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How Are These Mexican Restaurants in Santa Monica?

c
curiousgeo Jul 6, 2011 01:56 PM

My family will be visiting LA again and we're looking for a good place in Santa Monica. We've eaten at El Cholo on Wilshire and really enjoyed it. I realize they serve gringo/Americanized style food, but Mexican where I live is very poor as a point of reference. We wanted to expand our choices and in searching I found Gilbert's El Indio, Tacos Por Favor and Lares Restaurant as possible places. Have any LA hounds eaten here? We would welcome your thoughts and any recommendations on what to order. Thanks.

  1. LA Buckeye Fan Jul 6, 2011 02:16 PM

    I'm a fan of Gilberts. I like their chile verde burritos, their pickled carrots, and most importantly, their margaritas. The people who work there are very nice. I've also enjoyed their chilequiles for hangover therapy.

    4 Replies
    1. re: LA Buckeye Fan
      echoparkdirt Jul 6, 2011 03:11 PM

      Border Grill is the best mexican in area, IMHO

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

      1. re: echoparkdirt
        s
        sushigirlie Jul 6, 2011 08:38 PM

        I agree.

        1. re: sushigirlie
          Michelly Nov 23, 2011 07:47 AM

          They've gone downhill; they used to be good, but the last time we were there, it was disappointing....the food was dry and seemed like leftovers.

          It's also too darn dark in there.

          La Sandia in the SM Place is much better.

        2. re: echoparkdirt
          Calipoutine Aug 25, 2011 12:44 PM

          The portions are TINY @Border Grill and its very expensive. There is a Living Social deal right now though. 20 for 40.00. Its worth it for that price.

      2. h
        happybaker Jul 6, 2011 03:33 PM

        I love both Border Grill and Gilbert's - they are very different places, different experiences.

        Gilbert's is family owned, smaller, not as fancy - but with some surpassingly good dishes and good basics. And I LOVE their homemade pickled carrots.

        Border Grill is bigger, fancier, very nice food, and more expensive, a tad more sophisticated.

        It depends what you are in the mood for!

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

        1. o
          Ogawak Jul 6, 2011 03:34 PM

          If you plan to stay in the Santa Monica are, you have chosen some pretty good spots.

          Gilberts is a very warm, very crowded restaurant. Think El Cholo at a discount. Cash only.

          Tacos Por Favor is a local favorite, but very little ambience. Good tacos, though.

          Some other possibilities:

          Zengo in the Santa Monica Place has a really interesting Latin-Asian fusion menu with a $35.00 brunch including drinks. A real bargain for some really good food that you will not find anywhere.

          Monte Alban is maybe a couple miles inland from SM. Very good Oahuacan food. Known for their mole sauces.

          There are a couple of great taco trucks, one for lunch at Rose and 4th Street in Venice, and one in the evenings at Lincoln and Rose, also Venice, just outside the SM city limits.

          La Cabana is also near Lincoln and Rose and is an option for late night. They make their own tortillas.

          Others will certainly chime in with their preferences.

          I generally go to East LA for some really good Mexican.

          -----
          Monte Alban
          11927 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

          Tacos Por Favor
          1406 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

          Zengo
          395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401

          6 Replies
          1. re: Ogawak
            Phurstluv Jul 6, 2011 05:03 PM

            Tacos por Favor has some of the best red sauce I've ever had - addictive!! I crave their al pastor tacos drowned in the stuff.

            1. re: Ogawak
              westsidegal Jul 27, 2011 10:56 PM

              respectfully disagree with the recommendation of La Cabana if you plan to go there when you are sober.
              if you go there when drunk. the food tastes better in direct correlation with how bombed you are.

              1. re: westsidegal
                s
                sushigirlie Jul 28, 2011 07:26 AM

                I agree, it ain't no good.

                1. re: sushigirlie
                  f
                  foodiemahoodie Aug 19, 2011 11:04 AM

                  I too concur on being drunk. Then it's not bad since you're so hungry, it's so late, and you're so drunk.

                  As a matter of fact - I don't recall ever being there sober.

                2. re: westsidegal
                  s
                  Snoopy Nov 21, 2011 11:23 AM

                  I had to chime in here as we ate at La Cabana last night (totally sober with multiple kids in tow). This was my first time at La Cabana (and will be the last). The food was mediocre and I had a really hard time communicating my shellfish allergy to our waiter. At one point it actually appeared that he was refusing to accommodate my request that they try to keep my food separate from any shellfish in the kitchen. It was really strange and awkward. Had we not been with other people, I would have got up and left. I'm hoping it was a language issue, but not sure as he acted rude about it. The one plus is that they were very tolerant of the little kids in our group and the tortilla lady gave them some dough to play with. That said, I would not go back. Would rather go to Gibert's or Don Antonio's.

