Huevos Rancheros: El Chavo Restaurant

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Well you knew it had to happen. It shares a name with a certain someone I know, so it was really only a matter of time before I checked out the HR’s at this place on Sunset. I think I’ve been here once before, many years ago, just to have drinks with friends. This time around it was the same situation, but we would be eating, plus I brought along my lil’ camera so you can see whats what. With a name like that, how can it not be loved?

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We got some decent enough chips and salsa.

It’s kinda fun seeing the moniker I regularly use come up in a different context. For the record, I took up this name a long time ago as an homage to El Chavo del Ocho, back when that great show was no longer on the air. (It’s since returned in cartoon form, and it doesn’t have any of the doble sentido that made the original so hilarious.) But it was also my sort of Karen Eliot/Luther Blisset solution, an anonymous name with multiple identities. It’s a generic name, its been used before, it will be used again. I come from a time when ideas were more important than personalities, from a place that didn’t really care who you were. (Uh, not that this time and place was any different then the self-obsessed and self-delusional present.) I still hold to those seemingly antiquated notions, cuz what does it matter who I am?  Oddly, this fact is what gets me some regular emails asking for more info about myself, someone wanting to know more about my “art”, offers to treat me to lunch, offers to collaborate on something or other, even some hostile gentrifying jerk wanting to buy me a beer. But even with a fake name I’ve met many cool people via this site, some LH neighbors and others from beyond. I’m not too public, but I do like people! I know this isn’t relevant to an HR review, pero me vale.

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Multi-colored sombreros on the ceiling. Even though this place recently changed owners, they kept the Mexican kitsch quotient at top notch. For lots of people in Los Angeles, the embodiment of Mexican cuisine is this: Margaritas! Oh, and Fiesta! So the colorful hats fit in nicely. There’s nothing wrong with those elements, it’s just not something I can easily tolerate. For much of White LA, the Mexican people are either the happy go-lucky tequila drinking pachangeros that just want to have fun, or they are the cheap help that tend to the yard, the offspring, and whatever else it is they do. Caricatures are inevitable. Thus, these “Mexican” restaurants are inevitable. Lucy’s, El Coyote, El Cholo, and yes, El Chavo.

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I ordered the HR’s. They come with a mushroom soup! That’s a nice touch. The soup was decent, tasted like mushrooms. But about 10 minutes before this pic was taken, they decided to turn DOWN the lights, even though the sun was going down. It’s that whole mood package thing.

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Presenting, the Huevos Rancheros! Did I mention they turned down the lights? I’m suspicious of bars and restaurants that go for the lack-of-lighting effect, I just don’t get it. I usually try not to use flash in restaurants, mostly to not bring attention to myself, but also cuz flash really distorts how one is experiencing the dish. For all intents and purposes, I could not see my food. Just for you my gentle reader, flash it is.

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So that’s what my meal looked like! But now to break down the flavors in the dark. You can tell from this picture that the eggs were way overcooked, hard as hell overcooked. That has to be the biggest sin. You can just barely see the eggs under the cheese. There was a maiz tortilla underneath but I think it was placed on the plate cold, no frying, no light dipping in oil, just warmed from the food and sauce on top. And if you look at the edge of the plate, you can see the evaporation marks of the small amount of tomato sauce they used on this dish, no doubt from the flash cooking of the cheese on top. As a cheese lover I do have to say I really loved this oven burnt cheese. Chewy, burnty, tasty! I think I even tasted some queso fresco. Maybe I’m just being wishful. But still, we all know this excess of cheese has no place on proper HR’s.

But this is a perfect example of the Mexican-American food that has become the standard reference for Mexican food. Which it isn’t. It’s Americanized Mex food. White folks love it, Mex-Americans love it, and possibly even some Mexicans like it. But its a cuisine far removed from any lineage to Mexico. Don’t misunderstand, I do like this food and I do crave it sometimes. It has it’s place. But really, it’s time we stop referring to it as Mexican food. Chicano food? Mex-American food? Comida de queso? I don’t know, but it definitely needs a new name.

