When people ask me why I moved out to Los Angeles I give a response that I stole from a friend of mine, but really encapsulates the truth of the matter, the authentic mexican food.
I grew up surrounded by Mexican cuisine and spent some time in Ciudad Juarez as well as Mexico City – this is a cuisine that I know fairly well and I am always keen to try more. The chef of Colonia Taco Lounge and nearby Bizarra Capital, Ricardo Diaz focuses on Guisados, cubes of meat cooked in sauce.
After trying to dine at Colonia Taco Lounge on a night in which we called and were told they would be open to arrive finding a closed restaurant, we arrived for our second attempt. Nothing makes me happier than taking 5 freeways to get to La Puente for tacos in rush hour from the West side of Los Angeles.
Colonia closes very early, and we felt the early shut down as tables and chairs were put up around us as we ate. I was happy to see a high quality Steven Segal movie playing on one of the television screens near the bar.
The meal is started by a fresh carafe of water with citrus which I felt was a nice touch. Colonia is one of those institutions that hasn’t figured out what kind of service it wants to offer, as you leave your table and order at a counter in the corner where the menu is displayed on a massive chalkboard. We frequently had to go back up to reorder and ask for more drinks.
I couldn’t really decide on cocktails, and the beer list was kind of all over the place. I generally don’t like beer in my cocktails but the Michelada was the best i’ve ever tasted – this includes the one I had while munching on tacos grilled on an old chrome bumper / oil drum in the mega-slum (worlds largest – 2006) Neza–Chalco–Izta.
We started with the Nachostadas which were a favorite, crispy shells and topped with chorizo and cheese. The chorizo was very flavorful (aged?) though I would’ve liked it better if this dish was served hot in line with the char marks, rather than slightly warm.
All of the cocktails were actually pretty good; I appreciated the results though technically they weren’t extremely sophisticated. The Michelada was the standout with a nice spiced rim on the edge (I went with Dos Equis beer as the base). I definitely appreciated the La Puente pricing and sizing – The quantity of the drink ensured that driving back to the west side would require verbal GPS and not be entirely safe. I also enjoyed The Oaxaca, a whimsical mix of vodka, lime juice, peppermint, jamaica, and mezcal. The Mai Tai listed had pineapple as an ingredient, which is a bar program red flag for me (Authentic Mai-Tai’s typically don’t have Pineapple, instead Curaçao )
What followed was a parade of tacos. I believe that we ordered every single one; most were a variation on the same warm homemade tortilla with a separate topping served in the traditional open face. I was really across the board on my enjoyment of each rendition.
Lengua is one of my favorite meats for tacos, but I found the lukewarm chunks of tongue meat too large, requiring more braising, and underseasoned. The chunks were still so pink I thought they might leap out of the plate and lick me – The cauliflower was fantastic with the addition of salsa veracruzana and a delicious batter.
The barbacoa also had a very nice flavor though again not particularly very hot; I found it flavorful and extremely juicy. Another highlight was the Doraditos – potato and cheese stuffed tacos with a slight sweetness. I could’ve eaten several more of these. The duck confit wasn’t quite a confit tasting more like the chunks were roasted, nevertheless the flavor was good – extremely ducky, almost Peking.
I didn’t care for the pork skin, but it was cooked well. The Turkey surprisingly had the one of the best, if not the best flavor of the night with a mild spice, achiote, onions pickles, and salt. Its been a while since i’ve had Huitlacoche (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_smut) and this was one was excellent – spicy and juicy with an almost peaty flavor to it.
The Sonora had a tender steak, with a nice use of onion and coriander. The pumpkin was a real treat as well, balanced and not over cooked. The beef taco was done in a rich porter beer sauce with a taste more like a slow cooked veal stew.
I would’ve loved to see more hard shell taco options here, as clearly they did a nice job with them; Avocado with lots of vegetables, pineapple, and fennel.
The Shrimp was another favorite; I loved the inclusion of rice as well as the purple cabbage and noticeable garlic. I was not a fan of the Voodoo taco, I felt that it was over heated from a spicy standpoint that took away from the remaining flavors; the chicken was slightly dry.
The dessert offerings were minimal; aged cheese with quince didn’t really do much for us but we gobbled up the crispy fried cinnamon and sugar coated chips which proved infectious.
There was certainly quite a bit to really enjoy about Colonia – not sure I’m incredibly eager to drive back in the near future, but I certainly would return if I was in the area for some solid and inventive takes on tacos.