Note: he music they choose to play on Saturday nights is so loud that you cannot hear anything in this restaurant. I personally wasn't that bothered by this, it kind of seemed to add to the absurdity of eating at a place that had promises of eating high-end Mexican-influenced cuisine in Cerritos. But it could easily be offensive to many people I imagine. It is possible this only gets going after 10 pm though, in case you are in the mood for late night dining on the weekend here.
The first dish was the famous mole tots. Not terrible, but I mean, the tots were slightly undercooked. Kind of disappointing. However, the mole was pretty tasty, thick and hearty, and well spiced. The Oaxacan cheese was pleasantly gooey and chewy. Overall it was simple, and not bad. If the tots had been properly crispy, with the potato cooked fully inside it might have even been really good. I mean, if a chef is going to use store-bought tater tots, the least he could do is cook them perfectly, don't you think?
If the tots had been the worst dish of the night, it would've been no big deal, but the meal only went downhill from there, i.e. that was the best dish of the night.
Shortrib with coloradito, purple and white potatoes, and carrots came highly recommended, but it was beyond ridiculous. A generous portion size, and potatoes that were cooked well enough, but nothing else going for it. The coloradito was so bland that I have had tomato sauce with more kick to it. The short rib, which when handled by talented chefs can become fork-tender, and glorious, was here stringy, and tough, more akin to the epitome of mediocrity you might have experienced at a potluck. Literally, this dish was just a mediocre pot roast with pretensions to being some kind of Mexican dish. Tragic.
Coca-Cola glazer pork belly was next. This was an atrocious dish. The pork belly itself was not necessarily horribly cooked, but it tasted of low-quality pork. The glaze made it intensely saccharine, to the point of being like eating meat candy. Despite this, a good chef could have made this cost-effective pork belly dish interesting, and good by properly composing a dish, i.e. by balancing it. Instead it came with roasted, overly sweet tomatoes, and a sweet potato puree that was also massively sweetened with additional sugar. This dish literally made me wonder if the chef had any idea how to properly compose dishes. I rarely encounter something this disgusting in a restaurant...
The East Side Dog was actually ok. I wish it had been served hot instead of cold, but at least the hot dog they used had a decent beef flavor to it. The "bun" of brioche was seemingly grilled, but it was very tough somehow, which made eating it very awkward. Still, the braised meat on it, the mustard, cilantro, onions, and crispy house-made funyon type things on it made it palatable. It tasted like a decent hot dog, although it seems like a decent hot dog could be had for less than $9.50 at other places. Other than a lazy use of cilantro and onions there was nothing Mexican about the flavor profile. Oh well, I was just happy to have something that was kind of enjoyable to eat.
Potato and Chorizo stuffed gorditas were edible, and the thick fried maize was actually not bad, but how in the world these people got their chorizo to be this bland is beyond me. Even the sour cream they topped it with had little funk to it and seemed like low-grade squirt bottle stuff. The cheap potato tacos at El Atacor are infinitely more flavorful, and those don't contain chorizo... Who knew Mexican food could be this bland? I have certainly been in the dark about it.
One thing that was not bland was the chapulines, which are basically crickets fried with lime. I was really hoping the presence of these bad boys on the menu meant we were in the presence of a serious Mexican chef, and the crickets were pleasantly fried, but the lime was incredibly heavy, while the flavor of the crickets was immensely earthy and pungent, just overwhelming the palette. Why not serve them with some kind of other condiment or offer them as tacos or something to provide some more balance? Still, I don't really fault this dish that strongly, but it just seemed like more could have been done, as opposed to just having crickets on the menu to have them on the menu in order to look cool/legit/whatever.
Cocktails sounded interesting, but were lazily made, and seemed to have no thought put into proportions. It looked like the bartenders were just randomly pouring things into cups, and not really measuring the ingredients, so no surprise I guess. At least they are quite cheap at about $8. They are cocktails made for people who just want to get wasted as cheap as possible while still being in a "hip" environment.
The best thing I had all evening was a $10 OR XATA beer by The Bruery that mimicked Horchata by being brewed with lactose, rice, and cinnamon.
We skipped dessert in the end.
Why didn't I complain about the meal? Well, the loud noise made that basically impossible, but service was also incredibly lax at this place.
The CLEAR emphasis of this place is to build a "hip" atmosphere, while selling the imagine of being a "serious" restaurant. The people catered to are those looking for a hip place to get drunk, and get "slutty" food at elevated prices such as tacos, nachos, mole tots, etc... The menu is just for looks, and there is nothing truly Mexican about any of it, while the execution of the dishes seems to make a mockery of actual cooking.
This place was the most pretentious place I have eaten in a long time. I rarely use the word pretentious because I don't think it applies in the vast majority of cases in which people use it. Jonathan Gold recently said that you cannot distinguish between the places many people call pretentious and the places people love because usually they only mean to say places have too small of portions, too high of prices, etc... but truthfully, as long as there is love in the cooking, and high quality ingredients cooked with a high level of skill, a place can't really be pretentious, as what the patrons are willing to pay simply is the price the market sets for that quality of food.
I did not find any love in the cooking here.