Get Out for Spokesman Review Handle Extra
by Patrick Jacobs
publication date 05/31/08
296 W.Sunset Ave.,
Camarera Vacante Pero Mercancías Muy Sabrosas
Perhaps it was just a matter of bad timing, but as I sat staring at the colorfully folksy wall murals for what seemed like an eternity waiting for the waitress to deliver water and chips, I began to wonder what in the heck was going on. The hostess had seated us in the back room, the only two stragglers tucked away with a huge and boisterous family reunion that had just gotten underway. Favorite aunties shrieked with delight at relatives they hadn’t seen in years. Bear hugs flew left and right between long lost cousins, second cousins, and ex-step-cousins thrice removed. Floppy-haired emo teens rolled their black-lined eyes and pouted at the over-excited grannies pinching their cheeks and saying “Oh goodness, how you’ve grown into such a big, um…boy? Girl?”
Where was our lovely waitress? The question would haunt us all night. Meanwhile, I found myself sucked into the unintentionally bizarre hand-painted scenarios that decorated the walls of the room. In one mural, a giant fellow in a King Arthur-style armored shirt and a big Conan O’Brien hairdo is carrying a passed-out hippie chick in a faux Sacajawea get-up over the peak of a tall mountain. On the opposite wall, a group of natives with chicken pox gather on a river’s edge and point in fear and amazement at the Ugly Brown Bird of Impending Doom, who is carrying a rubber snake in its beak and standing atop a spiky flowering cactus. I’m sure that in Mexican folklore these situations hold some kind of deep symbolism, but at the moment all I could think about was a nice basket of chips and fresh salsa. They finally arrived along with an apology from the waitress who clued us in to the fact that they were also catering some huge event that evening, which is where the majority of staff had disappeared off to, leaving a bare-bones crew behind to deal with the dinner crowd. “It’s gonna be a while” she blurted, and I have to at least credit her for her honesty.
Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been to Las Chavelas when the place hasn’t been packed with people, and that’s mainly because they offer some of the most incredible, authentic Mexican food in town. They’ve been admirably consistent, building up a cult following for the better part of two decades in their Sunset Mall location, a strip mall that has seen dozens of other eateries come and go. Like I mentioned, it must have just been bad timing that caused the service level to be less-than-impressionante on this particular evening. Our basket of chips was kind of a tragic affair, just a pile of tiny triangular crumbles, too small to even attempt to dip without risking spicy wet fingertips. We did feel a bit back-burnered during the enormous length of time it took to serve the family reunion folks but ultimately, our meals were fantastic enough to overshadow how desperately ravenous we once were and the near-eternity it seemed to have taken for them to arrive.
The menu presented an exhaustion of traditional Mexican options, and certainly our waitress gave us ample time to come up with a concrete decision. Some of the house specialties available include Albondiga, a type of meatball soup and Menudo, a spicy tripe-and-hoof stew that can be difficult for those without a Mexican grandmother or a severe tequila hangover to really understand. Las Chavelas also serves incredible “Enchildas del Mar”, stuffed with garlicky shrimp and crab, and fish tacos filled with flaky breaded tilapia filets. The Machaca Plate mish-mashes beef, eggs, onion, and tomatoes together with Anaheim peppers, and the Chilaquiles con Huevo takes deep fried corn tortillas and smothers them with red sauce, eggs, onions, melted cheese and heavenly guacamole.
I always like to order one of the combination platters, so I can try a little of this and a little of that, and the this was chile relleno and the that was enchilada and the shredded beef taco was a bonus. I’m a big fan of the chile relleno action, and it’s not any thing to pull off – I’ve had my share of burnt-egg hot messes. Las Chavelas does these cheese-stuffed, egg battered peppers with perfection, and the special white sauce they smother them with is tangy and intense. Likewise, the enchilada was flavorful and filled with tended chunks of shredded beef, and the taco was a fat little bugger, its meat deep-fried in the shell and overstuffed with crispy lettuce and shredded cheddar. The side rice was incredibly satisfying and a larger portion would have been welcomed with an open mouth. Also, I’m not normally a massive fanatic of the refried-bean, but mixed with a few spoons full of the fresh salsa, these transcend the ordinary gloppy grey variety. I actually managed to clean my plate of them, quite a rare feat.
Lou’s “Muy Macho Burrito” met a similar end, disappearing faster than you can say “chicken, beef, rice, and beans in a fresh flour tortilla and smothered with red sauce and melted cheese and garnished with tomatoes and lettuce.” Even though we had a hunch it would delay our exit by another half-hour, we decided to indulge in the Fried Ice Cream with strawberries and whipped cream and it was well worth the wait, a hard vanilla dream in a crackly, perfectly oily crisp tortilla, smothered with sweet red syrup and piled high with white fluff. We waddled to the register and paid our tab nearly two hours after we arrived, the last few of the family reunion still lingering over their Coronas. Although past visits have been a bit faster service-wise, I wouldn’t recommend Las Chavelas for those in any kind of rush. However, if you have the patience to just relax and hang a while, you’ll be rewarded with one of the finest, most authentic Mexican meals in the region.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Get Out for Spokesman Review Handle Extra