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Hound-worthy Mexican with good margaritas and ambience?

There's La Huasteca, of course, and El Portal in Pasadena (slightly less hound-worthy, but still pretty good) when I'm too lazy to drive to Lynwood. Does anyone have some more options worth considering? I'm really trying to avoid El Cholo (and the like) when margarita-mad friends/family want to go out...

La Huasteca
3150 E Imperial Hwy, Lynwood, CA 90262

El Portal
695 E Green St, Pasadena, CA 91101

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  1. Casita de Campos is great for atmosphere and food. i don't remember how their margaritas are but my trick is to order double tequila b/c usually there is not enough :)

    9 Replies
    1. re: Clyde

      Casita DEL CAMPO. i knew it was something like that. Also, El Arco Iris in highland park is good.

      El Arco Iris
      5684 York Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90042

      1. re: Clyde

        I'm sorry, I try to primarily post recommendations rather than the opposite here. I live near Casita Del Campo and I love and know more than the average person about Mexican food. I've certainly eaten at most, if not all the Mexican restaurants that are mentioned on this board. Casita del Campo (by which I am assuming you mean the place on Hyperion in Silverlake) simply has horrible food. Really horrible. Nearly inedible.Glopped up with bad cheese and drowned in what tastes like canned sauces. The meats aren't cooked well. Nothing has much flavor. They do have excellent margaritas, a nice atmosphere and passably good chips and salsa.

        It is difficult to find excellent Mexican food and a full bar in Los Angeles. Most really good Mexican restaurants have a beer and wine license at best. Some, like Serenata di Garabaldi make the abominable soju margarita. (Perhaps that is something that ought to be left to Kogi to serve in brown paper bags from their truck.)

        La Huasteca is one of the only Mexican restaurants I have been to in the area that has both excellent food and a full bar. I've always liked the chips and salsa - in spite of having to pay for them - at Malo, though I've never been terribly impressed with the rest of the food there. I do want to try Mas Malo.

        If anyone knows of other really good Mexican places with full bars, I also would love to hear of them. But Casita del Campo is not on the list.

        La Huasteca
        3150 E Imperial Hwy, Lynwood, CA 90262

        4326 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029

        Casita Del Campo
        1920 Hyperion Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027

        Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles, CA

        Mas Malo
        515 W 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90014

        1. re: estone888

          It seems to me that Rivera and the downtown Border Grill fka Ciudad are worth considering.

          Rivera Restaurant
          1050 S. Flower Street, #102, Los Angeles, CA 90015

          445 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90071

          1. re: estone888

            Agreed, inedible. It's 1950s style Mexican food. Bad.

            1. re: estone888

              it's mexican fusion, not authentic mexican, but i believe that tlapazola on gateway serves real tequila, so they must have the license. . . . .

              1. re: westsidegal

                I was going to suggest Tiapazola as well. I think they have a second location somewhere.

                1. re: westsidegal

                  Tlapazola has very good food but the ambience is marginal and while they serve tequila, there is no bar and no one who knows how to make a decent drink. Go for the food, but not the drinks or ambience.

                  1. re: BSW6490

                    Agree that Tlapazola doesn't have much ambiance (assume you're talking about one on Gateway), but disagree about drinks. They have a wide selection of tequilas and when I've been there, a very accommodating bartender took pride in his very good margaritas (and he will adjust them if needed according to your preference).

              2. re: Clyde

                El Arco Iris has the most insipid margaritas I have ever tasted, and small, and not cheap either.

                While we enjoyed the food tand the retro charm there, we had a major problem one night with a family of unruly children, in which the manager refused to intervene, and so we have not been back.

                El Arco Iris
                5684 York Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90042

            2. You might check out Mas Malo in downtown LA, which aching reviewed earlier here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/758624

              Mas Malo
              515 W 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90014

              1. Hacienda Del Rey is definitely a spot worth trying out. Good food and good drinks.

                Hacienda Del Rey
                8347 Lincoln Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90045

                1 Reply
                1. re: Tavio

                  they will be opening a new Hacienda on Pershing where the old Beri's Pizza (sp?) used to be.

                2. I am one most annoyed gringo. I grew up in this city and never understood how a state that once was part of Mexico and has a large Mexican and Mexican - American population has never been able to support a restaurant with ambience and great Mexican food. I used to trave to Mexico and a lot to Tijuana before the wars broke out for the best Mexican food you could find close to Los Angeles and in some cases even ambience. You want carnitas you go to Carnitas Uruapan near the race track in Tijuana.

