10 Cinco de Mayo Fiestas at Home & in LA

Still unsure of what to do tonight or where to go to celebrate Cinco de Mayo outside, indoors or in the comfort of your own home?

Here are 10 suggestions for a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta tonight:

  1. Cutwater Tequila Margarita in a Can

If you can make a good margarita at home, go for it! Or go to the grocery store or Target and pick up a 4-pack of Cutwater Tequila Margarita. It’s the next best thing! It doesn’t have artificial sweeteners, an aftertaste or tastes to sugary. I love it’s floral aroma with a smooth finish. CUTWATER makes a house-made mix of tart lime juice, a pinch of pure cane sugar, and a hint of orange.

2. Cinco del Mayo party kit at Gracias Madre

Have your Cinco de Mayo celebration at home, the beach or nearby park with Gracias Madre’s new Cinco de Mayo party kit. Inside are four canned margaritas, guacamole, salsa and chips, deconstructed Jackfruit taco kit, esquites (corn off the cob), and a mini bottle of mezcal. The cost of this kit is $100 (a $240 value), and pre-orders are available today for this organic, plant-based fiesta. Go online. 8905 Melrose Ave., (323)978-2170.

3. Pink Taco celebrates Cinco de Mayo 

The May 5 fiesta is decorated for guests to enjoy Mexican food classics, tasty margaritas, and great music. Drink options include a Cadillac margarita, frozen mango margarita and shots of Casamigos or Patrón. Seating is available on the extended outdoor patios and in the cantina a lively dining experience. 8225 Sunset Blvd., (323)380-7474.

4. Socalo Cinco De Mayo

Celebrated chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken invite local Los Angelenos to celebrate Cinco de May by offering $5 tacos, $5 beers, and cocktail specials and Mexican wines ranging from $8 to $10 all day. This fiesta special is for dine-in only. The regular menu will also be available for dine-in, takeout and delivery. Lunch is available at the walk-in counter service. Dinner reservations are available for indoor and outdoor patio seating from 4 to 8 p.m. 1920 Santa Monica Blvd., (310)451-1655.

5. Tallula’s Cinco De Mayo Fiesta

Chef Brad Long is cooking up Cinco de Mayo specials that include  Linda’s classic taco platters made with grass-fed ground beef in hard shell tacos; poblano chile rellenos and seasonal ceviche. Drink specials include prickly pear margaritas, mini margarita flights and mezcal flights. For those staying at home, pick up the ‘Ultimate Party Pack’ for $185. It’s a heat and serve package that feeds 4 to 6 people and includes nachos; Linda’s classic taco kit, half dozen organic chicken enchiladas, family-size Caesar salad, organic rice pudding and a large bottle of margaritas. There are some à la carte options too, like chips, guacamole and salsa, large bottles of hibiscus margaritas or spicy mezcal margaritas. The deadline to pre-order is Monday, May 3 at 5:00 p.m. Curbside pickup available on May 5 from 12 to 4 p.m. There are limited to-go orders placed on Cinco De Mayo. Tallula’s is only accepting direct phone orders or online takeout/delivery through the Rustic Canyon Family app and ChowNow. E-mail events@tallulasrestaurant.com. Make a reservation to enjoy indoor and outdoor dining at Tallula’s from 4 to 10 p.m. 118 Entrada Drive, (310)526-0027. 

6. Cinco de Mayo at El Torito

El Torito’s founder, Larry Cano was a pioneer in delivering Mexican cuisine to Southern California. He always celebrates Cinco de Mayo by serving delicious Mexican food, and El Torito’s famous margaritas and imported bottled beer, along with live mariachi bands and DJs (where county guidelines permit). On May 5, El Torito is offering a build-your-own taco bar where guests are served by El Torito staff. The party starts at 3 p.m., and seating is available indoors and outdoors. Margarita and taco stations are set up for guests to order their preferred beverages and tacos conveniently. 13715 Fiji Way, (310)823-8941 and 3360 Ocean Park Blvd., (310)450-8665.

7. Nueva Cinco de Mayo

Celebrate on May 5, all day at Nueva with chefs Vartan Abgaryan and Mesraim Llanez, as they present their cantina menu with south-of-border cocktails and agaves. The fiesta begins at 12 p.m. to 11 p.m., with a variety of frozen margaritas including cilantro and nasturtium, and pineapple-infused Aperol. There is also a rotating selection of sparkling, rosé, white and red wines from Mexico, and non-alcoholic beverages. Select one of the many ceviches, including a seafood coctel or vegan ceviche. Nueva’s tacos include roasted heirloom carrot; falafel tacos; tempura sea bass; Mediterranean octopus; chicken tinga; and a pork belly chicharron taco. Salads include a smokey Caesar and a colorful street cart salad with mango, pineapple, jicama, cucumber, radish, and lime. Larger plates include yellow corn mole (vegan) with roast squash; wood-grilled branzino; Mary’s free range roasted half chicken; and a grilled 16oz bone-in prime rib eye with roasted vegetables. Neuva also offers a children’s menu. Sit out on two outdoor dining patios or inside the dining room. Takeout and curbside pick-up is available. Delivery is through Doordash. 822 Washington Blvd., (310)747-6050.

8. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo at SOL Mexican Cocina

The Baja-inspired restaurant is offering an exclusive menu just for Cinco de Mayo that is available for dine-in only from 3 p.m. to close. Menu highlights include guacamole; chorizo and mushroom con queso; taco “vampiro” asada made with double tortilla stuffed with carne asada, melted cheese, serrano chiles, scallions, guacamole, pico de gallo, chipotle sauce, and topped with cotixa. Taco plates offer a choice of two sides, including black beans, red rice, quinoa salad, or spicy slaw. Enjoy with SOL’s specialty margaritas made with fresh citrus juice, along with bottled Mexican beer and tequila shots. To-go orders can be placed over the phone. Online ordering will not be available during the day. 12775 Millennium Dr #160, (424)289-0066.

