LA named top Memorial Day destination

PUMP-LoungeSeats at Pump and Sur might just get a bit harder to book — This Memorial Day Weekend more American’s want to get a glimpse of LA Bravo Reality Life as LA now becomes a Top MDW destination!

That’s right Hampton’s are so last year —LA is what is hot!

This new data comes from CheapOair, who just released this year’s Top Memorial Day Weekend Destinations!

Los Angeles dominates as a top Memorial Day Destination rounding up the Top 3. While the Cubs have made Chicago the hottest destination of the year, those not after a seat at Wrigley’s are after a selfie with one of Hollywood’s most beloved reality stars!

The data also showed that prices are significantly lower this year than last, with average flight prices dropping 16% compared to last year, but insiders say flights are tentative to rise after this week!

So make your reservations before the flocks of tourists fill up LA’s hottest restaurants over the long holiday weekend.

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Del Frisco’s Grille serves up a scene

delfriscoahitacosDel Frisco’s Grille in Santa Monica never disappoints as a vibrant hangout where friends can meet up, see and be seen, and look good doing it. The crowd at Del Frisco’s for happy hour and into the night is a jubilant bunch, maybe because they are steps away from the Santa Monica beach and the action of 3rd Street Promenade, or maybe just because it’s great to be young and pretty in LA. Whatever the reason, each time I have visited this restaurant/bar it is packed and loud — though not can’t-hear-yourself-loud, just we’re-having-too-much-fun loud – and the drinks are flowing and the food is coming out of the kitchen like an assembly line.

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This hotspot has gotten the formula right for LA’s upwardly mobile millennials. Excellent location, good food, reasonable drink prices, and festive atmosphere that equals steady crowds and return customers. Granted, it’s hard to go wrong when your eatery is right on the footpath to the Santa Monica Pier, but still Del Frisco’s has managed to please its clientele with a solid menu with variety for everyone from seafood lovers and strictly carnivores to those who just came for the appetizers.

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Del Frisco’s has smartly made their starters, which they label Food to Fight Over, a large part of their menu, with variety for many tastes. Some favorites are the Ahi Tacos, with tuna tartare, avocado and spicy citrus mayo; Jumbo Lump Crabcakes with Cajun lobster sauce; Cheesesteak Eggrolls served with sweet and spicy chili sauce and honey mustard; and for those not too worried about impressing their date with messing fingers, the Lollipop Chicken Wings, served Buffalo style with avocado ranch dressing.

As with every LA eatery that caters to LA’s diet conscious patrons, there’s plenty of salads to choose from, such as the Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad with basil pesto, and the Kale and Brussels Sprouts salad with manchego and creole mustard vinaigrette, best topped with chicken for a filling meal.

For the knife and fork bunch, there’s the Prime Beef Short Stronganoff with pappardelle noodles and tobacco onions, and the Filet Meatloaf, a Southern Comfort concoction of ground filet mignon, served with mashed potatoes and wild mushroom Bordelaise sauce.

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After dinner indulgences include my favorite, the Nutella Bread Pudding with coffee ice cream and caramel sauce; and perfect dessert for the baby-faced grown-ups, an Adult Milkshake of Nocello walnut liqueur, creme de cacao, chocolate liqueur, and vanilla ice cream.

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Though the restaurant is upscale is causal, reservations are recommended, if you want to get in to eat and drink with the in-crowd.

Top California foodies say recipes that’got milk’ trending

 

milkCalifornia’s Culinary Experts, Including Bravo-TV’s “Top Chef” Shirley Chung and Napa’s Ethan Speizer, Showcase Milk-based Recipes For 2017

Cooking with milk and a return-to-indulgence movement is back this year, according to chefs from across the state of California who participated in a January 2017 Food Trends culinary competition. With semi-finalist recipe submissions ranging from pork chops braised in milk to Latin-fusion desserts including Coconut Tres Leches and Churro Sando with Horchata Ice Cream and Dulce de Leche, one thing is certain – 2017 will be a stellar year for milk-loving foodies.

