Where To Go When You Just Want Chips, Salsa & A Strong Margarita guide image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

LAGuide

Where To Go When You Just Want Chips, Salsa & A Strong Margarita

15 classic LA Mexican restaurants.

Living in LA, we’re surrounded by the best Mexican food in the country. We’ve got Oaxacan mole places, world-class mariscos trucks, and more incredible taquerias than anybody knows what to do with. We also have legendary old-school California-Mexican restaurants, too. You know the ones—those beloved, historic shrines dedicated to enchilada combo platters, margaritas, and endless baskets of chips and salsa. Sure, they might not have the best food in town, but if you’re coming to these spots expecting bold plating and elevated flavor profiles, you’ve missed the point. These are community gathering places: where families, friends, and everyone in between come to eat hearty food, swap gossip, and probably drink too many margs.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Jakob Layman

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El Coyote

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7312 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles
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We write about El Coyote a lot and usually include a disclaimer that the food here isn’t all that great—which is true. And yet, we’ll forever love this ancient Mexican restaurant on Beverly, because no matter what day you come, a meal here feels like a festive holiday gathering. Within two seconds of sitting down, a member of the eccentric waitstaff (most of whom have been working there for decades) will plop down a big bowl warm tortilla chips and two different kinds of salsa (a chunky salsa fresca and spicy red). The house margaritas are equally iconic—and iconically strong—and come with one of our favorite restaurant hacks in town: Say you want the ice on the side and you’ll get two margaritas for the price of one. 

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7.1

Casita del Campo

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Since its inception back in the 1960s, Casita Del Campo has remained one of the most reliable places in Silver Lake to have a good time. The old school restaurant—and historic queer space—serves a wide-ranging menu of enchiladas, burritos, sizzling fajitas plates, and margaritas so strong, they should come with an FDA warning. They’ve also transformed their parking lot into a beautiful, expansive patio, complete with brightly colored potted plants, string lights overhead, and more than enough space for birthday parties.

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This massive restaurant in Sherman Oaks is an LA institution and perhaps your best chance at spotting your tax accountant and a Kardashian eating one booth apart. This is the kind of place where drunk locals and A-list celebrities commingle without anybody making a big deal of it. The margaritas are borderline lethal and that lobster quesadilla is a must-order. Casa Vega is a bit of a holy grail for Valley dwellers, so reservations are definitely encouraged on the weekends. 

Open since 1963, La Cabaña is a Westside staple. It’s not the most inventive food in town, but you’re not at this Venice spot for a thoughtful take on the sope. You’re here for the shredded beef quesadilla and the culinary monstrosity that goes by “El Verde Burrito” (a coop’s-worth of chicken, beans, lettuce, avocado, and tomato, all topped with salsa verde and cheese). They have a fantastic back patio, $37 margarita carafes, and sometimes, a mariachi band plays on the roof. They’re also open until 1am on the weekends which, for Venice, is basically morning. 

Don Antonio’s is another Westside staple for filling up on still-hot chips before your enchilada combo or super burrito arrives. While the cave-like interior is a great place to forget time exists, the expanded filled with potted plants and papel picado hanging overhead is at the top of the list for pleasant West LA outdoor patios. There’s usually a wait here, but time moves quickly when you have a margarita in hand. Each one comes either squeezed and shaken or blended to order, so they’re extra tart and cold. If you order it spicy, they’ll throw in some jalapenos as well.

Whenever we have visitors from out of town, our knee-jerk reaction is to take them to the El Compadre in Hollywood. Is this dark, windowless cavern across the street from Guitar Center where you’ll find the best Mexican food in LA? Absolutely not. But taking down a combo plate and a flaming margarita while shouting over the mariachis and spying on the table over is a signature LA experience. Pile a crew into a big red booth and feed everyone chile rellenos and enchiladas for a guaranteed great time. 

El Cholo has locations all over LA, but the one you need to concern yourself with is the original in Koreatown. Established in 1923, this sprawling restaurant on Western Ave. feels like a miniature city, except instead of traffic and skyrocketing rent, there are giant enchilada combo platters, a friendly waitstaff and potent margaritas. They’ve been serving the classic El Cholo margarita since 1967 and it’s smoky, tart, and delicious. As far as the food goes, we usually get the Sonora-style enchiladas or fajitas—and several baskets of free tortilla chips. 