9. Lanea Cocktail Bar Cinco de Mayo

On May 5, enjoy all-you-can-eat street tacos and two Cazadores cocktails for $20. Starting from 4 to 9:30 p.m., Lanea’s signature tacos include lamb wrapped in agave leaves and pit-roasted underground for 36 hours. There is also grilled steak and chicken; shrimp topped with mango, green and red peppers and avocado; a spinach and mushroom taco; and a vegan Beyond Meat taco. All tacos are handmade to order on 100% gluten-free corn tortillas and most are served with guacamole, cilantro, and onion. This special meal has a 60-minute table limit. For those who don’t select this special, sip an $11 margarita and a la carte taco starting at $2.50. 217 Broadway, (424)265-7437.

10. Crack open a “MACHETE” CERVEZA. Actor and humanitarian Danny Trejo now has a new distinctive black and gold Mexican style lager. Trejo’s Cerveza was only available in the Los Angeles area through retailers including Bevmo, Whole Foods, Ralphs and Total Wine. Now all over California and AZ, It’s bold, cool, and distinctive taste can be enjoyed at home to pair with mild to spicy food, and in a Michelada. Per Trejo and Burbank’s Lincoln Beer Company, the hops have been dialed back to make the beer smoother and less bitter than most Mexican style lagers. Lincoln Beer Company was established in 2016.  As an innovator and producer of fine ales and lagers, the brewery strives to match groundbreaking flavor with flawless execution.

“I’m excited to share the taste of Trejo’s Cerveza with Californians everywhere,” said the Trejo’s Tacos Founder. “We’ve been working on increasing our production capacity and it’s been enjoyed all over LA. But the time has come and we’re ready for so many more people to give it a try.”

Wine Warehouse carries it in 16 oz, 4 pack cans. It is also available in Arizona by Arizona Beer & Cider.

Heroes of the day: Tito’s Tacos & Tito’s Handmade Vodka donates $20,000 to World Central Kitchen

Tito’s Tacos and Tito’s Handmade Vodka completed this year’s annual Tito’s Fiesta Mexicana in October.  

The brands came together to support of World Central Kitchen (WCK) and donated 100 meals to frontline workers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Both Tito’s Tacos and Tito’s Vodka donated $20,000 to World Central Kitchen’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

Every Tito’s Taco meal was safely packaged in individual boxes and beverages were donated by PepsiCo. Each individual received a goodie bags with a bottle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka hand sanitizer, reusable masks to wear and Tito’s Tacos stickers. 

Photos courtesy of Tito’s Tacos

Tito’s Tacos Mexican Restaurant: 11222 Washington Place, Culver City.

Toca Madera: a dazzling Mexican culinary experience

One of the most beautiful restaurant interiors in Los Angeles is Toca Madera in Beverly Grove. Designer David Krumins of Davis Ink incorporated a mix of distressed metal, with concrete tiles, quartz stone, hanging rope, plush upholstery and leather accents throughout the dimly lit lounge. In the center of the room is a dramatic mammoth crystal quartzite center bar. The bar staff carefully pour cerveza, wine and ignite dramatic fiery cocktails.

Plantain chips and guacamole, as well as tortilla chips with salsa

Guests passing through on their way to the outdoor dining patio will notice an intimate lounge area behind the bar, with an in-house DJ spinning lively music that seductively pulsates throughout the restaurant. Moorish lights illuminate sexy Dia de los Muertos art that hangs on the walls.

The evening my husband and I dined at Toca Madera, the back patio area was full, so we sat in front at one of the sidewalk tables looking out to Third Street. Toca Madera translates to “knock on wood,” and throughout the evening, we felt lucky to dine at the upscale Mexican-style restaurant. Our server Whitney recommended we try the new chef’s signature menu prepared by executive chef Pablo Ibarra and his team. Each dish made quite an impression when it was delivered to our table. Both the food and drinks are decorated with edible micro flowers, and the smoky ones dazzled our senses.

Besides tortilla chips and salsa, guests receive a pretty bowl of creamy guacamole sprinkled with lime-enhanced pepitas and bright red pomegranate seeds.

I enjoyed the guacamole with my cocktail, La Vida, which is made with Espolon Resposado, fresh carrot and lemon juice, fresh ginger and wildflower honey.

Space heaters kept us warm throughout the night, which started with ahi tuna that arrived on three thin white medallions of jicama. On top was pickled kohlrabi, samba aioli, daikon sprouts and fried garlic. My only wish was that the base was thicker to hold all the layers, so I could pop each one into my mouth, instead of using a fork.

The second starter, taco el padroni, was spectacular. It was served on a circular wood base under a smoking tall glass lid. Once lifted, the aromatic vapors rose and evaporated, revealing an exquisite small blue tortilla that was topped with grilled Japanese A5 Wagyu. Dots of bright orange escabeche puree, made with pickled carrots and onions, elevated this taco to a new level. On top there was a slightly sweet and creamy whipped creme fraiche, sprinkling of micro greens and shimmering and edible gold leaf shavings.

For entrées, we ordered the Branzino Zarandeado served Jalisco-style. Chef Pablo butterflies the whole fish and grills it until the skin is crispy. It’s gorgeously presented on a platter with more escabeche purée, grilled tomatillos and avocado salsa, charred cherry tomatoes, sliced radish, cilantro and a sprinkling of greens and tiny purple flowers that tasted like oysters.

Another entrée on the chef’s signature menu is a 40-ounce American Wagyu named the Toca Tomahawk. It’s rubbed with a chipotle charcoal and artisanal salts, and cooked with garlic and truffle butter.

New side dishes include truffle mac and cheese, truffle fries and street corn in a bowl. The corn is cooked in boiling water with spices, herbs and salt and cut off the cob. It’s then mixed with lime juice, a little queso fresco and chile powder. It was simple, light and delicious.

Save room for the visually impressive desserts, especially the three-layer tres leches cake served with mixed berries, a mint leaf and flower. We also enjoyed a small key lime tart made with a slightly sweet graham cracker crust, and meringue that was torched gently until caramelized. Pretty yellow flowers offer a pop of color on the plate.