                  -----
                  Don Antonio
                  601 W La Habra Blvd, La Habra, CA 90631

                3. re: Ogawak
                  o
                  Ogawak Nov 23, 2011 08:51 AM

                  If you all had read the post accurately, you would note that the La Cabana option is for late night only. No other place is open after midnight. Shame on you if you went there any other time.

                4. Servorg Jul 6, 2011 04:00 PM

                  One other Americanized Mexican place that we like is Don Antonio's on Pico just east of Bundy. One of the best versions of albondigas soup on the west side (we generally start dinner with a cup). They do "ground beef" (picadillo) tacos, which my wife likes and I enjoy their steak picado with the serrano chili's added in. Good chips and salsa too and when the weather is nice the patio can be very pleasant.

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

                  1. c
                    curiousgeo Jul 6, 2011 04:51 PM

                    Thanks for all your responses, I really appreciate them. Gilbert's El Indio did stand out to me, so I'm happy to hear your comments about the place. I'd never heard of Don Antonio's before so I'll check it out, sounds promising. I'll look at the other suggestions as well.

                    1. Phurstluv Jul 6, 2011 05:07 PM

                      We have recently discovered an old gringo Mexican place that has become our standby - Casa Escobar, on Wilshire & 25th. Totally old school, no windows, large bar, red leather booths, old dusty pinatas hang in one room, christmas & chile pepper lights throughout. Seems to be family owned, and the same valet, hostess, bartenders and waiters are there everytime we go (almost once a week now!) and they all remember us and treat us so kindly. Food is decent, nothing earth-shattering, I get the number one, beef enchilada, chicken taco & chile relleno, never finish it and get a doggy bag. My kids love their mild salsa (their hot salsa is decent too), guacamole & quesadillas. Hubby is partial to the chile colorado. Great place to watch baseball and soccer games too.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Phurstluv
                        Das Ubergeek Jul 11, 2011 08:54 AM

                        I used to live near Casa Escobar. If you like 50-something lounge lizards trying to hit on people and food with no spice or flavor at all, it's your place to be. Sorry Phurstluv... I went twice when we lived there and even then, when I knew nothing of Mexican food, it was poor. :(

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek
                          Phurstluv Jul 11, 2011 09:54 AM

                          Well, the bar is pretty empty most nights we go, we are a not a late crowd, I still have young kids. We're not looking for spice when we go either, just old fashioned gringofied Mex-American food, and it scratches that itch just fine. We have other places in mind when we want spicy food, and it's usually not Mexican.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek
                            m
                            malibumike Jul 12, 2011 08:51 AM

                            I havn't been to Casa Escobar in decades but it used to have the best Mex food around In my opinion, everything changes though.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek
                              estnyboer Aug 19, 2011 06:57 AM

                              The piano bar is a hoot but the food is terrible and overpriced. If you want rice and beans platters, stick with El Cholo.

                            2. re: Phurstluv
                              e
                              Ernie Jul 27, 2011 06:11 PM

                              This place is awful, some of the worst and bland "Mexican" food I've ever had. Beans tasted canned and salsa is flavorless.

                              1. re: Ernie
                                Phurstluv Jul 29, 2011 12:07 PM

                                Whatever, to each his own. We don't find it bland, plus I have two young kids who enjoy it, salsa is flavorful, even my heat-loving husband thinks it's decent. Perhaps they have changed since you wrote them off.

                                1. re: Phurstluv
                                  e
                                  Ernie Jul 29, 2011 03:57 PM

                                  That's nice. I have no interest in going back.

                            3. scottca075 Jul 6, 2011 06:07 PM

                              Is La Serenata Santa Monica still open? We like El Cholo Restaurant a lot for a lot of reasons, ditto for Border Grill. Can I mention Marix for Tex Mex?

                              Lares Restaurant, Gilbert's El Indio Restaurant and Tacos Por Favor are all nice for your standard, CA Mexican restaurant.

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

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

                              Tacos Por Favor
                              1406 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

                              Gilbert's El Indio
                              2526 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: scottca075
                                Phurstluv Jul 6, 2011 06:31 PM

                                no I believe La Serenata (the one on 4th street right) has closed down recently.