                  I even remember when Cugie on La Cienega gave it a yeoman's effort to make a fancy Mexican Restaurant to no avail.

                  You have your choice as far as I am concerned good to sometimes really good food or Margaritas and faux Mexican decor. There's not much else that I've been able to find.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Hughlipton

                    Hugh - actually, the food at Senor Fred in Sherman Oaks, with full bar of course, is above average, with some of the dishes from the Yucatan being very good. Also used to have a red wine from Baja California which was quite tasty. Their margaritas are very good.
                    Seeing the menu in the darkness can be an issue though.

                    Senor Fred
                    13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

                    1. re: Hughlipton

                      I am in full agreement. I grew up in LA.

                      I became interested in cooking ... and Diana Kennedy. I traveled and cooked on her trips throughout Central, Southern, Western Mexico, and the Yucatan with Diana for many, many years. Mexico is fascinating.

                      What you get in Mexican restaurants is a parody of real Mexican food which, like the USA, is regional.

                      But in LA, you can get gut busting seafood enchiladas, ubiquitous beans, rice and killer margs at sit down restos. No one does the real stuff. The little stands are better at it but ...

                      A chapter remains to be written about Mexican food in LA with no signs it's happening yet.

                    2. Good food, strange but interesting decor, and very good margaritas can be found at Casablanca in Venice. Not the greatest ever, but their squid is pretty darn good (as is their green salsa).

                      1. Consider La Seranata de Garibaldi. I have only been to the Boyle Heights location. I don't recall there being much of a bar but the margaritas are good and the food well above average. The focus tilts towards seafood but the menu is varied enough to please those who don't want fish.

                        1842 East 1st Street
                        Los Angeles, CA 90033
                        (323) 265-2887

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Ringo Gato

                          The margaritas are made from soju, not tequila, at the original Serenata. They aren't licensed for a full bar. I do seem to recall that the branch on 4th in Santa Monica has a full bar, but I also recall not liking the food there nearly as much as at the original.

                          1. re: estone888

                            No full bar? My bad!
                            It looks like the location with a bar is West LA.

                        2. How about Yxta? I've only been there once but I thought it was pretty good, and the margaritas were excellent.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: la2tokyo

                            I would second that. We've been twice, though not recently; we liked the food very much (though that's an opinion not universally shared here), and the margaritas were impeccable.

                            Re: the problem of finding both good food and good drink close to home, I'll have to say we've found that too true, for the most part. Our favorite margs are at Amigo's in Pasadena, where the food is serviceable at best. We go there frequently anyway, as it's just down the street and those drinks are lovely.

                          2. Best margarita in town can be found at the Canal Club in Venice (yes, you read that correctly). The original bartender from Rebecca's is still there (side little bar), making Rebecca's 1980s masterpiece margarita.

                            Best mexican food + great margarita, would probably be Lares, maybe Border Grill on 4th, or even La Serenata across the street (which has the best ambience of the three, Border Grill is just too loud for me, and I'm not a fan of the live mariachi while I eat at Lares).

                            Border Grill
                            1445 4th St., Santa Monica, CA 90401

                            La Serenata
                            1416 4th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: yogachik

                              Lares I found extremely mediocre food-wise.

                            2. I'll add La Cabanita in Glendale/Montrose to the list, although it's been a few years since my last visit. I've enjoyed the chiles en nogada, caldo de pollo, and tacos de picadillo. An interesting menu with lots of delicious sounding choices. And they have a full bar.

                              La Cabanita
                              3447 N Verdugo Rd, Glendale, CA 91208

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: chinchi

                                I second the vote on La Cabanita. Their lunch specials are a really good deal and the margarita's are pretty good. It's our family's favorite for local Mexican food. My only modification is that I grew up on pinto beans and they use black beans. Fortunately, I ask them to swap the beans and they always do no problem.

                              2. Don't think I'd consider it "houndworthy" for food, although the food was decent, the Pink Taco has excellent margaritas and a full bar. They also have happy hour specials, etc. The tacos and such are decent, but definitely not authentic Mexican, but they at least use fresh ingredients, and the meats are well cooked and have flavor. But the margaritas were wonderful, no hint of sweet & sour mix, just delicious. In the Century City mall.

