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Licha’s Mexican Restaurant in Hawthorne

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Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats restaurants—often obscure, ethnic, unsung spots—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Have a place she just must taste? Drop us a line.

It was a dreaded jury duty summons that landed a random bunch of inland South Bay Mexican restaurants on my radar last year. I planned to fill my lunch hours away from the stuffy juror room wisely, and made a list of eateries that were all a) not too far from the courthouse and b) not chains. As it turned out, my civic responsibility didn’t last all that long and I high-tailed it home, deciding a shot at a good taco wasn’t worth the possibility of running into traffic on the 405. This week I finally headed back down the freeway (happily without a juror ID number, this time) to check out Licha’s in Hawthorne, a six-table eatery housed in a little white-brick and Spanish-tile roof building on El Segundo Boulevard.

The lunchtime crowd seems to be full of regulars, or at least people who know exactly what they want with barely a glance at the menu. There’s a table full of middle-aged men with AT&T employee badges on, a trio of guys next to me talking engineering (Boeing and Exxon Mobil both have offices nearby) and another office-attired party of three, including the sole other female diner in the place, who sit down to tall glasses of ruby-colored Jamaica agua fresca while chatting in Spanish with one of the owners.

When I overhear the guy next to me pointing out his favorite dishes to his dining partners, I ask what he recommends most. He’s pretty adamant about the mulita, a hybrid between a taco and quesadilla made with two corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, guacamole, cilantro and beef or chicken.

My smiling waitress, who’s also a co-owner with her husband as well as the cook, tells me that the mulita is definitely a popular item, as are the combination plates which come with refried beans and rice. There’s everything from a torta and taco combo to a plate of two enchiladas verdes to four chicken taquitos to a carne asada platter, and all are priced at $8.50. She recommends I turn the mulita (which is $4.85) into my own personal combination plate by adding rice and beans for $2.00. Sold.

Licha’s, which has been open six years, might benefit from one of those cable shows where teams of professional organizers ambush packrats at home to help them declutter. A multi-tier rack near the kitchen door doesn’t just hold supplies like Styrofoam takeout containers, napkins, cases of soda and a bin of oranges, but also a stereo, a pair of binoculars, a sports wristband, a remote control, various flags and a little bubbling aquarium with no discernible fish. Though one could just as easily argue that Licha's makes the most of its small space with pottery sitting atop a large television, miniature houses displayed on top of a Snapple refrigerator, a potted plant on the garbage receptacle and, hanging above it all, an electronic moving message sign with happy words like Licha's! and Sopes! zipping by. I'm assuming the Easter bunnies painted on the windows are just temporary, but you never know.

A basket of piping-hot chips arrives with a tiny bowl of fiery bright-red salsa dotted with chile pepper seeds and after a few bites I find my eyes watering and have to gulp down most of my water, though I keep going back for more. The chicken mulita is indeed good, thanks in no small part to Licha’s incredible handmade corn tortillas, which are soft, airy and flavorful, exactly the opposite of the bad corn tortillas (chalky, dry) lurking out there in the world. The guacamole, smooth and slightly sweet, is the other standout component here and I consider asking for extra, but instead I get a side of the tangy salsa verde to spoon on top of my tortillas. The inside of the mulita is filled with chunks of chicken and bright pieces of cilantro, and is oozing with so much cheese (mozzarella, actually) that, when combined with my hearty scoops of rice and beans, I’m convinced I’m going to need a serious siesta later on. Good thing I don’t have to head back to the courthouse.
Mulita, $4.85
310-644-0401

—Lizbeth Scordo

Licha's

4267 W. El Segundo Blvd., Hawthorne, CA

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