El Talpa – The OG of the OG

el talpa, west los angeles, ca
All along Pico and Santa Monica Boulevards in West LA, there are tons of these restaurants. I call them The OG. They’re not “gangsta’” in any way, but they are original. They opened in the 1980s, maybe even earlier, and you can certainly tell because they haven’t updated their interior decor in 20 years. Of course, who updates a decor that imitates ancient Aztec ruins? The OG are Mexican restaurants, and I think there are about 150 of them on Pico Boulevard between Barrington and Bundy.

These restaurants haven’t updated their clientele either. The silver-haired couple that comes in every Friday night at 5:30 and sits at the same window table and orders the same early bird senior citizens’ special is the same couple that used to go there twenty years ago every Friday. It’s just that every year, the couple comes in a little bit earlier. Pretty soon, they’ll be eating dinner at 3:00.

The OGs actually have parking lots because land didn’t cost $5,000 a square foot in west Los Angeles back in the ’80s. Unlike restaurants that open these days, they have full bars – the OGs have their original liquor licenses. But their original leases are soon to end, and when they do, I’ll swoop in like the savvy restaurateur-to-be that I am, pay more than a pretty penny for crumbling architecture but a much-coveted liquor license, and finally open…my place. *dreamy sigh*

But until then, I’ll enjoy the last few years of business of places like Don Antonio’s, one of my favorites. Oh, baby. The Don.

Unfortunately, Don Antonio’s happens to be a lot of people’s favorite westside Mexican, so on a busy weekend night, it can be as long as 20 minutes before you can even set foot in the bar to wait another 25 minutes for your table. 45 minutes is a very long time for cheap Mexican food. We were starved. We were impatient.

But we had found street parking.

There is never any street parking along Pico.

Streeeeet paaaaarking!!!

We are not giving up that precious parking spot.

So instead, we *shrugged* and headed next door to a restaurant that we didn’t even know existed until that night. In fact, from the outside, El Talpa looks like an extension of Don Antonio’s, because the door is camouflaged and there doesn’t appear to be any real windows. The only reason we figured out that it was there was the bright sign on the rooftop.

Inside, El Talpa is dark and has the same type of in-case-you-couldn’t-tell-by-the-name-this-is-Mexican!! decor as every other Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. The tables are topped with formica, the kind we used to have on our dinner table at home when I was five, except El Talpa’s has a faux-wood finish, and we had a lazy Susan (just like in a Chinese restaurant!) Their chairs feel rickety and old. They are rickety and old, but it adds to the charm.

We were surprised when we walked in because as “hidden” as El Talpa is, it seems that quite a few people know where the front door is, and even more surprisingly, the customers were an even mix of long-time (read: “elder”) locals and youngish-sters. Perhaps they, like we, had been the overflow from Don Antonio’s.

There is nothing special about El Talpa’s menu. As we looked it over, we mindlessly grazed through a basket of chips. I do need to make an honorable mention of the accompanying salsa, which is atypical behavior for me. Usually, restaurant salsa that comes with chips tends to be thin, watery, and bland – more like a chunky V8 than salsa. However, El Talpa’s salsa, though not quite flavorful, was definitely splashing around in the deep end of the Scoville scale. It was a nice change to feel a slight tinge of pain on the palate.

el talpa, west los angeles, ca - albondigas soup
on talpa spaghetti…meatballs
el talpa, west los angeles, ca - taco and chile relleno
how do you say “taco” in spanish?

We kept it simple with an order of albondigas soup and one of the many permutations of the Mexican combination plate of items that are all the same tortilla/beans/rice/cheese presented in different ways. I mean really now, is there a difference amongst a taco, burrito, enchilada, chimigchanga, flauta, and fajita?! Oh crap. That’s right. Chimichangas aren’t real Mexican food. LOL! Or is that the taquito?!?!

There is nothing special to say about the soup nor the taco/chile relleno combinacion that we ate. They were fine. I wholly expected them to be greasy and salty, and they didn’t disappoint. In fact, the chile relleno was pretty damn good. Best of all, the meal was cheap. El Talpa wasn’t too bad as an improv substitute for Don Antonio’s.

But, it’ll be a shame when I buy El Talpa out to build my Asian Fusion empire! A damn shame. ;)

El Talpa
11751 W. Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90064
310.479.9884

** a year ago today, i met annapurna, and she wasn’t high **

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  • Xericx

    Back in LA for the restaurant reviews!