The winning recipe – Smoky Chili Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Kahlua Milk Frosting & Vanilla Milk Drizzle – was created by Merry Graham, a Southern California award-winning home cook and published author. Her recipe combines Dutch cocoa, ancho chili, brewed coffee, Kahlua and milk for a decadent dessert.

The competition was hosted by the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB), creator of the iconic got milk? and Toma Leche campaigns, which invited California-based culinary artists to submit on-trend recipes featuring milk. Notable influencers who participated in the campaign include Shirley Chung, a season 11 finalist and current contestant on Season 14 of Bravo’s popular show, Top Chef, and Napa-foodie Ethan Speizer, founder and executive chef at late-night pop-up Nuri Napa.

Chef Chung contributed a Milk-Braised Napa Cabbage recipe that incorporates Virginia cured ham, ginger, Goji berries, a reflection of her “modern American cooking with Chinese soul” philosophy.  Napa-notable Ethan Speizer contributed a traditional-style Milk-Braised Lamb Neck recipe that incorporates an array of spices and herbs such as bouquet garni and Shisho gremolata.

“The start of a new year inspires an openness to try something new, especially in the kitchen,” said Steve James, CMPB Executive Director. “We’re excited to showcase new culinary creations that demonstrate milk’s central role in expected food trends for 2017.”

Culinary Fight Club announces 2017 competition schedule and expansion into new cities

culinaryfightclub Culinary Fight Club, the popular food sport event series, announces its expansion into 12 new cities in 2017, with a fresh list of competition series scheduled and key sponsors returning to add to the exciting year. Chefs will now battle in 17 markets, including Chicago, Omaha, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Boston, Knoxville, Johnson City, Pittsburgh, Virginia Beach, Charlotte, Twin Cities, Kansas City, Montgomery, Charlotte, Charleston, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Los Angeles!

Culinary Fight Club competitions will be title-sponsored by Reinhart Foodservice, as the official pantry sponsor in 11 of 17 markets. The pantry provides fresh ingredients that allow the competitors the opportunity to battle for the best dish.

“We are excited to continue to grow our relationship with Culinary Fight Club,” says Eric Cronert, Vice President Marketing and Communications, Reinhart Foodservice. “Partnering with organizations like Culinary Fight Club allows us to be part of the food sports movement and local food scenes all while helping support a great cause, Fight2Feed.”

2017 will host various themes, including Chocolate, Pork, Taco, Pitmaster, Blended Burger, Steak, Seafood, Chocolate and Sip + Bite. Culinary Fight Club also brings back by popular demand its Amazing Culinary Fight Club Pantry Race competition.

“Food sports is one of the fastest growing events in the nation,” says Culinary Fight Club founder, Jiwon McCartney. “We are thrilled to expand our reach and work with amazing chefs who can battle it out and create delicious dishes in a competitive environment.”

With the successful launch of the 2016 Chicago Culinary Fight Fest, the Culinary Fight Club tournament series will be hosted in Chicago, Atlanta and Kansas City in 2017.  In addition, a new Mystery Box Series will launch center stage at this year’s Travel & Adventure Show in seven cities.  As with all CFC events, each benefits Fight2Feed, a non-profit that aims to feed the hungry.

“Culinary Fight Club is one of the most entertaining live events,” says Matt Hensler Director of Integrated Marketing Communication, Blast Marketing & PR and Advisory Board Member, Culinary Fight Club. “Blast Marketing & PR is delighted to be partner with Culinary Fight Club and be a part of its growth, as the company offers our clients’ chefs the opportunity to receive the recognition they deserve in food sports.”

Join your new best friends for dinner at Fleming’s steakhouse

flemings-filet-and-ribeye-group-shot_largeFleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Beverly Hills has a hipper swagger than your traditional steakhouse. It has the dim lighting, crisp white table cloths and large booth seating that you expect from a fine dining establishment, but unlike the staid and almost library-like atmosphere of many steakhouses, Fleming’s feels like a party.

