Monday, September 14, 2009
Elvira's in Eagle Rock
Continuing our "gem-in-the-rough" or "incredible-hole-in-the-wall" theme (while recognizing its overuse), we turn our attention to Elvira's in Eagle Rock.
Elvira's is, of course, sign-less, wedged in between Domino's and a dry cleaners. You could go years in the neighborhood and never notice it. That is in fact what I did.
Often, the hole-in-the-wall restaurant story involves a depressing, crappy-looking exterior, which, if the restaurant-goer is intrepid enough to ignore it, gives way to reveal an entirely unexpectedly chic and stylish interior. (See, for example, Pho Cafe in Silverlake.)
Elvira's doesn't fit this template. You walk into this place and it feels like you've just walked into one of the cheaper restaurants in Tijuana. Actually, the place hardly feels like a restaurant. Random items are scattered about. There's a bubble gum machine, random post-it notes with numbers for random people, decorative butterflies on the wall, old calendars, old pens, a boom box on a chair, plastic bags filled with mysterious contents, etc. Inexplicably, there's a giant mural of a tropical beach scene on one wall. It feels like Elvira leased this space and made it her second home. Random items she might need are lying around.
Elvira taking catering orders in the dining room.
There are tables for eating in (glass tabletops over maroon tablecloths), but most people that come here seem to order para llevar. (The business model here is better understood when you realize that most of Elvira's business comes from catering.)
But it's worth sticking around once in a while, to chat with Elvira. She's a lovely woman, who clearly enjoys interacting with her customers. Often, she will make your order herself. The place is so intimate that you're inevitably drawn into some small talk with Elvira and her staff, especially if you speak a little Spanish. (If you do, Elvira will happily start chatting you up, with obvious delight.)
The food here doesn't taste like restaurant food. It tastes like food you might have if you were invited over to someone's house -- someone who had been making Mexican food in her own kitchen for decades. On my recent visits, I had chicken tacos and a chicken burrito. They were simply -- humbly -- presented, but they were delicious.
The term "homemade" is tossed around irresponsibly, but it truly fits here. Elvira's dishes are lovingly made, with a homey (and homely) aura of authenticity that one doesn't quite find at Elvira's spiffier competitors. The chicken in the tacos and the burrito was shredded and cooked to a tender, juicy perfection that melted in my mouth. The tacos (less than $2) were generously sized, as was the burrito, which made up an entire meal in itself ($4.95).
This is the kind of place you might come to when you are feeling homesick, miss your mom, or just need a good meal that tastes like home.