 03:41 PM

                          Any other recommendations you'd be willing to share?

                          1. re: ks
                            s
                            slowrider Apr 7, 2005 04:58 PM

                            Anything inparticular ??

                            1. re: slowrider
                              k
                              ks Apr 7, 2005 05:15 PM

                              Everything. Not joking.

                              Especially in East LA, downtown and south of the 10.

                              I'm also keen to know more about restaurants that specialize in food or dishes from specific regions.

                              But I like the classic Mexican American hybrid stuff too.

                              I'll take it all.

                              1. re: ks
                                s
                                slowrider Apr 8, 2005 11:01 AM

                                La Fuente on Monte Vista in Highland Park. Excellent Mexican overall.
                                Linda's Mariscos on Olympic (East of Soto) for Shrimp Cocktail.
                                Lanza Bros. on Main (Lincoln Heights) for sandwiches.
                                Chapalita on Broadway (Lincoln Heights) for Asada burritos & tacos.
                                Dino's on Main (Lincoln Heights) for the burgers and day-glo chicken plate.
                                Folleiro's on Figueroa (Highland Park) for cheap downhome Italian - I mean cheap!
                                Pizza Buona (Sunset & Alvarado) for meatball sandwiches, fettucine, pizza and the house Italian dressing.
                                El Rey De Azteca on Whittier Blvd. - Mexican.
                                La Tapatia in El Sereno (Eastern South of Huntington Dr.) best marinated asada & chicken for your bbq grill.
                                La Mascota on Whittier Blvd. (near Euclid - across from Johnny's Shrimp Boat) for tamales - especially the chicken and green chile & cheese.
                                Al & Bea's on 1st st. in Boyle Heights - bean & cheese burritos.
                                El Taquito on Huntington Dr. in El Sereno.
                                Otomisan on 1st. in Boyle Heights for Japanese - not the best or anything but I enjoy it as do the older Japanese residents that are still in that area.
                                Ani's Chicken on Montebello Blvd. (North of Beverly) for Armenian/Middle Eastern type items.

                                That's a quick short-list......there are so many .......some of my favorites are taco trucks - one inparticular is Cheo's on Alhambra Rd. 1 block west of Warwick in El Sereno - excellent asada, al pastor and horchata.......tacos, burros, tortas too ! They are there Thursday-Saturday evenings only.

                                Gotta get back to work!

                                1. re: slowrider
                                  k
                                  ks Apr 8, 2005 11:08 AM

                                  Thanks!

                                  1. re: slowrider
                                    n
                                    Neta Apr 8, 2005 03:52 PM

                                    I heard that Lanza Mkt on Main St. sold to a Chinese gentleman and that it has changed. Do you know if this is true? I used to buy the best chorizo there.

                                    1. re: Neta
                                      s
                                      slowrider Apr 8, 2005 04:11 PM

                                      I had not heard that........
                                      I'll inquire next time I'm there.....
                                      Thanks for the info.

                    2. m
                      martyR Apr 7, 2005 02:13 PM

                      Babita -- Best Mexican restaurant in the county.

                      El Gran Burrito, corner of Vermont and Santa Monica. Great al pastor.

                      Sandra & Lolitas tamales on Whittier in East L.A. Wonderful tamales and pretty great menudo too. Takeout only. Right across the street from Tacos Baja Ensenada. so you can really make a feast if you want.

                      1. c
                        Chowpatty Apr 7, 2005 02:16 PM

                        Definitely concur on Chichen Itza.
                        As Dommy mentioned, do try Gallo's Grill. Great grilled meats.
                        For Oaxacan, I also like Monte Alban on Santa Monica near Bundy.
                        At Senor Fish, have the fish tacos and the seafood quesadilla before you write them off.
                        If you like hard shell tacos, try the ground beef and pickle tacos at Malo in Silverlake. They also do a good carne asada taco.
                        Also try the carne asada or cochinita pibil tortas at Yuca's in Los Feliz.
                        keep up the good work!

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: Chowpatty
                          j
                          Jules Apr 7, 2005 03:23 PM

                          Great picks for Mexican food. Don't go to Malo because of their horrible service.

                          1. re: Jules
                            c
                            Chowpatty Apr 7, 2005 03:27 PM

                            Well, we've discussed this before, but I go to Malo at least once a month since they opened and I've never had even the slightest complaint. So I would really encourage people to try it for themselves. I also had perfectly good service at Cobras and Matadors, although I've only been to the Los Feliz one once.

                            1. re: Jules
                              c
                              carter Apr 7, 2005 03:54 PM

                              If you like their food, then get their food to go and do not worry about the service!

                              1. re: Jules
                                l
                                littleblackmaryjanes Apr 7, 2005 07:34 PM

                                I haven't been there before, and quite frankly, it's because I'm completely terrified of the hipster atmosphere.

                                However, having learned that Malo serves crispy tacos, I'm planning to gather my courage and go.

                                Crispy tacos are one of my absolute favorite things ever, when done well. Is it worth it?

                                1. re: littleblackmaryjanes
                                  l
                                  Letti Apr 7, 2005 08:10 PM

                                  everything is a la carte. restaurant has nice decor, but the food is mediocre. i've been there several times and the chips have been soggy. it's not an authentic mexican cantina.
                                  it's very LA. typical trendy LA with unfriendly service.

                                  1. re: Letti
                                    s
                                    Silver Lake Sider Apr 7, 2005 08:12 PM

                                    Perfect name for the restaurant. You should know by the name! Bad food, bad service and bad menu.