This energy could be partially owing to the vivaciousness of the servers, like Tyler, who we figured must be an actor, because his flashy smile was at any moment headshot ready, who took care of me and my dining companion on our last visit, but it is also the general vibe of the place, from the laughter of the well-heeled patrons mingling at the bar to the steady flow of patrons in and out of the restaurant, milling about in the entry, greeting the host and hostess as if they were old friends, maybe they were.

But of course, the ambience and atmosphere are important, but the food is essential, and here is where Fleming’s truly excels. Being a steakhouse, of course I ordered a steak. As a huge fan of the bone-in T-bone, I ordered the one and only size of its variety, the 20-ounce steak, which was a meal fit for a king, or two. Of course, with an Uncle Buck sized steak like this, I figured I would end up boxing up a good portion of it to take home, but it was so juicy and flavorful that I did not leave as much on my plate as I had expected, but still enough for a second excellent meal the next day.

As we had started our meal with the outstanding crabcakes, wading in a puddle of roasted red pepper and lime butter sauce, followed by the Flemings salad of candied walnuts, dried cranberries, tomatoes, onions, herbed crostini, lemon vinaigrette, we did not want to overdo it, and so we only ordered the shoestring potatoes as a side, though we had heard good things about the crispy fried brussels sprouts and the monstrous onion rings, but we will have to wait until next time to order those.

Tyler kept us happy, making sure all our dishes arrived as ordered, hot and fresh. He was not afraid to give his opinion on the best way to have our food prepared, such as recommending having my steak seared on both sides before cooking it to a perfect medium rare, versus broiling it. He also had excellent suggestions regarding wines, and he didn’t judge when I asked for white wine with my steak, and he selected for me a rich and buttery Chardonnay that paired perfectly with the juicy flavor of my steak.

To finish off our most excellent dining adventure, Tyler recommended Fleming’s extraordinary carrot cake. A tall layered slice of this goodness was delivered with a bowl of fresh whipped cream, which we sampled liberally with each bite of this decadently delicious dessert.

Our dinner experience was leisurely, with Tyler pacing the delivery of each course to give us time for conversation and to whet our appetites for the next course. Noticeably, many of the same folks at the bar who were there when we arrived we’re still there when we left.

Despite the festive, jovial atmosphere, full of lively conversation and activity, it did not feel hectic, nor did we feel rushed, even though it was a busy night. Our experience felt more like we were among a gathering of family and old friends.

In Beverly Hills, where the scene can sometimes be, well, scene-y, Fleming’s was a nice respite, where one could be dressed up and enjoy an upscale evening out without the uppity stiffness of some restaurants in town where in the end you are just glad it’s over. Fleming’s is a place where guests want to linger, for the food and drinks, and just because it feels comfortable to be there.

Flemings has 13 locations in California, including a newly opened restaurant in Pasadena.

 

LA’s Hottest New Year’s Eve Dining Spots

What were Los Angeles’ hottest New Years’ Eve fine dining spots last year – and how are these restaurants making this year’s experiences even more spectacular?

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A new data company that does research on such matters, SAP, just released a study using their technology which can pinpoint how many people are at a specific location, recently reviewed Reserve’s most popular fine dining locations across the L.A. metro area to help people plan for New Year’s Eve 2016.

The data showed that Ostrich Farm, Salt Air, Barrique, Bao Dim Sum and Wallflower were the most crowded at midnight last year.

“Our restaurants will typically see a large spike in activity around New Year’s Eve,” says Greg Hong, CEO of Reserve, the country’s premier hospitality technology platform. “One of the most incredible things SAP Digital Consumer Insight showed us is that Venice Beach had three of the top five busiest restaurants on December 31, making it the most popular fine dining location in Los Angeles for end-of-the-year celebrations.”

Salt and Straw is no flavor-of-the-week

img_3534Two years after it has been established on Larchmont Boulevard, Salt and Straw is still blowing up the sidewalk every night of the week. Even on a Tuesday night at 10 PM, there is a line out the door and 20 people long outside the ice cream shop. In a town where indie shops come and go in a blink of an eye, it is a testament to Salt and Straw’s superior product and a bit of marketing prowess that it is still immensely popular.