                                Pink Taco
                                10250 Santa Monica Blvd #220, Los Angeles, CA

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Phurstluv

                                  And soon to be arriving on the Sunset Strip in the former Miyagi/Roxbury/Inperial Gardens facility near Chateau Marmont.

                                  1. re: carter

                                    I was expecting major dissin' from you guys for even mentioning the place, but it really surprised me at the quality of the food.

                                    And even my MIL, who's downed many a margarita all over the world, was especially impressed with the place. The food really is actually decent. I'd love to go there for Happy Hour sometime, I"d probably get ripped & need a cab!!

                                2. Tlapazola Grill on Gateway in West LA. Atmosphere is a bit dry, but the food is fantastic, the waitstaff friendly and they have a list of no fewer than 50 tequilas from which to choose. Not your usual taco/enchilada spot though they do have a few "traditional" favorites on the menu.

                                  Tlapazola Grill
                                  11676 Gateway Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                                  1. El Carmen..

                                    Limited menu, but actually pretty good. great atmosphere

                                    And of course good Margarita's

                                    El Carmen Restaurant
                                    8138 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048

                                    1. mission cantina in hollywood has fantastic margaritas including an off-menu cilantro jalapeno version. the food is pretty basic, but has always been satisfying and fresh.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: tastycakes

                                        Second Mission Cantina. Small space but food is surprisingly good for what feels more like a bar. Drinks are very solid.

                                      2. What do you mean by "good ambiance"? Do you mean mariachis and Frida Kahlo paintings? Soft lighting and quiet conversation? I'm not being flip, just wondering.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: cant talk...eating

                                          I didn't really mean any one type of ambiance in particular (I know even La Huasteca can annoy some folks, with its naked-maidens-cavorting-in-the-jungle murals and sounds of wrought iron chairs dragged across ceramic floor tiles...) Nor am I necessarily looking for the world's greatest margaritas.

                                          Basically, the request is just for a pleasant, full-service Mexican restaurant in the medium price range (which sort of rules out Rivera, though I still want to try it) with a full bar and food that's taken a bit more seriously than just something to soak up the margaritas. Ideally in SGV/Downtown/northeast LA, but flexible.

                                          1. re: Bradbury

                                            What about Villa Sombrero in Highland Park? It's got kind of an old-school vibe. The margaritas are excellent, not to mention huge. As for the food, all I've tried there is the guacamole, but it was delicious (and prepared tableside in an adorable pig-shaped molcajete) and the other menu options seemed decent.

                                            Villa Sombrero
                                            6101 York Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                                            1. re: thestratbrat

                                              I keep forgetting about that place! We went there once on a weekend afternoon and found ourselves in the middle of an impromptu neighborhood gathering - old folks, young folks, gay couples, people with kids of all ages, all very friendly and hanging out and enjoying it. The food was more than adequate, and proof that good margs does not always = lousy food. The Mt. Washington couple we do the gallery crawls with (and with whom we had the disastrous evening at El Arco Iris) need to know about this place, too.

                                        2. What about Loteria on Hollywood Blvd.? It has a full bar.

                                          I don't fashion myself an expert on Mexican cuisine, but I really do like Loteria as well Rivera.

                                          1. I think I'm the board's only supporter of La Golondrina. This isn't to say I think all the menu items are good; they're not. But the margaritas, chips, salsa, hot sauce, guacamole, and simple flour-tortilla-based dishes (e.g., quesadillas) are all good. (I'd say the chips and dips blow away those at most of the board-favorite Mexican restaurants.) And the ambience is fun.

                                            La Golondrina
                                            17 Olvera St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: sushigirlie

                                              Sushigirlie, thanks for giving some love to La Golondrina. It's one of my favorite places for good margaritas and mexican food. I usually order the carnitas quesadilla and the chorizo tostada - two tostadas in an order. .

                                              La Golondrina
                                              17 Olvera St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                                            2. Rivera downtown is very good. Have not been for a while but Sonora Cafe on La Brea used to be fun and good. Taberna Mexicana is a new place in Beverly Hills that has a nice bar and interesting menu. Also, Frida in Beverly Hills is quite good.

                                              Mexicana Restaurant
                                              16045 Vanowen St, Van Nuys, CA 91406

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: BSW6490

                                                Sonora Cafe's been closed for over a year now.

