Doritos chilaquiles, short rib tacos and more Mexican-fusion served with love at Amor y Tacos – Press Telegram
Doritos chilaquiles, short rib tacos and more Mexican-fusion served with love at Amor y Tacos
I was sitting at the very lively bar in Amor y Tacos, which is a bit hidden away on the side of a Cerritos shopping mall, talking football with some rough-and-ready characters bending an elbow with me.
A chill mist wafted down South Street that evening, and it turned out that these fellows had been warming their seats since early afternoon. One of them, wearing a well-worn denim jacket, told me they had come in to see the first game of the day and before they knew it, that game was over — a real nail-biter, with the tiebreaker coming in the final seconds — and then the next game was underway.
Long story short, they had been at the bar at Amor y Tacos for more or less six hours. They were nursing Dos Equis on tap. They were chewing on the occasional taco. The denim jacket guy told me, “This is better than a sports bar. You got to try the tacos. They kill chicken wings. And they got a dog — you got to see this one, man. The dog weighs a pound, with chili on top. It’s crazy. And the girls behind the bar — they’re sharp. I’ll be sorry when football is over.”
Heck, I’m always sorry when football is over. But even though the season is almost over, at Amor y Tacos they’ll still be serving some of the most remarkable Mexican food — or perhaps I should say Mexican-fusion cooking — well into the future.
Just like the dishes served at Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s Border Grill chain, at Rick Bayless’ Red O, and of course at John Sedlar’s Rivera, this is Mexican cooking that goes well beyond Mexican cooking. This is the fine food of Mexico, filtered through the sensibility of Southern California. This is food on the edge.
Amor y Tacos is the creation of Thomas Ortega, who set a new standard for Mexican cooking at Ortega 120 in Redondo Beach. (The “120” refers to the number of tequilas originally on hand, though by now it may be more than that.) It is not an easy jaunt from Redondo to Cerritos, though the 91 Freeway does connect the two communities, more or less, when traffic is moving. But by opening in Cerritos, Ortega adds one more flavor to one of the most ethnically diverse sections of SoCal — at least based on the restaurants in the surrounding malls. There’s a bit of everything, but there’s only one Amor y Tacos.
You want to grab a drink at the bar? I’d suggest the Michi, a Michelada variation of Modelo Especial, spicy sangrita fresca, lime and chili salt — essentially a beery Bloody Mary that goes down very well, and mixes with just about everything on the menu.
If you’re of the mixology persuasion, check out the Mescal Mule, a Moscow Mule made with Monte Alban Mescal, Skyy Ginger Vodka, ginger beer, lime, agave and, of all things, Squirt. There are plenty of beers on the menu too, including Chupacabras Pale Ale, a tasty oddity from Mexicali. Check it out.
Or at least, try some in between bites, for there’s much to chew on at Amor y Tacos. Take the Mole Tots, for instance. They are Tater Tots slathered with the house 21-ingredient mole, along with Mexican queso panela (also known as “basket cheese”). It’s ridiculously good, a silly dish that you’ll inhale — along with piles of Nachos Libre, nachos made with ground Kobe beef and queso Oaxaca.
And have you ever had Doritos Chilaquiles? At Amor y Tacos, they take real Doritos chips and top them with a sunny-side up egg and queso fresco. Eating here is an education in Mexican cheeses — and so many flavors.
That hot dog my bar friend mentioned is far more than a hot dog. It’s a variation on the Doyer Dog served at Dodger Stadium, topped with short rib chile colorado and crispy chicharrones, served on a brioche bun.
Of course, there are the tacos. Nine kinds to be exact, five of which can be tasted on the $14 Tour de Taco, which includes the short rib taco, a master stroke of life in Tacolandia.
There are also 14 big plates, one of which is Peking duck filtered through a Mexican kitchen, with Korean kimchee added for good measure. There’s also the Mexican Coca-Cola Glazed Pork Belly, which I expect to be one of the best dishes I eat all year.
For the heck of it, there are sugary churros with salted caramel for dessert. If there’s a game on, you can keep on eating and drinking. Parking in the mall lot is easy and free. Here, it’s all about amor y tacos.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.