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Now with several locations throughout Los Angeles, including Studio City, Venice Beach, the Arts District downtown, and a new location opening in West Hollywood, the ice cream shop draws a steady stream of crowds who crave its signature savory flavor of sea salt with caramel ribbons, almond brittle with salted ganache, double folded vanilla, and chocolate gooey brownie and the adventure of enjoying samples of its out-of-the-carton flavors such as black olive and goat cheese brittle, freckled woodblock chocolate, avocado and strawberry sherbet, honey lavender, Silencio black tea and coconut strawberry Stracciatella. 

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Tiffany, the manager at the Larchmont store, graciously explains the many flavors to guests, unfrazzled by the lines pouring in the door, she maintains a smile and pleasant demeanor as she efficiently multitasks, ringing up customers and scooping out samples, setting up a tasting flight of four flavors, and giving newbies a 101 lesson in Salt and Straw’s secret sauce, so to speak, which is sourcing its fine ingredients from local purveyors with the best local, organic and sustainable ingredients, and hand making their ice cream in small batches, adding imported flavors from small hand-picked farms from around the world, and changing up its seasonal menu to delight the tastes of its customers.

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Most customers prefer their scoops in cups, though those who splurge for a dollar more can have their scoop served up in a house-made waffle cone that is to-die for.  For those who want to be truly indulgent, their cones can be slathered with whip cream. For those who can’t get enough, hand packed pints are available for takeout.

If you don’t want to wait in line, head for the shop earlier in the evening, before 8 PM, which in Larchmont Village is about the time diners finish eating at the local restaurants and go for a delectable dessert. The shop is small but easy to find. Just follow the trail of people walking down the street with the red and white cups in their hands, cooing about the incredibly good taste of the ice cream they are eating.

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Merry sweets and a foodie New Year

If you want to bring your holiday party hostess something more exciting than the usual potted poinsettia, or if you have a foodie on your gift list, here are some exquisite, tasteful hostess gifts that your host will appreciate and savor.

Hit oil

A gourmet household cannot live without olive oil, and the most discerning of restaurants and kitchens and world-class chefs like Chef Ori Menashe of LA’s Bestia prefer the exquisite taste of Ranch Olive Oil. With so many flavor varieties there’s a blend for every dish, but for the true connoisseur, there is Reserve Collection, which includes 500 ml bottles of fruity Arbequina, the nutty and complex Arbosana, and the robust Miller’s Blend, in a three-bottle gift box ($59.99) perfect for a hostess of good taste.

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Daily grind

Every gourmet cook uses plenty of salt-and-pepper, but that doesn’t mean the most common of spices must be contained in ordinary shakers. Trudeau’s elegant Professional Stainless Steel Salt and Pepper Mills not only could look fabulous in the kitchen or on the table, but they precisely grind and distribute just the desired amount of spice. These sleek mills are constructed of resistant 18/8 stainless steel and feature a unique carbon steel grinding mechanism for peppercorns and spring-load technology to ensure a consistent grind selection.  A stylish piece to add to any kitchen, each set comes in an attractive gift box. $119. At gourmet cooking stores or www.trudeau.com.

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Warmth by chocolate

With temperatures dropping below freezing, warm up inside with legendary GODIVA premium Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa.  Made with highest quality all-natural ingredients, this hot chocolate mix is the ultimate hot chocolate indulgence that delivers a rich, smooth, and velvety drinking experience. If coffee is more your taste, GODIVA’s Chocolate Truffle Coffee, made with specially selected coffee beans from around the world, features melt-in-your mouth GODIVA chocolate flavor with a medium-bodied roast. $15 for 10-servings canister of cocoa or $14 for a 10-ounce bag of ground coffee. Available at GODIVA stores nationwide or www.godiva.com.