Sitting outside under warm heaters to enjoy thoughtfully curated food and beverages will ignite an unmatched sensory experience for guests dining at Toca Madera. $$$ Open weeknights at 4 p.m. and weekends at 11 a.m. 8450 W. Third St., (323)852-9400.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on Nov. 12, 2020

Mírame: a Mexican culinary ‘staycation’

Sitting on the front patio of Mírame, at one of the socially distanced tables near an exterior fireplace, I felt as if I were sitting at a beautiful restaurant in one of the luxury resorts in Punta Mita, Mexico.

Since many of us aren’t flying to Mexico for a summer vacation due to the coronavirus, driving to Mírame in Beverly Hills to enjoy a cocktail and meal feels like a glorious getaway.

The night we dined, the city of Beverly Hills had a pop-up tent a few storefronts away, with city staff members passing out complimentary bottles of hand sanitizer and COVID-19 pamphlets.

As we were led to a decorative Mexican-tiled table, I admired the light and bright work by M. Winter Design, which also designed Jaffa, Manuela, and Bacari on 3rd. The patio’s resort-like ambiance includes white brick walls with nopales artistically hanging from a reclaimed wood plank, and hanging dried flower bouquets. The flooring is stone and brick and reclaimed wood. Beautiful mosaic-tiled tables are socially distanced along a long banquette with Mexican-style rope and wood chairs.

This is not a typical tortilla chips, salsa and guacamole style of Mexican restaurant. Instead, start with chef Joshua Gil’s activated charcoal masa gnocchi with shredded Dungeness crab meat, chunky avocado and sliced tomatoes in a bowl of exquisite corn consommé. Use a spoon to ladle the corn broth to savor every last drop. Chef Gil makes botanical, visually appealing plates of food by sprinkling microgreens and flowers on top. Each one tastes as good as they look.

This ambitious chef and partner Matthew Egan opened Mírame (formerly Gratitude) after L.A. County ordered all restaurants to close their dining rooms. This duo got creative in decorating their front and back dining patios to be so inviting. As business picked up, they obtained permits to put tables along the sidewalk in front of neighboring closed storefronts to enlarge their outdoor seating capacity.

The gorgeous interior space offers a soaring ceiling, large spirits bar and beautiful wall mural painted by Mexico City artist Jorge Tellaeche. Some day, this area will be used to seat diners.

Chef Gil’s innovative menu specialties include ceviches and an Omega Blue kampachi tostada. Served on two crunchy tortilla shells, the chef chops fresh yellowfin tuna and adds sliced avocado and a sumac crema. Sumac is made from crushed red berries from the sumac bush. Its acidic flavor tastes similar to a squeeze of lemon. On top is a shiso leaf offering a hint of mint, basil, tarragon, cilantro, cinnamon and anise. The chef rounds out the flavors with a house-made version of the Japanese condiment yuzu kosho that he infuses with Mexican flavors.

Other creative starters include grilled El Chingon oysters with mulato chili herb butter, and salmon skin chicharones that can be dipped into fermented garlic aioli.

Egan shared that opening during the COVID-19 pandemic was tough at first, but they were committed to providing an experience that reflects the layered culinary history of both California and Mexico.

“We have traveled through Mexico discovering the best spirits and ingredients to bring back to Beverly Hills,” he said.

For those ordering takeout and delivery, curbside service is available.

“We put our entrance next to the sidewalk and introduced curbside pickup when possible, so guests don’t have to come into the restaurant,” Egan said.

Looking at the farm-to-bar beverage menu, we noticed a robust collection of spirits, artisanal products and notable mezcals. A few playful, resort-style cocktails caught our eye, including one made with a 90201 Rhum blend, that our server said is like an elevated daiquiri, and another named Wild Style that is made with peppered turmeric coconut cream, Mexican rum and pineapple, similar to a piña colada.

We opted for two of their creative margaritas, starting with the Green Lantern, a play on the popular green juice health kick. It’s made with tequila, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro, celery, fennel and lime. On the side of my lowball glass was a blend of crushed tarragon, fennel and taijin to add a salty zip to each sip.

My husband ordered #IYieldMyTime, which was a balance of flavorful mango juice, mezcal, blanco vermouth, green apple and chamoy. I liked the tamarind fruit leather, which was around the rim and wrapped around the straw for a balance of sweet and sour flavors.

The bar also makes a $50 and $150 margarita featuring a 7-year or 18-year añejo tequila, which is then lightly smoked with Palo Santo wood.

Besides cocktails, they also offer an array of Mexican craft beers and wines from Valle de Guadalupe and other regions in Mexico. Each night, they offer a 3-ounce flight of three wines for $32. They try to pair the wines based on your order.

We ordered one flight and first enjoyed a funky natural rosé from Palafox Winery with the Mírame fermented green tea salad.

“This salad is getting a reputation of becoming the new modern chopped salad in Beverly Hills,” our waiter shared.

It’s layered with french-cut jicama tossed with cabbage, sesame, chopped peanuts and corn nuts. Not only is it refreshing, but it’s healthy for lunch and dinner.

Next we had a 3-ounce bubbly flute of Blanc d Noir from Terra Madi, San Antonio de los Ninas, with the delicious kampachi, and finished out the flight with a ruby red glass of Bichi from Tecate, Mexico, to enjoy with pork belly tacos.

Three different tacos are offered, and we opted for the caramelized, slow-cooked pork belly served on a plate with two heirloom red conico corn tortillas. Red corn is exceptionally sweet and nutty in flavor and these tortillas have a pretty pink hue. They are topped with big pieces of tender pork, crushed avocado and chunky tomatillo salsa.

Egan came back to our table to share his knowledge of the wine.

“Bichi means naked, and this No Sapian biodynamic wine is comprised of an unidentified grape variety. The farmer is not certain, but it’s one of my favorites,” he said.

After one sip, I detected its crisp brightness, bursting with fruity notes and a pleasing funkiness in its finish.

For those living it up, the menu offers larger items on the “Seguimos” section including a whole fried Baja snapper, Columbia River sturgeon, whole rack of lamb with grilled figs, baby corn and lamb bacon, and a 35-ounce prime cote de boeuf served with melted leeks and fermented garlic.

We saved room for a stone fruit and pine nut tart made with flavorful masa and a scoop of chamomile tea and goat cheese ice cream.