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

                              2. f
                                foodiemahoodie Jul 11, 2011 01:01 AM

                                Monte Alban for authenticity and taste (technically in West L.A, but so close as to be irrevelvant). Inexpensive but better than El Cholo, Lares, or Gilberts (or any of those joints). Border Grill is a more contemporary look at this food - and is very good. (don't ask me why, but I crave it when I'm hungover). And Lula's (Mexican food, Irish chef) is also pretty good.

                                Downscale - Tacos Por Favor. Some people like La Serenata a lot, but I never feel like going there unless someone else insists. I've had decent food there however. But the top three are where my snobby tastes take me.

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

                                Monte Alban
                                11927 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                                La Serenata
                                10924 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                                Tacos Por Favor
                                1406 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

                                13 Replies
                                1. re: foodiemahoodie
                                  Phurstluv Jul 11, 2011 09:55 AM

                                  +1 on Monte Alban - delicious moles and clayudas.

                                  -----
                                  Monte Alban
                                  11927 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                                  1. re: Phurstluv
                                    j
                                    Jase Jul 11, 2011 11:54 AM

                                    In addition to the moles and clayudas at Monte Alban, I think the Barbacoa Chivo, goat in consome is overlooked there. A great treatment if you like goat. I also really like the molcajete volcano there. They take a heated lava rock bowl (the molcajete) and put in variety of meats in a spicy red broth and top it off with avocado and cheese. A great hearty dish.

                                    -----
                                    Monte Alban
                                    11927 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                                    1. re: Jase
                                      Ciao Bob Jul 12, 2011 08:34 AM

                                      +1 on both of those dishes. There are better birrias in town but not in that part of town.

                                      1. re: Jase
                                        estnyboer Aug 19, 2011 06:59 AM

                                        Monte Alban's "consomme ranchero" is the best chicken soup in L.A. Period. This and Juquila are my west side favorites.

                                        -----
                                        Juquila
                                        11619 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                    2. re: foodiemahoodie
                                      missmasala Aug 25, 2011 09:37 AM

                                      Based on this thread, we tried Monte Alban for breakfast one day, as it was near where we were staying. Maybe we went for the wrong meal, but we were not so impressed. The food was fine, but not great and seemed a little bland. Half of our party lives in thailand and the other half lives in NYC but spends a lot of time in thailand, so maybe our idea of spicy has been a little skewed. Still, the thai-based people are basically mexican food starved and the NYC people have pretty much only good pueblan food in NYC, so we were all looking forward to oaxacan cuisine. It did not excite.
                                      What did we miss about this place?
                                      BTW, did love the eclectic selection of candy by the front door. And is the persian place in the same shopping center any good?

                                      1. re: missmasala
                                        Servorg Aug 25, 2011 10:12 AM

                                        I reported in another thread about a less than stellar meal I had at Monte Alban about 2 or 3 months ago. So maybe they are getting too blase about things or they changed chefs? If you are back in the area again and looking for Oaxacan breakfast I think Juquila (very close by) is now a better bet. For Mexican food for breakfast in the local WLA or Santa Monica area I would probably head over to Gilbert's El Indio or Tacomiendo (2 locations both on the west side). A bit further afield Loteria Grill in the permanent Farmer's Market in the Fairfax district is another good choice.

                                        -----
                                        Juquila
                                        11619 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                        Monte Alban
                                        11927 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                                        Loteria Grill
                                        6333 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                                        Tacomiendo
                                        4502 Inglewood Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

                                        Tacomiendo
                                        11462 Gateway Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                                        Gilbert's El Indio
                                        2526 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                                        1. re: Servorg
                                          PaulF Aug 26, 2011 09:08 AM

                                          There is also a Oaxacan place on Pico near the bowling alley in SaMo called El Texate.

                                          We went there all the time when we lived close by and when our son went to Samohi. I would recommend that folks give it a try. It's just a family run place (originally it was a couple of brothers, but one of them passed away). If you go in the afternoon, one of the booths in the bar is sometimes occupied by the young daughters doing their homework. They have an interesting take on rice, it's seasoned differently than the Spanish rice found at most Mexican places.

                                          I like the Juquila rec -- haven't gone there in a long time, but did like it when I was there.

                                          Tacomiendo is a great spot, with one caveat. They are great on tacos and my son who loves tortas says the Tacomiendo tortas are his favorite. But Tacomiendo is not good for burritos. They overstuff them and grill the tortillas and it's impossible to eat them without them falling apart completely.

