This past week I really lucked out. I got to go to Loteria, one of my favorite nearby restaurants, twice! On the first occasion, I managed to drag my new AT&T friend out into what he thinks is the muck of Hollywood, so that was a big deal. I've noticed that a lot of people automatically assume that Hollywood has nothing to offer that isn't either sleazy or tourist-driven. Maybe it's that the most noticeable features are the stripper-shoe stores, the dirty vagrants and the gaggles of tourists. I get it. But it's completely not true. You'll see. There are so many great places I am going to tell you about. All in good time.
The reason I went to Loteria the second time is because the minute I found myself waxing poetic once again to Bethany about the place, we were just, like, ok, let's do this, soon. I've really been wanting to share that place with her for a while now because of a particular appetizer that I just knew she'd love to the same degree I do. She often shares my somewhat peculiar level of obsession for certain foods, so I was certain that she'd understand this one.
Bethany sure has been a trooper in finding time for my little expeditions, I must say. She really deserves some credit for that one. And for not fearing Hollywood. She and I have it down. We just weave through the tourists and kindly decline the panhandlers and, at this point, recognize and have little stories and anecdotes about many of the people we pass, so that makes the four block walk entertaining for us.
Now, the restaurant version of Loteria is rather young, but the food is not new to LA by any means. It has long been one of the most popular food stands at the iconic 3rd Street Farmer's Market. I always loved it there, so I was super excited when I noticed the restaurant pop up just a few blocks away. Will wonders never cease! I really felt lucky about that one.
First off, I love the atmosphere of that place. They did well. The walls are strewn with huge Mexican tarot cards, which, for some bizarre reason, is something I've long loved. Not tarot cards, in general. Mexican tarot cards, in particular. I've had my own set of Mexican tarot cards for the longest time and have never known where they came from. Which is odd, but seems mystical. Once, when I was living in San Francisco, my parents came for a visit and for some reason my mom did tarot card readings for my roommate Sara and I with my cards and she doesn't know spanish and it was hilarious, but so accurate, and we were just laughing and laughing, and to this day I don't know if she really had any clue what the cards meant or if she was just pretending and I always smile at that memory.
Anyway, another feature of the restaurant that makes me happy is the gargantuan pinata hanging in the center of the ceiling. That thing is giant! I've always loved pinatas, too. And their's, it's just a really good one.
But the best part of eating there is the open kitchen covering the span of one whole wall with counter seating extending the length of the kitchen. Those are the seats I always bee-line for. Not that they've ever been full. Strangely, it seems like they are always empty and I'm the only one who really appreciates the kitchen view. And, I mean, I really appreciate it. I know where that comes from. I grew up in the restaurant business. Our restaurant was truly like my other house. And I loved walking into the kitchen and seeing what was up. And all the activity. And saying hi to everyone.
I know an even deeper reason for my love of exposed kitchens, though. It's that they always remind me of my dad. I mean, he loved them. Because it meant that the restaurant took pride in the creation of it's food. And had nothing to hide, like shortcuts. And it meant that the cooking, the process, not just the food itself, was an integral part of the experience. Dad sure was a kitchen guy. I have so many memories of my family going out to eat in various cities and he would always walk into the kitchen and check it out before deciding if we were going to stay. He may have been the only guy in the world who could do that and not seem like a jerk. But in his gentle way he would just have those cooks smiling and it wouldn't surprise me if he washed a dish or two while in there. It meant a lot to him, the care and energy that went into food.
Well, Loteria, now there's some care! Just about everything is made from scratch. It's a sight to see. It really is. I always plop down at the stools right in front of the woman who makes the tortillas. Which is also the woman who makes the most amazing appetizer in the world. Now, that's a fun process to watch. I'm up for the challenge of trying to explain it, but no promises. First, she spreads grated cheese in a circle on the griddle. After a while, she starts scraping it out into a larger circle. The oil escapes to the edges and she sops up more oil off the top with paper. Then she sprinkles a few minced onions and parsley on there for good measure. And then, the last and best part, she pulls it up into a cone and serves it with salsa and guacamole and her delicious freshly-made tortillas. It's amazing. I just love it. The whole process, the result. I always think how my dad would really have liked that place.
Ah, then there it is, a true and very personal reason that I am always so satisfied when I go to Loteria. Everything's good about it. But one of the best parts for me is that every time I sit at that counter looking upon that kitchen I just think, dad, you sure would love this place! And that's a nice feeling. I love when I get those really deep surges of joy, like I'm really sharing something with my dad. And it's painful too, but it's that pain that is so tender and raw and beautiful that it feels good. Because it's so pure and all love.
It took me a while to find beauty in that pain. All the questions I wanted answered at some point. I don't want them answered anymore. I love the questions. Because, to me, that proves the mystery.
Seriously, someone invented that griddled cone of divine cheese. Life is pretty incredible. It really is.