She also makes a mezcal flan, pineapple miso brûlée and chocolate castellan cake.

Mírame, meaning “look at me,” in Beverly Hills offers a new look or change of pace, scenery and flavors for weary pandemic diners starting at 11 a.m. for lunch to late night. On weekends, it opens at 10 a.m. for brunch. Reservations are available on OpenTable. $$-$$$$ 419 N. Canon Drive, (310)230-5035.

This review is featured in the Beverly Press https://beverlypress.com/2020/08/mirame-a-mexican-culinary-staycation-in-beverly-hills/

So Cal Mexican Cuisine at Tallula’s

Eager for some elevated Mexican fare, my husband and I drove to Tallula’s in Santa Monica Canyon for Sunday Brunch. The owners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan acquired a former Japanese restaurant, that later turned into the legendary Marix Tex-Mex near the beach. Pulling up to the parking lot, we realized Tallula’s is where my husband and I met over margaritas 32 years ago.

IMG_4134

The Japanese blue tiled roof is still intact, but the Japanese pagodas have been removed. Along with Colby Goff, they hired design firm ORA to upgrade the interior into a colorful eye-catching dining room and bar, reminiscent of something you would discover in the Mexican beach town of Tulum or Loreto.

IMG_4121

Similar to a Spanish hacienda, the interior has terra cotta floors and a coastal color palette inspired by nature. Walls are turquoise blue sea, peach sunset, and green palm. Artistic hand-embroidered macrame pieces, along with vintage Mexican posters and Californian artwork hang on the wall.

IMG_4113

Original features from Marix days, include the beautiful large oak and glass doors, dark wood beam and paneled ceilings, rustic columns and ornate Hawaiian Koa wood banquettes, now with turquoise blue leather seating.They also saved an array of vintage orange glass lanterns and added some hanging basketweave lighting.

IMG_4110

Loeb and Nathan named the restaurant after their daughter Tallula, and the pink neon sign displaying “Felix’s Bar,” is named after their youngest son. The bright hand-painted Mexican Talavera tiles by Silverlake’s Further Store are featured throughout the bar area and patio. The bar showcases one of the largest collections of Mexican spirits including mezcals, tequilas, rum and lesser-known spirits from small-batch producers in Mexico. There is also a nice selection of craft beers, and their margaritas are made with housemade syrups and fresh produce from the market. 

Rustic Canyon Family Wine Director Kathryn Coker crafts the eclectic wine list, featuring wines from boutique producers in Mexico, Spain, Argentina, France and California.

IMG_4118

What used to be the host stand, is now a colorful lounge area with rich leather and wood chairs. The staircase is now a vertical garden of pots with greenery acquired from Potted, of L.A.’s Atwater Village. It leads up to a private event space and bar for a 50 person standing cocktail party, or private seated dinner for 32 people. 

Looking into the open kitchen from the main dining room, James Beard six time nominee Executive chef Jeremy Fox oversees Executive Chef Saw Naing and his team. Together they prepare familiar Mexican dishes using seasonal fresh ingredients from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market and other local purveyors. Naing graduated from Pasadena’s Le Cordon Bleu, and worked at Joachim Splichal’s Café Pinot, and Thomas Keller’s (now closed) Bouchon in Beverly Hills, before with Fox.

IMG_4110

While we were dipping chips into guacamole, we noticed Fox walk in with his family and friends. That is always a good sign, when a chef is not working in his kitchen, that he comes in to break bread or tortilla chips with loved one.  

As the assistant manager Max Mueller welcomed us to Tallula’s, he shared that the restaurant takes “family” to heart, including the staff and guests to feel at home, be inspired, nourished and leave satisfied.

IMG_4112

The imaginative, home-cooking includes fresh chile pastes and salsas, and heirloom corn masa for fresh tortillas. We ordered their signature Caesar salad that arrived in a bowl with long Little Gem leaves loaded with crunchy pumpkin seeds, shaved parmesan, anchovies, garlic and lemon juice. 

The chefs at Tallula’s also make the best blue corn pancakes and chilaquiles. The pancakes arrive in a black skillet topped with fresh berries, and a pour of unrefined Mexican cane sugar called piloncillo syrup, powdered sugar, chopped mint and whipped cream.

628CA42F-9D73-4F64-87DD-E085EC16B730

The chilaquiles are artfully arranged in a beautiful terra cotta serving dish, layered with corn tortilla chips, salsa rojo, black beans, cilantro, red onion, cheese, pico de Gallo and a fried egg on top.

Be sure to order the crispy potatoes with a drizzle of chipotle aioli. They are a little hidden on the menu, and delicious.

Other Mexican fare includes a rotating Taco del Día, wet breakfast burritos with verde sauce, pork, eggs, potatoes, crema and pepper jack cheese, and local Channel Islands rock cod tacos.

IMG_4125-2

Heartier options include grilled carne asada with grass-fed hanger steak, is served with house-made tortillas, carrots, blistered shishito peppers and chipotle tamarind sauce. 

Zoe Nathan Mexican-inspired dessert recipes, including a tres leches cake drizzled with honey, chamomile and fresh market berries, are lovingly made by the Tallula team. 

Tallula’s is part of the Rustic Canyon Family, a collection of chef-driven dining destinations that includes Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe, Sweet Rose Creamery, Milo & Olive, Cassia, Esters Wine Shop & Bar, Milo SRO, Cassia Rice & Noodle Kitchen and Birdie G’s. 

Weekend brunch is served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Happy Hour is all-night long on Mondays and from 4 to 6 p.m., and every Tuesday through Friday in the bar, lounge and patio. Weekday dinner service is nightly at 5 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the weekends. Tallula’s is offering a takeout and delivery-only menu starting at 5 p.m. $$ 118 Entrada Drive (310)526-0027.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Mercado LA wins Michelin Bib Gourmand award

Innovative margaritas and classic Mexican cuisine with a contemporary flair earned Mercado Los Angeles a prestigious Michelin “Bib Gourmand” designation earlier this year. Michelin inspectors recognized the quality of the food and menu affordability. To qualify, a restaurant needs to be a step above the rest, while offering two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for less than $40.

img_9544

Located in the Beverly Grove area, I recently made a reservation to see why this restaurant stood out among thousands of Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles and why it appealed to the Michelin inspectors.

