Walking into Loteria Grill in Hollywood, I was already sold. Aside from the two glasses of wine I’d had before our first Restaurant Club outing, I was warm with excitement, my body charged with anticipation for Mexican food. My FAVORITE kind of food. I admit that my idea of Mexican sits firmly in the heart of such places as El Torito, Rubio’s, and that family favorite, Taco Bell. Recently, though, I’ve stretched my tastebuds some by hitting up spots like Border Grill (and yes, sitting here at my desk, I can see your eyes rolling, hear the air move around you as you shake your head saying, “That’s not authentic!” But remember, I’m the picky one; the one who doesn’t take risks; the one who has never tried tuna and is scared of potato salad).
The interior of Loteria Grill pleased me very much. I like frosted glass, vivid colors, big trees indoors reaching high up to the exposed ceiling rafters. All good stuff. We arrived about 15 minutes prior to our reservation but were still seated promptly by the friendly staff at the best table in the house (in my opinion), up front where we could enjoy our getaway from Long Beach with a view of late night Hollywood.
The food had its ups and downs. I like to end big, so we’ll start with the not so good and build up to the climax. Our host for the evening, Mario, ordered the Queso Fundido, served with the cutest little corn tortillas I’ve ever seen. Not quite “mini,” but not full-sized either. They were “Mama” sized. You know, as in Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Anyway, while I’m a cheesy kind of girl, this melted cheese was nothing special. Some at the table considered the fact that the dish may have been tastier had we ordered it with chorizo, but my friend Mario was thinking about me (I’m the only non-pork eater in the bunch – next time, don’t worry about little ol’ me). We also ordered the Chicarron de Queso, a mold of grilled, toasted cheese served with salsa and guacamole (and more of those Mama tortillas). It was certainly different … as a dish one would pay for. But how many times have I had that dish accidentally? You know, when you’re heating a cheesy dish in the microwave and you leave it in too long and some of the cheese on the side of the plate burns and gets crunchy but you’re so hungry and such a piggy that, after finishing the unburnt food, you scrape the hardened cheese off of the plate and eat it? That’s kind of what this was. So for me, the taste was familiar (and semi-pleasant), but not something I want to order on purpose, and definitely not something I would pay for if I were to return to Loteria Grill.
And I think I will return, one day. Not simply for the chips and salsa, which I rather enjoyed (although it’s not hard to find a basket of restaurant chips and salsa I won’t eat). Their red sauce was a chipotle salsa, viscous and hearty. The heat was at the upper end of my tolerance, but it wasn’t mad hot. Not fire hot. Just hot enough. Good stuff. Their green sauce was nice as well. I could survive for a couple of weeks on their chips and salsa if I happened to be trapped at Loteria Grill after a 9.0 L.A. earthquake. Even better, however, were their enchiladas. I had chicken enchiladas, one with their Pipian sauce (red pumpkin seed and peanut sauce) and the other with Mole Poblano. The enchiladas came smothered in sauce, both of them rich and robust. Some who tried the Pipian found it salty, but I enjoyed the flavors, the co-mingling of pumpkin and peanut. And the mole. Holy mole! It was my first time trying it and I can’t believe I dived right in, but I’m so glad I did. I tasted the sweetness of the sauce, the chocolate of it, tempered by a smoky warmth of savory flavors. I couldn’t get enough. That’s the one problem with the dish is that I didn’t get enough. Just two per plate. Then again, while I could have eaten a couple more, the portion was just right for someone like me, who wants to maintain my current pant size. But for someone like my husband – six-foot-six with an appetite like a polar bear – the enchiladas would have been more of a snack. A delicious snack, however.
The highlight of my evening of course involved alcohol. I might be the world’s biggest margarita fan. And, despite months resisting this flirty little drink because of its sugar content (I’ve been off and on the South Beach Diet wagon for years), I knew I had to try a Mango Loteria Margarita. But how distraught and downhearted I was when I learned that I would not be tasting one (apparently, they were out of a key ingredient). The waitress suggested we try the Tamarindo Margarita instead. I didn’t know what tamarind was, and even after my companions explained this fruit to me (a legume or pod with a hard, brown shell grown on bushy Tamarind trees), I still wasn’t sold. Still, I ordered one anyway, willing to throw away twelve bucks in the name of risk. Oh, what a risk indeed. It paid off. This drink, my friends, was the climax. The pinnacle. My Loteria Grill zenith. While not cheap, it’s the Tamarindo Margarita that continues to call out to me, and it’s the Tamarindo Margarita that will bring me back. A pungent, sugary potable with the subtle taste of tequila rinsing smoothly through it. No doubt the best margarita I’ve ever had (and this is coming from someone who has tried every El Torito magaraita flavor!).
So what more is there to say? Tequila, chips, salsa, margarita, mole. I don’t know. Maybe gift card for my birthday? A ride home so I can have two or three margaritas? Yes, I’ll say those things, but that’s it because I’ve gone on long enough. Adios.