The original La Serenata definitely has street cred, being right across the street from Mariachi Plaza in East L.A., but also gourmet cachet as one of the few, and probably the oldest, upscale Mexican restaurants in town. If you’re afraid of East L.A., get over it, advises Das Ubergeek–this place is worth it. The Westside branches are but poor imitations.
Seafood is their specialty, and the specials are a good bet–they’re always perfectly cooked. Halibut in salsa de huitlacoche (corn fungus, a funky delicacy) has a slow burn; it’s also got lots of huitlacoche and gobs of deliciousness. Salmon in salsa de molcajete is really, really spicy, and really, really good. The dishes all come with sides of yellow rice, handmade corn tortillas, and outrageously tasty beans cooked with a ton of the zingy Mexican herb epazote.
For dessert, skip the leaden flourless chocolate cake and head straight for the flan. It’s creamy and impossibly rich, with a caramel that’s practically dulce de leche. When they have it, coconut flan is divine.
Serenata only has a beer and wine license, so margaritas are made with wine/soju rather than tequila, and are rather too sweet. The wine list has some cheap and very good wines from L.A. Cetto in Mexico, and nothing over $45.
Service is fantastic, excited about the food, and ready to lend guidance on pairing fish with sauce.
Dinner for six, with drinks, shared desserts, and no appetizers, is about $260 with tax and tip–about $43 per person. Note that with the construction of the Gold Line, getting there can be tricky these days. Call the restaurant for directions.
Nearby at El Tepeyac, a chicken Hollenbeck burrito is a colossal thing of beauty–bursting with stewed white meat, peppers, rice, beans and a bit of guacamole, says David Kahn. Chicken taquitos are also huge and fresh, and not at all greasy. A combo plate with two taquitos comes with a pile of guacamole, rice, beans and salad. The enchiladas rancheras are also delish, says godvls, who prefers them to the burritos.
Unfortunately, this place is so popular that some resort to getting their burrito fix at 9 or 10 in the morning to avoid the lunchtime crowd. LAPD employees get preferred treatment, but the rest of us might need to call in advance. If you can get a seat, the vibe is very homey. You can also eat outside, where there usually isn’t a wait, says monku.
There’s another El Tepeyac in Monterey Park, run by the son of the original’s owners. It’s more comfortable than the East L.A. restaurant, and the food is just as good, but without that nostalgic atmosphere.
Half a block away is Ciro’s, another East L.A. institution–in fact, folks here disdain El Tepeyac as L.A. Mexican food. Everyone raves about the chunky avocado salsa and the flautas at Ciro’s. Milanesa and steak picado are also good.
El Tepeyac [East LA-ish]
812 N. Evergreen Ave., Los Angeles
El Tepeyac Cafe [San Gabriel Valley]
1965 Potrero Grande Dr. # A, Monterey Park
Ciro’s Cafe [East LA-ish]
705 N. Evergreen Ave., Los Angeles