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Boyle Heights

La Parilla ~ Boyle Heights

10:45 AM PDT on September 25, 2006

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2126 Cesar Chavez Ave. ~ Boyle Heights, CA 90033 ~  323-262-3434 ~ TACO Map

We hold on tightly to our crystal meth, super glue, tequila, and crizz-onic addictions, while some people cannot control their consumption of Mariachi music. La Parilla is a true classic reaching back 27 years in East LA, as well as a damn good place to satisfy your accordion fix. Mariachis roll a million deep in this 'hood and always pack reps at this family restaurant. The happy woman seated next to our table kept the songs coming for her kid's birthday, abuela at the boy's side, merrily clapping along for nearly two hours.

Our friend foreshadowed an unpredictable conclusion with the consultation, "You better be prepared to pay about $10-20 a song. White people are always trying to give them like $2 a song..."

A festive, three-roomed arcade between hand-painted walls dripping in tri-colored streamers intermingled with Christmas lights, plus tables full of hot-to-go couples and families out to blow cash on a good time, La Parilla is a neighborhood instituiton and definitely on the higher end of Cesar Chavez' restaurants. The sweet older waitresses rock folklorico dresses but nothing comes off as a gimmick. Some people say the decorations are a little naco, but it really feels homey and celebratory. Not necessarily the cheapest eats though, especially when you throw the liquor in, but we survived.

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But supersonics and effects aside, La Parilla is really about the star grilled meat and veggie entrees, created under the guard of owner Sergio Sanchez. The quality cuts come stewed or battered with spices before being charcoal-cooked. All of the meals are steaming upon arrival, with that fajita-plate effect you get at less authentic chains. The slightly blackened flavors accentuate the natural tastes of cactus, onion, and peppers, while the dishes themselves span the gamut from traditional burritos and chile rellenos to slabs of steak and the more unique experiences of Huarachito Tizoc and delicacy-filled Molcajete, dishes that reach back to the land and venerate Aztec origins.

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As the room rocked and rollicked to a plucking, strumming trio, we were warmly seated, greeted, and supplied with luscious guacamole, while awaiting our house specialties. We were doled out hand-painted adobe cups of fruit-stained, mighty sangria. A plain free cup of canned veggie and shell pasta soup came next....an amuse bouche? That kind of sucked, but it accentuated the home effect no doubt!
La Parilla rocks all kinds of meat treats like spareribs and chorizo that embody simple execution, but carry plenty of juicy, meatty flavor. It also busts a giant brickoven where handmade tortillas are cooked. While TACO senior reporter Rio Krivsto ordered a slab of carne asada flank that tasted delicious--its surface moist and just resistant enough, its interior tender, tasting of pure steak, the whole thing smoky and sumptuous--our visiting D.R./Jamdung correspondant and our Foreign Affairs editor shared the famous Molcajete Azteca ($30), a rough-hewn stone bowl stacked with a small feast of barbecued chicken, shrimp, steak, cactus, scallions, and a huge sqaure of semi-melted panela cheese, the whole thing bubbling underneath the Jenga-esque structure with a lava-red broth. By rule at TACO, the second a server stresses the heat of the plate, we all scramble to cradle it in our arms. This one is truly hot.

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With so much great stuff on the menu, the molcajete is one of the more original, but at the price is probably not worth it unless you have a sweetie to share it with, as most dishes cost about $15 on average anyway. It is fun to look at and tastes completely, utterly delicious, each well-grilled flavor co-mingling in a smoky, sheer red chili-based sauce. It can be a little bit hard to eat, bite for bite, as everything must be plucked from the bowl. Most plates are served with a side of real beans and Spanish rice, and it really is hard to go wrong with any choice here.

I fared nicely with Huarachito Tizoc, a cactus relleno stuffed with slightly grilled shrimp and layered with cheese. The thin skin of the cactus yields juicy meat, tasting a little like bell pepper without the headtrip. The shrimp are similarly thin-skinned, juicy, and completely perfect, popping in the mouth with little pressure from the teeth. Hidden under all that gooey cheese, the dish tasted fantastic in one big mash, as well as delicately pleasing as the ingredients tumbled out and were sampled separately.

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Dinner at La Parilla is completely filling and utterly satisfying, one of the best Mexican meals I've had in Los Angeles on the few occasions I've been. Alongside the amazing food, and excellent, grilled meats and specialties, is the joyous, warm atmosphere, crazed with chat, bustle, and music. Both add up to an experience that feels fresh, authentic, and fun at the same time. It is worth the loot for a nicer restaurant, cruising in or around Boyle Heights with family, or more explicitly with a date you're hitting it off with, ooohing and ahhing and la-la-laaing over a molcajete of your own! And might there be a kid's menu molcajetito in your future, you two?

Paid up and preparing to make our escape, the mariachi-saturated birthday jam seemed ready to do the same. Sure enough though, there was a billing problem. The young mother of the brood next to us, who moments before had been clapping and singing along to the mariachi swing, suddenly found herself in debt for $300 for musical services rendered. Shadily claiming she had had her money stolen, turning her wallet inside out over and over, the scene was akward for everyone who had been in listening distance of the festive music.

Said scene uncomfortably got resolved at some point and life moved on. With the TACO crew loosening our belts and picking our teeth on the way out, we sure enough spied the same IOU mariachi mom slip into the next booth that the band moved to entertain mere moments later. Singing and clapping along as if she just entered the restaurant for the first time, we became convinced...we were staring at an honest-to-goodness mariachi junkie!!

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