A group of goateed men in snapbacks, tight V-necks, and Nike track jackets are slouched in chairs barely rocking to painfully loud banda, with eyes trained on the runway show of voluptuous women shaped by Mexico’s famous Western and Northwestern DNA.
A tray of beers arrives with red streaks of Chamoy sauce, cooked shrimp, cucumbers, and lime wedges surrounding the opening on the Tajín-dusted top. The frosty treasures are surrounded by a massive snack tray—part ceviche, part tostilocos. To grab a beer without getting messy takes the skills of a Jenga master, which none of these gentlemen are. This is happy hour in L.A.’s pocho taquerias, restaurants and bars, where the cubeta (bucket of beers) has collided with the botana tray for an original style of imbibing.
The restaurant scene described above is OC’s Mariscos Hector, and Mexican seafood restaurant that’s more of a banda club for ordering trays of beer littered with snacks. The only way to experience this temple of Mexican machismo and attract the attention of the bevy of chulas (google it) is to go for the big baller buckets, trays, and supersized micheladas.
This winning formula has turned Mariscos Hector into a successful local franchise, but for Gabriel Barajas, aka Mr. MicheWay of Tacos Way; it’s more about making good tacos and finding a balance between a place for the boys to unwind, girl’s night out, and Sunday with the family.
Barajas found inspiration in Mexico to create his own wet and messy beer and snack trays and ruby red micheladas colored by Clamato juice, rimmed with shrimp and cucumbers sporting a pair of upside down beers. Chamoy (pickled fruit condiment) and Tajín, a spicy salt seasoning mix for fruit and vegetables leave no surface untouched by their magical flavors and qualities. Barajas’ brand has crossover appeal, bringing in Mexican-Americans, and non-Mexicans alike for his tacos and beer cocktails.
At Downey’s 20/20 Draft House, La Casa de Las Micheladas, micheladas, trays of hot sauce-covered shrimp, Corona beer towers, and beer cocktails served in hollowed out watermelons and pineapples are the goodies of choice for patrons watching football or boxing matches.
It’s puro, pinche pari (100% fucking party) all round the table when these beer cocktailers are pouring tastes of Mexico’s michelada culture embossed in a flurry of Chamoy, chili powder, and lime with a little pocho attitude onto a platter.
While the elaborate creations seem to be escalating by the month (there’s no way in hell I’m ordering a watermelon filled with beer), the popular flavors and cravings of us plebes (plebeians) are reflected in all these drinks. An old school beer with salt and lime still might still be my thing, but it’s exciting to see that a new crowd has been drawn into L.A. Mexican culture. And they’re all just micheladas to me.