    I never venture along this stretch of Pico…the area is intimidating for some reason…like they don’t want you there….so they make the parking kind of inconvienient and you have to circle around and around…..

    I do think I went here with coworkers for lunch one time…but that’s it….kinda weird since its so close-ish.

    Maybe next week when my boss is outta town and I can take 3 hour lunches, I’ll hit up some of the spots like Don Antonios, SF Saloon, Billingslys (cheap…that’s all i heard). or something like that.

  • Rachael

    Okay, you just explained the first three hours of St. Patricks day for me this past March…we ended up there too, after trying to get into Don Antonios, and I have to say, the fish tacos were delicious, and the mole smothered burritos not bad either…plus, the prices were insanely cheap!
    Thanks for the funny post!

  • KathyR

    I used to love Don Antonio’s, but not so much any more. Too many staff turnovers. I don’t know anyone there any more.

    But The Talpa? (And it is “the” talpa, not “el.”) Same old people there all the time. Predictable. Easy. The food quality is no better or worse than Don Antonio’s. We frequented The Talpa for years before stumbling into Don Antonio’s.

    A “talpa,” by the way, is some kind of mole. Not mole (like mo-lay, delicious sauce), but mole (like some kind of rodent).

  • Slice

    I can’t wait till you open your Asian fusion place. You’ll have to serve some Mexasian dish as a nod to The Talpa’s former life. How ’bout cha siu bao al pastor?

  • Anonymous

    I think Talpa and Don use the same kitchen! Seriously though, if I had to pick a favorite it would be Don, but I wouldn’t think twice about heading to Talpa if there was a long wait at Don’s. JP

  • Anonymous

    btw, only a few more shopping days until the delicious one’s birthday! ;) JP.

  • Josiecoco

    Love Don Antonio’s especially if you sit in the weird room with the sparkles and stalagmates (sp?) Check out Liquid Kitty later in the evening and Yabu across the street.

  • JoAnna

    that’s my favorite comedy skit: Paul Rodriguez is talking about “white people” going to a mexican restaurant, and it goes something like this.

    Husband: (Long Island accent) Yes, waiter, I have a few questions about the menu here. What’s in a taco?

    Waiter: Beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, in a tortilla, sir.

    Wife: Oh that sounds nice… What’s in a (carefully sounding out) Burr-eeeee-toe?

    Waiter: Beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, in a tortilla, ma’am.

    Husband: Well, that won’t do at all. Uh, what’s in a pause, jimmy, chimmy, cha cha?

    Waiter: Yes, the chimichanga, sir? Beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, in a tortilla

    Wife: I feel like having a salad. What’s in a taco salad then?

    Waiter: (becoming frustrated) Beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, in a tortilla bowl.

    Husband: This is a rather large menu to choose from, and I am rather confused. How about a tostada?

    Waiter: (condescending) Yes, sir, that’s something very different. A tostada is made with beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, ON a tortilla!

    It goes on for a while, but every time I make or eat mexican, I strive to make things a little different from each other.

    Thanks for reminding me of that routine!

  • sarah

    xericx: i went to billingsley’s! it’s one of those places that you see all the time, but never actually notice. the placce is old and everyone in there, staff and customers, has been there for 35 years. LOL! but damn do they make a killer martini.

    rachael: hilarious. st. patrick’s day you were at a mexican joint! and i think…i was at casa escobar! lol!

    kathyr: so funny you mention “the” vs. “el” because i totally thought it was a mistake because why would a Mexican restaurant use “the?” heh.

    slice: totally. and kimchee quesadillas.

    jp: you only like the don because there’s a raccoon on the ceiling!

    josiecoco: the “cave,” complete with its own raccoon! personally, i love the patio now. and so funny, last time we ewnt to don’s we jaywalked right over to liquid kitty!

    joanna: i forgot about tostadas! lol! and the sameis true for korean dishes – same ingredients (soy sauce, sesame oil, red pepper) – different name. ha.

  • Maria

    Am shocked but shocked at the lack of love for The Talpa, as in, not even knowing what it is called. La Talpa serves Home Cooking of a kind scarcely if ever met with in today’s overdesigned overthought overwrought restaurants. Simple, tasty food, made with pure wholesome ingredients.

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