11755 West Pico Boulevard (@ Barrington Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA 90064
I'm a wee bit tapped these days with respect to creativity, and I am finding that straight up truthful, news-like narrative is boring. So, I've decided to re-live my fabulous glory days by bringing back the story of my relationship with the Don. That's Don Antonio, if you're a freshman.
Shane was the one who introduced me to Don Antonio's. It was back when I kept telling him about Casa Escobar. "No no," he told me, "It’s all about Don Antonio’s." No, no I retorted, mi casa es Casa Escobar. But my argument couldn’t hold water against his because he had been to both, and I had not. Suffice it to say, I made it Don’s, and though it wasn’t better, it wasn’t worse. That’s how I was introduced to Don Antonio’s, but I never found out from Shane who initially introduced him to Don. That’s the way it is with Don Antonio’s – you get there by introduction through someone else. If you don't know, then *shrugs* I don't know what you're talking about.
As if like Mexican Mafia, no one ever talks about Don Antonio’s, but somehow the people who need to know about it, know about it. It’s one of those places that’s been around since the beginning of time, so it doesn’t get “new restaurant buzz,” and Don stays on the DL (on the low down, and yes, on the Delicious Life), hanging back in the shadows, never advertising itself through the regular channels. Apparently, Don Antonio doesn’t need any, because it always seems very busy. The cars line up along the street patiently waiting to pull into the valet lot, and there are always people waiting on the sidewalk in front of the entrance smoking.
Don Antonio’s doesn’t beat around the bush. It's not afraid to makes simple, obvious statements. With its cheesy lit-up sign that simply states “Seafood” and “Cocktails,” and a red neon arrow that points down toward the entrance on Pico, the restaurant looks like it belongs in Vegas, though not on the Strip - the seedier off-Strip section, like maybe Vegas’ downtown.
There are two doors right next to each other in front, and if you’re a regular, you don’t hesitate before walking through the correct one. In case you don’t know which one to go into, there’s a large plaque up front with an Aztec calendar pointing to the entrance for family. Don’s family. It leads into a dark, low-ceilinged room, dimly lit by the UV light emitted from a huge tropical fish aquarium. In order to get to the host stand which is toward the back, you have to walk through the front room that’s lined on both sides with leather U-shaped booths that are big enough to comfortably fit four to five people. Very old-school seventies-ish, which matches the dark, carved wood and lighting with red and Tiffany style lampshades, kind of like a mobster hideaway. I’m sure that at one point before the laws in California, there were thick swirls of cigarette smoke hanging low in the air.
The other rooms also have booths, as well as regular dining tables and chairs. Just beyond the host, there’s a door that leads to the back patio. Every time I've ever gone to visit the Don, I sit in one of the cushy booths. Sometimes in the left dining room. Some times in the right dining room. I have even sat in the bar and dined at a tiny, high table on a weekend when Don Antonio's is bursting at its pseudo-stone-wall seams with underground Westside hipsters. But every time I have gone to visit the Don, I have never been invited to the back patio. If the front door is for all the family, the patio is for the inner circle.
But all that has changed now, you see. I have made my way to the inner circle. I have dined on Don Antonio’s back patio.
It’s a slightly different vibe back there. Sure, it’s the same young-ish Westside meta-hipsters slinging back tequila shots and margaritas on the rocks (thank God, Don doesn’t even own a blender), but surrounded by heavy walls and columns that make it almost feel like you’re in the courtyard of a Mexican castle (is they have such things), it’s cozy. In the dead of LA’s 70 degree winter weather, it’s also warm with heat lamps, not that you’d need it after a few shots.
But make no mistake, it’s not a garden party there. Walls are plastered with colorful prints and even a map of Mexico (in case you’d care to play pin-the-taco-on-Mexico), well-hung accent lighting, and potted plants in enormous ceramic pots that are placed just so that you can hear and catch a glimpse of who’s at the next table without getting caught rubber-necking. We sat down against one of the walls, my back to two young men who, gauging by the awkwardness in the air between them, were on a first date, and facing another table, also a first date between what must have been two people who didn't post real pictures of themselves on match.com. They were politely laughing, smoking, and the young man was doing shots. By himself.
The food is always the same at Don Antonio’s, but now, it had taken on a new level of flavor. I was enjoying my tamal on the patio. Did it taste better because the salsa roja was a little spicier this time? Was the masa softer with a longer lounging in the steamer? Maybe it was two rocks-no-salt margaritas.
I don’t know. All I know is that never again can I be relegated to the cushy inside dining room booths of the plebeians. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Saturday, I must sit on the patio. I love the patio. I have been inducted into the inner circle.
** a year ago today, i was desperate during my personal cocktail hour **