Gracias Madre

Will and I had our first experience with Gracias Madre in San Francisco.  At peak dining time, the restaurant was packed and we had to wait fifteen minutes for a table in the chilly outside patio.  When he read that the restaurant opened a location in Los Angeles a few months after, we decided to make the trek out of suburbia to West Hollywood and give it a try.

A pomelo margarita and a pineapple and guava agua fresca. Both were good.

The decor of the West Hollywood location is straight out of a Pinterest design board. Large windows let in plenty of light while white tiled tables give the place a vaguely ethnic flair.  Hanging air plants, rustic light fixtures, and a large outdoor seating area to enjoy the sunshine make the restaurant a welcoming place, despite the line of beautiful, fashionable people in designer sunglasses waiting for seating.

Gracias Madre is a completely vegan restaurant serving Mexican food.  There’s not a lot of these in LA, so it there was a novelty factor in our coming here.

We shared a very good cauliflower appetizer.  Florets of cauliflower were seasoned with cumin and other spices and then deep fried, not to golden perfection, but close enough.  Dipped in their table-side red salsa, it was a promising start to the meal.

I ordered the entree tamal, which had some sort of squash stuffing and came with a side of black beans. The tamal was decent and the squash wasn’t overly sweet like I was fearing.  The accompanying pickled vegetables were in a bad place between unrefined and rustic.  The sad spoonful of pico de gallo looked and tasted out of place. The beans were quite good smeared on a bite of tamal.  This dish was okay, but for $13, I wanted more than ‘okay.’ I know that the price of the dish reflects the localness of the ingredients, paying the servers, rent, etc. but I do wish it were more exciting than “one tamale and a side of beans.”

Will had the chilaquiles, which weren’t bad.  They weren’t the best chilaquiles I’ve had, and not even the best vegan version I’ve had.  They also came with a side of those tasty black beans.

For dessert, I had a rich, custardy house-made flan. Impressive for a vegan dessert. It tasted more of vanilla than caramel and best of all, didn’t taste vegan.  Will had an apple cobbler with house-made vanilla ice-cream that was large enough to share.  I’m usually not that excited by apple desserts, but even I have to admit this one was good. Just the right amount of spice, tartness, and restrained sweetness.

When Will went outside after the meal, some passerby’s asked him if the food was good. He said something along the lines of  “The food is good if you’re vegan and you want Mexican-type food and you don’t mind paying a lot for it.”

Gracias Madre
8905 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 978-2170

Holiday Latkes and a Taco Party

Latkes have a special place in my heart because it was one of the first things Will cooked for me.  Plus, they’re deep fried potatoes and how can I not love that?  We usually have a Chanukah party sometime in December, but because it falls so late this year and people get more busy the closer it gets to Christmas, we decided to skip it.  But that doesn’t mean we have to skip the latkes!

DSC_8263Chanukah Latkes with Christmas Beer

The next night, our friend Yuko invited us over to watch Top Chef. This evolved into grabbing dinner, which then evolved into a taco party. Freshly made tortillas and home-made filling made this party a success! The food was so good, I completely forgot to build a food-porn plate under her excellent kitchen lighting and just stuffed my face instead. Top Chef is always better when watched on a full stomach and sipping an armanac side car.

DSC_8269

Guisados

guisados menu board
Living in southern California, it’s next to impossible to not eat a taco once in your life. There are the countless taco trucks along Ceasar Chavez and Beverly Blvd; they were a thing before food trucks became a thing. While Guisados is a brick and mortar restaurant instead of a mobile taco truck, it has the taco truck mentality. Order at the counter, watch your taco being assembled fresh after you order, stuff your face with it, and then order another.

Where Guisados differs from the taco truck experience is that it doesn’t just have your run of the mill carne asadas, carnitas, and cabeza tacos. Instead, it has exotic-sounding things like calabacitas and mole casipoblano. What might surprise you is that this humble little taco spot also has an amuse bouche and even a chef’s choice sampler platter.

The amuse bouche, a small cup of whatever soup they’re featuring that day, is enough to whet the appetite while you’re waiting for the food to be assembled. The first time I went, it was a rich, fresh-tasting cilantro soup with just the right touch of acidity. The second time, it was a wonderfully spiced chicken broth. A hot bowl of that soup would be perfect on a chilly day.

First-timers willing to try anything should definitely go for the sampler platter. It’s a plate of six miniature tacos each piled high with the first six taco fillings on the menu. On one particular day, the six tacos were chicharron, tinga de pollo, steak picado, mole poblano, chuleta en salsa verde, bistek rojo, and cochinita pibil.guisados

My favorites on that day were the chicarron and cochinita pibil tacos. The chicharon had that perfect chewy but tender texture with that guilt-inducing richness. The cochinita pibil was juicy, spicey, and definitely gives Yucas, my previous spot for cochinita pibil, a run for their money. The tinga de pollo has a chile pepper drawing next to it, indicating that it’s spicy and yes, it is definitely a not-foolin’ around spicy. I usually save that one for last or else I can’t taste the other tacos after it.

What’s icing on the cake is that Guisados also offers a couple of vegetarian and possibly vegan tacos (if you ask them to leave off the cheese). The vegetarian options aren’t as plentiful or as exciting sounding as the meat options, but it’s always nice to have. The days I was there, they had a grilled mushroom and cilantro taco as well as a zucchini taco. Unfortunately, most of the time, the amuse bouche of soup is not vegetarian.

On a street in Boyle Heights that boasts of hundreds of other places to get tacos and tamales, it’s hard for a new restaurant to stand out. What Guisados has to offer is a regionally different taco filling, and attention to ingredients. After one chat with the owner, it’s apparent that he really cares about the quality of his ingredients, how his taco fillings turn out, and his customers. One of the times I visited was in the middle of Lent and he admitted to having more fish and vegetable options on the menu to cater to his Catholic customers who still want a delicious taco. How’s that for customer service?

Guisados
2100 E Cesar Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 264-7201