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A Mixed Bag of Tricks at Josef Centeno's Bar Amá

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Photo: Elizabeth Daniels

Josef Centeno's Bar Amá was one of the most buzzed about and anticipated openings of 2012. The chef, who earned a cult-like following at Lazy Ox Canteen and then at his very own Bäco Mercat, has received accolades and praise from critics and diners alike. With so much fanfare, Bar Amá had big shoes to fill, and while some believe Centeno's Tex-Mex hub on 4th Street Downtown lives up to the hype, others feel let down usually by food, not as much drink. Price is an issue for some, water is sometimes served warm, but bowls of queso and Frito pie shine. Below, a look at what the critics, Yelpers, and 'hounds across the internet are saying about Bar Amá.

The Not A Fan of Tex-Mex News: "As good as they say! This is the sister restaurant to Baco Mercat, which I am a fan of. I am actually not a fan of Tex Mex (too heavy) but I actually enjoyed this quite a bit." [Yelp]

The Frito Pie News: "And now, we come to what is perhaps Bar Ama's most infamous dish, the Southwestern classic of Frito pie, retooled and served in a skillet rather than the traditional foil bag. It was one of my favorites, giving us a rich, hearty base of flavors from the tongue chile and cheese, while the sour cream and mulato pepper offered up some contrast to the gravity of the meat. The various elements came together very nicely here, and I loved how the crunch of the Fritos was still intact. A bit slutty, but a must order nonetheless." [kevinEats]

The Bäco Mercat Comparison News: "Baco Mercat, one of my favorite LA eateries, specialty is the Baco sandwich. Bar Ama, Baco Mercat's sister restaurant, specialty is the puffy taco. Is the puffy as good as the Baco? No. But it's still damn delicious!" [Yelp]

The Rare Spirits News: "While dining at chef Joseph Centeno's Bar Amá the other night, I came across several menu curiosities, like $10 bean tostadas and $10 queso, but the most unusual offering was a section for two little-known Mexican spirits: bacanora and sotol ... I'd discovered Cielo Rojo back in 2010 at the Expo Tequila in Tijuana and have had it on my shelf along with other bacanoras ever since. Cielo Rojo's un-aged bacanora blanco has an intense, rounded flavor of lightly sweet cooked agave, and the smoke isn't overpowering. With a pure, balanced flavor that is superior to any mezcal in town, Cielo Rojo is worth the trip to Bar Amá alone." [LAmag]

The Pricey News: "I had huge expectations due to the fact he owns baco de mercat.. so, i went in with enthusiasm and excited.. to sum it up it's like going to el torito.. first of all there is nothing there that is unique or memorable.. $22.00 for chicken fried steak?? $14.00 for 2 dinky puffy tacos.. ?? my bill came out to like $60.00." [Yelp]

The Two For One News: "In some respects, this is two restaurants in one. The first serves giant mounds of guacamole, oozy bowls of queso dip and gut-bomb enchiladas smothered in cheese. It's slutty Mexican-American food made with better ingredients than is typical of the genre but with the same emotional underpinnings: salt, fat and a touch of delicious sleaze. The other restaurant has slightly higher ambitions and serves next-generation riffs on Mexican ingredients and California produce. While plenty of customers will be regulars purely for the fat-kid fun of restaurant No. 1, and plenty of food snobs will lean toward restaurant No. 2, the best way to experience Bar Amá is to indulge in both extremes." [LAW]

The Confusing Waiter News: "Service is generally prompt, though it's sometimes hard to tell who is a waiter and who is not, since the uniform appears to be skinny jeans and plaid." [TOLA]

The Great Drinks News: "We have eaten at Bar Ama twice now, both times feeling REALLY hopeful that the place would become a favorite. We've had the puffy taco, the queso, the jicama salad, pork shoulder molcajete, roast chicken and the chicharron. The only standouts were the drinks, particularly the old fashioned. I think this place has too little to stand on conceptually." [Chowhound]

The J.Gold Queso Surprise News: "It was definitely queso, with that distinctive glossiness somewhere between melted plastic and Dodger Stadium nachos. If Centeno did use a blend of rare cheeses and lovingly roasted organic heirlooms instead of the Velveeta and Ro-Tel, he did a remarkable job of duplicating their essence. But it wasn't bad — not bad at all. I have never seen a bowl of tortilla chips disappear so fast." [LAT]

The Fast Service News: "Overall, I think what the problem was that the food came out fast and furiously. Between the two of us, we ordered 4 dishes, and there was no breathing time. I understand that it's shareable plates, etc and not meant to be coursed out. BUT when you have pretty much all 4 dishes come out at the same time and when certain dishes are meant to be eaten right away, when it's hot, then you have a problem. I can only eat so fast.... And the dining experience isn't pleasant when you're cramming food in your mouth at a pace that's uncomfortable in an effort to try things at the right temp. Everything got cold and then was not yummy. " [Yelp]

The Warm Water News: "we got the cauliflower pesto appetizer and 2 plates of puffy tacos (carne guisada and potato). my friend got the nacho vidal drink and i just a water. the only thing i didnt care for was that my water was warm and they didnt serve it with ice? weird and i never got refilled the entire time i was there (maybe its cause i sat at the bar and they only accommodate to drinkers?). anyways the cauliflower was alright, the pesto sauce was amazing. i wish i had more on my plate." [Yelp]

·All Good News/Bad News Coverage [~ELA~]

Bar Ama

118 W 4th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (213) 687-8002