                                              2. I'll throw in Casa Vega and Mexicali if good margaritas are good enough to ignore average food. And El Chavo if you just want to forget the food altogether and just drink cheap.

                                                El Chavo
                                                4441 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027

                                                Casa Vega Restaurant
                                                13301 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: scottca075

                                                  Really? Casa Vega? The faux red leather booths, bad lighting, 2 item combos and hour long waits on a weekend night? For the same food and atmosphere with less crowd, go to Ernie's. Not tat it is great, but it has not changed in the nearly 40 years I have been going. Wow, that is a scary thought.

                                                  Ernie's Taco House
                                                  4410 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91602

                                                  1. re: ocshooter

                                                    Casa Vega, wow that brings back memories from my college days, some thirty years ago! They used to put on a pretty nice Sunday buffet lunch.

                                                    Casa Vega Restaurant
                                                    13301 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

                                                    1. re: ocshooter

                                                      I guess I can say that I first went to Ernie's 57 years ago (my folks began going once in a while with my brother and I in tow in 1954). Then we moved away from Toluca Lake and my parents didn't move back until 1969. But throughout the years we always stuck with their hard shelled (taco dorado) tacos, usually beef. I still have a soft spot for Ernie's based on my history with it and the memories it evokes of my mom and dad.

                                                      1. re: Servorg

                                                        There's no arguing with memories when it comes to restaurants. My childhood Mexican was Lupe's in Thousand Oaks. Food, in retrospect, not good. But it explains why I personally love red faux-leather booths, bad lighting, and 2-item combos. Black velvet paintings of bullfighters, too. I still love their taquitos.

                                                        Incidentally, speaking of such places, I'm not nominating it (one too many food poisonings) but I'm surprised that no one's put forth El Compadre. Lots of celebrities seem to like it, the ambience is old-school, the margaritas are flaming, and the food is comparable to several others mentioned here.

                                                        1. re: jesstifer

                                                          Ditto El Compadre. I was thinking about adding a mention here after I saw that J. Gold had in the articled Ciao Bob linked below. I've only been to the Hollywood location, not the Silverlake, but I've aways enjoyed the food well enough for what it is, and the margaritas are plenty good too. And it definitely has atmosphere. Sometimes a little too much.

                                                          El Compadre
                                                          1449 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

                                                          El Compadre Restaurant
                                                          7408 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046

                                                      2. re: ocshooter

                                                        Hey, I qualified the response pretty well with "if good margaritas are good enough to ignore average food"..... When Pink Taco and La Golondrina are in the mix, all bets are off, at that point it is about just offering options for the OP to consider. I mean it started off with a mention of La Huasteca, which is marginally "hound worthy".

                                                        La Huasteca
                                                        3150 E Imperial Hwy, Lynwood, CA 90262

                                                        1. re: ocshooter

                                                          Mexicali has good food, and the ambience is nice at off hours or on the patio;but ridiculously loud inside. Casa Vega isnt great, but it's waaaayyy better than Ernie's. El Chavo I I kinda love... Especially their chile verde.

                                                      3. I posed this question to Jonathan Gold in an Ask Mr. Gold piece and he offered some helpful suggestions

                                                        My best solution to the problem is to make your own and take them to Mariscos Chente on Imperial Hwy. You will have to bring the ambience as well.

                                                        6 Replies
                                                        1. re: Ciao Bob

                                                          Wow, if Mr. Gold can't completely satisfy an answer to the "big 3" requirements there (decent food, ambiance and serviceable margaritas), then who can?

                                                          I'm sure this debate will rage on, but I find it difficult to get all 3. And reviewing the suggestions above - which are noble, if not subjective - I usually have to sacrifice one to get the other(s). I grew up loving the "Pico Corridor" (of Lares, Gilbert's, Don Antonio's, El Sarape) and more recently Tlapazola on the west side, which are ok, but not "great." Have since tried 90% of the others on the list - but none seems to satisfy the Big 3 itch.

                                                          I hope this thread stays alive and suggestions keep rolling in.

                                                          Don Antonio's
                                                          11755 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                                                          El Sarape Restaurant
                                                          11520 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                                                          1. re: cagey

                                                            I thought Yxta was a very good idea of his. It was great when it first opened...but I have not been lately.

                                                            1. re: Ciao Bob

                                                              Yxta looks very nice actually. Must have missed that in the list above. I'll try it some evening on my way back home.

