Most of the clichés about L.A. are complete nonsense. The vast majority of Angelenos have no desire to star in a reality series, work on a screenplay or audition for a role. Most don’t surf or live near the beach. And very few shop on Rodeo Drive. That place is a tourist trap.
Don’t get me wrong–Los Angeles is a unique wonderland, and is actually underrated as one of the world’s great cities. There are many reasons why millions like me are happy to put up with the miserable traffic, smog, fires and earthquakes. Here are three:
- Great weather
- Palm trees
- A dizzying array of the world’s best ethnic cuisines
In L.A., many feel you can get better Chinese food than you’d find in Shanghai, better Korean barbecue than in Seoul and better Mexican food than in Mexico City.
Which brings us to Salazar, located near the marvelous Dodger Stadium and not-so-marvelous L.A. river. Salazar is nowhere near the beach, but, instead, lies in the heart of an old industrial district once overrun by gangs. This is Los Angeles, so, of course, parking is impossible.
But all that is easily forgiven once you enter. Actually, “enter” is the wrong word, since almost all the seating is outside. The restaurant assumes that the weather will be accommodating, and, this being Southern California, the restaurant is right. You’ll be seated on brightly colored plastic chairs, and the food is prepared in a refurbished auto repair garage.
But your meal doesn’t taste like it was prepared by an auto mechanic. The cuisine is simple but masterful, familiar yet original. Take, for example, the Seafood Tostada. It’s really just ceviche. You’ve had ceviche before, right? Not like this you haven’t. The shell is coated in a layer of squid ink, which adds a marvelous richness and texture. The al pastor tacos, a staple of any decent taco joint, are set apart by wonderful homemade tortillas and grilled pineapple. Even the drinks are distinctive. Horchata, that always-delicious rice beverage, is graced by cacao rum and mezcal. Oh, and crickets. They’re tasty. (Of course, you can order your drink insect-free.)
But the real strength of the restaurant lies in the grilled meats. You can watch the whole process through a glass window to the kitchen. It’s really hard to mess up grilled meat, but chef Esdras Ochoa’s pork chop and carne asada far surpass anything you’d prepare in your back yard on a summer evening. The chop is one of the best I’ve had, marinated with chile and pineapple (see featured image).
Yes, Los Angeles can be as pretentious as a C-list celebrity, but Salazar represents the best of L.A.–simple, sunlit and welcoming. And, like so many places in our beloved city, it updates rich ethnic traditions in a way that makes you glad you live in a world filled with people who are different from you.