El Agavero’s chefs craft a menu of Mexican specialties with a focus on fresh cactus dishes. Loosen jaw hinges to welcome starters of sopitos ($8.95), whose quintet of sopes delivers a wallop of flavor on tortilla vessels. Super burrito famoso ($10.65) fills fists and tortillas with a savory mélange of vegetables and guacamole before being anointed with red enchilada sauce. Gastronomic gurus facilitate vegetarian munching by deneedling fresh grilled cactus ($9.95), setting aside their prickly arsenal for later use as toupees for balding pine trees. House margaritas wash down savory flavors, and desserts of house-made flan can act as a culinary quill filled with custardy ink for scrawling epicurean epilogues across tongues.
Molcajete's chef, Manuel Torres, focuses on a concise, refined menu of Mexican street fare at Molcajete, which is Spanish for mortar. A symbol of the artisanal and handmade, the mortar appears prominently in a mural in the restaurant's dining room and is a symbol for Torres's approach to meals. Familiar carne asada surprises with grilled American Kobe beef flank steak, and remarkably thick, handmade corn tortillas make a meal out of chanclas piled high with black beans, steak, lettuce, and cheese. Weekly specials veer into lesser-known regional specialties, such as the Yucatan's cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish, or Jalisco's torta ahogada served on the area's french bread offshoot, birote. Whether served inside or out on the patio, dishes arrive elegantly plated among perfectly formed mesas of tender rice, cups of black beans, or dollops of guacamole accented with dark purple cabbage.
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.
Inspired by his parents’ tradition of handmade Puebla and Jalisco dishes, Chef Lito Saldaña created a menu that showcases Puebla’s complex and French-inspired moles juxtaposed with Jalisco’s rich-and-spicy roasted pork and carnitas. While seated in the spacious, colorful dining area, diners can wrap handmade corn tortillas around four types of mole, tasting the subtle difference between Lito’s mother Luisa’s and grandmother Elena’s recipes. To sample Lito’s father’s traditional Jalisco recipes, guests can nosh on the carnitas Don Pedro, a plate of roasted pulled pork served with beans and fresh guacamole.
The chefs at Restaurant & Taqueria Mar y Tierra prepare tangy dishes sourced from the sea and the earth. Six steak options share the menu with seven types of shrimp cocktail. Tostadas bear fresh cargo of citrus infused ceviche or shrimp. The restaurant's cooks also fry up fish fillets and turn out classic chicken enchiladas and chilies rellenos, which diners may pair with brews imported from Central America and East America.
Many Mexican restaurants have mole somewhere on their menus, but it's generally not the star component. Yet at Los Moles, the complex sauce is the specialty of the house. Chef Saldana relies on his family recipes to create six varieties of mole made with guajillo chilies, poblanos, or pumpkin seeds—all of which are served with grilled chicken breast, poblano rice, and handmade corn tortillas. Saldana recommends eschewing all flatware and using the tortillas to scoop up the moles.
Even the drink menu gets a splash of mole, with bartenders mellowing the flavor of the mole poblano with lime juice and agave nectar or spicing it up with habanero and an IPA draft. Not all drinks are this complex, however; bartenders also make classic cocktails such as flavored mojitos and house sangria. Plus, they create six styles of Micheladas, which, like a first kiss on the last day of summer camp, are both sour and sweet.