Last summer, I shared a post about certain restaurants in Los Angeles that are my go to restaurants when I’m craving a particular type of cuisine. Shockingly, I didn’t include any Mexican restaurants on my go to list because honestly, at the time, whenever I craved Mexican, I’d just head to Beach Mex or to La Sirena Grill, both of which are close to work. But apart from those two restaurants, I haven’t really explored L.A.’s Mexican food scene which is ridiculous considering that L.A. has such a large Mexican population.
And then one day, as I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I came across @thedudeinla’s post picturing a burrito, and it totally inspired me to embark on a quest to find my go to Mexican restaurant here in L.A.; you know, the place that will always be my #1 option when I get a sudden, insatiable craving for Mexican.
Now, since I’m not necessarily concerned about finding a Mexican restaurant that’s authentic, my sole “go to potential” requirements are: 1) the restaurant MUST be close to home (i.e., it must be on the Westside) because I refuse to hop on a freeway or sit in traffic to get there (driving is a must for us Angelenos, but most of us try to avoid sitting in traffic whenever we can); and 2) the restaurant has to be good. That’s it – see, I really don’t ask for much.
Now, this quest is going to be ongoing because I’ve only started to scratch the surface, and trying out all of these restaurants is really, really labor intensive. But so far, these four restaurants are definite contenders…
I Went To: Día De Campo
And I Ordered: A Red Braised Lamb Taco and Shrimp + Chorizo Enchiladas + Churros
*Go to Potential: 5/5
I mean, shrimp + chorizo enchiladas. Need I say more?! These enchiladas pack flavor in every last, cheesy bite. Served in salsa verde, chile ranch, and with crispy queso, these enchiladas are everything enchiladas should be. Jave, on the other hand, ordered chicken fajitas, and after tasting my enchiladas, he confessed that he wished he’d ordered them as well. And although my lamb taco on its teeny, tiny corn tortillas was small, it was juicy and full of flavor. I even treated myself to a Moscow Mule to wash everything down. A shared order of churros with chocolate dipping sauce was a nice way to end our meals.
Día De Campo is located just across the street from the Hermosa Beach Pier, and although it’s in the Beach Cities, it still has “go to potential” since I can get there from home in about 15 minutes.
1238 Hermosa Ave.
Hermosa Beach, CA
I Went To: EK Valley Restaurant
And I Ordered: Chicken Fajitas
Go To Potential: 4/5
The sound of sizzling fajitas alerted us that yumminess was arriving to our table. Because EK Valley is such a small restaurant, I was really surprised by its large menu selection. And while the food here is tasty, the chicken could’ve used a tad more seasoning as I found myself slathering my fajitas with salsa and guacamole.
Again, I can’t vouch for its authenticity since my ventures to Mexico have only included quick jaunts to Ensenada and Tijuana many, many years ago, but the food here is what I imagine authentic Mexican food tastes like. Jave and I shared chips and a bowl of guacamole while we waited for our meals to come, and I heard my fajitas as they arrived; such a sweet sound! Jave ordered the chicken mole which was tasty, but once again, I think my dish was the winner (this rarely happens since Jave usually has a knack for ordering the best dishes).
Conveniently located in Culver City, EK Valley is a quick drive from home. Of the restaurants on this list, it’s definitely the closest, so it gets all kinds of cool points for that. But it also scores cool points for its intimacy. The restaurant is a super small mom and pop joint that looks like it can only accommodate about 30-40 people. I love this part of Culver City as well – away from the more frequented downtown area which means that there’s less congestion and parking is much easier.
6121 W. Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA
I Went To: Tinga
And I Ordered: Chicken Tinga Nachos
Go To Potential: 3.9/5
So, a Blackboard Eats deal led us to try Tinga. I mean, with an offer of 30% off of our order, it was a no brainer. Jave ordered the Mexican Coca-Cola braised carnitas with cilantro, onion, guajillo pineapple salsa, serrano, avocado salsa, and chicharrón. They were delicious, as was the refreshing watermelon drink he ordered. Jave is the harshest food critic ever, so if he enjoys his meal, then it must really be good.
I, on the other hand, was in the mood for nachos, and I loved them. I love the fact that the tortilla chips tasted homemade (or at least freshly oven toasted), and they were piled high with chicken tinga, sour cream, pico de gallo, pickled red onion, guacamole, queso fresco, and lots of melted cheddar and jack. Of course you’re not going to want to order these if you’re counting calories, but I wasn’t. However, there was no way I could’ve eaten this heap of nachos in one sitting, so I took more than half home. By the way, while writing this review, I discovered that CBS Los Angeles voted Tinga as having the best nachos in L.A.; they really are good. For my drink, I ordered a Mexican Coca-Cola which is a lot less sweet, and hence more delicious than normal Coca-Cola.
The only reason I’ve given this restaurant a score of 3.9 is because of its location. Fortunately, we went on a weekday just before the onslaught of rush hour traffic, but otherwise, it probably would’ve taken us forever to get there since it’s located in Hancock Park in mid-L.A. And although I love Hancock Park, traffic can be a nightmare which diminishes its go to potential.
142 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
I Went To: Guisados
And I Ordered: 3 Tacos (tinga de pollo, bistek en salsa roja, y pescado)
Go To Potential: 5/5
8935 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA (WeHo)
Well, damn! I can’t believe that I only recently discovered Guisados, thanks to @thedudeinla. Where has this taco joint been all my life?! With four locations across L.A., I’m really not sure how I missed this place. Jave and I recently had a taco feast at Guisados in Echo Park after a morning tour of a downtown distillery.
Now, I’d normally deduct points for distance, but since Guisados recently opened a location in West Hollywood closer to my side of town, this Mexican restaurant gets a perfect score. Their tacos are the perfect size, and the tortillas are homemade! There’s nothing like homemade tortillas. Each of the tacos I ordered was packed with so much flavor.
The chicken tinga and bistek en salsa roja had the perfect amount of spice, the pescado tasted really fresh, and my hibiscus tea was not too sweet and very refreshing. Jave ordered the sampler platter which consists of six mini tacos, and he was perfectly satisfied with his meal which is a true testament that Guisados really is the business since, as I mentioned before, Jave tends to be very hard to please when it comes to restaurant dining. His only complaint was that his cantaloupe water was too sweet, but I actually thought it was perfect. In any case, our visit marked the start of a beautiful “go to” love affair with Guisados although going forward, I’m sure we’ll stick to the WeHo location.
*Go to Potential is measured on a scale of 1-5 based on proximity and overall deliciousness, with 5 having the most go to potential. 😉