Mexican art is an integral part of all the restaurants. The large Mariachi Calavera painted skulls and ghostly figures by muralist Carlos Nieto III are part of Mercado’s design. The owners support local artists and proudly display their creative pieces. A colorful skull piece and symbolic American-Mexican flag made with serape blankets and embroidered stars on vintage nylon canvas by artist Andrew Atkinson hang above Mercado’s fireplace. In the Pasadena Mercado, the dining room has a striking skull art piece made from thousands of bullet shells by artist David Palmer hanging on a wall near the kitchen. 

img_9540-1

Co-owner Jesse Gomez is a local success story; he grew up in Los Angeles and helped his grandparents at their restaurant El Arco Iris in Highland Park in the 1960s. With his hands-on experience, he spent several years managing and operating restaurants in L.A. for Hillstone Restaurant Group and Innovative Dining Group.

Later he opened Yxta Cocina Mexicana in downtown Los Angeles, offering an inventive menu, artisan cocktails and creative art collection. With its success, Gomez co-created the Mercado brand with long-time friend and revered chef, Jose Acevedo.

Acevedo began his career in the kitchens of Wolfgang Puck and Hillstone Restaurant Group. Together, they joined forces at Yxta Cocina Mexicana and started the Cocinas y Calaveras LLC, now with seven restaurants, including Maradentro, Yxta, Mercado Taqueria and three other Mercado locations in Hollywood, and Pasadena. Soon a fifth location in Manhattan Beach will open in September 2019.

img_9543

Mercado’s bar pours over 70 premium silver, Reposado and Añejo tequilas and mezcals. The Mercado margarita is made with La Tarea silver tequila, triple sec and their own fresh sour mix. The Mercado sangria is made with wine, Altos Reposado tequila and fresh fruit.

We ordered a spicy cucumber margarita, hibiscus margarita and a Modelo beer while looking over the menu and sampling slightly smokey guacamole and chips. Hass avocados, chopped cilantro and red onions are mixed with crunchy pepitas, which provide a slight kick of heat.

Acevedo complements many of his dishes with a Yxta salsa brava to give them a tomato, garlic and red pepper touch of Spanish flavors and tangy heat.

The elote is cut off the cob and served in a bowl mixed with caramelized onions, Cotija cheese and a soft butter mixed with chile pequín to bring on the heat.

I ordered the vegetarian chile relleno upgraded with a red campana sauce. It’s served on a bed of Mexican rice with a large green chile filled with flavorful grilled vegetables mixed with melted Oaxaca cheese.

My husband chose the slow cooked carnitas garnished with salsa brava. The plate arrived with cauliflower al pastor and two large pieces of tender caramelized pork on top. A dollop of guacamole and chopped cilantro accompanied the dish with freshly made to order purplish-blue non-GMO corn tortillas.

Sweet jicama shrimp tacos were served with guacamole and salsa brava. Another popular item is Dos Gringas spit-roasted pastor with onions, cilantro and Oaxaca cheese, served with avocado salsa and flour tortillas. Savory nachos are topped with black beans, carnitas, guacamole, tomatoes, onions and a flambé’ of hot choriqueso – melted cheese and spicy chorizo.

A refreshing and lighter dish is the tostaditas de ceviche served on crispy tortillas topped with citrus-marinated white fish and shrimp, mixed with chopped mango, corn, cherry tomatoes, serrano and fresno chilies, avocado and chile de árbol aioli.

Enchiladas are filled with free-range chicken, Oaxacan mole, queso fresco, crema fresca, red onions, sesame seeds and served with Mexican rice.

They also offer tamales filled with the chef’s daily choice of filling, along with queso fresco, crema fresca and cilantro.

We finished with one of Mercado’s smooth flan accompanied by Rompope. Since I enjoyed Mercado Los Angeles so much, I also visited the Pasadena location. The menu features many of the same delicious dishes.

Come taste why Mercado Los Angeles is worthy of its Michelin “Bib Gourmand” award.Mercado Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Hollywood and Pasadena are open for happy hour and dinner starting at 5 p.m. Check lunch and brunch hours at each location. $$

LA, SM and HW open for dinner M-F at 5pm, Sat and Sun at 4pm. Pasadena opens for dinner at 4pm M-Sun.
7910 W. Third St., (323)944-0947; 1416 Fourth St., (310) 526-7121, 3413 Cahuenga Blvd., (323)512-2500; and 140 S. Lake Ave. #101, (626)345-5778.
This review is featured in the Beverly Press on August, 15, 2019.

Border Grill’s Day of the Dead menu

My favorite Two Hot Tamales executive chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger are honoring culinarians who have passed away with a special culinary menu until Nov. 6, 2018.

Staying true to the restaurant’s Mexican heritage Border Grill’s Day of the Dead dishes include ceviche negro made with shrimp, scallops, squid ink, jicama, chipotle and citrus marinade; blood sausage tacos with pineapple-jicama salsa and queso fresco; and pan de muerto and café de olla with crème fraîche and hibiscus sauce.

The lively bar is making four special cocktail tributes to those who recently departed and they will have an ofrenda (Day of the Dead altar).

image012

  • The cocktail tributes include Anthony Bourdain with the El Mexicano, made with Aperol, El Silencio Mezcal, agave and soda.
  • Robin Leach with the El Royale, made with Chambord liqueur, Champagne and pomegranate seeds.
  •  Jonathan Gold with the MariGOLD margarita, made with Viva XXXII reposado tequila, Araceli marigold liqueur, Combier, margarita mix, Tajín and marigold garnish.
  • Joël Robuchon with the Robuchon 57, made with Tres Generaciones Silver, lime juice and Champagne.  445 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213)486-5171.

Day of the Dead at Border Grill

The iconic L.A. restaurant Border Grill during Halloween season is staying true to their Mexican heritage and will be featuring a cheeky Day of the Dead themed menu from October 16 – November 6.