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Compare them to these simple DF style HR’s from Metro Balderas I had recently. Properly cooked eggs on fried tortillas, and no cheese on top. Yeah, the form is similar but its a world away. Over at Losanjealous we’ve been having some friendly discussions regarding the cultural definitions of food, the ethnic nomenclature one can ascribe to a meal, and in particular, the concept of white folk Mex food. Maybe I shouldn’t have called My Taco (giggle!) and their mostly bland fare white folk Mex food because that’s really not too accurate. Mexicans eat there, Mexicans run the place. And it’s not completely covered in baked cheese either. Commenter Juan calls it Mex-American food version 2.0 whereas the old school “Mexican” places are 1.0.  Maybe that a good naming strategy?

I’ve had some drowned-in-cheese HR’s before, so that’s not really what places them in the people of pallor category. And to tell you the truth, I don’t think there is one ingredient or technique that can be used as a sort of ethnic barometer. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that many places that have the audacity to bill themselves as “authentic Mexican” have a very obvious palate to which they cater. The tastes and flavors which United Statesians and Mexicans crave are very different, and Mex-Americans fall somewhere in between. Depending on the clientele, a place will often adapt to suit the local tastes.

Back in the early 90’s Mae Ploy on Sunset had some tasty Thai dishes which were savory and often full of chile. The neighborhood changed and the last time I was there, even though we asked for spicy dishes, they were overwhelmingly sweet. The American tongue (you know, real Americans) wants sweet in almost everything. I don’t have a problem with that preference but I certainly don’t want to eat at a place that incorporates this subjectivity into their menu. It’s a flavor assumption that I don’t want to have to dispute.

So getting back to the HR’s from El Chavo Restaurant: overcooked eggs, a hint of a nice tomato sauce, and lots and lots of baked cheese. It is what it is, but it’s not a plate that is trying to please me, it has other people in mind. Maybe these others will enjoy it, but I know that my taste buds are not part of that demographic.

El Chavo Restaurant
4441 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90027

www.elchavorestaurant.com

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Domingo? It’s Gringo day every day!


This entry was posted in Greater Los Angeles, Huevos Rancheros, La Comida. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Huevos Rancheros: El Chavo Restaurant

  1. Goddamn, that looks like some weird pizza-ish thing. Guácala.

    “Mexican-American food” is my preferred name for many of these restaurants. El Tepeyac bills itself as such and I stand by it, cuz their food is terrible, way different from actual Mexican food, and I’m never going to call it proper Mexican food.

  2. At least, I think El Tepeyac bills itself as “Mexican-American food.”

  3. Great to see you back posting.
    This one is a great piece and always love the pictures.
    I gotta agree with alot of what you had to say in your story.

    Its funny several times through the years fellow work colleagues..all caucasian/white have asked me for recommendations on good “mexican restaurants” because im a latino, hispanic, of mexican descent,etc.

    I always reply…I dont eat “mexican food” when i go out.

    If i want some mex…I get the homemade and more authentic stuff from my relatives…tias, primas, mama,etc.

    An interesting thing i just recently found out- in Spain their food is not spicy- they might have 1 or 2 dishes.

    Ive known 3 espanoles and they are far from bland… sus “chiles” si pican…lol

  4. Meximerican.

    Amerexican.

    Mexerican.

    any of those work? ha. i see this place all the time – the bar looks fun.

  5. rolo says:

    i belive that its an acquired taste, you train your taste buds to like certain things and then you cant go back to the crappy restaurants.

  6. cindylu says:

    Wow. This is timely. The BF and I went to a local Oaxacan spot. I ordered enchiladas de pollo con mole coloradito. I was really surprised to see them use that “Mexican” cheese blend. There was yellow cheese instead of queso fresco drowning my enchiladas and beans. I ate it, but was sad to see that it had become more Americanized. I was also sad that the original Oaxacan spot I wanted to go to was closed down temporarily due to some kind of accident in the place. I know for sure they would not use any kind of yellow cheese there.

  7. COCO says:

    I’d like to give you a gavacho’s point of view. Now don’t get it twisted , I’m not some “hey bra” type gavacho, I’ve mostly grown up around la raza and my wife is mexican/puerto rican mix, but she should have spent a little more time with mom cause unfortunatley my wife can’t cook for shit. what got my attention was this comment from lovehatela :

    Its funny several times through the years fellow work colleagues..all caucasian/white have asked me for recommendations on good “mexican restaurants” because im a latino, hispanic, of mexican descent,etc.

