Tintorera, the new Silver Lake restaurant from Mexico City chef Maycoll Calderón, is hidden along Sunset Boulevard, behind a bright turquoise painted wall, inside what used to be the old Cowboys and Turbans space.
Behind the wall is a sprawling patio, surrounded by palm fronds and abutted by a tall brick wall with a giant mermaid mural and the hashtag “#ItsaMexicanThing” towering over the outdoor dining space (lest anyone forget to Instagram their dinner). Though there is a swanky indoor cocktail bar featuring micheladas and mezcal-spiked horchata from Mexico City bartender David Mora, nearly everyone wants to snag a seat outside in the spacious courtyard where tables are covered by an overhead canopy of soft-glowing string lights. Calderón’s sister, who runs the front-of-house operations, flits between tables. The atmosphere is so dreamy and transportive, it’s easy to find yourself forgetting which city you’re in, which might be fitting considering Calderón’s peripatetic cooking career.
The Venezuelan-born chef built his culinary resume in Spain at Arzak and New York at Jean-Georges, but most recently made a name for himself with Huset in Mexico City, a Mexican-European bistro he operates with business partner Walter Meyenberg, who is a partner in Tintorera.
“We saw that there are cool restaurants [in L.A]. The scene was up-and-coming. But there’s nothing different,” explains Calderón of the impetus to open what’s been billed as a modern Mexican seafood restaurant in Silver Lake. When asked to describe what he means by “different” he gestures around the patio. “Something like this,” he says.
It’s true—the patio at Tintorera is something special, but Los Angeles is home to other great outdoor patios (Salazar most recently comes to mind), and for that matter our modern Mexican scene is pretty advanced too (Broken Spanish, Guerrilla Tacos, Taco María, Verlaine), at least compared to the rest of the country. What is it that Tintorera hopes to bring to the scene?
For now the focus seems to be on colorful raw appetizers, each as Instagram-able as that big wall mural. Hamachi tostadas come slathered with guacamole, sliced radishes, chilies, chives and citrus vinaigrette; tuna tartate is dressed with a jalapeño emulsion. Though seafood is the focus, heartier fare stands out. The arroz con pollo, a big bowl of yellow saffron rice and chicken enhanced with chorizo and topped with slices of avocado, is simple and comforting. “I taste that dish and it reminds me of home. My mom, my family—like a big bowl of rice, just sharing it between everybody,” says Calderón.
Since the patio is so enchanting, ordering dessert can almost feels like extending a vacation. And there’s a good chance that the boozy corn bread with cajeta, caramelized popcorn, and mezcal ice cream was made by Calderón himself. His recent foray into the Silver Lake restaurant scene has put him face-to-face with at least one harsh reality: staffing a kitchen for a 70-plus seat Los Angeles restaurant is no easy task, which has left him doing double-duty as pastry chef. Tintorera might have ambitions to be the next big thing on the city’s Mexican gastronomy radar, but right now it’s working towards a more important step: becoming a great neighborhood restaurant.
2815 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-741-0055, tintorera.la