As a nod to the Day of the Dead tradition of honoring those who have passed away, Border Grill has also curated four special cocktails in remembrance of recently passed culinarians and will be putting out an ofrenda (Day of the Dead Altar).image001-2

Day of the Dead dishes include Ceviche Negro made with shrimp, scallops, squid ink, jicama, chipotle, and citrus marinade; Blood Sausage Tacos with pineapple-jicama salsa and queso fresca; and Pan De Muerto & Café De Olla with crème fraiche and hibiscus sauce, to name a few.

Border Grill’s Day of the Dead cocktail tributes include:

·       Anthony Bourdain/El Mexicano: aperol, El Silencio Mezcal, agave, and soda

·       Robin Leach/El Royale: Chambord, champagne, topped with pomegranate seeds

·       Jonathan Gold/MariGOLD Margarita: Viva Reposado Tequila, Araceli Marigold liqueur, combier, margarita mix, tajin, and garnished with micro marigold

·       Joel Robuchon/Robuchon 57: Tres Gen Silver, lime juice, and champagne

Celebrating Julia Child at Border Grill

In honor of chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger being the first women to receive the Julia Award from the distinguished Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, their downtown Los Angeles restaurant Border Grill is offering a menu inspired by the famed cooking icon until Nov. 1. I recently tried the prix-fixe menu for lunch with a friend, and the dishes, infused with a Latin twist, are something you won’t want to miss.

img_0284

To start the meal, the Julia Child special menu offers a bicicleta cocktail made with crisp white wine, Campari and agua de jamaica. Proceeds from the sale of this drink help Milliken’s charity Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry. It goes well with the triangular corn tortilla chips lightly dusted with salt and served with three different salsas.

img_0290

The first appetizer from the prix-fixe menu, the salade niçoise, arrived featuring a handful of greens mixed with beautifully sliced seared tuna. Crispy green beans and Peruvian purple potatoes topped off this colorful salad, which also had chopped tomatoes, pickled onions, briny olives and halved eggs. Sprinkles of quinoa added a delightful crunch.

img_0293

For the entrée, we ordered the tender duck leg confit sope, made with thick corn masa. Shaped in a shallow bowl, it’s fried and topped with duck confit, nutritious green purslane leaves and a sprinkling of crumbled queso fresco. A colorful succotash of sautéed summer squash, red peppers and corn complemented this succulent duck dish.

At the Julia Child prix-fixe dinner, Border Grill serves a duck duo including a seared duck breast with a flavorful jus and the duck confit sope.

The luncheon dessert is a flaming crêpes à la Julia. It’s similar to Child’s famous crêpes Suzette, yet with buttered citrus dulce de leche and whipped vanilla crema to offer a bit of Latin essence. Served very warm, it was very satisfying.

img_0280

While enjoying our food, Milliken strolled over to our table to chat with us. She shared when Child visited her and Feniger’s first restaurant, City Café on Melrose, in the early 1980s and then filmed a show at Milliken’s house.

“She was an extremely hard worker, yet humble and down to earth,” Milliken said.

The  same qualities can certainly be found in Feniger and Milliken as well.

In the 1990s, the pair hosted Child at City Restaurant on La Brea for a book signing of her “Cooking with Master Chefs,” which featured the “too hot tamale” chefs.

The prix-fixe, Child-inspired lunch at Border Grill is $28 and the dinner is $38. Guests may add a cocktail for $10 or enjoy a three-course wine tasting experience for an additional $15. Each dish on the menu can also be ordered à la carte. $$ 445 S. Figueroa St., (213)486-5171.

This review was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on Sept. 13, 2018 https://beverlypress.com/2018/09/celebrating-julia-child-at-border-grill/

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in LA

Here are 7 fun spots to celebrate Cinco de Mayo around Los Angeles:

  1. Jalapeno Pete’s – They make a really good house margarita with Maestro Dobel Tequila, lime agave and Damiana Liqueur. Formerly Cocina Condesa, this Studio City hot spot along Ventura Blvd serves Mexican Munchies (guacamole, jalapeno poppers & ceviche), Terrific Tacos (Butternut Squash, Asada & fried avocado) and Antojitos (short ribs braised in red wine taquitos & chicken flautas). There are 15 televisions throughout and fun games (Backgammon, JENGA and Connect 4) on the tables to play.  11618 Ventura Blvd. Studio City – (818)579-4264 – https://www.jalapenopetesla.comIMG_2932
  2. Antonio’s Mexican Restaurant on Melrose –  Mariachis will perform, while the tequila girls entertain guests starting at 7 a.m. The special menu on May 5 includes traditional fare such as tacos, beef tamales, and chicken mole to enjoy with cervezas and margaritas, as well as specialty drinks and cocktails. includes beef tamales and tacos de carne asada. Antonio will be pouring from his own label a variety of tequilas. 7470 Melrose Ave. (323)658-9060 – antoniosonmelrose.com.
  3. Tallula’s first Cinco de Mayo – Hang out at the beach and then walk across to Tallula’s at 2 p.m. to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with blood orange margaritas and palomas. Snacks include organic chicken wings, nachos sencillo and a special Cinco de Mayo XL taco. On Wednesday, May 9, enjoy the restaurant’s one-year anniversary with a mariachi band during dinner, as well as with some fun food and drink specials. 118 Entrada Drive, Santa Monica, (310)526-0027.
  4. Cinco De Mayo pub crawl in Hollywood – From 11 a.m. to midnight, grab your friends and celebrate Cinco de Mayo with drink specials at various bars around Hollywood Boulevard. Check in before 4 p.m. at the Rusty Mullet to receive a free welcome shot, wristband and map of the participating venues. The first 100 people to check in will receive a small Cinco de Mayo-themed gift. Other bars participating include Wood & Vine, Station 1640, Calle Tacos and Jameson’s. Visit laepiclosangeles.com/parties. 1708 N. Las Palmas Ave. Los Angeles, (323)533-0765.
  5. Party at El Torito – Enjoy a taco station in the cantina starting at 2 p.m. There are specials on margaritas, shots and beer. This year El Torito offers the “Mariachi Me,” a website where Cinco de Mayo fans can make a custom music video to share with friends and family. This digital platform gives people the opportunity to turn themselves into the most entertaining mariachi band on the internet. Visit mariachime.eltorito.com. 3360 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, (310)450-8665. 13715 Fiji Way, Marina Del Rey, (310)823-8941. 14433 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818)990-5860.IMG_2918
  6. Cinco de Mayo at Chevys – Celebrate one of the biggest parties on May 5 with special margaritas featuring 1800 Tequila Reposado. There are beer and shot specials too, all while enjoying fresh Mexican fare. 701 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank, (818)846-6999.
  7. Cinco de Mayo at Casa Vega – In the evening of Cinco de Mayo, enjoy music from a live mariachi band and festive Mexican décor at Casa Vega. Drink specials throughout the day and night include $7 Casa Vega margaritas. The restaurant will also be serving a Pink Señorita cocktail for one day only, made with Patron Silver, fresh grapefruit juice, cranberry juice and garnished with fresh mint. 13301 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818)788-4868.

