When it first opened in 1979, La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill was a simple taqueria in Los Angeles. Its open kitchen gave patrons a front-row seat to watch chefs transform fresh ingredients into bold, memorable Mexican dishes. Today, the original concept has evolved into a booming franchise, but each location works on the same principle: add a modern twist to classic Mexican food. Chefs continue to work in an open-kitchen environment where they concoct seven types of homemade salsas?laced with ingredients such as fire-roasted roma tomatoes, cilantro and garlic, and even mango?to complement carne asada tacos, Los Cabos shrimp burritos, and hefty bowls packed with chicken, fire-roasted veggies, and plenty of cheese. The kitchen crew also assembles large breakfasts of eggs and chorizo, as well as huevos rancheros for early risers.
Tacos Uruapan takes its name from the hometown of its founder, who began his journey into culinary mastery nearly three decades ago with a simple taco truck on a street corner. Today, the Solorio family continues to own and operate the fruits of his labors, dishing out handmade cornmeal sopes, plump burritos, and the ever-popular tacos at a handsome Mission-style restaurant that commands the corner of a busy intersection with a thatch of palm trees and even a pint-sized turret. Kid-friendly nachos, bean burritos, and quesadillas abound, but so do traditional Mexican options including fried pork carnitas and beef head and tongue.
Since opening the original locale in 1985, Otaez Mexican Restaurant continues to churn out authentic Mexican cuisine backed by a fully stocked bar of tantalizing tequilas. Eyes dance across Otaez's lengthy menu before spotting a palate-pleasing appetizer, such as a skillet bubbling with melted oaxaca cheese and chorizo in the queso fundido con chorizo, or a fish tostada de ceviche crowned in avocado. Cooks cover their egg-battered pasilla peppers in hot sauce to protect the valuable cheese inside from dairy thieves with acid reflux. Blurry-eyed appetites can awaken with jazzy bites of cactus and egg scrambled in the huevos con nopales, and midday munchers grub on a host of tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas. Feasting groups can also indulge in sips of house margaritas, poured after being carefully shaken by a bartender wearing three pairs of mittens.
You'll find much more than just ground beef, cheese, and beans in the burritos at 360 Degrees Gourmet Burritos. The burrito chefs here don't create standard run-of-the-mill Mexican cuisine?instead, they craft mouthwatering burritos stuffed with gourmet, healthy ingredients. For meat eaters, they can flame-broil steak and prawns, then wrap it all up with jalapenos, tomatoes, cilantro, and red onions. Or, they can marinate chicken with garlic and lime, and add in a heaping helping of Spanish rice, black, beans, and fresh salsa. For vegetarians, they get even more creative, blending together tofu, broccoli, and mushrooms sauteed with lemon and garlic. And for international appetites, they have something special too?a section of the menu is devoted to burritos and burrito bowls that take influence from cuisines around the world. There's the Thai burrito, for instance, stuffed with spicy peanuts, bell peppers, carrots, and bean sprouts, as well as a curry burrito, a spicy-sweet mix of curry sauce, veggies, and raisins.
Los Panchos crafts delicious Mexican cuisine from fresh ingredients and traditional recipes, filling its menu with more than 75 south-of-the-border standouts. Rather than calming grumbling tummies by taking a nap in a life raft as it gently sways away from the shore, guests may stuff them with burritos brimming with refried beans, guacamole, and a choice of chicken, beef, or pork ($8.50). Juicy pork carnitas can fill soft tacos ($3.25 each), enchiladas ($3.50 each), or deep-fried chimichangas ($5.75), or erupt from cheesy mountains of nachos ($8.50). Like a traffic light, chili verde’s sauce comes in a choice of green or red ($9.25), letting diners barrel into spiciness or pause to savor a mild chili flavor with each meaty bite.
It would be hard to find a group of people more suited to find a fresh take on the Mexican restaurant than the team behind Maria Maria La Cantina. The menu was designed by Roberto Santiba?ez, a James Beard nominee described on The Martha Stewart Show as "an undeniable authority on traditional and contemporary Mexican cuisine." His menu was partly inspired by iconic musician Carlos Santana, who helped shape the globally minded live music program that sets up shop on Tuesdays and on weekends. He's also responsible for the artwork, the restaurant's name, and perhaps indirectly for any conga lines snaking through the giant, shaded patio.
There are plenty of classic dishes?the ever-popular pepper-crusted skirt steak, for one?but guests will also notice Santibanez's use of unexpected ingredients. Guacamole is bulked up with crab and shrimp, taco shells are lined with braised duck, and short ribs are blanketed in blueberry mole. The cocktails are equally inventive; the Key Lime Fusion, for example, hits the sweet spot between a pie and a pi?a colada.