All along Pico and Santa Monica Boulevards in West LA, there are tons of these restaurants. I call them The OG. They’re not “gangsta’” in any way, but they are original. They opened in the 1980s, maybe even earlier, and you can certainly tell because they haven’t updated their interior decor in 20 years. Of course, who updates a decor that imitates ancient Aztec ruins? The OG are Mexican restaurants, and I think there are about 150 of them on Pico Boulevard between Barrington and Bundy.
These restaurants haven’t updated their clientele either. The silver-haired couple that comes in every Friday night at 5:30 and sits at the same window table and orders the same early bird senior citizens’ special is the same couple that used to go there twenty years ago every Friday. It’s just that every year, the couple comes in a little bit earlier. Pretty soon, they’ll be eating dinner at 3:00.
The OGs actually have parking lots because land didn’t cost $5,000 a square foot in west Los Angeles back in the '80s. Unlike restaurants that open these days, they have full bars – the OGs have their original liquor licenses. But their original leases are soon to end, and when they do, I’ll swoop in like the savvy restaurateur-to-be that I am, pay more than a pretty penny for crumbling architecture but a much-coveted liquor license, and finally open...my place. *dreamy sigh*
But until then, I’ll enjoy the last few years of business of places like Don Antonio’s, one of my favorites. Oh, baby. The Don.
Unfortunately, Don Antonio’s happens to be a lot of people’s favorite westside Mexican, so on a busy weekend night, it can be as long as 20 minutes before you can even set foot in the bar to wait another 25 minutes for your table. 45 minutes is a very long time for cheap Mexican food. We were starved. We were impatient.
But we had found street parking.
There is never any street parking along Pico.
We are not giving up that precious parking spot.
So instead, we *shrugged* and headed next door to a restaurant that we didn’t even know existed until that night. In fact, from the outside, El Talpa looks like an extension of Don Antonio’s, because the door is camouflaged and there doesn't appear to be any real windows. The only reason we figured out that it was there was the bright sign on the rooftop.
Inside, El Talpa is dark and has the same type of in-case-you-couldn't-tell-by-the-name-this-is-Mexican!! decor as every other Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. The tables are topped with formica, the kind we used to have on our dinner table at home when I was five, except El Talpa's has a faux-wood finish, and we had a lazy Susan (just like in a Chinese restaurant!) Their chairs feel rickety and old. They are rickety and old, but it adds to the charm.
We were surprised when we walked in because as "hidden" as El Talpa is, it seems that quite a few people know where the front door is, and even more surprisingly, the customers were an even mix of long-time (read: "elder") locals and youngish-sters. Perhaps they, like we, had been the overflow from Don Antonio's.
There is nothing special about El Talpa's menu. As we looked it over, we mindlessly grazed through a basket of chips. I do need to make an honorable mention of the accompanying salsa, which is atypical behavior for me. Usually, restaurant salsa that comes with chips tends to be thin, watery, and bland - more like a chunky V8 than salsa. However, El Talpa's salsa, though not quite flavorful, was definitely splashing around in the deep end of the Scoville scale. It was a nice change to feel a slight tinge of pain on the palate.
We kept it simple with an order of albondigas soup and one of the many permutations of the Mexican combination plate of items that are all the same tortilla/beans/rice/cheese presented in different ways. I mean really now, is there a difference amongst a taco, burrito, enchilada, chimigchanga, flauta, and fajita?! Oh crap. That's right. Chimichangas aren't real Mexican food. LOL! Or is that the taquito?!?!
There is nothing special to say about the soup nor the taco/chile relleno combinacion that we ate. They were fine. I wholly expected them to be greasy and salty, and they didn't disappoint. In fact, the chile relleno was pretty damn good. Best of all, the meal was cheap. El Talpa wasn't too bad as an improv substitute for Don Antonio's.
But, it'll be a shame when I buy El Talpa out to build my Asian Fusion empire! A damn shame. ;)
11751 W. Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90064