If you ask anyone in LA, they will tell you about the best Mexican restaurant ever. And yet, rarely, will two people tell you about the exact same place. It’s a prerequisite to becoming an Angelino—you must “discover” that whole-in-the-wall, slightly gritty venue where whatever is placed in front of you is as close as you’ll get to going to the heart of Mexico.
To most people, it doesn’t matter that California developed its own version of Mexican food sometime in the early 20th century, or that a few miles south in San Diego, you’ll find a whole new enclave of the most “authentic” Mexican restaurants with seemingly different menus. For any region, though, the filling—fish, carnitas, carne asada—does not matter, nor does the style it’s served up in—taco, burrito,enchilada. What matters is that there is a fresh, soft tortilla and a myriad assortment of salsas, ready to light up your eyes and set your mouth on fire.
“You’ve been to my favorite Mexican restaurant, right?” my friend Ana is back in Los Angeles for a few weeks before she goes back to Europe. “Tere’s is amazing. The chicken tacos are to die for.”
It’s a good thing I’m feeling like Mexican, because I’m not sure we’d have any other choice.
After struggling for a parking spot in my Ford Taurus station wagon (“Wow, you’re really good at driving this boat,” Ana told me), we walked into Tere’s, which is in a fairly typical strip mall on Melrose.
The restaurant is made of smallish tables, a counter where Tere takes your order, and a case of chilled Mexican sodas. Outside on the patio are plastic tables and chairs, set up in a methodical fashion, complete with napkin dispensers and the normal accoutrements.
The menu is just a board above the counter, with under 20 or so items, and the few times over the past years that I’ve been there, it’s remained the same. I ordered my carne asada burrito and a horchata,while Ana struck up a conversation with Tere.
“You’re back!” he exclaimed. “I know, I know,” she said, “I’ve been in here at least once a week for thepast three weeks, but I have to get in good Mexican food before I go back to Paris.”
“Someone once told me about a Mexican restaurant in Paris, near one of the train stations.”
“Oh yes, they do exist, but they are pretty horrible.”
Tere laughed in agreement. “Well you can always come here.”
I told her I would get a table and they continued their conversation. Ana joined me at the table. “Don’t you just love this place?” she bit into her tacos. “Mmm, these are the best.”
And while my burrito was pretty acceptable and her tacos seemed fairly good, I kept thinking about my favorite Mexican place. How the waiter Javier couldn’t believe when I started ordering margaritas and how he always wanted to know how college was going. When Javier died suddenly last spring, we were all in a lot of shock and not just because he was too young to die. I realized how much he had known about us and the reverse.
And then, there’s the other place I go just for burritos, where the guys behind the counter know they can always convince me to order horchata.
I think Ana and I both know the best places for Mexican food. It’s just most times it’s not the food that’s being judged.