Two restaurants in my neighborhood I just don't get ...
It's not my habit to write negative reviews, but ...
There are two restaurants in my neighborhood I just don't get. I pass them by every night on my way home from work and they are always packed.
Lines of people waiting.
But I've been to both and just don't get the appeal.
One of them is Paco's Mexican Restaurant on Centinela near Washington. When my brother lived in my neighborhood it was the only place he ever went. So I went a couple of times and, well ...
Let's put it this way:
I live close to El Abajeno, Mi Ranchito, Taqueria Sanchez, Guela -- ummm -- that Oaxacan place I can't spell, Taqueria Estillo, Cora's and about ten other family owned Mexican restaurants and taquerias. I'm within a short drive of Gilbert's, Lares and the rest of Pico's Mexican restaurant row. Some of you will like some of those, some won't like some. But they are all perfectly capable of serving up a fine Mexican meal, depending what you order and what you are in the mood for.
Paco's is no better than El Torito. The adjective that first comes to mind is goopy. The food is goopy. And the place isn't even hip in an El Coyote sort of way.
Someone explain the lines at Paco's to me.
The other place is just down the street. It's a super popular Japanese place called Sakura. Now, mind you, I'm not super fussy when it comes to Japanese and sushi. I'll eat a California roll. But I like it to be great, fresh. I've got a Japanese-American wife and we eat good Japanese or we don't eat it. We roll to Sawtelle. We'll eat in Hama. There's a place up on Washington near Best Buy we'll go.
But Sakura was just plain ... ummm, what's the word ... ordinary. The teriyaki was greasy in a bad way. The fish was flavorless. We went once and have never been back.
Someone explain Sakura to me.
(Both Paco's and Sakura are on Centinela between Culver and Washington on the west side of the street.)
Paco's Westchester was a regular kid-friendly, food-safe hang for the Grubchildren families who live in Westchester until ...
One evening while one of our families was waiting for a table in the "lounge" area, a patron was shot -- yep, shot -- at the adjacent host desk. Because of the short shouting match that preceded the shooting match, the entire shocking affair was eyewitnessed by a 6-yr-old GrandGrub.
As the traumatized family was beating a hasty exit, the kind, understanding, customer-friendly folks at Paco's stopped them & browbeat them into paying for their drinks.
There is something about a line waiting to get into a restaurant that attracts people (and then there are people like me who hate to wait) no matter how bad the food is.
Many years ago when Authentic Cafe was just the one small room (seven small tables and seven counter seats), I worked as a hostess/waitress there and the wait on a Friday night was at most an hour. Someone wrote a snotty review about how all the pimply faced clueless lemmings would wait out front in the rain for a table at Authentic (his words, not mine). I swear the next night the wait was over two hours long.
I go to Paco's periodically, as I have done since 1998 when I moved to the Marina, and I have to say there is only one thing I order every time I go there: the grilled snapper mojo de ajo. It is simple grilled fish with the mojo de ajo in a cup on the side--ergo, not greasy or gooey. The tortillas are indeed fantastic, the margaritas deliver the goods they're meant to (POWER!), and the atmosphere is kitschy. It's nowhere near the garbage league of El Coyote, yet surely no one goes there expecting something "authentic" (which is what, a brain taco, if you go to Sanchez?) or "elegant." You also don't get something "expensive."
When I lived in Westchester Pacos was a tradition for local families. free chips to keep the kids quiet and a marguerita or two for the folks. But the food and drink is mediocre at best.
I've said it before... for home-made tortillas and really good margueritas we go to Hacienda del Rey on Lincoln. Its a few doors from the old Pacos that burned down. After two of their margueritas the food becomes an afterthought...decent and close-by.
Sakura used to be a late night hangout for the Japanese resto staffers in the area, don't know if it still is.
That said, there has been a quiet but large Japanese population in that area for a long time. There have not always been the choices in restos that you are blessed with today. Sakura hasn't kept up with the times for sure, but they do have their faithful.
