The Eastsider LA - Encanto: 34 mezcals, 30 tequilas & do-it-yourself tacos in Los Feliz
"Los Feliz - We are so accustomed to the standard issue Mexican restaurant, that any variation from the straight and narrow comes as a rift in the time-space continuum. Years ago, when Chef John Sedlar opened his iconic St. Estephe, locals were befuddled by artistically conceived dishes like his smear of avocado sauce on a large plate, accompanied by three tortilla chips. Very pretty … but was it dinner?
The same shock of the new accompanies the tacos served at the edgy Encanto, formerly Mexico City, in Los Feliz. There are three taco options in the middle of the minimalist menu – dishes that feel like brief distractions from the far larger menu of craft tequilas and mezcals, something to keep the committed drinker from falling into a stupor after a couple of swallows.
We know our tacos. We live in a city of taco stands – along with burrito stands, quesadilla stands, stands specializing in sopes, tostadas, huaraches and tortas. Grab-and-go joints where you can score a bite to help you through gridlock. At Encanto, there’s no way to grab-and-go. The tacos are do-it-yourself – if you build one, then you’ll eat – constructed out of bowls of pork cheeks, braised beef, or raja peppers, accompanied by chopped onions and hot peppers, and an elegant little foil package of four remarkably good tortillas, still hot from the grill.
You assemble your tacos, add on some very good chunky guacamole – barely chopped! – perhaps with a Caesar salad on the side, or some grilled cabbage with escalivada (smoky grilled veggies from Spain). You can also get sides of Rancho Gordo frijoles, arroz verde, turnips and garlic, or camote (sweet potato) with fermented hot sauce. And speaking of hot sauce – a green one arrives with a paper bag of chips when you sit down, and there’s a reddish brown one that comes with the tacos. (And when you sit down, water is poured from an empty tequila bottle!)
A Bar First, A Restaurant Second
Aside from that, there are four main dishes — chicken in tomatillo salsa, a whole fish in salsa verde, pork ribs in a salsa negra, and a bone-in ribeye, which at $59 is double most other entrees. And that’s … it. Unless you count the 12 cocktails (with names like Spirit Air, La Loca and Hoopiter, all made with ingredients that demand a search on Google), the 30 tequilas, and the 34 mezcals. There are all of five wines, and three beers – clearly, tequila and mezcal are the poisons of choice.
A reminder that Encanto is an edgy bar first. It’s the bar you see when you walk in the door. It’s the bar where most elbow benders sit, rather than the two-person café tables scattered around the dining room. And a reminder that this Encanto is not a spinoff of the Disney movie about a magical village. Which is not to say this Encanto doesn’t cast a spell of its own. You just have to put this magic together yourself."
By Merrill Shindler May 12, 2022 Updated May 12, 2022