                                          -----
                                          Juquila
                                          11619 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                          Tacomiendo
                                          4502 Inglewood Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

                                          El Texate
                                          316 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                                        2. re: missmasala
                                          j
                                          Jase Aug 25, 2011 11:57 AM

                                          Curious what dishes your party ordered and what specifically people didn't care about it. I've never been there for breakfast, only dinner or lunch. I would agree the food there isn't anywhere near blow your head off spicy. I don't recall anyone ever saying it was. If that's a big criteria in evaluating Mexican food for your party, then I don't know if Monte Alban would be a good choice.

                                          I don't have Thai native level tolerance but am probably a bit above average in ability to handle heat. I find the molcajete the spiciest item on the menu and even then it's only a little spicy to me. My wife who has low tolerance can handle that dish. For Thai based people, I can easily see how they'd find the heat level lacking.

                                          All that said, it would be sad if they have gone downhill or gotten inconsistent.

                                          -----
                                          Monte Alban
                                          11927 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                                          1. re: Jase
                                            missmasala Aug 25, 2011 12:29 PM

                                            Can't remember everything we ordered. The eggs oaxacano (?) were good but kind of unexciting, as were most of the egg dishes. We also ordered the oaxacan style mole tamales and, I hate to say it, but I can get better oaxacan tamales in NYC. They were kind of dry and the sauce was mainly sweet, without any complex flavors.
                                            My main complaint is not that things weren't spicy enough, heat-wise, but that they didn't zing with fresh and bold flavors. For instance, one of the egg dishes (I forget the name) came with a red sauce and parsley, and this was good, but there was very little sauce and parsley, certainly not enough for the dish. And the eggs divorciado, which is half red and half green salsa, disappointed because the salsas didn't taste distinctive enough and both were kind of bland. The refried black beans were good, though.

                                            1. re: missmasala
                                              j
                                              Jase Aug 25, 2011 01:06 PM

                                              Interesting, thanks for the specifics. I've never had any of those dishes. Our mainstays are the moles, clayuda, chivo and molcajete. But it has been a few months since our last visit.

                                              1. re: Jase
                                                missmasala Aug 25, 2011 03:28 PM

                                                So it sounds like lunch or dinner is a better bet. Maybe I'll give it another shot next time. It's pretty close to where we stay in LA.

                                                1. re: missmasala
                                                  j
                                                  Jase Aug 25, 2011 05:26 PM

                                                  Possibly a better bet but it sounds like you may want to give other places a shot first.

                                          2. re: missmasala
                                            e
                                            Ernie Aug 25, 2011 05:22 PM

                                            You may want to consider Yucatecan cuisine, which I prefer over Oaxacan for more vibrant, tangy flavors. The informal Chichén Itzá at Mercado La Paloma near USC do this cuisine well

                                            -----
                                            Mercado La Paloma
                                            3655 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007

                                        3. Ciao Bob Jul 11, 2011 11:13 AM

                                          Tacomiendo or Monte Alban are great.

                                          All the rest, mentioned in this thread. are gringo food not much better than El Cholo.

                                          1. d
                                            daftpunkxl Jul 28, 2011 08:04 PM

                                            Gilbert's is super-Americanized, but a nice family-owned joint. I know a lot of the faces on the walls from when I was a kid. Not super into their margaritas.

                                            Lares is more grown-up, but still easy-going. Delicious camarones.

                                            Don Antonio has my favorite chips and salsa, and my favorite fajitas. Plus, you get to sit in a room that looks like a cave, and they have great trivia cocktail napkins.

                                            I've had birthday parties at all three, so it's hard to choose. I guess, go to all of them. And then go to the Daily Pint on Pico & Cloverfield for one of the best beer and scotch selections in town.

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

                                            Daily Pint
                                            2310 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                                            1. t
                                              thedr Aug 17, 2011 11:22 AM

                                              Taqueria Chihuahua is probably my favorite spot for authentic tacos in Santa Monica. Everyone I have brought their food to thinks it is amazing. It used to be on Olympic down the street from tacos por favor, but closer to the Water Garden on 26th until their lease expired. The ambiance is colorful and authentic, but it is a quick taco spot...no frills. Parking is always easy and available behind the building. Now they are on Lincoln, just south of pico on the east side of the street. It is a jewel amongst a plethora of mediocre fast food chains.

                                              Put it this way; i worked practically next store to tacos por favor and drove to taqueria chihuahua pretty much daily.

                                              My favorites here are the Chicken Burrito El Norteno (with cheese, crema, guac), and either the carnitas, pollo, and carne asada tacos with the salsa cilantro and onions. Also try the chicken taco dorado, and fish tacos. Their are a lot of other great things but those are my staples.