Those of you that have been in the area for a while might remember Inai's Char Broiler and the life changing Hawaian Royale breakfast.
Growing up, I used to see long, long lines at Pacos. I tried it and wondered what was so good about it. Then about a year ago I was in the area so I tried it again and it was horrible. I share your bewilderment as to why anyone would want to eat at that place. "Goopy" is the perfect word to describe the mess on your plate that, well, is just a mess. The service isn't so great either.
That said, I love Tito's, though!
Same reason as the continuing popularity of El Cholo and El Coyote, the long lines at Marston's every weekend morning, the similar long line at a similarly hackneyed breakfast joint in Nashville: it's what they want. No change, no challenge, what they liked in fourth grade or what their parents liked. Mexican = melted yellow cheese and goopy beans and grease. Chinese = sweet and sour and gummy porky stuff and greasy fried rice. Japanese = gummy rice and non-challenging "seafood" and that tang of seaweed to make you think you're being daring and exotic. And since you've been going there for thirty years, you're one of the In Crowd.
re: Will Owen
I'm new to the neighborhood, but have frequented the Pacos on Manchester for countless company outing and everything Will and the other posters say is true. It's about the 'security' of being JUST Mexican enough... The fresh made tortillas which honestly aren't that great either (For REAL tortilla heaven, nothing beat Luz Del Dia. It's the same kinda 'show' they had going at San Diego's 'Old Town'. The kinda place where if you order a Machaca Burrito, everyone at your table gasps for how adventurous you are... :P
BF has lived in the area much longer than I and claims Sakura is pretty good for Sushi. It's on our list and I trust his taste for food... I'll hand my judgement when we actually get over there... :)
I will say this, Taqueria Sanchez, Angel Maid Bakery and Marina Farms Market a little further down Centenella does indeed rock though! :) So it's not a TOTALLY wasted stretch of businesses! :)
"It's about the 'security' of being JUST Mexican enough..."
Right on. And don't they just look like they ate a bug if they taste a bit of cilantro!
After Nashville began having some REAL Mexican places, Tania used to cause some commotion when she'd order tacos with lengua or tripas, or a big bowl of menudo. They weren't used to seeing ANY local Anglos eating that stuff, much less a woman.
I live in your neighborhood.
I think Paco's following came from when they were the only one doing the fresh tortillas. It was novel. Those adults eating there were kids when they started. It became comfort food (Like Titos to me)
I've Only eaten at Sakuro once and I only had sushi. It was good, I ate a lot and it was a $40 evening for one. How did those families with all of those kids afford it? My order was slow and incorrect. I ordered sweet shrimp for the crispy heads but I was only served the shrimp. I had to ask for the rest of my order.
Sushi was good and fresh, but there are other places that are less crowded, less noisy, easier to park at and not as expensive.
Too bad it's the closest.
Speaking of Estillo's do they make their enchiladas a day in advance? I ordered some to go and the cheese wasn't even melted. Well it had been at one time, but it was cold and solid when opened at home. Not impressed at all.
PS: I noticed a Hawaiian place right next door to Paco's this evening and I'm wondering if it's new.
<<<I noticed a Hawaiian place right next door to Paco's this evening and I'm wondering if it's new.
I think that used to be Gene Sing (???if i'm not mistaken). I haven't tried it yet either and I'm also curious. I'm dying for good hawaiian-style barbeque on the lower westside.
Paco's is one of those phenoms where, if you grew up eating there, you like it. (Much the way Tito's, Gilberts, and the Shack were - and are - to me.) We've eaten at the Paco's over on Manchester on occasion, but those are very rare occasions indeed. Nothing I jones on anymore, but the margaritas are bareable.
Regarding the Hawaiian place that used to be Gene Sings: I was hoping for something like the place in Manhatten Beach, called Back Home in Lanhaina, if I recall correctly? I tried this place next to Pacos...and it is feeble. Its got a regular chinese menu and a few sweet n sour items that boast to be Hawaiian. save your time and your money.