We've been watching the progress at Mas Malo for some months now with great interest. I have only eaten once at the original Malo in Silverlake, years ago, and I was not particularly impressed. Nonetheless, we live about two blocks away from Mas Malo and are always excited by the prospect of more good food in the neighborhood, so I've been crossing my fingers. It finally opened last Friday, and my husband and I headed over for dinner on Saturday night - and I pleased to say, we loved it!
First of all, it's an absolutely gorgeous space. It started out as a jewelry store in the 20's, and the original molded plaster ceiling, wood paneling, and painted murals still remain. The new components, including the furniture and the bar, are in completely different styles - the furniture being sort of mid-century office-y and the bar being sort of deco (although maybe more 80's deco than early-20th century). Somehow, I thought all that eclecticism worked. It also felt more casual in person than it appeared to me in the photos I'd seen, which is a plus in my book for a neighborhood joint. This feeling was emphasized by the casual attire of most of the diners, as well as several parties that included small children.
Moving on to food - I'm a salsa junkie, so we had to start with the salsa flight. This included all five of their salsas - habanero, serrano chile, pico de gallo, chile negro, and tomatillo. My favorites were the habanero and tomatillo, but all five were really excellent. At $14, it seemed pricey for something that usually is free, but the salsas were excellent and the portions generous. It's actually too much for two people, I would say - but would be great for four. I ordered the chips "chewy", which I had read about somewhere - basically, they're only half-fried, so that the outside is crispy and the inside is soft. Our server said that some people love them and some people hate them - I quite liked them and would order them that way again.
For entrees, my husband got the al pastor soft tacos ($7) with a side of rice and beans ($4, I think) and I got the cheese enchiladas and carne asada ($14, I think). Again, everything was quite excellent, far exceeding our expectations. Both the al pastor and the carne asada were tender and flavorful, and the cheese in the enchiladas was really delicious. It was not your ordinary Jack - it had a slight bitterness to it, like a triple-creme or a brie. The rice and beans were also very tasty, although for some people they might be too salty. We finished with a flan, which was my least favorite dish of the night - there was nothing wrong with it, but it wasn't very interesting either. We look forward to going back to try other things - guacamole, beef & pickle tacos, and goat barbacoa, to name a few. We also look forward to taking our out-of-town guests, as it is definitely a unique LA experience.
We had at various times three different servers, and all three were extremely nice and helpful. We also met a couple of the owners on the way out, and they too were very nice. By the time we left, around 8 PM, the restaurant was full, and the crowd was fairly mixed - lots of Downtown hipsters, but also families, older couples, and what looked like college students. There were a lot of larger groups, and every seat at the bar was taken the whole time we were there.
Also, I have to say, although we are total Downtown boosters, my husband and I snickered quietly every time in the last few years some marketing person would refer to 7th Street as 'Restaurant Row" - because, c'mon, Bottega Louie and AM-PM does not a Restaurant Row make! But lately it feels like that concept is actually coming to fruition - with the addition of Sugar Fish, Soi 7, and Mas Malo, and with Chipotle and Mo-Chica coming soon, it really is a pretty good place to eat!
In a city filled with authentic (and cheap!) Mexican food, a more upscale and gringo-friendly version is probably a tough sell. However, I for one feel that Mas Malo is a VERY welcome addition to the neighborhood, and I think it has a lot of potential for success. I wish them the best!
I didn't take any photos, but EaterLA posted some nice ones on Friday here: http://la.eater.com/archives/2011/01/...
515 W 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90014