Even though I’m going to review this restaurant you see above, this post is about all the little family owned restaurants, just like this one, that make up the bulk of eateries on the Eastside. They’re not necessarily spectacular. They might take a long time to get on yelp. The signage on the place is usually improvised, or if they’re lucky, ALZAized. Nobody visits for the decor nor for that bullshit “ambience” that makes foodies feel special. These simple restaurants are just places that provide food. Stuff to eat when yer hungry. They give us our nourishment and I think that qualifies as worthy of mention.
In my quest to map out the current state of Huevos Rancheros I end up eating at lots of these places. Very rarely do I hate the food. Usually, at the very least, I get a decent meal for around $5, give or take a few bucks. I might not review it, but still, I appreciate the fact that they cooked something for me to eat. When we focus only on the consumption aspect of food, we forget that cooking for others is serious work. It’s labor intensive and tiring. Yet the eater just wants to plop down some cash and expects a fabulous meal. I guess if you have cash to burn then that’s arguably a reasonable expectation. But for the working poor of the Eastside a plate of food is a plate of food, its just a bonus if its delicious! To some places I’ll not be rushing back, but if I’m no longer hungry and can continue with my daily pendejadas, then that’s good enough. And sometimes, these chance encounters with a new hot plate can be very pleasurable.
A typical ad campaign that consists of construction paper and a marker. No “soft openings” here. No ridiculous names for dishes where you have to read the ingredients to understand what yer going to eat. Just a basic description of items on the menu.
Of course, when you enter one of these restaurants you basically enter their domain. The restaurant as an extension of home. The decorative accents always reflect the interests of the owner. Often it’s some stupid Chivas merchandise (those places are not to be trusted) or maybe a mini temple to the Dodgers, which is even worse. The theme will vary but there is always a theme. Think of it like the time when you sat patiently waiting for your abue to fix you a plate, all the while having to tolerate her various reprimands and her singular pursuit of cutting your greñas: you just shut up and wait. This particular place goes by Jireh, which I gather is some sort of Jehovah’s Witness reference. Yup, I’m being fed by the Atalayas. I still need to get even for that time the “hermanos” woke me up early on a Saturday, but for the moment I learn to deal. The radio is tuned to some religious station and callers are half talking-half crying about the miracles they received after another bout of prayer. It’s mildly entertaining, though I don’t think I’m supposed to laugh. Notice the very utilitarian plastic tablecloth.
At many of these simple restaurants, they still take the time to make a unique and tasty salsa to go with the chips. Oh yeah, and they fry up their own chips too. Any sit down Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles that does not provide chips and salsa as an appetizer is hereby declared lame. And if they charge you for this cheap botanita, like they do at malo, then they are assholes. Only Llamarada is exempt from this clause. He dicho.
Sorry for the bad angle, I took this shot while seated. Most of these places would not appreciate you taking pictures so I don’t go out of my way to get found out. That’s a side view of some religious calendars and some sort of vitamin products, that extra income vehicle that is a fucking plague on the Eastside. I’m already eating your food, shouldn’t there be enough vitamins in that? Religion and vitamin bottles go hand in hand: you just have to believe that yer feeling better.
The thing I love most about these forgettable local eateries is that they are a place for the locals to congregate. When I came in to this spot, still wearing my I-dress-like-a-jerk work clothes, there were two señoras at a table across that threw me that ojo when I walked in. But after I sat down they kept on talking about all that random chisme that’s both entertaining and ridiculous in its banality. It’s too meaningless for even me to type up! And then, like out of some Balkan comedy, some old guy with a busted eye socket, all red, bloody, and just fucked up, comes in yelling “van a llevar sus nopales o no?” He’s not offering to sell you some nopales, basically asking/implying “what the fuck, do you want some of these fine cactus paddles or not? I don’t have time to deal with this bullshit” which was pretty hilarious. And of those that could, nobody even blinked. I had some at home but I had to play this out. “Cuanto por una bolsa?” $3.50 “Deme una.” Then without a word he walks out of the place, comes back 2 minutes later with a different bag of nopales in another plastic bag, and he gives me my change. It’s almost as if I annoyed him that I made a purchase. Needless to say, that was my kinda salesman!
Order up! My mole enchiladas de queso topped up with more cheese. If I were to go to one of the recommended restaurants I read about online I can usually tailor my expectations based on the reviews. And still I’m often disappointed. But checking out one of these random simple restaurants is a gamble, a spin of the wheel, wondering what the hell is going to turn up. In a game of chance, you can still win. This basic dish, topped by a bit too much cheese, was actually quite wonderful: the mole that lathered these tortillas was rich and flavorful, with an earthy tone that you’d expect only from the gourmet spots. Could be they bought a good sauce from a good source. What matters is that this random place for a random meal provided a lunch that was like mini fireworks of flavor explosions. And afterwards I was no longer hungry. Mission accomplished. Surely it fails in all kinds of ways on the foodie scoreboard. But then again, nobody cares.
Mixed message. On the register “cash only”. Sorry no checks, no exceptions. And on the chicle contraption, “now acceping creditcards”. Can’t go wrong with cash.
So what’s the moral of this story? That there are mediocre eateries that you should visit? That you might be surprised by that one place you keep passing by? That I survived a meal by the testigos? That as long as people need to eat there will always be some place that can provide sustenance? Sure, why not.
Yeah, that’s a pretty lame conclusion.
Jireh Mexican Restaurant
2635 Whittier Blvd. (near La Mascota Bakery)