Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Mexico Restaurante y Barra: Larry Nicola gives the people what they want
West Hollywood's new Mexico Restaurante y Barra is all about trying to show you a good time, from the goofy Mexican zebra at the front door to the serapes draped on the back of the chairs in case of a chilly evening. What's surprising is that the food is far better than it needs to be at a place that's tailor-made for hosting margarita-fueled groups of friends.
A few writers were invited to take a trip to Mexico, West Hollywood style on Sunday night. Owner Larry Nicola may be of Lebanese heritage, but he's got two things going for him: he loves Mexican food and visits there often, and after 30 years on the L.A. restaurant scene, he seems to know what L.A. wants.
Basically, L.A. diners want simple, non-gloppy Mexican food, excellent guacamole and plenty of types of margaritas and other cocktails, and who is he to deny them? Located in the building that once housed the Doors recording studio, Mexico is squeezed into the former Benvenuto space on Santa Monica near La Cienega.
The best seats in the riotously pink, mostly outdoor restaurant are on the upstairs patio -- try to forget you're overlooking Santa Monica Blvd. and pretend it's a beach resort, which shouldn't be a problem after the first drink. All the fruit juice-based cocktails are too sweet for my taste, but the Silverrano with tequila, cucumber, lime and serrano chile is just right for sipping with chips and chunky guac. We could have easily called it a night after appetizers of duck taquitos (above), roasted corn with crema and verdolaga (purslane) salad, halibut ceviche (above) and grilled shrimp cocktail with chipotle salsa.
But there were also hearty main dishes to explore -- grilled chicken with mole coloradito, red snapper and richly porky carnitas (above). Next time, I think one order of carnitas for the table and an assortment of appetizers and plenty of guacamole would be the perfect way to go.
With prices that are reasonable for the neighborhood and a well-conceived menu, Mexico is a big improvement over the area's other places like Spanish Kitchen and Marix.
Would I go back on my own dime? Definitely, if I were looking for a fun spot or needed to be in that area. But I might look for parking on La Cienega, as their lot is pricey at $7.
8512 Santa Monica Blvd.
at 8:18 AM