Be still my heart at Mi Corazon

After finding success with their first location of Mi Corazon (“my heart” in Spanish) in Glendale, husband-and-wife duo Jeremy and Vanessa Swan have continued to spread their love of food with a new location in Silver Lake. Situated in the former Maré space on Hyperion, Mi Corazon offers up delicious homemade Mexican cooking with a health-conconscious focus.

The focal point of Mi Corazon, is of course, a beautiful stained glass red heart in a wood frame surrounded by tequila bottles. However, much of the restaurant’s décor, with its ornate frames, carved crucifixes and flickering lanterns, is dark and slightly gothic – clearly inspired by Jeremy Swan’s nearby Broken Art Tattoo shop, where he serves as owner and talented artist, as well as where he has appeared on TLC America’s Worst Tattoos covering up other artists’ mistakes.

 

We started the meal off with a drink. The restaurant’s beverage program includes over 60 tequilas and mezcals, Mexican-style boilermakers, classic margaritas, and specialty craft libations, including a margarita with sliced pears and an exciting flaming blue cocktail. They also offer an array of beers that include Tecate, Modelo, Negra Modelo and Ocho Reales Pilsner. For nonalcoholic drinks, they offer horchata, Jarritos, Mexican cola and agua frescas.

IMG_7878

While sipping an el clasico margarita made with silver tequila, agave and lime juice, our server brought a basket of yellow and blue corn tortilla chips, along with four different salsas. The choices included serrano, smooth chipotle cream, Pancho Villa and a chunky pico de gallo with chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro.

My favorite starter was the queso fundido – a Mexican fondue made with melted Monterey Jack cheese and pico de gallo. It’s served in a black skillet on top of a flame to stay smooth and warm.

IMG_7886

I also thoroughly enjoyed a generous portion of elote, served in a bowl rather than on the cob so as to avoid a mess. What makes this street corn so tasty is the salsa aioli, lavish sprinkling of Mexican chili powder and Mexican cheese on top. Thinly sliced radished decorated the dish and offered a peppery bite.

Before moving on to tacos, steaming bowls of pozole verde were delivered to our table. Made with organic chicken stewed in a mild green chile broth, the classic soup also featured hominy, avocado and cabbage, which enhanced the soup’s base.

IMG_7893

My eyes really widened, however, when a large platter of beer-battered fish tacos arrived with an artful drizzle of white cream on top of shredded cabbage, and a chopped mango and tomatillo chutney. To follow up, we munched on grilled wild-caught jumbo shrimp tacos. Both were very delicious and as I learned, healthier than just your typical tacos. To ensure their tacos and platters are non-GMO and hormone-free, the Swans work with only certain vendors who supply grass-fed beef, organic chicken and wild-caught seafood.

Continuing our meal, we tried two hard-shell tacos – the potato with hominy corn, green onion, chipotle and Monterey Jack cheese, as well as the ground beef and pickle taco. Both were good, but the Mexican spices and pickle brought a pleasing kick of flavor to the beef taco.

IMG_7896

Mi Corizon also serves a variety of platters, including sizzling fajitas, red snapper with chopped peanuts, Mexican spices, and grilled vegetables with vegan rice and beans. The wild-caught jumbo shrimp is topped with a spicy red chili cream sauce, and the chicken mole is made with chicken thighs smothered with their house-made, 20-ingredient sauce that includes peanuts and sesame seeds. If you’re in the mood for something simpler, the restaurant also offers burritos and enchiladas stuffed with a vegetable medley, chicken, beef or cheese. The dishes can be topped with a choice of either salsa roja, mole or chile verde sauce for a bit of spice.

As a pastry chef, Vanessa proved her worth with her plates of flan, choco flan and gooey Mexican chocolate cake. I especially enjoyed the flan, with the flavors of cinnamon, cayenne pepper and burnt sugar caramel blending perfectly together.

IMG_7880

Beyond just the food, Mi Corizon offers a variety of specials to keep people coming back. On Tuesdays, they offer their two tacos and a shot of tequila or margarita special for $14. On Wednesdays, they serve a mezcal margarita for $8 and two vegan tostadas for $8. And Thursdays, customers pay happy hour prices all night long.

The restaurant also features a new bottomless brunch menu featuring Mexican classics such as the omelet de rajas, French toast made with Mexican bolillo bread dipped in a creamy cinnamon batter, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. And besides serving micheladas and bloody marias, they also offer bottomless mimosas.

Next time you seek authentic and healthy Mexican cuisine, head over to Mi Corazon for both your taste buds and your heart. $$. 2609 Hyperion Ave., (323)522-3320 and 402 W Kenneth Road, (818)500-8100.

This review was also featured in the March 8, 2018 issue of the Beverly Press.

Trejo’s Cantina is Muy Bueno

The bar in the front of Trejo’s newest cantina in Pasadena was standing room only, as was the large dining room. Theatre patrons were sipping one last drink, before seeing the first show of the Pasadena Playhouse season – Our Town. Located adjacent to the playhouse, the cantina makes sure theatre patrons are finished before the 8 p.m. curtain.