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Raw and unfiltered

Honey is always a sweet gift, and Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey Raw and Unfiltered Honey is even more special because it is not processed, therefore it retains all its flavor, vitamins, minerals and delicious taste. Locally sourced from family beekeepers and available nationwide online, this completely raw, unfiltered delicacy is naturally high in antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and delivered pure honey taste in both hot and cold drinks and in recipes from desserts to entrees. $6.50 for 16-ounce squeezable bottle.  Available at locations from Whole Foods to Walmart and online at www.riceshoney.com.

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A real charmer

Make your party guests feel special with their own glass charm that expresses their unique personality with distinct Simply Charmed magnetic wine charms.  Using strong magnets to keep them in place on just about all drinking glasses or mugs, these tiny ornaments help guests know which glass is there’s when they set it down. The charms come in cute and quirky designs, such as emojis and seasonal or hobby related ornaments and even charms made from Swarovski crystals. Though the magnets are strong and generally do not move, these are not recommended for children because of the danger of accidentally ingesting magnets. Available for $5.99 to $26.99 at http://www.wineswithcharm.com

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Greet and Meat

Bring the treat of meat to your next party with Hickory Farms Signature Party Planner Gift Box filled with hearty treats that satisfy their carnivore and gourmet cheese tastes.  Each box includes three sausage flavors, four cheeses, two nut mixes, and condiments.  Available at $42 at hickoryfarms.com.

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A cut above

Foodies can be snobs about their cookware and cutlery, but Crisp Cooking Tools make precision cooking tools accessible and affordable to all.  Fashioned from durable plastic materials in bright stylish colors, Crisp tools are specifically designed and engineered to save time during the food prep process, making them the perfect addition to any kitchen. In the, “Why didn’t I think of that?” category, Crisp makes unique tools for food prep tasks, such as the Zester ($12.99), a spring-loaded Cherry Pitter ($9.99), and an innovative Citrus Squeezer ($19.99) featuring a twist on collection cup, as well as standard tools like an all-purpose Straight Paring Knife ($9.99).  Available at www.Crispcooking.com

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Pasta for all

Pasta began as a staple of Italian cuisine, and now it is an American favorite and beloved around the world. Explore Cuisine has created the next generation of pasta with nutritious and innovative products noodles such as Edamame Spaghetti, Brown Rice Fusili, Green Lentil Lasagne, made of beans and other clean, organic ingredients that are certified gluten-free and non-GMO, and are high in protein, fiber and iron. Some of their products include Pulse PastasBean PastasThai Rice Protein Pastas, Thai Rice Noodles, and Instant Soybean Noodle Soups. Not only are these pastas great if you are watching your weight or looking to cook nutritious foods for your family, they are tasty and satisfying like a true pasta should be.  Available at natural food and general grocery stores nationwide, $2.49 – $4.99 each, or $21.99-$25 for a six pack.

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Dreaming of a white wine

As the weather gets colder outside, many of us reach for those spicy, robust red wines that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, but many white wines have those same characteristics.  OneHope 2014 Rutherford Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($34.99) and 2014 Rutherford Fumé Blanc ($44.99) are two varietals that give you that good feeling inside, not just because of the superior grapes picked at optimum ripeness during an ideal warm summer, creating intense aromatics on the nose and great fruit character on the pallet, and the 11 months the grapes spent in French and American oak before bottling in late August, but also because for every case sold of OneHope the wine makers provide one local Napa farmworker with on-site medical care and health education.  Available at wine stores nationwide and www.onehopewine.com.

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Light it up

In addition to great food, the ambiance is an essential to a dining experience. Enhance your dining room with a decorative candle in a hand-blown art glass vessel from Luxury Articles and Fragrance Company (LAFCO) that not only beautifies your room but complements the meal with its aroma  The light, fresh and green fragrance of the Celery/Thyme candle ($60) from LAFCO Home and House Collection features a  mix of crisp celery, clean white florals and a touch of thyme.  Each candle is hand poured in the USA and features a hand-centered pure-cotton, chemical-free wick and is formulated with a high soy content wax which burns cleaner than paraffin yields a 90-hour burn. The candles are scented with natural essential oil-based fragrances that burn richly and evenly, filling the entire space with fragrance.  Available at www.lafco.com.

