Readers Share Their Favorite Classic LA Mexican Restaurants

Classic Mexican restaurants have become a dining staple in Los Angeles. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

What makes a good classic Mexican restaurant? Maybe it’s the kitsch decor and local charm. Maybe it’s the delicious food: handmade tortillas, pink margaritas, sizzling fajitas, massive combo plates that could last you several meals. Or maybe it’s the memories that are created there.

After the publication of the Times a series on old-school Mexican restaurants and their go-to food spots in Los Angeles, dozens of readers responded to an alert, sharing their favorite spots to indulge Cal Mex Food and what is in these culinary institutions that keeps them coming back. Here’s what they had to say.

(Answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

Casa Del Rey in Sierra Madre is our family’s favorite Mexican restaurant. We love their combo plates, mine being a hard shell beef taco and two cheese enchiladas with rice and beans. My wife loves chili relleno with cheese enchiladas. They have two homemade salsas. The one they serve you with fries when you first sit down is their “hot” version. You have to ask for the “mild” salsa, my favorite. I can put it on my taco, beans, rice and dip my fries in it and for me it’s so flavorful without any burns. We’ve used them for catering events at our house and always have plenty of leftovers. When our youngest son, now 39, came with us as a kid, he only got a bean and cheese burrito. Soon they would remember and ask him if he wanted a bean and cheese burrito. Eventually they stopped asking and just brought one. I walked in about a year ago at the height of the pandemic, fully masked with sunglasses to pick up a takeout order, and the waiter said, “Hi, Domingo, we have your order ready.” How many places do that?

31 N. Baldwin Ave, Sierra Madre, (626) 355-6060, casadelreyrestaurant.com

Domingo Torres Rangel

La Cabañita in Glendale. The tacos de rajas con crema are to die for and they have a great selection of chili rellenos (including chili marineros). In fact, all of their food is delicious. I’ve been there for a long time and believe they are family owned (although they changed hands a few years ago). Longtime servers, survived the pandemic – great place for family and neighborhood. Not just my favorite Mexican restaurant, but my favorite restaurant in LA.

3445 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale, (818) 957-2711, lacabanitarestaurant.com

Nina Woodson

I can’t believe you didn’t include El Ranchito d’Avila!!! Their first location in Huntington Park is legendary, and our family has been going to the Santa Ana location since it opened in 1983! We even had my Italian mother’s memorial service there because she loved it so much. Today we dine at almost every place as they have their own local charm. Huntington Park, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana still make handmade tortillas (too good!!!). And the beach locations have so many local specialties.

(multiple locations) 6703 Santa Fe Ave., Huntington Park, (323) 585-5055, avilaselranchito.com

Patty Mitchell

As far back as I can remember, Barragan’s was our family’s go-to Mexican restaurant. It was a mid-century mainstay of Echo Park. When it finally closed, I went to the branch in Glendale. It unfortunately closed and the only existing Barragan is in Burbank. So I try to go there as often as possible. Thousands and thousands of community members, everywhere now, have turned to the family business with love and respect. It is and has been a constant in our lives. Great people and happy memories, the family recipes, menu, margaritas, tastes and flavors are embedded in our experiences there.

730 N. Victory Blvd., Burbank, (818) 848-2325, barragansrestaurants.com

Elena Velarde

When I was working at an aerospace company in Northridge, I was introduced to Los Toros in Chatsworth. It was just my kind of place: dark and a bit run down. In my opinion they had the best bean dip, cheese enchiladas and pink margaritas in that little corner of my world from long ago. Pure comfort.

21743 Devonshire Street, Chatsworth, (818) 882-3080, perdoros.com

Claudia Mitchell

La Fiesta Grande in Pasadena: The BEST traditional Mexican food in the area. Family owned for over 40 years – a Pasadena institution. Recently reopened after having to move because the previous owner of the building did not renew his lease. Come for the enchiladas, fajitas, carne asada, tacos and stay for their AMAZING margaritas and of course the fries and salsa. Camerina (the owner’s daughter) runs the place and the staff have been with them for years. They are like an extended family! My family and I started going there over 17 years ago as part of a fundraiser for my eldest daughter’s preschool. My youngest daughter’s first trip was when she was 2 weeks old… It was a Friday night tradition after work/after picking up the kids.

181 E. Glenarm St. #110, Pasadena, (626) 298-6272, instagram.com/la_fiestagrande

Tricia Miranda

Missed a big hole in the wall in Santa Monica, Gilbert’s El Indio, on Pico next to a car wash. It’s small (comfortable), cozy and very, very good. The menu has just about anything you could want from south of the border. The huevos rancheros, for reasons hard to identify, are perhaps the best in town (Gilbert’s El Indio happens to be a good breakfast). The margaritas are superb (breakfast or cocktail). They do a salsa diablo which is excellent, but you have to ask for it. Service is on point, staff are friendly and make customers feel welcome.

2526 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 450-8057, gilbertselindio.com

Rob Webb

The Cabana de Rosa in Torrance. Family business – Rosa herself will take care of you most days. In addition to all the standard Sonora-style entrees, Rosa’s offers terrific flat enchiladas with a savory green sauce, great posole (choice of pork or chicken), healthy salads – the fish salad is topped with a large filet grilled – and much more. Plus, they make the best agua de jamaica: tangy but not too sweet like some. I have been coming here for years and have never been disappointed. I grew up on the Eastside and have pretty high standards for Mexican food. It’s the best I’ve found in the South Bay.

24403 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, (310) 378-3667

Hilary Cohen

Although I’d say the best Mexican food is in my mom’s kitchen, I’m very surprised that Pancho’s in Manhattan Beach didn’t make your list. The restaurant is worth a visit; I highly recommend a margarita to complement any meal and save room for a sopapilla for dessert.

3615 Highland Avenue, Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-6670, panchosrestaurant.com

AJ Guerrero

I’ve been going to Mi Casa in Costa Mesa since I can remember. If you like cheese, this is THE place to go. The three-item combo (beef or chicken taco, cheese enchilada, and chili relleno) will last you several meals…although the taco never goes out with me. The nachos are also a cheese lover’s dream and the pickled jalapeños give it the perfect amount of heat and a break from the richness. They do an average Cadillac margarita, a must with the meal. Their salsa is one of my all time favorites, but I might be biased since I was raised on it. It’s always homemade, so the spice levels vary (which I like when it has that little extra). They have added new items to the menu in recent years which I don’t find very good, but the original combo plates won’t disappoint. It’s also quite economical, so it was a weekly treat with my friends in high school.

296 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-7626, www.micasa1.com

Nathan Mulhern

Las Fuentes in Reseda! Or melodies just across the street. They are from the same family and the food is so delicious! These are two local joints that are always busy. The decor in both is truly Mexican kitsch and they’ve both been around for years. I know no one thinks of going to Reseda for good food, but it’s worth the trip. The portions are generous, the salsa is authentic. I love the caldo de pollo at Melodies and the tacos at Las Fuentes. We’ve celebrated birthdays there, and it’s always a bit with out-of-town guests.

18415 Vanowen Street, Reseda, (818) 708-3344, lasfuentes.com

Danielle Moreno

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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