Friday, July 20, 2012

El Carmen Tequila and Taco Bar


Los Angeles. It’s a cross between a bordello and a Lucha Libre stadium. When you actually FIND the door you have to push your way through heavy red curtains to enter the red-tinged room, ringed with mirrors and portraits of Mexican wrestlers. A dozen wrestling masks peer down from the skylight, inspecting the bar, the wall of small (very small) tables, and the lone large booth in the corner. 

Bienvenidos a El Carmen. Come for happy hour, 5-7pm on weeknights. Margaritas are $5… beer is $3. And you can make a pretty fine meal for $6 or less.

Carnitas tacos, Quesadilla, Guacamole
Steer yourself towards the carnitas taco platter and the $2 guacamole, perfectly seasoned. Split the $4 cheese quesadilla, as big as four hands and charred in all the right places. Should you venture off the happy hour menu, the enchiladas are saucy and biting, the tamale is sweet, topped with crema; the salad is… boring. But who orders salad here? This is filling, salty stuff, all the better to sop up your cocktails.  

Everything's better with hot sauce
The menu looks and feels thick… but once you pass the 2 pages of food it’s tequila territory, literally dozens of pages of tequila options. This is a place you can buy an $800 shot. Or a tasting flight. Or one of the better spicy margaritas in town (the cucumber cilantro one is excellent too). 

This is a bar that serves food; not a restaurant that serves alcohol. Red candles bounce light around the dim room; a jukebox plays in the corner. But the comida is far better than it needs to be – their tamales inspire cravings, the chips are house-made – and it feels like you’ve stumbled into a very sexy neighborhood secret. 

El Carmen
8138 West 3rd Street Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 852-1552


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