First off, I would like to start this post by apologizing: No pictures!!! When the waiter brought out my giant-sized margarita on the rocks, I whipped out my camera, turned it on, and….a flashing “no memory card” message greeted me. I was so sad that I couldn’t share it with all of you. I guess that really only means one thing - I will have to go back to Lares and write a new post with photos. Until then, here is a picture-less review:
The first thing I noticed about Lares is the decor. Instead of the cavernous, Mexican style I was expecting, Lares was decorated in a Spanish/Portuguese style. It literally looked like the inside of a castle, with wooden beams in the walls and ceiling, cross sconces, and the Lares Family Seal hung on the wall. Even the hard, wooden chairs reminded me of Europe. This is in complete contrast to my other Westside Mexican staple, Don Antonio, and every other Mexican restaurant I have ever been to. In addition, Lares was all decked out for Halloween, with orange streamers hung from the ceiling, and pumpkins on every table - a nice touch, I thought.
The second thing that I noticed was the great service. Not only were my husband and I seated right away, but everything was brought out to us very quickly, including the chips and salsa. And let me just stop for a moment here to comment on the salsa - it was delicious. It was neither liquid nor pico de gallo - it was a very fine chop of tomatoes and other vegetables, perfect for the freshly-made tortilla chips. It had a wonderful flavor, and was very spicy.
Shortly after, out came our meals. As a note on the menu, Lares doesn’t just have your typical combination plates available. There is a variety of interesting meat dishes to choose from. While this was a nice surprise, both my husband and I were in the mood for the more typical fare that night. I ordered the vegetarian combination, which included a crispy potato (!!) taco, a chile renello, a cheese enchilada, rice, and beans. Let me just say - potato taco? Fantastic! I have never had, nor heard of, a potato taco, but it was so good. Little, tender pieces of boiled potato tucked inside the freshly fried corn tortillas, and topped with cabbage and more of that spicy salsa. It was magic. My enchilada was also fabulous, oozing with cheese and crispy on the edges. I didn’t love the chile relleno - there was hardly any cheese inside. It was okay because I had enough cheese in the enchilada to make up for it, but if I had just ordered the chile relleno, I would have been disappointed. As far as the rice and beans, I was a big fan of the rice, which was moist and tomato-y, but I was not as big of a fan of the beans. They didn’t have that consistent paste that most refried beans have. Instead, they were actually watery. They were okay, but not my favorite.
My husband ordered a pork burrito, and I think this is where Lares really started to show its colors. The burrito itself was huge, and the big chunks of pork tasted like it had been marinated in vinegar and braised for hours. The bite I tasted actually reminded me of a beef brisket, it was so tender. The rice and beans were wrapped up in the burrito, so the watery-ness of the beans was a non-issue. And the green sauce on top of the burrito was perfect.
If I had to compare Lares with Don Antonio, I would say Lares wins by a nose. While the beans and prices are better at Don Antonio, the service, meat, and selection is better at Lares. And Lares has two bars. But, I will always love Don Antonio, now my second favorite Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles.
Lares is located just south of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway, between the Centinela and Cloverfield offramps at 2909 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405