Back in my Ohio days, my idea of Mexican food was Chi Chi's and Taco Bell. At Chi Chi's, I'd usually order a "pop" (soda, for the rest of you) just so I could get the complimentary chips and salsa. Or, if my mom had given me a little bit of money, I'd order a virgin daquiri (and get the complimentary chips and salsa). If was an especially special occasion, I'd actually order food, which was usually some sort of fried burrito... NO beans, please. No me gusta frijoles! The servers had no idea what I was talking about.
Even at Taco Bell, the most adventurous thing I'd order back then was a meximelt with no pico... which is essentially beef and melted cheese in a tortilla. (Still my favorite item at Taco Bell.)
My tastebuds were not prepared for the Mexican onslaught they endured once I moved to Los Angeles. One of the first places my first girlfriend took me was El Compadre, whose sign boasts "Authentic Mexican Family Restaurant," or something like that. She raved and raved about this place. My first order: the Vagabundo combo, which was a beef taco and a cheese enchilada with beans and rice. It was 6.95, and it came with rice and beans. Of course, I said, no me gusta frijoles! And they gave me all rice instead.
I was hesitant. It didn't taste like Chi Chi's. And why is this beef shredded? And the salsa, it's so HOT and not CHUNKY. And the chips, they're so thin and greasy! And there's so much of this red sauce on everything. And the taco... this taco shell is NOT what I'd buy at the grocery store. It's warped! And greasy! And WHITE CHEESE on a taco? What about yellow cheese?
I'm not sure I finished my dinner that night, but I'm sure I left drunk off the SIX DOLLAR MARGARITA! Six bucks for a drink! I was amazed. And broke.
When I started going to El Compadre, no one knew about it. There was never a wait. You could get a combo for $6.95. It's in West Hollywood, across from the Guitar Center, near some great Thai restaurants, but it was the best kept secret in LA, as far as I was concerned. I slowly started to like the restaurant more and more, and we quickly became semi-regulars. And I realized, THIS... THIS is Mexican food. And this is one of the first restaurants on Katie's Los Angeles Tour for friends that come visit.
Slowly, however, people started to find out about El Compadre. And today, if you get there after 8pm on ANY day of the week, you can expect to wait an hour. It's quite possibly the best Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. My friend Wendy has a 4 year old and a 3 year old, and her and her husband and the kids go there every Friday night. They don't even call the restaurant by its proper name, instead referring to it as "Good Guacamole."
Last night, Rachel and I went there at 9pm and were warned we'd wait an hour. We know the whole the-tables-at-the-bar-are-first-come-first-served trick, so we only waited about 20 minutes. And as we were sitting there, we started talking about who we've seen there. You know, famous people. This is a popular game in LA... you're at a restaurant, you recall seeing someone famous at said restaurant, so you tell the story. She remembered seeing Lauren Graham there, I remembered seeing Christina Ricci. Just then, as if on cue, Billy Bob Thornton walked towards the exit with a bunch of friends. Twenty minutes later, Dwight Yoakam walked through in Billy Bob's steps, probably looking for him since they're friends. We also saw Gideon Yago from MTV.
And then I realized. Some stupid entertainment writer probably wrote some stupid article about how they saw Jennifer Aniston there or Adam Brody or Billy Corgan or whoever, and now, it's a hot spot. Also, margaritas are now between 7 and 9 dollars, depending on who takes your order. The same combo we used to order for $6.95 is now $8.95. And the service is starting to not be great. It makes me sad.
I'll still go, especially since the hot waitress knows me and calls me sweetie. Oh, and me gusta friijoles ahora.