Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you think she should go next? Drop us a line.
Venice's Rose Avenue may be increasing its cool factor thanks to its art galleries, boutiques, and, of course, its requisite wine bar, but no-frills Mexican eatery La Fiesta Brava, which opened 19 years ago, has managed to buck the trend – and trendiness – and remain a gloriously cheap hole-in-the-wall. And one that offers free parking, by the way. In an actual parking lot. For free. In Venice. You read that right. The vibe is low-key on a recent Saturday afternoon, with two groups of guys sharing six-packs of Tecate cans and Pacifico bottles (thanks to a bonus BYO policy), a toddler running about as her parents finish their last bites and a couple of single diners grabbing a quick lunch from a menu of basics like enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, and tacos, along with a short list of stews and seafood cocktails.
Samuel, who began running the family business after his father passed away, tells me that the chile rellenos are so popular, he’s not sure he has them at this late hour of 1 o’clock. They usually sell out early. But after a check with the kitchen, I’m in luck. He’s got ‘em. Along with a chile relleno-enchilada combo platter, my husband and I also order a couple of a la carte tacos (most are $1.95). The carne asada taco is stuffed with plenty of big chunks of steak and topped with diced onion, cilantro and a green tomatillo sauce. The fish taco, for just $2.45, is perhaps the best deal here (and pretty much the opposite of the fish-less fish taco I got at Mariscos La Buena Vida last month), thanks to an entire grilled filet of sea bass inside a corn tortilla topped with lettuce, cilantro, shredded jack and cheddar cheeses, and a house made, tart tomato-based sauce. The fish is flaky and mild and despite my love of all things deep-fried, I’m glad I get to enjoy the bass in all its unbreaded glory.
The relleno is another hit with a nice, fluffy breading, and a pepper undercooked just enough to give it a touch of crunch. As with the tacos, the kitchen goes heavy on the stuffing here: in this case there’s a ton of gooey jack cheese inside the chile, but for my tastes, it’s almost too much. The solid chicken enchilada is filled with flavorful shredded chicken and topped with a mild ranchero sauce, but the rice alongside it ends up as the only disappointing item of the afternoon. It’s on the dry side and a bit lacking in flavor--a problem I solve with a dash of the fiery salsa that came with our tortilla chips and a quick splash of the ranchero sauce. As for sides, the lardless pinto beans, served whole with a sprinkling of emerald green scallions, is the winner.
With tip and tax, our bill is around $15 and includes two sticks of gum as a farewell. An untrendy price, indeed.
La Fiesta Brava
423 Rose Ave.
Venice, CA 90291
All items: $1.95-$12.95