                                              Their salsas are also great...beware their mild can be pretty hot, but I like it that way. I see the owner wheeling in fresh veggies daily from farmers markets and downtown. The place is legit.

                                              For higher end mexico city style food I would say La Serenada but that unfortunately closed recently since the wife of the original owner could not manage all 3 of them. The next closest is on Pico near the west side pavillion. Definitely worth the trip. They have a great chicken mole, great fish dishes, you really cant go wrong there...

                                              -----
                                              Taqueria Chihuahua
                                              1909 Lincoln Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                                              1. PaulF Aug 18, 2011 12:57 PM

                                                I'm a big fan of Gilbert's though in the interest of openness, I've known the owners for years as my kids and their kids/grandkids all played on teams together. The only thing that keeps me from going more often is the cash only policy as I never seem to have that much cash on me.

                                                It's a lot better than La Cabana, as others have noted. Interestingly, the two restaurants are owned by relatives. Talk to the folks at Gilbert's and they call La Cabana "Cousin Bob's" or something similar. The only things that recommend La Cabana are the fresh tortillas and the fact that they are open to some ungodly hour, like 3am or something. At 2am, La Cabana sometimes becomes the best choice as not too many places are open all that late. When I lived in Santa Monica, our post concert Sophie's Choice was La Cabana or Izzy's. Or Tommy's. (I used to be much younger.)

                                                Gilbert's is one of the best "combo plate" restaurants I know.

                                                Lares is pretty good, too. (And I know that family too. Coached the Lares boys and still get my haircut by a Lares -- Santa Monica is a small town in many ways.)

                                                I used to go to Gilbert's every Sunday for breakfast and drink strawberry margaritas until my wife would drive me home (as above, I used to be much younger.)

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: PaulF
                                                  cagey Aug 18, 2011 01:55 PM

                                                  Have to admit I'm partial to Gilbert's for the same reasons. Known the family, early Sunday breakfasts with margaritas, Fernando's Burritos after SMC.... many moons ago. I can't argue with the "cash only" policy, only because a super mule still runs just under $10 bucks.

                                                  2 a.m. in any city (not just Santa Monica) is very limited. It was either La Cabana or Tom's #5 on Ocean (predates Tommy's) or Topp's (current location of Tommy's). I never had a problem with La Cabana at 2:00 a.m. frankly. Again, I'm not the 2:00 a.m. diner that I once was....

                                                  Between Gilbert's, Lares, and Don Antonio's, it all depends on the mood (and the type of dish I'm craving.) Each holds a niche.

                                                2. katkoupai Sep 10, 2011 09:27 AM

                                                  Gilbert's and Don Antonio's. I prefer Don Antonio's because the restaurant is larger and nicer. Don Antonio's has a great shrimp ceviche that comes in a goblet with fresh avocado pieces inside. Gilbert's has delicious chips and salsa, but the food is a bit greasy. I don't mind grease, but it just seems even greasier and heavier that most places. Tasty, though.

                                                  There is a hole in the wall ceviche stand somewhere near Santa Monica. It's literally just a stand on the side of a major street. I forget the name, but they have really good shrimp ceviche. It might be called La Playita.

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

                                                  La Playita
                                                  3306 Lincoln Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                                                  Gilbert's El Indio
                                                  2526 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                                                  1. Michelly Nov 23, 2011 07:56 AM

                                                    Do try La Tlapazola on Venice Blvd/Abbott Kinney. Their mole is excellent (ask and pay for an extra helping of sauce; very worth it) and the carne asada is NOT greasy at all!

                                                    The only downside is that they need to hire a bartender. As it is, the servers have to mix their own margaritas, resulting in inconsistency in quality and, if it's busy, a long wait for your drink.

                                                    But this is definitely one mom-and-pop place that deserves heavy patronage.

                                                    1. f
                                                      foodgeektv Nov 25, 2011 01:15 PM

                                                      We usually go with Chile Verde and Chiles Relleno so based on that Lares is our favorite.

                                                      1. t
                                                        thebigjelly Nov 25, 2011 07:11 PM

                                                        Just had lunch at Gilberts today. Awful. Greasy. Bland.

                                                        1. a
                                                          anotherfatcow Nov 26, 2011 09:00 AM

                                                          You have good choices. I grew up in Santa Monica and Gilbert's one of the local hangout. I read hear some say it's bland, just ask for you dish to be spicier. For the general population they hold down the heat a bit. It just good basic Mexican food. On the complete opposite is border grill. It is more upscale,chic, and fusion. Tacos Por Favor and Lares is also good.

                                                          -----
                                                          Tacos Por Favor
                                                          1406 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

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