Dine at the first Mexican restaurant to grace Los Angeles – El Cholo, which opened its doors in 1923.
A restaurant that holds great meaning for me is El Cholo. There are multiple El Cholo locations, but the Santa Monica one holds the most meaning because growing up, my best friend’s mom used to take the two of us there after picking us up from school for an early dinner, and my mom would meet us there after she finished work. The valet employees, as well as the hosts and hostesses, all knew us as we were regulars. My friend and I would order a side of flour tortillas, a side of rice and beans, a side of cheese, a side of lettuce, and a side of avocado every time so that we could make our own burritos. The waiters always offered us advice on how to properly mold the packed tortillas to make the perfect burrito shape, but, typical of kids our age, we refused because we wanted to do it our own way. Additionally, we always ordered bomb pop popsicles from the kid’s menu for dessert. As I got older, I frequented El Cholo less, but it still held the same value and meaning in my heart and was never too far out of my mind. So, in thinking of a restaurant for one of my family’s first meals out of 2023, we chose to dine at El Cholo! Upon walking in, all the good memories flooded my head, but I, unfortunately, did not recognize or spot any of the employees I used to call friends. Of course, people change along with places. Still, it felt good and right to be there.
El Cholo downsized its menu from my last visit and had fewer offerings than I remembered. However, most of my favorites were still on the menu, so I was happy that those did not disappear. Although I was tempted to go on my side-order rampage like I did when I was younger, I thought better of it and stuck to a normal adult order.
We started with an order of the guacamole Molcajete style, which was the perfect size for the five of us. It was fresh, packed with flavor, and had the perfect amount of spice and kick to it from the jalapenos. We then ordered pork and chicken tamales to nibble on before our main entrees came. The masa around the meat was the perfect texture and consistency and practically melted in my mouth. The pork was so flavorful and definitely my favorite between the two.
For my main entree, I got the house specialty shrimp fajitas. I love the way El Cholo serves their fajitas on a sizzling skillet with a plethora of vegetables sauteed in the most perfectly flavored sauce, as well as a side of refried beans. I prefer to use flour tortillas, but the corn tortillas were equally a hit. The side of cheese, guacamole, and sour cream is the perfect addition to the top of each handmade fajita taco. The quality of the food served is evident in the way you feel after dining there. I did not feel overly stuffed or bloated, which is a common feeling after eating Mexican cuisine due to the richness of the food.
The memory of the bomb pop popsicles was brought to the front of my mind as the kids at the table next to us began to slurp through theirs. But, we ordered the flan, which is served with whipped cream, because it seemed to be more of an age-appropriate order for our group.
Although the service was a bit slow, the staff was as kind as I remember. The ambiance of El Cholo is very homey as it definitely is a family-oriented spot. There were several older couples, many families like ours, as well as groups on date night. I hope to re-instate my tradition of dining at El Cholo at least once a month to keep the memories of the past alive, as well as make new memories.