                                  2. re: littleblackmaryjanes
                                    p
                                    Pete Apr 9, 2005 06:44 PM

                                    The tacos are good. Our service was friendly and efficient. The chips are cooked for you after you arrive (it's one of their gimmicks) so the "soggy" charge is nonsensical. However, the fact that you have to pay for their (very good) salsas might piss you off. The carnitas are great. The ala carte thing may or may not annoy you. The communal tables do annoy me, but didn't matter the time I went as they were only 1/3 full. (On a Friday or Saturday I would rule Malo out for this reason alone.) Margaritas are good but expensive. The big room is a barnlike echo chamber; sit on the patio. Finally, it's been open long enough so that I doubt the hipster quotient is that high any more. I think it's well worth a try.

                                    1. re: littleblackmaryjanes
                                      s
                                      SilverBaked Oct 24, 2005 08:25 PM

                                      Walked in, not too busy. Seated perfectly in the middle of the restaurant. I mention the place, because for a minimum of 8-10 mins. (no joke) not one person comes to offer us a drink or chips. Waiter after waiter just walked by. So dumb - so, we left. Just indicative of how the evening would have gone. I had heard it ain't so great, and...well, you get the picture. Next...

                                    2. re: Jules
                                      p
                                      Pete Apr 9, 2005 06:30 PM

                                      I had good service at Malo. YMMV.

                                  3. j
                                    joe Apr 7, 2005 06:06 PM

                                    Although others seem to disagree, Monte Alban is my favorite among the four or so very good Oaxacan places on the west side.

                                    Birrieria Chalio on 1st St in East LA near the Mercado is a solid A-minus for its food, but its classic decor puts it over the top. (Don't go to the branch on Atlantic near Whittier.)

                                    Then there is the whole scene on York Ave that Jonathan Gold wrote about in the LA Weekly circa November 2004.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: joe
                                      c
                                      condiment Apr 8, 2005 02:08 PM

                                      The Calle Primera Chalio does have excellent birria, but the birria at El Parian, on Pico near Union, is even better.

                                      But I would put Monte Alban near last in the ranking of the gringo-friendly Oaxacans, behind all branches of Guelaguetza, Texate, El Sazon, and even the underrated Tlapazola, whose moles are first rate.

                                      1. re: condiment
                                        g
                                        gw Dec 10, 2005 10:04 PM

                                        umm...why does it have to be gringo friendly?

                                        I've been to Monte Alban several times and always had a great experience. The food has been great and the staff has been very nice to this blonde-haired anglo girl.

                                        1. re: condiment
                                          a_and_w Jun 28, 2008 09:01 AM

                                          You rate Tlapazola ahead of Monte Alban?! Yeah, no.

                                          1. re: a_and_w
                                            Servorg Jun 28, 2008 10:10 AM

                                            Things, or condiments ratings, may have changed since this thread was first posted over 3 years ago.

                                      2. s
                                        Sandra W. Apr 7, 2005 06:44 PM

                                        Avilla's El Ranchito in Huntington Park.

                                        1. j
                                          Jerome Apr 7, 2005 07:42 PM

                                          the gueleguetza on 8th is better than the one in palms.

                                          1. k
                                            ks Apr 8, 2005 11:12 AM

                                            Thanks so much everyone!

                                            I completely appreciate the great suggestions! I think this whole thread (like this board) is an excellent resource for visitors, newcomers, and Angelinos all.

                                            I'll be reporting back....

                                            ks

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: ks
                                              t
                                              thedeliciouslife Apr 8, 2005 03:04 PM

                                              i just went to GUELAGUETZA (westside - though i believe the other two are not related to this one? not sure) at the beginning of this week for the first time. i will be honest, though it was good, i wasn't blown away, but i am also very ignorant when it comes to authentic regional mexican cuisines. i grew up in san antonio, tejas, so i will always and forever know mexican food as the refried beans-salsa-guac-burrito-taco-wash-it-down-with-a-margarita tex mex stuff. i took some pix of guelaguetza though, if anyone is interested...the link is below

                                              Link: http://thedeliciouslife.blogspot.com/...

                                            2. b
                                              Bill Apr 8, 2005 04:34 PM

                                              Good to hear that you've tried King Torta. If you're in the Valley, you should try El Gallo Giro in Panaorama City for some of the best tortas in LA. Get the Torta Cubana. They occasionally serve excellent guisados too.

                                              El Gallo Giro
                                              818.891.5533
                                              8309 Van Nuys Blvd

                                              For good seafood do not miss the original La Serenata de Garibaldi in E. LA. Do not go to the other locations. Excellent cocteles, caldos, pescado de temporada and camarones gigantes.

                                              LA SERENATA DE GARIBALDI
                                              1842 EAST FIRST STREET LOS ANGELES, CA 90038
                                              TELEPHONE: (323)265-2887

                                              There also used to be - in my opinion - the best staple mexican, tacos (al pastor, asada and machaca), enchiladas and tamales, in -of all places- Dos Burritos next to the Pantages. Nothing in the Grand Central Market comes close. Funny thing is almost all of the other Dos Burritos serve inedible sludge, but this little ragtag joint served the most mouth watering food. The aroma was unbelievable. Hope you stumble across the new location on your search for a little piece of Mexican heaven.

                                              1. p
                                                ponypants Jun 27, 2008 04:10 PM

                                                Are you kidding La Parilla is so good there is one on 6th downtown LA full bar and one Sn Sunset in Echo park the Queso Fundido is the best!!!!!!!!! chorizo or shrimp

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