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Sep 26, 2012 09:00 AM

My return to Don Felix -- a darn good meal ...

Don Felix is on Sawtelle, just north of Washington Place on the west side of the block in Mar Vista. You can almost see Tito's down the block if you walk to the corner.

A few years back -- maybe four or five -- it was a go to place for tacos, particularly the al pastor. They also had amazing red salsa. The restaurant was beyond casual with the menu hanging on the wall. You ordered through a window manned by the cashier from the grocery/meat market next door and then handed a slip to the cook who prepared your food. For whatever reason, I got tired of going there and the place seemed to change hands and for a while they had a sign offering take out rotisserie chicken.

Well, on a total whim I decided I wanted some rotisserie chicken last night so I stopped there on the way home from work with my wife and son. They no longer have rotisserie chicken.

What they do have is a really nice menu with some common dishes that you can get anywhere and a few that are less common. We stayed sort of reluctantly and left dying to return.

The eating space has been refurbished. It still occupies the same space but there are real menus now, with art on the walls and real tablecloths on the tables. Instead of ordering through that window, there is a server (who will go around to the grocery to ring you up).

My wife ordered Plato do Costillitas -- grilled short ribs with rice, black beans and cactus salad. I tried the short ribs and loved them. They were charred, but really juicy. They had a nice spice, that wasn't sweet like short ribs sometimes are in an Asian restaurant. These were cut thin, with the bone still in them, sort of like Korean short ribs (as opposed to the more stew like short ribs you get in a Hawaiian place.) I rarely wish I'd ordered something else, but in this case I had a twinge of regret.

I had something I had never ordered before: Costil a de Puerco in salsa roja. Fried pork ribs with red sauce. It is also offfered with verde/green sauce but the server really recommended the red, noting that she had had it for lunch that day. The smile that came with her recollection sold me.

What an enjoyable dish. The ribs were an inch or two long, covered with juicy meat. I wasn't sure at first whether to knife and fork it or just use my hands and I sort of did both. Really great pork flavor in a great sauce with heat that did not overwhelm, but rather snuck up on you. I guess in retrospect, it was sort of like a chile verde (which I love) except with on the bone rib meat instead of chunks of pork. The spanish rice and black beans were fine, they didn't amaze, but they didn't detract either.

My son ordered four tacos -- al pastor, pollo, asada and I'm not sure -- chorizo maybe. I didn't try any of them.

Another bonus: The corn tortillas were homemade and served hot. This is always a bonus.

They didn't have a take out menu and I didn't take notes. I do know they had a variety of mole dishes, clayudas (for Dommy!), several stews (one of which I tried to order -- a spicy pollo stew -- but they happened to be out of it yesterday), plus some more common dishes like carne asada, grilled chorizo and breakfast served all day.

All in, including a bottle of Coke from Mexico and a cup of tea was about 30 -- we spent 35 with a tip. I didn't ask if you could buy a beer next door and bring it in nor did I notice if they served beer and wine. The portions were more than ample.

All in all, a very inexpensive yet impressive meal that if I had to describe in one word would be "homemade" and I mean that in the best sense of the word. I have to say, it was every bit as good and in some ways better than the meals I've had at E.K. Valley -- which I really like. I do need to return to try some more dishes at Don Felix.

There is some sort of stewed lamb dish offered only on Sunday that read amazing on the menu. I don't remember the name or details.

One last thing: They told me they took over from prior owners about two years ago. They kept the Don Felix name, but are thinking of changing it. It's a name they inherited and they just left up the sign.

3987 Sawtelle Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90066

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  1. Thanks for the review, PaulF. Sounds like a winner and will have to check it out soon!

    1. Any relationship to the Peruvian Don Felix in Silver Lake?

      1. Just an FYI --

        We returned to DF last night to try a few more menu items, except my wife liked the short ribs so much she ordered them again.

        I had the mole oaxaqueno , chicken in "famous" black mole, with white rice.

        I'm not a mole expert (though I do order it a lot -- I just don't know "authentic" necessarily) and I thought it was pretty darn good. Definitely sweet at first, but with nice heat behind it. Juicy, not at all dry.

        Both my sons had pollo burritos -- I didn't taste them.

        I don't want to shill (thought maybe I have already?) - I'll just leave it alone now.

        1 Reply
        1. re: PaulF

          Thanks for the rec, PaulF! I live nearby so I decided to check it out today (though the weather was too hot for me to try a steamy, saucy dish like mole).

          I ordered a carne asada taco and a chicken torta. The taco was packed with super tender meat, and that chuck of lime on the side added a perfect bit of tang. The tortilla was thick and sturdy, and had good flavor.

          The torta was a behemoth of a sandwich. It had freshly grilled chicken chunks, black beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, peppers, and guac, all stuffed on the squishiest bun (that bread = to die for). I ate more of it than I should have... couldn't stop myself.

          Can't wait to come with a crowd so I can try the other dishes you mentioned!!

        2. Thanks for mentioning this. We hadn't hit this place since they changed owners. It used to be in my rotation for a quick tasty taco but fell off. The decor is certainly a lot nicer.

          We started off with the appetizers of the fried tortillas filled with chorizo and potato. It was fried well, filling was milder than I expected. It's not a hit you over the head kind of chorizo taste, not greasy and drizzled with guac and sprinkled with the oaxacan? cheese. I didn't care for the guac as it was the frozen store kind. But scraped off, dish was tasty.

          Wife got the short rib plate. I got the lamb stew. But not the special Sunday one, it was out. Had the regular one that's part of the daily menu. The short ribs were just like you described. Love the meaty charred flavor. I loved the red sauce on my lamb! Not super spicy, the lamb could have been simmered just a touch longer for my tastes, but still pretty tender.

          I liked the thicker grilled tortillas that came with both dishes. The beans and rice were solid complements but yes, not outstanding. Plenty of food for a reasonable price. Friendly service. We definitely want to go back and try some of the other dishes and the clayuda too.

          Oh, the Sunday Lamb stew is supposed to be a white stew? Braised for 12 hours? Perhaps some of the Mexican experts here can shed light on a regional speciality?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Jase

            Went again this weekend and they've continued improving the dining area. New menus that are little more streamlined focusing on less items and more descriptive. They put in a nice fish tank.

            Ordered the appetizer again and they got rid of that packaged guac. Topped with slices of avocado now. Unfortunately they didn't have any clayudas that night. I guess that's a good sign that they only have it when they make the shell fresh?

            We got three entrees to split between the three of us. The carne asada, the short ribs again and the barbacoa. Ridiculous amount of food for only $10 an entree. Barbacoa was a bit oily but good lamb flavor. Asada was tender with a nice char. Short ribs the same.

            Super friendly service as usual. Just a great neighborhood gem.

            Picked up some sausages in the market afterward. The lamb/beef combo was really tasty.