At the far western end of Pico Boulevard there is to be found an eclectic collection of unique and unrelated businesses, including the highly appreciated Vidiots video rental store, AMF Bay Shore Lanes bowling alley, and a little known gem of a restaurant called El Texate.
From the street, El Texate looks more like a straight-ahead bar than a restaurant, and, after we entered through the covered patio, the image of a rustic retreat focusing more on beer and tequila than burritos and taquitos was reinforced. Once inside, however, the sustenance side of El Texate rears its tantalizing head with a large, rather spacious restaurant split into two sections and the aromatic evidence of some tantalizing Latin American and Oaxaca cuisine.
We chose to sit in a comfy booth at the bar side of the restaurant, and were immediately charmed by the evident social quality of this establishment as we witnessed the staff enjoying some lively banter and camaraderie with some clearly regular patrons, whose intention appeared to be to imbibe the offerings of the full bar rather than indulge in the specialties of the kitchen.
The complimentary chips and salsa were a good start, served with an absolutely delightful salsa that was smooth and very flavorsome, with a strong cilantro overtone and just enough heat to cajole the taste buds to life.
The appetizer section of the menu had a choice of 12 items, including staples like cheese quesadillas ($7.99), jalapeño rellenos ($5.99), and of course nachos (medium $6.99 or large $8.99), but we decided to choose the mulitas (large triangles of tortillas filled with jack cheese and chicken and topped with guacamole and sour cream, $9.99).
Service, although friendly and courteous, was marred only by slow preparation – odd, given that we were the only dining patrons present at that time. Nevertheless, when our mulitas did arrive it was worth the wait.
For my entrée I went for one of El Texate’s dinner specials. There were seven selections to choose from, including shrimp in red mazcal sauce with a chile relleno ($14.50), a salmon steak with a chicken enchilada in mole sauce, and their fajitas consisting of 1/2 shrimp and 1/2 fish, guacamole, sour cream, and Pico de Gallo. I chose the chile relleno with chicken and two chicken enchiladas with green sauce ($12.99).
All the dinner specials are accompanied with rice and beans and are served with a choice of soup or salad. I chose the tortilla soup, a very pleasant vegetable bowl with crispy tortillas and a delightful herb hue.
Again, it took a while for delivery of the food, that, had we not had a pressing cinematic engagement, would not have been an issue, but upon arrival the distractions of the outside world faded into insignificance as I gazed upon a super large and attractively presented plate of colorful food.
This chicken relleno was huge and smothered with a delightful mole sauce. Rich and thick, it gave a sweet slant to the proceedings, and combined with the enchiladas, huge servings of rice, and black beans made for a succulent, albeit hurried, dinner.
On the plus side, El Texate is a charming restaurant with some equally charming Oaxaca dishes. Traditionally decorated with Mexican artwork and some inspiring historical photographs, the restaurant is somewhat reminiscent of a Tijuana family eatery and bar, with an evident tribe of social regulars.
So, the only mar of the visit was the extended kitchen-to-table time that, even though we had put aside an hour in which to dine, still had us sprinting to finish our meals. That being said, however, I enjoyed the food and the friendly staff. As did my colleague, given that he ordered exactly the same things.
Bon appetit, twice.
El Texate, 316 Pico Boulevard, 310.399.1115.