My Meal Cost: $20.70 plus tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 3.5 stars
Las Margaritas is on the corner of La Verne Ave. and Garey and was originally a Shakey's Pizza. After that it became a number of different Mexican (mostly seafood) restaurants including one with "Acapulco" in its name. It was during that incarnation that I was last there and it became the place that The Lovely Mrs. C refers to as "the garlic place" because of a cook with a heavy hand with the that particular pungent bulb. (The Lovely Mrs. C is not a big fan of Big Garlic although Number #1 daughter and I have been known to sneak off to Beverly Hills and indulge at The Stinking Rose on Cahuenga).
This iteration is also a seafood-centric full service restaurant with a walk-up window at the front for those who wish to order to-go. The interior still carries some of the Shakey's decor elements with pinatas and other flourishes giving it a Spanish Shakey's vibe. Having said that the booths are comfortable and the place is clean and inviting. There are televisions around the room, some with Spanish language stations and others showing local KCAL 9 news and programming. The sound was turned off so it was not really a problem. In the evenings they have karaoke.
The waitress was very quick to come to the table with chips and salsa (a runny style moderately spicy sauce--I still prefer a salsa that will stick to the chips, I ended up wearing some of my salsa home) and to take my drink order (I ended up having a diet coke although they have aquas frescas, Jarritos, and a wide selection of fountain drinks as well as Mexican Coke in bottles. They also have a good selection of beers and wines available (perhaps if I visit in the evening).
The menu is extensive and there are photos of each dish. They serve breakfast and had a very big assortment of lunch specials. Their main menu has a huge selection of combo plates, seafood items, burritos, molcajetes, ceviche's, and soups. If it had not been near 90 degrees outside I would have been tempted by the soups, which looked excellent. They have albondigas, pollo, and several others, including a new one with strips of steak. I think when the weather changes I'll probably stop again as there is nothing better than a good soup on a cold day.
On these adventures it's always difficult to decide what to try, especially if I'm attempting to try something different. I was very tempted by their deluxe combo plate with enchilada, chile rellenos, and taco with beans and rice, but decided to get some help with my decision. I asked the waitress (who, while having an accent, had a very good command of English) what she would recommend. She pretty much recommended the standard fare so I asked her what she likes to eat. She immediately recommended one of the molcajete's which I then ordered.
A word of warning to those who might like to also try this. IT'S A LOT OF FOOD! I would be wary of filling up on the chips and salsa if this is the direction you want to go. For those who are not familiar with molcajete, it is the cooking vessel that is used (similar to the way you can order Skillet meals at a diner). The molcajete is an earthen mortar to which has been added, in this case, a thin sliced piece of steak, a thin sliced piece of chicken, a cactus paddle, about 6-8 shrimp, a large yellow pepper, a couple of green onions, and a salsa mixture. This is then baked. Some of the meat and items are above the liquid in the molcajete so are roasted and dry, while some of it is braising in the salsa, so you end up with a variety of textures and flavors, even on a single piece of steak or chicken. Also added after it comes out of the oven is a piece of cotillo cheese which doesn't really melt (much like feta) but can add a saltiness to items that you crumble it over. You also have a choice of flour or corn tortillas which are great for sopping up the sauce and making little tacos.
The salsa is spicy without being too mouth burning hot. It was the kind of spice that had my nose running, but I wasn't searching for something to quench the fire. A plate is provided so you can take things out of the molcajete and cut them and, I'm guessing, share them if you so desired. All of the elements here were excellent, well seasoned, and complemented each other.
This is also served with a side plate of refried pinto beans, rice, and salad. The rice was some of the best Spanish style rice I've had thus far. I'm not a fan of dry, plain rice, and this one was moist and didn't require the addition of salsa or anything. The beans were creamy and perfect. Not sure that the salad greens, tomato, onion, cucumber, and orange slice added anything, especially as they were piled on top of the beans, but they were refreshing.
As I said, it was a LOT of food but well worth it. I'll definitely be back.