IMG_5557

The face of Danny Trejo, the actor and namesake of the new restaurant is featured throughout the dining room. Best known for his roles in movies including “Machete” and “From Dusk till Dawn,” he’s one of the driving forces behind this venture, which continues to expand. Trejo told me once, “I’d rather shoot for the moon and miss, then aim for the gutter and make it.” In my opinion he isn’t missing at all.

IMG_6359

The first Trejo’s Tacos on La Brea Ave. opened in 2016 by partners Trejo, Jeff Georgino and film producer Ash Shah. Georgino and Shah met while roommates at the University of Southern California. Shah and Trejo became friends on the set of the movie “Bad Ass.” Together they make quite a team.

IMG_3673

Soon after the success of Trejo’s Tacos, they opened Trejo’s Cantina in Hollywood on Cahuenga Ave. Next they started cruising around Los Angeles in Trejo’s Truck with the actor’s face displayed on the black food truck. Making stops throughout the City of Angels, the chefs prepared savory tacos filled with brisket, pork, cauliflower, and grilled chicken that they paired with horchata and refreshing agua frescas.

IMG_6342

Next they painted a bright pink Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts logo on Santa Monica Blvd. and started selling creative donuts with flavors that include margarita, Coco Loco, Low Rider and the Maple Pig with bacon. The coffee drinks are all made with Trejo Coffee.

Now they opened another cantina in the historic Pasadena area, offering sit down service, with heartier menu items and a full bar.

IMG_5561

At the bar, most of the beers are on draft except two served with a can, the Stone IPA and a Dos XX Lager. Besides cerveza, they also offer a variety of unique margaritas with names that include The Good Stuff made with Grand Marnier, Pink Señorita made with Blanco tequila, strawberry lemonade, triple sec and fresh lime, and The Jalapeño rimmed with Tajin, a seasoning powder made with chile peppers, lime, and salt. It will leave your lips tingling.

Since Danny Trejo stopped drinking years ago, he offers a variety of non alcoholic beverages for his guests. They make date sweetened horchata, a variety of fresh aguas frescas, Mexican Coke and a Cochata made with Trejo Coffee cold brew mixed with horchata.

Manager Thomas Fuchs welcomed us and sat us near the kitchen along the banquette decorated with colorful Mexican blankets hanging on the back wall.

IMG_2329

The first thing we noticed, as a basket of chips and salsa were delivered to our table is that they are different here than other Mexican restaurants. The chips stay extra crispy in a chip warmer, before sprinkled with sea salt and decorated with lime zest shavings. The chunky brick red colored salsa is made the night before with roasted tomatoes and tomatillos. The fresh guacamole is made each morning using serrano chiles, chopped pistachios, lemon and chopped onions, offering an appealing crunch.

IMG_5583

Looking at the menu, Thomas recommended the Brussels Sprouts, quesadilla and street corn for starters, “They are like no other,” he said. The Brussels Sprouts are dusted in corn starch and flash fried before dazzled with a red chimichurri sauce. When the street corn arrived in a bowl, we noticed perfectly grilled corn kernels cut off the cob and topped with chipotle cream and popcorn.

What makes Trejo’s quesadilla different is that it’s stuffed with crispy deep fried chicken, Mexican slaw and chilies. It’s served with a tangy, hot chipotle crema dipping sauce.

IMG_2506

Since the Trejo team is known for their Trejo’s street tacos, we ordered a couple for the table. On the menu there are multiple meat, vegetarian and vegan options. For meat lovers they make slowly cooked carnitas with red onions; brisket; and steak asada tacos. For seafood tacos they make blackened salmon, Baja fish and spicy shrimp. They also make a grilled chicken with achiote, slaw and pico de gallo.

I was curious about the young Jackfruit taco. Where else can you order a Jackfruit taco? It arrived in a soft corn tortilla with Mexican slaw, avocado cream, crunchy tortilla strips and pico de gallo. Jackfruit has become a new superfood in the vegan world. It’s a healthy and sustainable vegan meat replacement that offers sweet and earthy flavors. It tastes a little bit like pineapple, hearts of palm and kimchi, with a texture similar to pulled pork. The vegan Mexi-falafel taco has three fried beans, chilies and spice spheres that are topped with shredded kale, pickled pink onion swirls and dollops of cashew cream.

IMG_2343

My husband ordered the chicken fajitas served in a black skillet with a padded chili pepper hot pad on the handle, to prevent servers and guests from burning their hand. The grilled chicken is served with grilled lime wedges, sliced onions, Greenville peppers and an aluminum wrapped package filled with flour tortillas.

Looking at the table next to us, we noticed the burritos are massive here. They make five different types. They steak asada is filled with cheese, beans, rice, Mexican slaw, pepita pesto and pico de gallo. It comes dry, but for a few dollars more you can order it wet and topped with guacamole. They also make a carnitas burrito filled with pineapple, hot sauce, slaw and pico de gallo. Others include a fried chicken burrito, spicy shrimp and Mexi-falafel burrito.

Our server Nikki shared with us that she likes Trejo’s Cantina Mexican food, because it’s organic and non-GMO. “You can eat two or three tacos and not feel uncomfortable, because they are healthier,” she said. “The vegan and vegetarian options are terrific.”

Once the Pasadena Playhouse doors opened for the show, we noticed half of the diners stroll out into the Pasadena Playhouse courtyard. Their tables were cleared quickly and new diners sat down.

IMG_2346

Needing a quick dessert before the show, we ordered the cinnamon churros. They arrived hot, fat and crispy around the edges. Dipping them into the chocolate and strawberry sauce, we remarked that these are not the standard churros you find at most restaurants.

IMG_5556

Danny Trejo and his team are soaring high with another successful cantina. $$ 1556 N. Cahuenga Blvd. (323)461-8226 and 37 S. El Molino Ave. (626)792-4441. Trejo’s Tacos – 1048 S. La Brea Ave. (323)938-TACO and Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts – 6785 Santa Monica Blvd. (323)462-4600.

This review was also featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News – Oct. 12, 2107 –  http://beverlypress.com/2017/10/trejos-cantina-is-muy-bueno/