There is nothing fancy about good Mexican food. It satisfies a craving and fills you up. It feeds families, surfers, hung over frat boys, couples and construction workers. It’s So Cal soul food with spice. Here are a few local institutions that won’t let you down, since the South Bay is synonymous with good Mexican grub.
El Tarasco, Manhattan Beach
316 Rosecrans Ave.
A grill and a counter: that is all that comprises the original (and most fun) El Tarasco, blocks from the sand in Manhattan Beach. Locals, college students and surfers wait for a spot at that little counter at all hours of the night. (Until 1 a.m. on weeknights and 2:30 a.m. on Saturdays.) The most popular item on the menu is the Jr. Super Deluxe burrito. It’s just the right size, packed with ground beef, lettuce, rice, beans, cheese, guacamole, sour cream and doused in red sauce. El Tarasco has a larger, second location on Sepulveda Blvd. in Manhattan Beach, as well as spots in Redondo Beach and El Segundo.
El Gringo, Manhattan Beach
921 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
This popular strip mall hole-in-the-wall has drawn a steady stream of loyal customers (including MTV actor and taco shop owner Wee-Man) since 1986. Put your name on the clipboard hanging on the door and it won’t be long before you’re called to one of about eight tables. Or, order from the takeout window. For something light and different, try the Xcholti soup, a big bowl of chicken, avocado, tomato, cilantro, onion and rice in a clear chicken broth. The Zacatecas salad is an inspiration from Zacatecas, Mexico, the hometown to many El Gringo employees. It comes with carne asada or carnitas in a bowl of chopped greens with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, black beans, corn, cheese and tortilla strips. Try it with the homemade mandarin orange dressing. Traditional Mexican combination plates offer a choice of mahi mahi, carne asada, carnitas, pollo asado, pollo negro or chile verde filling. Wash it all down with a beer or sangria.
El Sombrero, Manhattan Beach
1005 Manhattan Ave.
The best thing about El Sombrero was always its location in downtown Manhattan Beach. To sip a beer out on the little patio was classic So Cal living. Then it tragically burned down after an electrical fire. It’s back, a little fancier than before, but still serving massive portions of reasonably priced Mexican dishes. Fast and friendly service, good chips and albondigas soup and that great little people-watching patio make it a place worth trying. El Sombrero is a nice place to bring out-of-towners for a local, Mexican feel. Thanks to those huge portions, maybe they’ll leave their doggie bags at your house.
Sion’s Mexican Restaurant, Manhattan Beach
235 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
A local has to recommend this place to you, because you’d never know to stop here for Mexican food. Sion’s is an unassuming coffee shop that sits in front of the Seahorse Inn, a motel popular with surfers visiting Manhattan Beach. The family staff is wonderful, the Mexican is decent, quick, cheap and filling, and the kids can order a burger and fries if they don’t want Mexican. What more can you ask for?
Teresa’s Mosaic Café, El Segundo
150 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Open for just a few years, Teresa’s aims to please and usually hits the mark. What’s mas bueno here are homemade tortillas tossed before your eyes (this will entertain the kids) and tortilla soup that is fresh and tasty. Everything tastes healthy and homemade, with a bit of a Tex-Mex twist. There is a small, unassuming bar area, if you just need to come in for a margarita break. Teresa’s attracts a large business lunch crowd. Come for dinner and you’ll practically have the place to yourself.