Mexican Food: Tried, True, Delicioso

Here some Los Angeles magazine staffers reveal their favorite Mexican-food guilty pleasures, those places we love despite (but sometimes because of) the cliches

I love La Tolteca because that neon tamale reaches you a block before the restaurant and the anticipation builds. I’ve been going there since I was five. I also love Gardens of Taxco. It’s more about the theater of the waiters than it is about the food. They have catchphrases, and the way they deliver them is magical. “Not hot. Spiiiiiiiiicy.” “Tastes like it was borrrrrrrn in the sauce.”
-Chris Nichols 

I like Casa Escobar and Gilberts in Santa Monica, but Lares is my favorite for atmosphere. The waiters have been there as long as I’ve been going there, over 20 years.
-Julia St. Pierre 

El Carmen. Best margaritas all around. The jalapeño ones are incredible, and they clear you right up to boot!
-Caroline Cagney

The Original Las Casuelas on Palm Canyon Drive is the best for red leather booths, tattered carpeting, and the Quesadilla Del Rey (a cheese quesadilla smothered with beef or chicken and ranchero sauce—old-timey and delicious). My husband grew up going to the original whenever he was in town from Chicago visiting his grandfather. It quickly became my favorite when we started dating, and on our way to our wedding weekend we escaped the chaos of family and friends and ducked in for a beer for our own toast. My current L.A. favorite is Mariscos Chente. The pescado zarendeado (a crispy whole fish) is not really for youngsters (too many small bones), but my little people dig the marlin tacos. The best part: It’s OK if anyone forgets his or her restaurant voice in the no-frills space—especially when gasping at a platter of buttery, garlicky camarones borrachos (whole shrimp, heads intact).
-Wendy Witherspoon 

I like El Compadre on Sunset. It’s got all the standards: red booths, Mexican art on the walls, and mariachis, plus great steak tacos, flaming margaritas, and people watching. Perfect.
-Shayna Rose Arnold 

I go to Frida at Americana at Brand the most. I always seem to go on mariachi night. The guys are good—and loud. I get the Frida platter full of fried loveliness and a margarita, of course. I also like La Fonda near downtown. It’s like a basement, but if I’m covering a party around there and they don’t feed me, that’s where I end up. It’s good that it’s dark. There’s steak with cheese on it and mariachis who wink at you.
-Kari Mozena

I love Señor Fish for its tasty dishes, generous portions, reasonable prices, and lively atmosphere. When I worked downtown, the Little Tokyo location was one of my favorite lunch stops. The food—especially the grilled fish tacos—is reliable and delicious and leaves you wanting more. There are daily specials and a salsa bar, where you can help yourself. The place doesn’t feel slick or contrived (or super-cheesy). It’s casual and comfortable—perfect for a fast, fresh meal.
-Leilah Bernstein

Photograph courtesy