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Bubbly conversation

For those who want to enhance the lively tête-à-tête at a dinner party, Freixenet Cordon Negro Extra Dry Cava from Spain offers long lasting bubbles, by itself or as a complement to cocktails.  This sparkling wine, made in the traditional méthode champenoise, is for those that like it “not too dry,” with a palate that’s earthy with light fruits and a whiff of chocolate and flavors of plum and raspberry accented by spice with an essence of peach, melon and candied citrus flavors, culminating in a long, flavorful and smooth finish, making it excellent to pair with spicy cuisine.

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Snack on

For festive get togethers or special movie nights, bring on the popcorn, but not just any garden variety.  Popcorn, Indiana, maker of America’s #1 Kettlecorn, pops up limited edition winter flavors, such as Black & White, Dark Fudge Sea Salt Caramel, Dark Fudge Pretzel Drizzlecorn and Dark Fudge Peppermint Drizzlecorn. These decadent flavors feature Popcorn, Indiana’s tender popcorn, made from non-GMO corn and free of artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, drizzled in lusciously sweet dark fudge, then generously sprinkled with delicious accents. Available at national, regional and local retailers across the U.S. and Canada in 5-ounce and 6-ounce bags, $3.49, or 20-ounce bag $10.49. Locate stores at www.popcornindiana.com.

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Mercado – Dia de Los Margaritas

img_6688The modern Mexican eatery that turned up the heat on two hot tamales by opening its first outpost a few years ago right across the street from the revered Border Grill in Santa Monica, has now added another location, at 3rd Street and Fairfax in Los Angeles, rounding out its triumvirate of excellent Mexican restaurants serving its renowned soul-satisfying carnitas, and pouring its signature Mercado Margarita of 100% agave silver tequila, along with a host of creative cocktails from its menu of more than five dozen tequilas.

Owner Jesse Gomez and Chef Partner Jose Acevedo have expanded their superb Mexican dining experience that twists authentic Mexican dishes with Californian artisan flare. Chef Jose’s carnitas continue to gain a reputation of some of the best in LA, featuring large chunks of moist slow-cooked pork with Yxta salsa brava and cauliflower with escabeche.

Besides the storied carnitas, other standout dishes include the Tacos de Langosta with lobster, Oaxaca cheese, pico de gallo, cile de arbol aioli on a crispy flour tortilla; the most delicately tangy Tostadas de Ceviche, with citrus-marinated white fish and shrimp, tossed with mango, corn, cherry tomatoes, serrano peppers, fresno chilies, avocado and chile de arbol aioli.

For dessert, though I am not usually a fan of flan, Mercado’s rich and custardy flan was to die for, but still it could not top the freshly baked sponge cake of the tres leches.

Dining at the Santa Monica location is a comfortable and laid back experience, with locals and tourists strolling in from off the beach. Without the benefit of dining yet at the Hollywood restaurant, by comparison to Santa Monica the new Third Street location has a more metro vibe and an urbanite crowd.

At Santa Monica the wait staff eagerly moved our table to accommodate our desire for a window seat; whereas at Third Street a testy server with an Adolf-ish mustache set his square jaw and was less than patient when we asked to switch tables from a sunny spot where we began to bake in the sun of LA’s recent Indian summer heatwave. Besides the slightly cranky server, the Third Street atmosphere is exciting and reverberating with the din and energy of the happy hour crowd, gathered communally at the long wooden high-top tables half in and half out of the indoor-outdoor patio seating area.

This latest addition to the family of Mexican restaurants by Gomez and Acevedo once again achieves the effect of authenticity to fine Mexican dining while providing an inspired and inventive menu of Mexican favorites with a bit of surprise, and an atmosphere that is friendly and inviting, after work, or a day at the beach, or for a quick escape to the Land of Enchantment without leaving LA.

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