    I always reply…I dont eat “mexican food” when i go out.

    If i want some mex…I get the homemade and more authentic stuff from my relatives…tias, primas, mama,etc.

    c’mon now la, are you going to tell me that you’ve never ,ever been to a taqueria? i’m a regular reader of el chavo’s blog. i live up by frisco and after reading some of chavo’s reviews i’m about ready to hop in my car and make the drive down there just to try some of these spots out. and you live in l.a and you only eat “authentic mexican food” at your mama or tia’s house? look i’m just busting your balls a little bit , but my point is some of us gava’s like the real deal too but we don’t have the mama’s or tia’s etc… to cook it for us or to show us how. you guy’s got it easy if you want to make some american food. how hard is it to make some hamburgers? meat loaf? mashed potatoes? but if you don’t know how it’s hard as hell to make some asada ranchero or chili colorado not to mention some of those dishes take all damn day to make, who has time for that anymore except gramma. and as far as the chicano/mexi-amer or ameri-mex resturuants go, hey that’s what they serve us! doesn’t mean we like it, or that’s what we’re asking for. i like some queso fresco just like most people but like cindylu said, that’s what they’re serving. so i can understand why a caucasian/ white co-worker of yours might think that you could recommend a good place. don’t take it personal. obviously they are asking you cause your mexican but the crackers just want something better than taco bell or these sorry excuses for “real mexican food”. obviously california has a large mexican influance, why is it so wrong for us to appreciate the food? you guy’s that know the real deal from this new ameri-mex food should be complaining to the people serving it. tell them to serve the real stuff so we can all enjoy it.

  8. RosaMaria says:

    Ay, Chavito, Chavito…¡Cómo me haces reir! I hadn’t checked your blog out for a couple of weeks and this latest one on HR was just as entertaining. I was also in stitches after reading Coco’s contribution. OMG! Who would’ve thunk?? Hats off to the gavacho. I don’t think I ever encountered HR during my other life in Michoacan. I remember making some Huevos Motuleños while still quite a young lass, from a Mexican cookbook by Barbara Hansen, she of LA Times fame. I think my dad laughed at them, but we enjoyed them, puzzled though we were…

  9. Abraham says:

    The distinction definitely needs to be made!
    “Mexican-American” is a good way to label it. Then again, even that varies between U.S. regions. Maybe California Mexican food? Because I love the stuff here, but am not a fan of Tex-Mex.

    All my life, I’ve lived in Mexican/Chicano neighborhoods, and I grew up with “Mexican-American” food. Everything was fried with tons of melted monterrey jack cheese. I love it. My mom would always tell me that Mexican food wasn’t really like this, but I was a very American kid, and I wasn’t trying to hear that. The more cheese the better!

    Even growing up on the border and spending a lot of time in Baja California, I never had much “authentic” Mexican food from different regions. It was always street food. Flautas, tacos, mariscos, etc.

    Having such a diverse selection of Mexican food is actually pretty unique to Los Angeles. People from all over Mexico come here bringing their regional cooking styles with them. People living here are lucky for this!

    I’m not giving up my tacos dorados, burritos, monterrey jack stuffed chile rellenos and enchiladas any time soon, but I’m looking forward to experiencing other regional stuff.

  10. alienation says:

    That’s funny what COCO says. I know a mostly-white guy who really likes queso fresco too. I’m like, “you can buy it at the store”, but he want to go get breakfast as some Salvadorean place where they give you this small wedge of cheese. Me, I like it ok, but don’t crave it (I’m not Mexican). I think it’s the milky taste I don’t like, but my friend likes. It’s up there with ricotta for me. I like Indian paneer a little more, but mainly because it’s mixed in with other things.

    Someone should get an email out to the Mexican restaurants. White folks like queso fresco, a lot, once they try it in cube form.

  11. shakira says:

    son lindos pero te ase tirarte unos pero unos buenos yo se lo que digo

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