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.
Since 1951, the chefs at Rose Caf? on the Mesa have been mixing and forming their own chorizo according to a family recipe. The sausage clings to cheese inside gooey quesadillas and spices up tortilla strips, eggs, and veggies in chilaquiles. A collection of other family recipes guides chefs as they make flan, enchiladas, and jam-packed chilies rellenos. Patrons can also order breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros all day inside the golden-hued dining room or take their meals outside to the brick-paved patio.
At Mauricio's Grill and Cantina, a festive atmosphere is just as important as a commitment to culinary tradition. Surrounded by palm trees, both brightly colored locations serve simple Mexican dishes ranging from classics to original house interpretations. Quesadillas and enchiladas are stuffed with ground beef or marinated chicken and then grilled. The aroma of shrimp sautéed with vegetables mingle with that of new york strip steak tossed in ranchero sauce. The kitchen also prepares a range of vegetarian dishes. At the cantina-style bar, servers blend margaritas and other tropical house cocktails.
Instead of bellying up to a bar, visitors to Avant Tapas & Wine can savor ambrosial tastes?such as Inception chardonnay, Hitching Post pinot noir, and Falcone syrah?at the Wine Wall. Here, a dispensing system measures out exact pours of 52 wines hailing from California?s other wine country?the prolific central coast. Visitors immerse their taste buds in sips of diverse varietals from 20 regional wineries, such as Ground Effect Wine Co. in San Luis Obispo and Hoyt Family Vineyards in Malibu, all produced next door at Terravant Wine Company and enjoyed in Avant?s industrial warehouse confines.
Guests can also pair wines with the celebrated cuisine of chef Robin Reynolds, who harnesses her extensive culinary training and her roots as a Santa Barbara County native to infuse her morsels with local flavors, from hormone-free rib eye to produce picked from nearby organic gardens. While swirling vibrant reds or sweet whites in their glasses, diners take in live music three nights a week or peruse the establishment during tours.
Between the disco ball that glitters above the dining room, the toy sharks swimming in bucket-sized cocktails, and the Pop Rocks that crackle in watermelon margaritas, it's pretty obvious that Baja Sharkeez is a lot of fun. These playful touches are the handiwork of Ron and Greg Newman, a father-son team for whom Sharkeez is a labor of love. Ron had found success with the Red Onion chain of restaurants in the '70s and '80s, but upon Greg's graduation from USC, the pair decided to start fresh with a new concept. According to The Tasting Panel, Greg enlisted some of his fraternity brothers to help develop the brand, and today, the small chain maintains a boisterous, beachy vibe that reflects Greg's Hermosa Beach upbringing.
In that spirit, Sharkeez hosts plenty of special events, including July 4th hot-dog-eating contests and bachelorette parties with drink specials and party favors. But even on a normal day there's generally a crowd, whether it be families ordering off the kids' menu at lunch, or coworkers stretching happy hour into a late night. The kitchen cooks up an extensive selection of Baja-Mexican dishes, such as burritos stuffed with mesquite chicken or the very popular mahi-mahi tacos. Those looking to drink with their meal can order spiked lemonades and fresh-fruit margaritas or build their own cocktail at the bloody mary bar.
At first glance, the menu of Restaurant Open might appear simple and static with a selection of sandwiches and burgers. This, however, is only half of the story. Each day, the restaurant's chefs post daily specials, and here is where the restaurant shines. Not only do they "freestyle" improvised, off-the-menu dishes after conversing with patrons, but they also mingle in nearby markets and chat up vendors, looking for interesting ingredients to convert into the specials for that day's morning and afternoon. A quick browse through a photostream shows off delectable selections. Tri-tip filets sizzle on a grill, ready to be cut and put into tortas, sandwiches, or the mouths of passersby. Noodles swirl with veggies and sesame oil to be converted into lo mein, while fresh cuts of fish and whole lobsters rest on ice. Other specials—detailed on the restaurant's whiteboard—include meatball sandwiches and honey batter-dipped corn dogs.