Tuesday, April 26, 2011

La Golondrina Cafe

Under almost any circumstances, Olvera Street is a nice place to take out-of-towners: there is shopping, cerveza and margaritas, history, churros, mariachis, people-watching... a little something for everyone. Sure, it's kind of hokey - in more than a dozen trips there, I have yet to find something non-edible that I actually would like to own - but on a sunny day there are far worse places to be.

But on this occasion, with Elizabeth's sister and brother-in-law, we had an actual mission. You may recall, last summer, that Elizabeth and I attended their wedding in New York and brought with us the cake-toppers we had purchased on Olvera Street, which all of the guests loved. Dawn and Brian used them in a diorama, and they were hoping to find one of a cat as well. So we headed down to Olvera Street and it did not take long for them to find what they were looking for. We turned our attention to lunch.

I have eaten at El Paseo many times, but never at La Golondrina across the street. So we decided to try it.

Chips and salsa are a good way to gauge how the meal is going to be, right? I was worried: these were disappointing. The chips were not warm. For a restaurant that was packed, there should be fresh tortilla chips coming out all the time. Unless, you know, they were just recycling the chips left behind on other tables. 

And the salsa was boring - pretty much a flavorless mess of tomatoes and juices, with a small amount of onion mixed in.

"I want to be on your blog just like Kate was," Dawn said. For those who do not remember, Elizabeth and Dawn's youngest sister, Kate, insisted that I post a photo of her on my blog back in 2009, which I did. 

"So you want me to take a picture of you?" I asked.

She thought about it for a moment. "Well, no, maybe just an action shot of me going for some salsa."

I am a beer guy, and I'm definitely not a tequila guy.

There is nothing too challenging on the menu. If you've been to Acapulco - the restaurant, not the city - you will be familiar with the options, right down to the hamburgers on the kids menu.

Elizabeth ordered a melon margarita and Brian selected a Cadillac margarita, probably because it was the one with the most booze, I suspect.

An ice-cold Pacifico on a warm day on Olvera Street is one of those Los Angeles moments I treasure, like a weekday game in Chavez Ravine or riding the train down to Philippe's.

Brian drank his margarita slightly faster than Elizabeth.

I had asked the waiter how the mole is at La Golondrina.

"Oh man," he said. "It's the best. It's the best you will ever have."

I admired his enthusiasm, if not exactly his honesty. I ordered a chicken enchilada with mole sauce.

When it arrived I winced: the mole looked like it had been painted on and had the consistency of the slime that comes in those little plastic balls from vending machines.

Fortunately, it tasted much better than it looked. While far from being the best mole I have ever had - it's not even the best I have had this month - it was neither too sweet nor too much like cheap chocolate, my main complaints with most mole I try. This had a noticeable but not overwhelming dark chocolate taste and a bit of a spice.

The waiter came back after a few minutes.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"It's very good, but it's not the best I have ever had."

"Oh come on! What is better than this?"

"Do you know La Cabañita in Glendale?" I answered. "That's my favorite mole I have ever had."

He paused for a moment, seemingly thinking it over.

"Yeah, okay," he said. "That's better. But this is pretty good."

"Yes it is," I agreed.

Elizabeth got the beef taquitos. She said they were fine, although I could tell she did not love them.

Dawn had the chicken fajita salad, the contents of a chicken fajita piled into a towering bowl of fried toritilla. She liked it but wished it contained more lettuce.

Brian had the cochinita pibil. He also enjoyed his meal but thought it was too greasy and ended up spooning most of it into tortillas with rice to cut the grease. I did not try any; I knew immediately by looking at it that it would pale in comparison to my two favorite places for cochinita pibil.

I tried the beans only after I had eaten all my food. They were fine, but I was so full by this point that any criticism I give should be taken with a grain of salt.

Talk about a Good Friday.

I did not have any problem with La Golondrina. But I like El Paseo Inn more. (And, to be honest, I could probably name 50 Mexican restaurants in the Los Angeles area that I like more than both of them.) This meal at La Golondrina was more expensive than any I have eaten at El Paseo, and the latter has always been a notch or two tastier than this meal.

While I would have no problem returning here, if it's up to me I will always choose El Paseo from now on - if for no other reason than that their chips and salsa are much better.


Fritos and Foie Gras said...

Out of curiosity - 1 night in LA, 1 Mexican meal...what would you choose?

SuperLarge said...

I've never been tempted to stray from El Paseo Inn. I'm now glad.

Last year, my sis, niece & I took the Gold Line to Olvera St. on All Saint's Day for the Dia de los Muertos parade and sat on the patio of El Paseo while the procession went by. It was pretty awesome.

JustinM said...

Fritos: I am addicted to La Cabanita, but I have to add the caveat that I only discovered it last fall and so I might be overrating it just because it's new to me. (But if I was taking someone out for Mexican food on their only night in town, that's still where I would go.)

Years ago, when I lived in Mid-Wilshire, I went several times to El Taurino and LOVED it. If you were by yourself, close to downtown, I would probably recommend that.

But I should also point out that I am not an expert on LA Mexican food by any means.

SuperLarge: I liked La Golondrina... it's just that everything about El Paseo I like a little bit more.

Anonymous said...

PP action shots FTW!

Stephen said...

Kelly loves La Cabanita, we also like La Golondrina. We always order Carne Asada Tampiquena, and split it. It is a pretty safe order and very good. We also typically each have two margaritas, but feel that they are way too expensive. Drinks alone, two each, is $48. Add tax and tip, and you are well over $60 for alcohol alone which I feel is a bit excessive.

JustinM said...

Anon: Thankfully I know what that means!

Stephen: Yes, it is a bit much, but I'm guessing you know as well as I that you're not paying just for the drinks, you're paying for the atmosphere. It's a tourist place, and one that I enjoy visiting two or three times per year. But I would never make it a regular stop. Lunch for the four of us was over $120, and it was merely okay. Lousy if we'd gone out in Pasadena for a nice lunch, acceptable for what it was, but nothing more than acceptable.