A pleasing jumble of bright warm colors welcomes patrons as they enter Salsa and Beer, where the kitchen turns out myriad Mexican favorites. Bean dip and salsa—always complimentary—flow freely with chips, and the chefs integrate housemade red and green sauces into tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. A huge sun painted on the ceiling watches down on patrons as they eat on painted tables, slicing into deep-fried chimichangas or chipotle-chicken flautas. Hues of lime green, pink, and orange occupy the walls and window paintings in the dining room, and a patio in the front is separated from the street by sculpted wooden barriers, whether in the shape of cacti or a wide sun.
Red isn't the only color on Reds Restaurant's wine list, which presents bottles that speak multiple languages and come and go as they please. While sipping vinos from California, South America, and Italy, guests can peer past the black-hole-black bar straight into the open kitchen. There, the chefs will summon smoked-salmon farfalle, spam-fried rice, and duck confit into existence, and bring life to desserts such as The Brownie and pineapple upside-down cake. Dinner is the main feature at this wine-and-tapas shop, but a lunch menu attracts a midday crowd to the Encino Place Shopping Center's second floor from Tuesday to Friday every week.
When they founded it in 1975, the owners of El Indio Mexicano Restaurant hired cooks from the Michoacan region of Mexico to teach them the recipes of Mexico’s Pacific coast. Owned by the same family today, the restaurant carries on that commitment to authenticity, slow-cooking carnitas for five hours and cooking beans in a cazo, a large copper pot usually found only in the ruins of ancient Ikeas. The cazo is also used to cook a cornucopia of meats, including beef tongue, pork stomach, breaded steak, sausage, and charbroiled steak. These carnivorous cuts fill quesadillas, handmade gorditas, and 13 types of burrito that arrive unadorned or covered in melted monterey jack cheese and house-made ranchero sauce.
El Taco Llama crafts authentic, quick-serve Mexican fare that folds traditional and exotic meats into tortillas, gorditas, and hard taco shells. Proteins from chicken to barbecue pork to beef tongue fill burritos, sopes, or quesadillas. Orders of nachos supreme can come topped with shredded beef or ham, and special platters of five tacos populate shelled empires with fish, beef cheek, or breaded meat. The tortas plate serves up rice, beans, and tortillas, and combination plates mix and match menu items to make tiny tostado-taco or gordita-taco hybrids that can be used to power fuel-efficient dune buggies.
El Criollo creolizes a menu of classic, authentic Cuban cuisine with a contemporary cast of flavorful influences. Test out the waters with a tamal cubano appetizer, a homemade yellow corn pork tamale delicately decorated with minced garlic and olive oil ($3.95). Exquisite Cuban entrees include the lengua guisada, beef tongue stewed in a fusion of fresh herbs and spices ($11.95), and the slow-roasted lecbón asado, a marinated pork leg cloaked in caramelized onions ($13.95). Diners can dive into the pescado sudado, boneless white fish steamed in a tomato-creole purée ($14.95), or the pollo en salsa de ajo, stewed chicken smoldered in a medley of garlic, white wine, olive oil, onion, and cilantro ($11.95). Wash down lingering spices with a glass of the house sangria ($6), or share a pitcher of beer ($16-$18) with a group of friends, Romans, and countrymen.