You're headed West on Santa Monica Blvd. and just passed the 405 overpass. You haven't seen a good Mexican restaurant for quite a while and you're hungry. Fortunately, the neighborhood of West L.A. has a smattering of stand-out eating options, including a healthy dose of Mexican restaurants that will satisfy your jones. There's nothing boundary-pushing like La Huasteca or Casita Mex to be found around here, and yes, it's not East L.A., but there are quite a few cozy and reliable options to get your Oaxacan on. Here's a look at four Mexican restaurant recommendations that will help you make your way across Route 66 as you head west, young ones.
The first restaurant you'll run into is Juquila, a small, but festive Oaxacan diner that is popular with the neighborhood. It's across from Benito's, where we suggest you never, ever go. A dry-erase board boasts daily specials like albondigas en chipotle, while the rich moles (negro, coloradito, amarillo, and verde) are dependably delectable on a fine quarter chicken, soaking up white rice, and drizzled on complimentary chips. Spiced coffee, champurrado, and atole make the place seem even cozier, while Juquila has a huge menu that includes camaron a la diabla, barbacoa de chivo, tlayudas, memelas, and a simple selection of meats for tortas, burritos, and tacos. The restaurant is especially proud of its asada plate and huge parrilladas, basically giant party plates that pile on the meats and are very splittable amongst friends for $25. Juquila also has arguably the best truck in the area, which sets up shop on the street just a few feet west of Barrington in the evenings. Eating in or out seldom costs more than six-to-ten dollars a head.
Juquila, 11619 Santa Monica Blvd. West L.A. 310-312-1079.
Compared to the low-key feel of Juquila, Monte Alban feels like a fancy, special occasion restaurant on this stretch, with a moody atmosphere, country murals, and hostess at the door sharing space with a small selection of baked goods. Fortunately, the prices are still beyond reasonable. It's a crowd-pleaser, and if you can't find time to take your friends from out of town out to say, Guelaguetza or the original La Parilla, it might be your best bet around here for atmosphere and experience, though you'll still miss the live music blaring in your grill. Tortillas are made in-house and moles are offered in five shades. Stand-outs are the goat taco, empanadas de flor de calabaza, barbacoa, frijoladas, sopa Azteca, and the pick we really have trouble veering from, the chile relleno picadillo.
Monte Alban 11927 Santa Monica Blvd. 310-444-7736.
Pili's Tacos has a helluvalot of spirit, with a bright pink awning, clean diner space, music blasting from the adjacent tape store, and kind dueña behind the counter. About half of its menu is Oaxacan, with photos of all of the dishes on the wall. The tacos are a bit of a let-down and there's little, except for the prices, that meet or improve on what you'll find across the street at Monte Alban. Still, there are comforts to be found here, usually in a bowl, whether it's higaditos with eggs and chicken, menudo, barbacoa de chivo, caldo de res, or pozole de puerco. They have a larger selection of meats than Juquila's brick and mortar, with buche, cabeza, barbacoa, and milanesa on offer for tacos, tortas, and burritos. And it's hard to go wrong with nopales or entomatadas with scrambled eggs in the morning. Wednesdays offer dollar tacos, while Monday, Thursday, and Sunday offer six-dollar combos of a chile relleno, menudo, or caldo de pollo with a soda. Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, it's six-dollar sopes, burrito mojado, or costilla en salsa verde.
Pili's Tacos, 11924 Santa Monica Blvd. West L.A. 310-820-3109.
Taking a left turn off of Santa Monica onto Bundy, you'll run right into Taco Plus on your right, a small chain whose Baja Fresh/La Salsa-like appearance nearly betrays its fairly solid, freshly-grilled food. Plus has a wide selection of salsas and the consistency of a machine, pumping out huge burritos, grilled steak, warm chips, pollo asado, and Spanish rice that we prefer over the others' white rice. They even do a gringo taco in a hard shell. But what we really love is an indulgent breakfast of short ribs or steak with eggs here that comes fast and delicious. It isn't as quick or authentic as what you may find east of Vermont, but it does the trick.
Tacos Plus, 1525 S. Bundy Drive. West L.A. 310-207-0793.
Earlier: Strip Search: Pico-Union [Grub Street]
Strip Search: Washington Blvd. to Washington Place [Grub Street]