I have recently had the hilarious pleasure of reconnecting with a friend from elementary school. We lived down the street from each other, attended the same school, and even carpooled to Hebrew school. We ended up at different middle schools, and lost touch, but Los Angeles has brought us back together. Through myriad conversations, I have deduced that we were essentially the same in third grade as we are now. I am a contrary, elitist snob (thought not without my charms), and I tend to move and think slowly, deliberately. Lisa is approachable, animated, uninhibited, and thinks and talks quickly. We share an anxious mindset and a lot of history, yet we are very different; it’s the kind of friendship that I can learn a lot from.
In addition to reliving old gossip from our heyday, many of our conversations revolve around food; upon our first (re-)meeting, Lisa mentioned a local Mexican restaurant called Salsa and Beer. She gave it a glowing review, but not in her typical way. Usually, she is vibrant and dramatic, but when she spoke of Salsa and Beer, she became subdued. Lisa told me this bustling eatery is packed every night of the week; they make everything from scratch, and their dishes are so fresh, and full of discernible vegetables. The latter point is particularly noteworthy, especially when discussing Mexican fare, which is often light on vegetation; however, I was more convinced by her delivery than her words. She had stealthily worked me over with an effective “undersell.” Her understated and succinct description made it clear that this was a place worth visiting.
After talking about it for over a month, we made our way to Salsa and Beer on a Saturday night. The restaurant was busy; Lisa and her husband, Brian, were amazed that the wait for a table was only 30 minutes, as it can be twice that. We sat on black pleather seats in their brightly colored “lobby,” perched right next to the bathroom. Despite having already perused the menu on their website, I went through it with a fine- tooth comb as we waited for our table, asking my comrades questions. They always get the same thing: Lisa gets a shredded beef chimichanga (no sour cream), and Brian gets a fajita burrito with steak. Rice and refried beans are included with both, which I consider to be a non-negotiable asset when making my selection at a Mexican restaurant. While I can always order a side of rice and beans if need be, I prefer for it come with my entrée because that means that it is an appropriate accessory.
We sat in a booth, and were greeted by a basket of chips with smooth and cheesy bean dip, and some cold Modelo Especials. Salsa and Beer lives up to their name with a complimentary, self-serve salsa bar with about 10 different sauces to choose from. I scooted up there, and sampled a spicy tomato salsa, smoky and chunky; a more traditional blended, hot, red salsa; and a creamy green chile sauce. All were delicious, but I was more excited about my entrée. I decided on a fajita burrito with carnitas pork. This guaranteed me the noteworthy vegetables that Lisa was raving about, and of course, it came with rice and beans.
When my gigantic oval platter arrived at the table, I was shocked. I was expecting a lot of food (this is America, after all), but Salsa and Beer takes the oversized burrito to a new level for gargantuan proportions. It looked and smelled fantastic, with a few extra vegetables strewn across the plate. I’m not sure if they were there on purpose or if it was simply spill over, but they had an artful flair regardless. I cut my brick of a burrito in half, and tasted the tender pork and a piece of zucchini. Salsa and Beer really nail it on the texture of their vegetables: they not too crisp, nor too tender. If they were too crisp, they would compete with the texture of the pork; if they were too tender, they would get lost. Salsa and Beer expertly finds the sweet spot in the middle.
The house-made enchilada sauce is so smooth and velvety, blanketing that beast of a burrito. I had been a little trepidatious about ordering the fajita burrito because there were a lot of other menu options that included various spicy sauces, and I do love heat. However, I was thrilled that I chose the fajita burrito because it would be difficult to improve upon the simplicity of their enchilada sauce. The creamy beans and al dente rice were lovely; the nutty, popcorn-like smell of the rice leads me to believe that Salsa and Beer uses basmati rice, which I’ve ever seen before at a Mexican restaurant. To me, the use of basmati rice shows a noteworthy attention to detail and quality of ingredients.
We did have one minor hiccup during our meal: Lisa’s chimichanga came out wrong. First, it came with sour cream, and this error was corrected immediately. Then when she cut into it, we discovered it had been filled with steak, instead of shredded beef. It was clear by the look on Lisa’s face that the steak simply would not do, thus there was another delay. However, it was somewhat of a blessing in disguise because she was so joyful when she finally received her beloved chimichanga that I got to witness a new degree of her unbridled enthusiasm. In fact, next time I might get shredded beef. I’m not sure if that’s because it was so delicious (which it was), or if it was Lisa’s random exclamations of “shredded!” in her excitement over devouring her chimichanga. This advertisement wasn’t understated, but it was certainly effective. The takeaway: run (don’t walk) to Salsa and Beer.
November 26, 2014