Daniel Villanueva / For The Times
If you’ve ever lived in Los Angeles, there’s likely a dish or an ambient aspect of a long-standing Mexican restaurant that you hold dear. These restaurants, serving up what you could call classic American Mexican, or California Mexican — “Cal-Mex” for short — have become a crucial part of L.A.’s identity. “Cal-Mex is a metaphor for our state itself,” writes Times columnist Gustavo Arellano. “Its history and resilience tells us where we came from, who we are and where we’re going — never static, perpetually underestimated, forever dynamic.”
Consider this package a guide to our state’s culinary soul.

BY BILL ADDISON, STEPHANIE BREIJO, JENN HARRIS, LUCAS KWAN PETERSON, GUSTAVO ARELLANO
We tallied a list with scores of classic Mexican restaurants across the region. After dozens of lettuce-gilded tostadas, hissing fajita platters and Combination No. 1 plates, we narrowed our must-try choices down to 38. Some we love for the food that transcends time, some we love for the vintage atmosphere or the kind servers, and a few we love for all of these elements combined. Read on for the full list. Do you have a favorite classic Mexican restaurant in Southern California that we didn’t include? Tell us where, and why, at this link, and we’ll highlight your best shared secrets and memories in a future story.

We shared our favorite Cal-Mex restaurants in L.A. and so did you. Read on for Times readers’ favorite places around the city for chile rellenos, cheesy enchiladas, massive margaritas and more.

BY GUSTAVO ARELLANO
“Cal-Mex is far more than nostalgia on a hot plate accompanied by chips and salsa. Sure, its hallmarks of taste and ambience represent comfort and tradition that haven’t been seen as hip for decades. But while numerous other culinary trends have come and gone, Cal-Mex has not only remained but thrived,” writes columnist Gustavo Arellano. Read on for his take.

BY LUCAS KWAN PETERSON
Anyone who works in a restaurant will tell you: It’s not easy. And it’s increasingly uncommon to see workers remain at one restaurant for their working lives. But El Cholo, the venerable Mexican institution founded nearly a century ago, is a throwback in more ways than one. Many employees have stayed. Lucas Kwan Peterson chatted with five of El Cholo’s longest-serving employees, who have collectively given it more than two centuries of their dedication and hard work. Read on for his story.

BY JENN HARRIS
You can count on nothing in life but death, taxes and a line at Tito’s Tacos. Whatever the time of day, people wait for the hard-shell tacos, the goopy enchiladas, the freshly fried chips and cups of horchata. We recently visited for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how Tito’s makes its fried tacos and so much more. Read on for Jenn Harris’ report.

BY LAURIE OCHOA
“The roots of classic Mexican American cuisine may be entangled in colonialism, but generations of Latino cooks and servers have worked at Cal-Mex restaurants and helped shape them into welcoming gathering spots for friends and family,” writes Times Food general manager Laurie Ochoa. Read on for her newsletter.
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