11755 West Pico Boulevard (@ Barrington Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA 90064
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. I introduced Figi to Don, and when he mentioned it for a quick weeknight dinner, I couldn't refuse.
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, 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, making 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, though sitting back there means you’re sharing space with the valet-parked cars.
We settle into a booth (yay! desirable seating, you see) and review the menu, though I’ve looked at it many many times before. There is nothing unusual, though it has a slightly heavier emphasis on seafood than other Mexican restaurants. Typical items like burritos, enchiladas and tacos can be ordered in various combinations, or a la carte. When nuestro camarero, one of many who are dressed in formal black pants, white shirts, and black ties, Figi orders carne asada tacos. I’ve already made my way through half a basket of chips (that need more salt) and very good salsa, so I keep it small with an a la carte chile relleno, one of my all-time favorite Mexican dishes that I almost always order. Albóndigas are my latest obsession, so we order a cup of albóndigas soup to taste, too.
Albóndigas soup can be done in lots of different ways. The broth of Don Antonio’s is viscous, thick with tomato and herb flavors. Don Antonio is generous with their albóndigas, putting in enough that one of them peeks out from the broth. They are meaty, herb-y golfballs, but studded with rice, so they are soft and tender. If the soup weren’t steaming hot, I would have sucked down those balls and broth in 30 seconds.
Just as we slurp up the last of the soup, nuestro camarero brought over our entree orders, which we had made only ten minutes before. Don Antonio’s is very fast, which made me nervous. But then I realized that a taco platter only has to be put together, not cooked to order, since the carne asada had been cooking down to tender all day. At least, that is what I will continue to tell myself. A chile relleno has to cook only as long as a thin egg batter needs to fry – minutes, if not seconds.
Tacos are wrapped in taco-truck foil, sort of authentic-feeling, but not really. They are double-layered with flour tortil
las filled to overflowing with nothing but beef and guacamole, and maybe a few chopped fresh onions. The tacos were delicious, though we did remove one tortilla as having two made it too tortilla-y. Splashed with some of the salsa that came with the tortilla chips, the tacos were perfect. We ate the extra tortillas with the salsa anyway.
My chile relleno, which looked fairly large, came out on a small oval plate flooded with red sauce and garnished, like the taco platter, some nice slices of radishes and a curlicue of orange. I don’t know why I just wrote about the garnish – LOL! I cut the chile relleno in half to take a peek inside, and was somewhat disappointed. There was only a dollop of cheese, much much less than I’d like, and the chile itself was fairly small. The whole chile relleno was deceptively large because most of it was the fried egg batter coating on the chile. It didn’t taste horrible. In fact, the flavor of the sauce alone was delicious, but I guess in the case of a chile relleno, size matters. :)
I like Don Antonio’s, and I’d go there, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Saturday. So what if the chile relleno wasn’t perfect this time? I can live with that. I have to. Besides, everyone makes a mistake every once in a while, even the Don. Next time – well, I mean the next next time since it’s Casa Escobar’s turn now – next time, I’ll just get a double order of albóndigas soup.