We actually ventured to Downtown LA for dinner last night and landed ourselves at a fantastic little Mexican place called Yxta Cocina Mexicana. Friand discovered this place after a brief restaurant search and decided that we just had to go there! The photos on their website are fantastic, the menu looks simple and authentic, and really what could I lose? My attitude toward dining out is always this: what’s the worst that can happen? I drink a mojito, eat some chips and go home to make myself dinner instead? Certainly not the end of the world, so bring on the new place!
Of course, we checked out the menu online before we made the reservation, although it seems that most Mexican restaurants can be counted on to have at least one thing that is either already vegetarian (just remove the dairy please) or can make a vegan dish on the fly with minimal discomfort. Yxta already has “Calabacitas” and it appeared to be the thing I would order. When Friand made the reservation through Open Table, he made a note that there would be a vegan in our party. We were more than pleased when 24 hours before our reservation we received a phone call from someone at Yxta reassuring us that there indeed would be a vegan meal available. Wow! A phone call. Major points there, and certainly it added to the anticipation.
Yxta is hip from the outside and parking, thankfully, isn’t all that complicated. The worst you have to deal with is a one way street along one side of the parking lot. Easy enough to work around, and as long as there are spaces available parking is super convenient.
Once inside, the place is clean, chic and vibrant. The kitchen is right there, for the whole world to see, right behind the hostess stand. Immediately that sends a message that they keep a clean kitchen, they run a tight brigade, and they are confident that you will be amazed at the way they work this thing. I loved it! And now I’m wishing I had taken a picture.
We were seated along the front wall with a view of the bar and just far enough away from the communal table that we still felt like we were in a restaurant and not a bar. Turned out the acoustics of the space were so great that we never really heard the communal table, though it was full of happy hour left over patrons! It looks like a fun place for people to hang out and mingle.
Our server, Alberto, arrived promptly with our chips and salsa and explained that the Calabacitas would be a perfect dinner option for me. He took our drink orders and left us to stuff our faces with what are some of the best chips in town. They were thick, fresh, lightly oily & salty, and I could not get enough of them. The salsas, a simple yet decadent pico de gallo and a chipotle salsa, were both so good I couldn’t tell you which I enjoyed more. In fact, I am going to declare the pico the best pico I’ve ever had. That’s saying quite a bit considering all it is is chopped tomato, onion and cilantro. Shouldn’t amount to much of anything, but it was fantastic. The chipotle tomato was not too spicy for us, but you should go easy on it for a test dip. Don’t dip like regular salsa or you will feel it in your sinuses!
We ordered a guacamole to go with our chips and were again pleased by what we received. Not just a bunch of smushed avocado with some cilantro for good measure. Nope, this was a delicate balance of onion, tomato, lime and salt. The fastest way to ruin guacamole is to oversalt or have too many veggies floating around in there. The avocado was still chunky and all of you who appreciate fresh avocados will be happy to know that there wasn’t a single grey patch to be found. The spicy pepitas on top were a unique twist! We found that dipping our chip into the chipotle salsa before taking a scoop of guacamole was the decadent way to go.
Our drinks arrived and neither one of us was disappointed. Too many times one of us is left envious of the other’s drink, but not this time! The smaller cocktail menu is a testament to how much detail they put into their drinks. And although it seemed a little long and they didn’t arrive at the same time, both drinks were well worth the wait.
Friand ordered the El Poblano described as: “alipus mezcal, muddled poblano, lime juice, agave nectar, chipotle salt rim.” If you know mezcal then you know that this was a smokey dark drink. I’d hardly call it a strong drink, because it was a great balance. The chipotle salt on the rim was a nice touch as well. By now, you all must know that although most drinks I order come in a martini glass they are not all martinis. This was! I love gin. Gin gin ginnity gin, I love it. And this super simple martini was delicious: “hendrick’s gin, muddled cucumber, basil”. Again, not a particularly strong drink, which I appreciated since I was the designated driver on this evening.
On to dinner!
Honestly, when the Calabacitas arrived, I felt a little deflated because it was exactly the thing that I moan about on this blog: a pile of veggies. But I am open-minded, and I wasn’t going to snub my nose at food served at a place like this! The server had specifically said that there are so many vegans that dine here that they have become good at making this particular dish vegan, so who was I to be the whiny one? Mmmm mmm MM! This turned out to be a delicious little dish, and surprisingly filling.
I don’t even know where to start with this dish. I was given three warm corn tortillas, although if they had given me ten I would have finished them all, too. Friand declared that these tortillas were the best he’s ever had outside of Mexico (did you know he was born in Mexico?) and I would have to agree. We had some wonderful tortillas this past March when we were there to visit our family, and these were about as close as you could get without forcing abuela to sit in the kitchen for hours on end making these things. They were so earthy and deep that I actually thought there were mushrooms in my calabacitas!
Under the calabacitas was a bed of Mexican rice. Not the kind that you get in a box at the grocery store, but a beautifully pink, fried and chewy rice, no weird spices and additives just to “make it more Mexican”. So simple it stands solidly on its own. The Calabacitas themselves were very lightly spiced, some sweetness coming from the grilled corn, and the darkness of the tomato and red onion combined with the tortillas was a home run.
After my three tortillas were gone, I was left with more than half of my meal still on the plate, but never fear, there was a side of frijoles olla! I don’t know what sort of magic they did to make these beans so addictive, but there just weren’t enough for me! It’s probably better that they served them in a small ramakin instead of a giant side dish (like the black beans they brought out as a side to Friand’s meal) because I would have eaten myself right into trouble. I actually did not try the black beans because they had a light dusting of queso fresco, but I did ask our server, Alberto, about both beans. Yes, they are both vegan without the cheese. There is no lard, no pork, no funny business. Vegans are free to enjoy all beans!
Unfortunately, there isn’t a vegan dessert option, but my guess is that if enough vegans ask, the more likely a sorbet is to appear. Friand did order the flan and described it as “one of the best (possibly *the* best) flans I have ever tasted, and I’ve tasted a few. The texture was just firm enough, the sweetness just right, the flavor of the custard simply perfection.” Read Friand’s full review on Yelp!
YxtaCocina Mexicana is highly recommended by yours truly. I’m certain that we will be back as Friand has already declared that there are more items on the menu he needs to try. As for me, I’m hoping that upon our next visit I’ll be served something other than the calabacitas but, if not, I’ll be happy with that dish again. This time, I won’t be so shy and will ask for more tortillas! Yxta receives a 4 Sprout rating because the one vegetarian menu item was modified to be vegan and that’s pretty much it. I have high hopes, though, that eventually they will incorporate more vegetarian items including a dessert. Go forth and enjoy Yxta without fear!
Yxta Cocina Mexicana601 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90021