I don’t tend to think of the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica as a hotbed of great Mexican food, but on my first day off in recent memory, I was drawn back to Lotería Grill. I couldn’t resist the Three Little Pigs tacos – perfectly cooked carnitas with bacon, topped with chicharrón, served on rich, heavy tortillas… and a dash of their signature Morita salsa for good measure.
I always ask what the daily agua fresca is, and was delighted to learn it was guava and mango.
When I stopped in at La Monarca for a couple of my favorite pastries in all of Los Angeles, the taquitos with guava and cheese filling, I realized that I need to share this delightful cafe and bakery with my friends and others who enjoy authentic Mexican pastries.
La Monarca has several locations around L.A., but the one I go to is at the corner of Wilshire and Euclid in Santa Monica… not a neighborhood known for its Mexican cuisine. The pastries are always wonderfully fresh – I’m so obsessed with the guava taquitos that I haven’t yet tried all of the varieties, but I can strongly recommend the conchas, wedding cookies and café de olla.
It’s a friendly place with a warm atmosphere and great coffee. I stop in whenever I’m in the neighborhood… In fact I think La Monarca is the reason I never changed my dry cleaner on Euclid Street when I moved away from Santa Monica a few months ago.
I first tried ceviche in Venezuela when I was 18 years old, and was fascinated with the concept that lime juice could cook the outside of the fish. Since then I’ve eaten it in many places, including Peru, where it is virtually the national dish. About 20 years ago, in the face of a widespread cholera epidemic, the Peruvian health minister warned the population against eating ceviche. the following day, he was relieved of his post, and the president was shown on TV eating ceviche… That’s how seriously they take ceviche in Peru.
I had a spectacular ceviche recently at Border Grill in Santa Monica, a long-time favorite restaurant. Fresh and delicious, with a variety of vegetables, and a not-too-citrusy dressing, it was beautifully balanced by avocado slices and a crunchy tostada shell. Just to day, I spotted a recipe for ceviche by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, celebrity owners and chefs of Border Grill. It sure looks like what I ate in the restaurant.
I was disappointed some time ago when the Gaucho Grill closed on the Santa Monica Promenade, but I instantly forgave them when it was replaced by Lotería Grill. I used to go to their original location when I lived near the Farmers Market on Third Street, but this is a much more inviting restaurant, and the food is every bit a good as it always was.
A long-time favorite has been the carnitas burrito with salsa morita, but this was the first time I had the entire “platillo.” Morita chiles are smoked, red-ripe jalapeño peppers, like chipotle peppers, except they are smoked for a shorter time. Interestingly, Lotería’s salsa packs more of a punch than I would have expected from a jalapeño. The rich, almost fruity flavor goes beautifully with the perfectly cooked pork, and the sides of rice and black beans provide a nice balance.
It wouldn’t have occurred to me to order quesadillas at such a serious restaurant, but that’s what my friend Greta wanted. And it was a wonderful idea. Soft warm and rich, wrapped in thick, hand-made tortillas, they were the perfect comfort food. A zesty guacamole and a spicy green salsa moved them into heavenly territory.