My friend was at a wine tasting at Norman's the other night, where Sophie Gayot apparently proclaimed that "There is no good Mexican food in L.A." I wasn't about to let a French person decide that for me, although sometimes it does seem like there are considerably fewer really good Mexican restaurants than you would expect in a city with this many Mexican restaurants. So six of us, including three kids, trucked out to Gallo's Grill in Boyle Heights, deftly avoiding the Dodger traffic in both directions. This place is a real winner, with a selection of several cuts of beef as well as chicken, salmon and shrimp, grilled to order over almond wood.
The room: Simple and cheery, but not in a linoleum and fluorescent kind of way, with a glassed-in view of the grill and kitchen. If you don't need to watch your meat cook, there's a patio out back.
The food: Before you order, the waiter brings out the special cuts and fish on a platter, raw -- a nice touch you wouldn't expect in a casual place like this. We chose three different kinds of steak -- ribeye and two others -- arrachera and cesina, maybe. The ribeye was thicker, more like a regular steak, and the other two were variations on skirt steak. All were perfectly cooked, crispy on the edges and flavorful. They came with excellent homemade flour and corn tortillas and good beans or rice. We ordered a crock of the wonderful chunky, fresh guacamole to start. The kids weren't feeling meaty and stayed with quesadillas, plain avocado and tasty freshly-cut papas fritas (french fries). We brought our own beer so we didn't have a chance to try the cucumber aguas or other housemade aguas, but we'll definitely be back to sample the grilled shrimp and chicken. The steak or shrimp sandwiches sound interesting for lunch, and they serve breakfast too.
The tab: If you think Taylor's is cheap, you haven't been to Gallo's. Steak and other dinners range from about $7.95 to $10.95. Of course, it's a casual place with no beer and wine, but you can't even eat at Sizzler for that, and if you did eat at Sizzler, you'd be very sorry. And the waiter was exceedingly pleasant and helpful, although his English was limited. But I've lived in L.A. all my life, so I think I'm capable of ordering some guacamole and meat in Spanish.
The verdict: Sorry Sophie, we found a winner on the very first try.
Update: Unfortunately, Gallo's had a fire quite a while ago and still hasn't reopened.
4533 E. Cesar Chavez Ave.