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the Beach Gourmet: Lares Mexican Restaurant: Quaint and Authentic:

I recently visited Lares restaurant, located at the east end of the vibrant Pico district in Santa Monica, and, along with a friend, explored some of the traditional Mexican fare purveyed in this genuine family–run cantina.

On a Saturday evening, Lares is a bustling bazaar of bona fide dishes from the South, and after pushing open the extremely weighty front door and bearing witness to some fine mission–style furniture – including a huge family table that inspired visions of Cesar Chavez et al seated around it strategizing the next stage of the farm workers’ revolution – we were fortunate to be led to a cozy little booth upstairs.

The servers here were polite, attentive and friendly without hovering over the table like some kind of bon vivant parole officer that sometimes can be encountered in restaurants.

Within seconds of being seated, our table was graced with a basket of fresh and crisp tortilla chips and a cute earthenware bowl of scintillating chipotle salsa, just right to awaken the palate as our eyes danced over one of the most classic Mexican menus that we have perused in quite a while.

While my friend went healthy with the chicken tostada ($9.50), I went gluttonous with the vegetarian combo ($11.75), that, with the potato taco, chile relleno and cheese enchilada served with rice and beans, supplied enough variety to keep even the most mercurial of diners entertained.

And entertained we were! My combo was superb with a crisp and tasty potato taco, a delicious relleno and one of the finest cheese enchiladas I have savored in many a moon. The chef here appears to really care about the dishes and even with mid-range prices still manages to add an extra sprinkling of love to the plate.

My friend’s Chicken Tostada was “healthy and good,” and both dishes were well apportioned and presented.

I accompanied my dish with an iced tea that, with lemon, is always a good palate cleanser while my friend commented that her margarita was “fantastic.” It must have been good as she confirmed the experience with a second one, just to be sure!

On the night we visited, each table was in turn serenaded by a duo of singing flamenco guitarists named Martes and Miercoles. I often feel a little awkward in these instances, not knowing if the protocol is to stop eating and appreciate the performance with a little foot tapping, continue to eat and chat as if they were not there or leap onto the table and proceed to stage-dive into the performers.

Needless to say, the latter did not occur, and the musical interlude was a lot of fun and a nice touch.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed this restaurant and left feeling happy, fulfilled and satisfied with our succulent sustenance.

Lares, 2909 Pico Blvd., 310.829.4559

Breakfast served, also full bar

8am-midnight every day

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