When the Hollywood Cobras & Matadors closed, a tiny space in my heart died as that was one of the first restaurants I ate at in Los Angeles. When an Umami moved in, I was a bit crushed and bitter. By the time Beverly’s Cobras & Matadors shuttered, I had resolved to look at the whole situation as an older member of the family passing away: I didn’t want them to go but they had to. This Beverly space very, very recently turned a corner and is back serving food that is the cousin to Cobras: Mexican food. The spot is La Otra Taqueria Escuela, which opened very recently.
Escuela comes from Cobra & Matadors creator and restauranteur Steven Arroyo. The concept is, essentially, Malo-for-Mid-City and is a follow up concept to Escuela Tacqueria around the corner, hidden on Stanley. (It’s also right next door to Potato Chips.) We arrived last Tuesday to have a little dinner with friend, LAIY contributor, and always-on-the-pulse-of-LA-food lady Danielle Lehman. It must be noted that we had Mexican the two days before at Casita del Campo and Marix: we were on a Mexican food spree.
We pulled up to an absent valet around 7:30PM to a totally empty restaurant save for one other table with a family. Like Cobras, the space is decidedly European sophisticated by way of Mexico, the look reaching for Mexican countryside influence instead of Cancun foolery. Tiny wooden shoes hang from the ceiling and wood paneling, tiles, and stripes somehow balance themselves, saving you from an aesthetic seizure. The waitress arrived and was this sweet, nice blond woman who got things going for us.
We started as classic as you can get: chips, salsa, and guacamole. The chips, much like Malo, are chewy chips. If you aren’t a fan of those, you won’t like these. They are good and the salsa is out of control great. I’m not sure what they are doing to make the salsa so sweet and spicy and rich but it worked quite well and kept us returning and returning to this small glass bowl of dip. The guacamole was very sophisticated and unexpected. It isn’t classic and rich in tomatoes like I enjoy and wasn’t full of onions and shallots to give some spice. Instead, it tasted like there was a light fragrance infused into the dip, like a lavandar added in to give it a floral pop. It was good, it really was. It also must be noted that the serving of chips is quite small and will not assault your appetite. That being said, they are delicious and you may self-sabotage yourself eating so many. Practice self-control, people.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what we were drinking or if we were even drinking anything. Well, we had some wine–but it was courtesy of ourselves (well, Danielle). La Otra is a BYOB place, which I’ve never actually taken a restaurant up on. So, that was nice to do. However, there is something to be said about having tacos and margaritas. They go hand in hand! Can you get that here? Sorry, not possible. So, bring your own, perhaps via a bottle of Skinny Girl.
In effort to place La Otra in the zeitgeist of Mexican in Los Angeles, we opted for an assortment of tacos over entrees or anything else. We ordered five: the lobster, shrimp, chicken, carnitas, and pork belly. Note that they come in pairs and are not some cheap little tacos. They’re a bit pricey. Anyway, I’ll start with the three I naturally gravitated to, which are the first three of the aforementioned. The lobster was a hit for me, these creamy clean seafood bites rich in lobster: they were my favorite, by far. The shrimp was good with a hint of spice but were very much overshadowed by the lobster. The chicken I was hoping would round my bites out with a pop but it was only a spurt. They were so boring its twin went half eaten, already covered in salsa. The other two I had tastes of: the pork belly was rich and decadent and the carnitas were standard fair.
Three tacos per person sounds tiny and always is assumed to be tiny but it was the perfect amount, despite some being great and some being OK. We expected to be finished at this point but, surprise, they have CHURROS. Obviously, we ordered the sextet of them from our blonde waitress. They were good but must be eaten while hot or else the creme filling is meh. The chocolate it comes with is bittersweet and nice but I really was fine with the churros speaking for themselves. Perhaps that is just personal preference?
By the time we wrapped up our meal around 8:30PM, the establishment was packed and there were many groups of diners waiting for tables. The place does carry an air of community, which is carried over from the staff’s rapport to the customers. The only question we have is if La Otra Tacqueria Escuela is necessary. El Coyote is within walking distance, Playa–although not Mexican–is down the street too, and Escuela is on the same block. The area is not a hot spot for Mexican nor does it seem that it will ever be. Like we noted, it really is just Mid-City Malo but without the margaritas. Is that something needed Mid-City? Is it sexier than Cobras & Matadors? We’re not sure. And, we’re not sure if the people there were flocking to try a new restaurant or nice, casual Mexican lovers.
Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Malo as it feels like Mexican being faked, like a clever guise they serve with a witty wink. It feels the absolute same at La Otra, the white faces in the exposed kitchen nearly nodding, “Yeah, Mexican food, man.” with each dish served. I likely won’t be back as I naturally flock to Mexican like El Compadre or El Coyote even. Going to La Otra after two previous days of eating at other Mexican spots didn’t feel right. It’s fine. But, fine is not amazing.