Chefs’ Picks: LA Mexican Food
Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
Home to the largest population of Mexicans outside of Mexico, Los Angeles is in no short supply of the country’s native cuisine. It’s easy to sink your teeth into all sorts of asada and al pastor, when there is, almost literally, a taco truck on every corner. Yet that’s also what makes choosing ‘the best’ such a herculean task; sorting through this immense talent pool could take a lifetime. Mercifully, you can rely on the expert advice of LA’s accomplished professionals to help narrow down the field. They’ve put in the proper legwork. Regardless of the cuisine they prepare in their own kitchen, every chef in this town seeks off-day comfort in the form of tortillas and salsa, et al.
At Eveleigh, Jared Levy turns farm-driven produce into elegant cuisine that’s equal parts accessible and Instagrammable, and finds the optimal balance between classic and creative. It should be no surprise, then, that his favorite Mexican food comes from a kitchen celebrated for its hybrid approach. “I have to vote for Mexikosher on Pico’s Kosher Corridor,” he says of Katsuji Tanabe’s fast-casual sensation. “I happen to know that it has offered the first-ever taste of Mexican food to many Kosher Angelenos, and everything that he serves are flavor bombs.”
Keeping the kitchen moving at multilevel downtown cafeteria Clifton’s is a daunting task. To take a breather, Chef Andrew Pastore heads out to the Valley for a Mexican fix at Sole y Luna in Tarzana. “The food is good, and the salsa has a nice, smoky flavor profile with just the right amount of heat,” he explains. “Additionally, there is a guitarist playing tableside which adds a ‘cool’ factor. I usually get guacamole [prepared at the table] — which is one of their signature items — as well as the carnitas.”
On the rare night Michael Cimarusti isn’t busy plating edible art at his Michelin-starred Providence on Melrose Avenue, he takes his family to My Taco in Highland Park, a hip neighborhood north of downtown. “My Taco is our home away from home,” he says. “Great birria, carnitas and chile rojo. The carne asada fries are a guilty pleasure that I allow myself and my kids about once a year.” He places the restaurant in his personal top 10 list of the city’s under-the-radar eats.
When Chef Sascha Lyon takes off from his months-old California-French bistro, Commerson, he heads for Los Angeles landmark El Coyote Cafe. “We always feel like we are part of the family when we walk in,” he explains. “Easily the best enchilada sauce in LA, and everywhere else I’ve eaten. Everything is made from-scratch, [including their] ridiculous margaritas.” It all adds up to what the chef describes as the quintessential Mexican restaurant experience.
Although Chef Mario Christerna specializes in the flavors of Northern Africa, he is passionately devoted to just about every regional cuisine he can get his hands on. In his hometown of LA, that often means Mexican, of course. If forced to name one favorite above the rest, he points to Zamora Brothers, just west of downtown. “Every day you will see different homemade guisados [stew] that come from secret family recipes,” says Christerna. “Hands down the best chicharrones in our large City of Angels — and I’ll bet on that.” The hybrid restaurant/grocery store lands bonus points for hospitality. “Ask for Guera, the owner. She’ll make you feel like you’re right at home.”
Following a Kings game at Staples Center, Chef Louis Tikaram of West Hollywood’s E.P. & L.P.
heads for Taco Spot in Eagle Rock. He gives high praise to their pescado taco, as well as the al pastor — both of which are beautiful as well as delicious. “You just got to look at them,” he says. “They are irresistible!”
Photography courtesy of Mexikosher, iStock/mphillips007, iStock/svera and Taco Spot