photo credit: Jessie Clapp
Pocha isn't your typical Mexican cantina, nor does it want to be. Sure, this Chicana-owned Highland Park spot serves hearty staples you'd find at many traditional places, like caldo de res and chile verde, but that's only one side to it. The all-day operation actively pushes back against old-time clichés by deconstructing traditional recipes, adding fresh spins, and embracing its unabashed love for fluorescent pink. Pocha is a unique type of Mexican American restaurant and feels unapologetically refreshing for it.
The word "pocha" is Mexican slang for Chicanas who grew up in the U.S. and might only speak broken Spanish, a term that some might interpret as a slight dig. But at Pocha the restaurant, the duality of being from neither here nor there is a creative battering ram used to break down preconceptions. The interior is lined with homages to Frida Kahlo, portraits of Chicana women, and neon signs that say things like, "jefa-owned" and "resiliencia." You can experience a Sunday mariachi brunch on its outdoor patio, but also the occasional drag show with your morning chilaquiles. And we like how the casual, white-walled space doubles as a makeshift community center for all kinds of events, whether it's an art show, supper club, or just a casual weeknight dinner that calls for eating tacos in sweatpants.
You can roughly split the menu at Pocha into three categories: vegan-friendly, traditional Mexican, and something we like to call "things you'd find at Sweetgreen." The third category is a health-conscious mix of quinoa bowls, kale with mustard vinaigrette, and a tasty corn and black bean salad whose creamy poblano dressing we'd happily drop money on at Whole Foods. But overall, these tend to be the least exciting dishes when compared to the rest of the menu, which is filled with hits. We're big fans of the creamy vegan poblano corn dip, excellent chicken tinga, and beautiful shrimp ceviche flavored with sesame oil and served with chewy tostones. And if you're coming to Pocha for one dish and one dish only, we insist you try their ingenious invention known as la burrita (a.k.a. a burrito made from a light, fluffy crepe).
In a city with so many Mexican restaurants that you sometimes lose track of which ones you've eaten at, it's not every day that a place grabs your attention as Pocha does. Yes, it has loud branding, and a few dishes border on snoozy, but it also serves Mexican-American food we haven't seen elsewhere (which arguably speaks louder than its generous use of pink). So if you're on the hunt for a fun lunch spot with plant-based options or just somewhere that delivers a needed jolt after you visited the same taco truck six times in the past week, head to Pocha.
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The bar at Pocha serves beer and a few types of margarita flavored with things like hibiscus and pineapple, but our drink of choice here is the michelada. The mix is light and briny, which makes it shockingly easy to gulp down. We might deduct a few points for it not being salty or spicy enough, but overall it's a solid miche.
El Güero Taco
Similar to how some people exaggerate certain details about themselves on dating apps, this taco sounded great on paper but disappointed in real life. The cheese-stuffed güero pepper came out cold, and the cheese pull we expected was non-existent.
Chicken Tinga Taco
The chicken tinga at Pocha is everything we want from a great chicken tinga. It's juicy, pulls apart beautifully, and comes coated in a mild, tomatoey salsa and lots of queso cotija. The fresh corn tortillas they use are excellent, too.
Elote A La Pocha
We like our elote heavily charred and/or borderline burnt, and this one delivered. The kernels are sweet, smoky, and topped with crema and queso cotija. Pocha isn't trying to reinvent the wheel here—this is just good, classic elote.
Poblano Corn Dip
This chunky, scoopable dip screams Super Bowl Sunday and that's a compliment in our books. It's creamy, savory from the charred poblano peppers, and, most surprisingly, totally vegan.
Quinoa Corn Black Bean Salad
You've probably eaten something similar to this Southwest-esque salad before, but the bright and creamy poblano dressing that's mixed in tips the scale on this dish from whatever to pretty good.
Ceviche A La Pocha
This gorgeous plate of ceviche is as tasty as it is beautiful. The marinated shrimp is tender, the persian cucumbers and watermelon radish bring crunch and freshness, and the sesame oil does what it usually does: make everything more delicious. We love eating this ceviche with tostones—flattened crispy plantains—instead of the usual tostadas and might never look back.
You can get this delicious crepe-burrito hybrid filled with a bunch of things, including tinga, al pastor, or sauteed mushrooms, but we opt for the salty, tender-braised brisket. There's a lot of beef and crema stuffed into this crepe, but the wrap is so fluffy that you're coaxed into thinking this loaded burrito is lighter than air. If you order one thing at Pocha, make it this.
You could probably go to 100 different Mexican spots in LA and find 100 different tres leches cakes, but the one at Pocha deserves a blue ribbon, gold star, and standing ovation all at once. It's soaked in so much dairy that a spoon cuts through it like a custard, and tastes like pure, rich condensed milk without being too much of a good thing.