Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Delicioso, por favor

Although there's a lot of great Mexican food in Los Angeles, the Westside is not where it's usually found. But there are notable exceptions.

Tacos Por Favor shares a low, cinderblock building on Olympic at 14th in Santa Monica with the Libertad Soccer Club. The neighborhood, bisected by the 10 freeway, is where in days past the old Exposition Line streetcar ran. This part of town is built up with similar low cinderblock buildings - small factories, warehouses, auto supply dealers. There's a plumbing supply house a half block away. A stone and building materials company, where day laborers hang out waiting to be hired.

Though these places are still here, the neighborhood has changed even in the fifteen or so years since we first moved here. Now many of the modest industrial buildings house architect firms, independent film companies, software designers, event producers - part of what the City of Santa Monica calls its creative community.

Still, Tacos Por Favor remains. The day laborers may still come for tacos lengua and cemitas poblanas, but during the week the place is frequented by I-phone-wearing video-game designers, architects, and students from Crossroads, the private school a few blocks away where movie stars' kids go. The menu has been supplemented to include items like Veggie Wraps, and even though you can buy menudo, there are now signs up that proclaim the place to be lard-free.

On a Saturday, after a trip to the nursery for garden plants at Mayhews in Sunset Park, we stopped in for lunch. You bang through a blackened, rusty screen door and stand in line to order at the counter.

After you order, you take your ticket and wait for your number to be called over the loud, distorted PA. While you wait, you can go to the salsa bar, where you can dip up from big bowls of salsa rojo or verde, or pico de gallo with chopped tomatoes, chiles, onion and cilantro. Grab some quartered limes and don't forget to load up on the pickled carrots, onions and jalapenos to garnish the paper plate and plastic cafeteria tray your food arrives on.

Here's a two-taco combo plate. Tacos Por Favor is famous for its chorizo and cheese taco, and [The Man I Love] always orders it.

The salsa verde, fresh-tasting with tomatillo and cilantro, was perfect for the fried fish taco that was the second offering on the plate.

I ordered a Cemita Poblana milanesa  - a sandwich similar to a torta, but with a sesame-seed yeast-raised bun.  Native to the city of Puebla, it includes a meat of your choice, slices of avocado, white cheese, onions and a fierce red chile sauce - here chipotle chiles, soft, stewed and dark maroon, I chose milanesa, a thin, pounded slice of beefsteak breaded and fried.

Here you can see the ingredients. That IS a hot chipotle chile, by the way. It was served with taco chips, which I dipped into the salsa-bar's salsa rojo, spicy with chile, canela and cumin.

The room isn't fancy. From the order counter, you go down a couple steps into a concrete-floored room echoing with the scrapes of chair-legs. In a low screened bay, employee lockers and shelves of supplies are neatly stashed behind the dining tables. Faded prints of drawings hang on the walls, but otherwise there hasn't been much thought put into decor.

On a Saturday morning, you can sit and make up stories about the clientele. There's a father with his soccer-uniformed daughter. There's a couple of young software geniuses. There's an aging studio executive. Art students.

Share stories about your neighborhood joint.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I love hot peppers.

That food looks delicious...and one thing (o.k. one of them) that we don't have here in Berkeley Springs is a good Mexican restaurant.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Looks delicious. Gotta love a good, authentic Mexican meal. Have you ever tried their menudo?

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Now I am incredibly hungry for good Mexican food!
Just a mile from my house is the cafe where Benny and Joon was filmed. The building (including the milk bottle-shaped former dairy next door) was severely damaged by a fire last fall, but it is being repaired and will open soon. The Milk Bottle ice cream shop & cafe is already opened for business once again.

ming said...

I will have to add this to my list - my favorite Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica is Talpa - 11751 W. Pico between Bundy and Arrrington (next to Don Antonio's - not a favorite).

Glennis said...

Hi,ming! I like Talpa, too - but I also like Lares on Pico and Juquila (maybe that's in W. LA, not SM).