Continuing on my tour of Boyle Heights, we tried out Carioca Restaurant on 1st St., located in what looks to be an old house with a cool neon sign out front. There seem to be strangely few reviews of this place and I think I can see why. It's not bad exactly, just odd. It's one of the few places in East L.A. that's open on Sunday nights with a full bar, but Sunday nights are probably eating-at-home nights for most people in that neighborhood, because it was virtually empty. There's live entertainment, but the singer of mournful Mexican ballads was so loudly amplified that we couldn't really talk while he performed. Later, a female singer got up to accompany him, and her singing verged on Twin Peaks territory, shall we say.
The freshly made tortilla chips and chunky, rustic guacamole were top-notch, with a seemingly housemade smoky salsa, but the main courses didn't quite hold up. My camarones al diablo swam in a vaguely spicy, vaguely Campbell's tomato soup-esque sauce -- the shrimp were fresh enough, but it wasn't successful overall. Yet the refried beans were delicious, and a carne asada plate they mistakenly tried to deliver to our table looked pretty good. The servers seemed rather confused as well -- we've never had trouble ordering in a Mexican restaurant before -- after all, who in L.A. can't say "Dos cervezas, carne asada y guacamole por favor"? yet the communication gap seemed strangely insurmountable. I'm sure this is a great place for lunch -- they have $4.99 lunch specials, with a whopping 25% off for city workers, not to mention $2 margaritas for happy hour -- but Sunday night dinner is a bit surreal.
Carioca Family Restaurant
2321 E 1st St.