                                                              Not mentioned here (but in other CH posts) was La Sirena just off Sepulveda between El Segundo and Manhattan Beach. (I think westsidegal once commented on it, but I'd like her take now based on the new criteria from the O.P.) The thing about "bright shiny restaurants" kind of takes away some of the"ambiance," but that's just personal preference. (Echo-chambers aren't my thing.)

                                                              Both Yxta and Sirena look rather pricey too (for what you get). Correct me if I'm wrong.

                                                          2. re: Ciao Bob

                                                            AND mr. gold has recently reviewed MC (now re-named Coni's Seafood, but their sign still says "mariscos chente's)


                                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                                              it almost seems like he's talking about you westsidegal!

                                                              1. re: echoparkdirt

                                                                makes me feel good.

                                                          3. Max's in Azusa is the best I've found at combining outstanding margaritas with good food.

                                                            1. This is going to sound crazy, but I had a decent margarita at, yes, Margaritas on Rosemead in east Pasadena, which has the huge advantage of handmade tortillas. Food is surprisingly good, if predictable. Ambiance, well, there's no blaring TV, you can get a booth and really have a pleasant evening. I'm not saying it's a slam dunk - you're not going to find "hound-worthy Mexican", but I think as the two places you mentioned (been to each several times), it's worth a try. Certainly won't break the bank.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: cant talk...eating

                                                                Had to update to say that Margaritas has landed on my "never again" list due to their sticking chicken fajita strips in jarred mole sauce and passing it off as "mole poblano" when I was there a few nights ago. And, looks like I just lucked into handmade tortillas that last time. And, their "carne asada" plate was just an $18, un-seasoned strip steak (guess it's self-asada there). Ugh.

                                                              2. can't speak to their food, since i've only had drinks there,
                                                                but for the Margarita portion of your quest, i'd head to culver city to Kay 'n Daves.
                                                                they use fresh squeezed lime juice.
                                                                they will make them with or without using any simple syrup according to your preferences.
                                                                they will make them with premium tequila if you prefer.
                                                                altogether, far superior approach to margaritas than 99% of the other places around.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: westsidegal

                                                                  Good call. Wasn't wowed by their food the couple times I've been there, but yeah, a solid two out of three in my book! ; )

                                                                  1. re: cant talk...eating

                                                                    Finally made it to Mission Cantina tonight. Second tastycakes' nomination. Food and margs were both exemplary. Great chicken mole, the best refritos I've had in LA, a really tasty selection of condiments and salsas at your table... And the smoked pork is a bit of a revelation. Ambience is lovely. Only negative is the curious layout of seating for the banquettes, which makes it impossible for more than three to sit and converse inside. Patio seating should be lovely in warmer weather.

                                                                    Fwiw, I would previously have nominated La Golondrina or Lares. I also like Casa Vega; Ernie's is right out.

                                                                    1. re: cant talk...eating

                                                                      Casa Sanchez on Centenella has some great margaritas. Some are pricey.I dont claim to be an expert but they're very good. (Of course the margaritas served at Rebeccas in Venice years back were truly memorable. First time I had one, I would swear that they were laced with a  psychedelic substance - they were that strong.)
                                                                      The food at Casa Sanchez is basic and good. The service is always good and its a fun place to have a party. Some of the booths will seat about 10-12 people. Nice ambiance.


                                                                      1. re: Baron

                                                                        We have some out-of-town guests who never tried Mexican cuisine for the most part. Casa Sanchez came to mind right off the bat. The atmosphere is very nice, the drinks are good, the entertainment is a plus, and the food is more than acceptable for first-timers.

                                                                  2. Don't think anyone ever mentioned Pueblo Viejo on Melrose near Larchmont.

                                                                    I haven't been in several years, and I think they may have had an ownership change, not sure, but once upon a time they had better than average food, great cheap margaritas, and a fairly decent ambiance. Am curious to know how it's held up over the years, but assuming so, it should be worth a visit.

                                                                    Pueblo Viejo
                                                                    5722 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

                                                                    1. Guelagetza recently opened a great Mezcal bar... Fresh Margaritas AND awesome Mezcal cocktails...



                                                                      1. I may have already replied to this but Frida on Beverly Drive is very good and has a very good bar.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: BSW6490

                                                                          Indeed you did: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7590...