Don Cuco has a handful of locations around town, but the original in Toluca Lake is where the real party can be found. Open since 1969, this specific location benefits greatly from being adjacent to every major studio in the Valley, and has margaritas that’ll put even the most seasoned office drinkers under the table. You’re coming to this classic spot simply because it’s a great time—and because eating unlimited chips and salsa with your coworkers on a Tuesday is the only way you’re making it to Friday. 

This massive restaurant in North Hollywood is packed pretty much every night of the week—and it’s not difficult to see why. The solid menu is filled with dishes ranging from sizzling fajitas to carnitas tortas, there’s a long list of Mexican beer and margaritas, and those unlimited chips, salsa, and bean dip are always free. But most importantly, Salsa & Beer manages to give off a lively, neighborhood energy that makes a meal here feel more like a block party than dinner. 

Casablanca in Venice has been around for about 40 years, and the menu hasn’t changed much since then, which is a good thing. The signature dish is the calamari steak, but sometimes we deviate and go for either a grande burrito or a skillet of fajitas. And aside from the solid food, Casablanca is always a dependable good time, with live music, tortillas being made in the main dining room, and, a margarita cart that will roll right up to your table.

Open since 1965, The Mexican Village is one of the most historic Mexican restaurants in LA—and also one of the most fun. Head to this massive spot on Beverly Blvd. (where Historic Filipinotown, Virgil Village, and Silver Lake converge) and get treated to a loud, raucous dining room filled with family gatherings, weekly karaoke, and a lot of margaritas. This is the kind of spot where everybody who walks in is a regular and greets the waitstaff not with a reservation name, but a hug and a kiss. You can’t go wrong with any of their big combo platters (the chile relleno is a particular standout), and for margaritas, we love the refreshing heat of the cucumber jalapeno. 

Mijares is a hacienda-style restaurant in Pasadena that’s been run by the same family since it opened in 1920. The main dining room is perfect for big group lunches or birthday dinners, but we usually prefer to sit on the charming patio out back sipping a jumbo-sized tamarind margarita under the gazebo. True to form, this old-school establishment has a huge menu of Cal-Mex combo platters, large seafood entrees, and a giant “garbage burrito” stuffed with a nacho plate’s worth of toppings. Mijares also serves Mexican breakfast dishes all day, so keep it in mind the next time you’re craving huevos rancheros or chilaquiles post-breakfast.

Paco’s has been a staple in that part of town that’s definitely sort of Del Rey (but maybe also Mar Vista or Marina Del Rey) since 1975, and it shows. From the festive dining room filled Christmas lights, fish tanks, and Mexican murals, to the menu loaded with combo platters, Paco’s hasn’t changed since the Ford Administration, and sometimes, that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Do they have 14-pound burritos and chimichangas? You bet. Are they fantastic? Of course—mostly because they’re made with Paco’s fresh fluffy flour tortillas. Those tortillas are great on their own, too (especially slathered with butter), so get some for the table, down a few frozen margaritas, and enjoy the ambiance.

La Cabañita is a homey Mexican spot tucked way up in the foothills of North Glendale, practically Montrose. Despite its somewhat cramped dining room, the place has a fierce following among locals, and for good reason. The margaritas, available in two dozen different flavors and served in wide goblets, are shockingly generous and the food includes a few intriguing regional dishes like shrimp-stuffed chiles marinero and mole enchiladas. We also love that they provide two great salsa options with their chips—smoky chipotle and tart tomatillo—and that the complimentary flan they give out if it's your birthday tastes so rich and caramel-y we’d happily pay full price.

One of the oldest Mexican restaurants in the South Bay and a bonafide local institution, the first thing you should know about Leo’s in Lawndale is they’re famous for something called “cheese chips,” which are exactly what they sound like: a plate of tortillas chips underneath a blanket of broiled white cheese, like something you’d make in college at 2am. But wow, if it doesn’t hit the spot with a tall Cadillac margarita on the rocks. After you’ve polished off your last round of chips and admired the retro faux-abode decor, order the Leo’s excellent chile con carne (red or green), which comes with fluffy rice and creamy refried beans that don’t taste like an afterthought.

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