Growing up in L.A.'s San Gabriel Valley, all of the best restaurants were in strip malls. They were large suburban hubs with restaurants and bakeries occupying a series of monotonous buildings. The exterior may have been drab, but the food never was.
Likewise, there's a wood-paneled Bonita strip mall that's home to one of Javier Plascencia's restaurants, its modest exterior belying the chef's renown. Inside, the restaurant has a different kind of wood paneling, with clean and elegant lines. The formal dining area is adjacent to a bustling tapas bar, startling contrasts separated by a single glass-paned door.
The food at Romesco (4346 Bonita Road, romescobajamed.com) is what general manager Luis Peña calls "Mexi-terranean." The menu is rife with Italian and Spanish influences and boasts an extensive tapas list. The tapas are as eclectic as the entrées, which feature everything from pasta to paella to chiles en nogada. Torta sliders are available with short rib or cochinita pibil and play on the mini-hamburger by delivering slow-roasted pork on a small grilled roll with aioli and pickled onions.
For a dish that's just plain fun, there's Grandma's Tacos de Fideo. Like something concocted after a lot of drinking, they're fried tacos filled with fideos (noodles) and are essentially a spaghetti taco with Mexican flavors. Enjoy them with a beer or with one of Romesco's martinis.
Alex Zaragoza told us about the tamarind martini in CityBeat's last Drink Issue, and Romesco also rolled out a cucumber martini for the summer. Like the tamarind version, the glass is rimmed with tamarind and Tajín seasoning, and then filled with a crisp mixture of cucumber and vodka.
It isn't happy hour without something fried; here, there are chinchulines, fried pieces of beef tripe served with salsa verde. Not for the squeamish, it's specifically a small intestine cut into small tubes. Battered and fried, the texture is perfect, but the dish could have used a little more salt. Going to another part of the bovine digestive system, the cazuelita de lengua en pipian is delicious: slices of beef tongue cooked in a pipian sauce and served with tortillas and a roasted chile salsa. The beef tongue is tender, the sauce is flavorful and it pairs perfectly with a glass of merlot.
Don't want cow bits, but want something fried? There's the huitlacoche quesadilla. The tortilla, cheese and corn smut is deep-fried into a pocket of umami goodness. The fungus-infected corn kernels are plump and taste somewhat like a mild mushroom. If you prefer happy-hour fare to be on the lighter side, general manager Peña notes that the ahi-tuna tostada is one of the more popular items on the tapas menu. For a sweet ending, I highly recommend the freshly fried churros or the cajeta crepes.
During happy hour, the tapas menu is half-off at the bar and a separate tapas bar that's a little bit of a sports bar in a formal restaurant. Seat yourself, order a drink and enjoy a variety of small bites that are served with gorgeous presentation at dive-bar prices.