Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tere's Mexican Grill

Cater-corned from the garish Brothers Collateral Cash Loans pawn shop and a long block from Los Angeles’ best restaurant, Tere’s Mexican Grill is a charming, textbook example of a great neighborhood eatery. Tere’s has an extensive menu of Mexican specialties with a few standouts and standbys -- as well as a few items to be avoided. (This is to say, it’s not a taqueria.) It has a loyal clientele of locals, families, laborers working in the area, and, thankfully, not too many hipsters. Mexican folk art adorns its walls and ceiling, accompanied by the de rigueur American flag and portrait of Zapata. And fortunately for waiting patrons and breaking employees, the television always seems to be tuned to Primera División soccer.

The owner and his lieutenants are friendly and efficient. The constant flow of business and a lingering language barrier tend to prevent much banter, at least with the gringos. But the staff is always quick to offer a salsa bag if they detect any take-out patron struggling at the salsa bar with too many containers, a regularity considering how tasty the three salsas and pickled carrots are.

The real standout is the pork con chile verde, which provokes a feral response. The pork, which comes in three or four chunks to the order, has a tender consistency and occasional crispiness on its exterior. The kitchen simmers the pork in a sophisticated, deliciously piquant chile verde sauce, which has ample, but not immoderate, fire and a welcome lemony undercurrent. The manager confessed that he will put the chile verde on basically anything, but the pork is really the only appropriate vehicle for such a magisterial sauce.

I also like Tere’s mole which is unlike the thick, lumbering sauces I normally see. Ground chiles are its chief ingredient, chocolate is excluded (for the record), and it accordingly has a reddish orange color. But its appealing, spicy taste is unmistakably, if unconventionally, mole. Served over a platter of stewed chicken or a pair of chicken enchiladas, the mole tastes best when I wash it down with a cup of horchata.

Befitting its proximity to Providence, Tere’s showcases a commitment to fresh produce and quality preparations. It makes its own tortillas which are always served hot and perfect for sopping up chile verde, mole, or any of the homemade salsas from the bar. Its modest mixta salad—an assortment of chopped lettuce, red cabbage, cilantro, onions and a few wedges of avocado lightly dressed in lemon juice and salt—is always a success . Guacamole and chips are a consistently good starter, though the guacamole could use more fire and exclude the diced tomatoes.

Tere's Mexican Grill
5870 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles
(323) 468-9345