Back in 2016, the hot new Eastside restaurant was Salazar. This Sonoran-style Mexican spot was the area’s ultimate destination. And rightfully so—the food was inventive and the outdoor patio felt like you were on vacation in Austin.
But much like your mild interest in rainbow bagels, Salazar’s reign as one of the Eastside’s great restaurants was ultimately short-lived. There are several reasons why (chef turnover, increased local competition), but the main issue at Salazar is simple—the once-remarkable food has become decidedly average. But that doesn’t mean you should write the place off completely.
Whether you’ve been going to Salazar for years or you’re just hearing about it, know the space itself is still great. In our Salazar review from 2016 (we gave it an 8.9 rating, by the way), we remarked that the desert-like patio and indoor/outdoor bar concept felt objectively different and mentioned that every LA restaurant should use both as blueprints. We still feel that way. It doesn’t matter if you come here on a quiet Tuesday night or for a boozy Sunday brunch, Salazar’s patio remains one of the best in town. And not just because it’s well-designed or looks pretty on Instagram. The patio creates a sense of escapism—as if you’ve left LA for a few hours and didn’t pay airfare to get there. Salazar still does that better than anyone. It’s the food that no longer holds up its end of the bargain.
photo credit: Holly Liss
To be clear, the food at Salazar is fully serviceable, and in the case of specific dishes like the cóctel de camaróne (jumbo shrimp cocktail), even memorable. But when you’re eating at a place that once served an al pastor taco so technically perfect you’d drive straight from LAX in rush-hour traffic to eat it, serviceable suddenly feels slightly inadequate. Is Salazar still worth a visit? Of course, but come with the expectation to snack and have some drinks with friends, not feast on a life-changing meal.
Even though the original translucent flour tortillas have been replaced by a thicker, less-revelatory version, ordering a plate of tacos is still a move we endorse. Throw in spicy aguachiles for the table, keep the chips and salsa bowls replenished at all times, and you’ve got the ideal dinner situation at Salazar. The larger grilled-meat plates are all fairly mediocre, so skip that section in lieu of another round of palomas or pomegranate guacamole. Both of those things will serve you better in this scenario, anyway.
Sure, Salazar isn’t the game-changing destination restaurant it once was, and that’s OK. It’s still a great place to hang out, knock back a few palomas, and get out of LA, if only psychologically.
Chips And Salsa
In a city where free chips and salsa are a birthright, paying $6 might seem offensive. But once you taste the thick, house-made chips and slightly smoky vaquera salsa, you’ll feel OK about it. Besides, refills are unlimited.
photo credit: Holly Liss
Al Pastor Tacos
It may seem counterintuitive to come to a restaurant with a full menu and concentrate on the tacos, but that’s what you’re going to do here. The al pastor is our favorite, but as long as those house-made tortillas are wrapped around the outside, we don’t really care what’s inside.
Coctel de Camerone
This is our favorite dish currently being served at Salazar. Cooked right on the mesquite grill, the jumbo shrimp themselves are savory, slightly sweet, and what everyone will be talking about after the meal.
Plain and simple, this is a bad salad. On our last visit, it was basically a bowl of wilted mixed greens with some almonds, overripe peaches, and cubed goat cheese thrown on top. There is no reason to order this.
There are certainly better aguachiles around town, but we like this plate of raw snapper because it’s easily shareable and has a much-appreciated kick of heat at the end.