By Restaurant Review By Jin Chong
Mexican food might be one of the most misrepresented cuisines in the world. There’s a reason why gringo tacos are a thing, and after seeing the same shortlist of items at every Mexican restaurant, one can’t help but wonder if we’ve been relegated to wading in a figurative kiddie pool. Not to mention a certain fast-food franchise whose success hinges on reappropriating elements of Mexican cuisine to produce mere caricatures of the real thing—all in the name of living más.
But you know what? I’m pretty OK with that. After all, this is America, and western palates demand nothing short of the greasiest, most heart-clogging rendition of any given cuisine. Besides, there’s nothing that curbs my hunger quite like a loaded combo plate adorned with a fistful of shredded cheese after finishing up a long hike.
I found myself in that very situation this weekend and strayed from convention by checking out Pedro’s Mexican Grill for the first time. Before driving over to its location in housed in a dilapidated strip mall, I knew that this experience wouldn’t differ too drastically from other, similar spots in town. But all I was looking for was some stick-to-your-ribs grub while curious to discover a few standouts along the way.
The décor and layout were about what I expected. Though the presence of several houseplants (including one enormous aloe vera—can’t miss it) helps liven things up and bring some cheer. The service was amicable as the gentleman taking my order was patient despite me having been struck with menu paralysis. Eventually, I settled on a few things: the lengua taco combo, a chile relleno, and two quesabirria tacos a la carte.
I thought this would be a good cross-section of their offerings and I was looking forward to trying their quesabirria. These Instagram-friendly creations have exploded in popularity over the years, and I, too, have been obsessed after trying them at OG purveyor Teddy’s Red Tacos in Venice Beach.
My food was brought to the table in no time flat, so I opened by chowing down on some rice and beans. The grains of rice were well-separated, and I was happy that each morsel popped with a zesty, tomatoey seasoning. What took me by surprise was that this seemed freshly prepared as opposed to day-old remnants chiseled out of a steam pan. Maybe it’s been a while since I’ve had Mexican rice, but this was seriously legit.
I thoroughly enjoyed the refried beans, too, for having a thick, creamy texture and deep earthiness without tasting too salty. Small onion bits were interspersed throughout both sides to lend a raw bite and break up the monotony. I was impressed that a higher degree of care and attention seemed to have been put towards these exemplary sides—so far, this was a great start!
Any Mexican restaurant worth their salt knows how to construct a proper taco—and here was no exception. Though I was initially taken aback by the pricing for the combo, I thought these were justified based on their size and the quantity of meat. The double-stacked tortillas were griddled long enough to stay warm and bring out their mildly sweet corn flavor. The lengua was superbly tender and seasoned well, which goes to show they didn’t cut any corners with the extensive cooking process in which an entire cow’s tongue is left in a pot to simmer for hours. The buttery richness from this undervalued cut of meat necessitated a dash of fiery salsa and lime to make these tacos whole.
This was actually my first time trying chiles rellenos, which is odd given that jalapeno poppers (I guess something of a distant relative) are one of my guilty pleasures. But there’s a stark difference in how these are made. They start with peppers coated in a light, eggy batter before they’re fried and doused with ranchero sauce. The bitterness of the pepper wasn’t something I expected to enjoy so much, but I kept coming back to this one for its mild, uncomplicated flavor.
Last up were the formidable quesabirria tacos. These were filled to the brim with braised beef and melted cheese that filled every nook and cranny in between two crispy tortillas. The foundation to this ever so popular dish is the birria itself. For those who haven’t experienced this delicious dish, it’s a complex, heavily-spiced stew that originally birthed the meat after a deep braise.
As I sipped the consommé, I recognized the fruity undertone of guajillo peppers and the warm, aromatic essence of cinnamon. I could easily deplete an entire bowl of this wonderful stuff. But its primary purpose in this context is for dipping your tacos, gracing them with a marvelous sheen of red. It’s no wonder these were an instant classic! One drawback was that the meat was a little tough, but hey, at least there was some textural variance happening.
As indulgent as this entire meal was, I had to remind myself that I specifically came here to indulge. For me, there’s a particular hunger that can only be satisfied with a heaping plate of sauce-covered goodness. Yes, this kind of food may only approximate the fine tapestry of regional specialties found only in Mexico. Still, this spinoff cuisine offers plenty of reason to exist. For some of the best in class, I recommend going over to Pedro’s.
Pedro’s Mexican Grill is located at 1565 Bragaw Street and they’re open 10am-9pm Monday — Wednesday, 10am -12am Thursday — Saturday, and 11am-8pm on Sundays.