Casa Escobar was one of the first old school Mexican restaurants I experienced after years and years of Taco Bell in which I had been brainwashed into thinking that Mexican pizza was authentic. But then I upgraded to ooh la la El Torito, because that’s what you do when you get a real job and go from the Gap to Banana Republic and plastic trays to real plates that could break and omigod, Taco Bell is a fast food chain, and I’m not a plebeian anymore. You know, because El Torito is, like, fancy. ;) I don’t remember the last time I went to El Torito.
I don’t go often to Casa Escobar because the options for Mexican food are abundant in LA. Not only is the actual number of places countless, but there’s quite an extensive variation in styles and cuisines – sit on the curb in your daisy dukes with two tongue tacos from a roaming taco truck to dress up and get down with a margarita in a carved out pineapple at the Velvet Margarita. But every once in a while, I need a good dose of old school 1970s wet bar in the basement rec room, dark, lit by votives in fat pear shaped red cut glass candle holders, red pleather booths, Christmas lights strung up around the perimeter of the bar and servers dressed in bow ties. It’s about that time again for "steaks, mexican, sea foods, and cocktails." It could be Don Antonio’s, but Casa also offers a crusty Mexican man singing Tom Jones with a synthesizer and guitar in the corner.
Every time, I say I’m not going to eat any of the greasy, not-salty-enough tortilla chips that come to the table with salsa that is always too watery and not spicy at all. But I end up wringing a lemon or lime over the basket, salting the chips myself, then crunching through the whole basket, less three or four chips that others at the table can snatch away without getting their hands inadvertently bitten off. Inevitably, I am almost full by the time a server comes around to take an order for dinner. Maybe I’ll just get a bowl of soup. And can we get some more chips?
Albóndigas are a bit of a mild obsession right now for me, whether braised with garlic and tomatoes as Spanish tapas or swimming in a spicy Mexican albóndigas soup. Casa Escobars’s albóndigas soup is a briny tomato-based broth replete with chopped carrots, celery, onions, and of course, albondigas. They are dense little meatballs with tiny divots that were once filled wth blobules of congealed beef fat that have now melted away during cooking, and are now in the form of a shimmering reddish orange oil halo where broth meets bowl’s edge. Or perhaps the divots used to hold rice grains on the outer surface of the meatball that slipped out and into the broth during a a tempestuous rolling boil. Rice in the broth would explain the barely perceptible starchy thickness to the broth.
Ordering guacamole in a restaurant is always a cuticle-gnawing gamble. If they purchase it, first of all, smahe on them! Second, the guacamole will be gray, thin and if it doesn’t taste like carbonated avocado with vinegar and preservatives, then it will taste remarkably like the aluminum can or plastic tub that it arrived in yesterday morning. If they actually make the guacamole in-house, again it will be gray and thin because watering it down saves their bottom-line. In either case, the half-cup of over-pureed avocado that comes to the table costs the same as an entire avocado farm in central California. We took the risk and ordered the five dollar guacamole for the first time ever at Casa, and were pleasantly surprised, not only by how much of it they serve, but by the delicate iceberg lettuce sail that garnished it. ;) The guacamole was a simple lumpy mash of pure avocado, so fresh and bright green that there was no need for excessive citrus juice to overcompensate for oftentimes under-ripe yellow or over-bruised to military camouflage. As if I needed to eat more chips. I didn’t. I ate the guacamole with a spoon. :)
Tostada isn’t something new, but served with chorizo, it had a new twist. Thick, curled shreds of yellow and white cheese were softening on the edges of a just-removed-from-under-the-warmer enormous oval plate piled high with creamy refried beans on one side and fragrant red Mexican rice on the other. I only knew that the chorizo was buried deep beneath the enormous mound of shredded iceberg lettuce in the middle because glittering streams of red, melted sausage grease were oozing out from underneath the afro like activator gel; so overactive that once crisply deep-fried tortilla, made soft again, can’t soak up anymore of the liquid pork fat. The crumbled chorizo was deliciously salty and s
picy, and certainly greasy, but don’t worry, that’s what the iceberg is for. Lettuce reverses the physiological effects of chorizo on the body :) Besides, I won’t be due for another visit to Casa for at least three months.
2500 Wilshire Blvd (@ 25th Street)
Santa Monica, CA 90403