Al pastor tacos add a slice of pineapple to the spicy mix of flavors.
I'm slowly working my way through all the new Downtown restaurants and this week made it to Yxta, the offshoot from Highland Park's El Arco Iris that occupies a mini-mall in the toy district. The good news is there's plenty of free parking at night; the bad news is that the bunker-like stucco exterior doesn't look very promising from outside. But the interior is much nicer, with clever light fixtures and original paintings, even if there aren't quite enough patrons on a Friday night to make the cavernous space seem welcoming.
Yxta isn't quite cast in the ambitious (and pricey) nuevo Mexican vein of Rivera; it's more along the lines of places like Chichen Itza or Homegirl Cafe, but with the bonus of good margaritas. Imagine that. Good margaritas. Spicy al pastor tacos. Deep, smoky, salsa. All in one place for a change! Like Loteria Hollywood, Yxta signals the arrival of a new era in Mexican dining: a place where you can actually get good food while you drink. What a concept. Happy hour is a good deal, with $5 margaritas made with fresh juices and $6 appetizers, so try to get in several orders before 7 p.m. Here's a quick tour: We liked fried squash blossoms, above, stuffed with Oaxaca cheese; the al pastor tacos, the guacamole and the salsas. Main dishes of arrachera steak and chicken mole enchiladas were good, if not revelatory. Skip the fish tacos -- just get more al pastor. For dessert, dense, rich Kahlua flan (below) -- yes, chipotle chocolate cake, no -- too dry.
Now, permit me a moment of venting: I don't like to carp about service normally, but frankly they're going to have to step it up a notch if they want diners to happily pay $35-$50 each for dinner in this slightly obscure location.
Our inexperienced server was pleasant enough, but she ended up not making us feel very comfortable. The worst parts: confusion about whether it was still happy hour or not, asking us if we could pay the bill before we were even ready for dessert and taking away dishes and drinks we were still eating. It might also have been nice, since there were only half a dozen parties dining the entire evening, if the manager had stopped by to recommend some good dishes and say hi, if the menu or the server had pointed out the fresh aguas to my non-margarita drinking son, or if they hadn't grouped three parties right next to each other along the banquette.Verdict: Go at least for happy hour, maybe for more.
Update: The manager contacted me to let me know they are working hard on service issues, which is always appreciated. Bear in mind the restaurant was only a few weeks old when this was written.
601 S. Central Ave.