Los Angeles is, by and large, a taco town. There are festivals to honor its may styles, annual bracket tournaments keen to crown a local winner, and endless (truly endless) amounts of the stuff to eat all across greater Los Angeles. And yet within the fog of tens of thousands of taco options, one particular restaurant is standing tall among them: Sonoratown. The cult Northern Mexico-style hit has not only won over so many fans that it has already doubled its space — beer and wine is on the way — it’s also the subject of a seriously glowing new LA Times review this week by critic Patricia Escárcega.
As the Times says, not only is media word out on the busy Downtown shop, but the restaurant is even pulling in new fans off the street based on intoxicating smells alone:
The scent moves downwind from the restaurant, turning the corner onto nearby Santee Alley, intimating at large quantities of exquisitely grilled beef and pinpointing the restaurant’s location with better precision than any navigation app on your phone.
The first time I stepped into Sonoratown, the perfume of grilled beef and freshly warmed flour tortillas flooded me with nostalgia for South Tucson, where Sonoran-style taquerías are as integral to the landscape as saguaros and blinding desert sunshine.
The heart of Sonoratown is, naturally, the smoking grill that scents the air as it does its work to turn out endless amounts of steak, but the soul of the place belongs to those handmade flour tortillas.
The flour tortillas, made by hand by Julia Guerrero, the restaurant’s resident tortillera, are stretchy, buttery and vaguely powdery, nearly as pliable as a rubber band. A first-time encounter with this mode of flour tortilla is a moment of reckoning... You will note how frequently in the past you’ve been fed mediocrity.
Escárcega can’t get over the tortillas, from the supply chain of their ingredients to the way they’re used to perfectly within Sonoratown itself. It all adds up to a labor that everyone loves, and to this closing line (a nod to the Mexico city of San Luis Riío Colorado): Triumph is the reward for hard work.
Meanwhile, Escárcega’s co-critic Bill Addison stayed busy on a calzone bender, finding a fitting (if rather unconventional) version at the new-ish Ronan on Melrose. The restaurant, run by Sotto alums Daniel and Caitlin Cutler, opened last fall with lots of small starter plates, a full cocktail bar, and blistered neo-Neopolitan pizzas, and despite the proliferation of similar restaurants all over the city, this version definitely works. But first, that calzone, a work of artistry that’s meant to resemble a French dip sandwich.
The thing lands on the table resembling a giant sea cucumber, its formless mass blackened and pocked. Servers offer quick instruction: Tackle the brute by carving it crosswise into thick slices, and then start sopping bites in jus and swiping them through hot mustard.
It’s a delicious remake, and one Addison finds himself getting lost in. There’s “rosy” meat inside, lots of melted cheese, and the “crust crackles and yields in all the right places.”
As for the rest, it’s mostly hits on the menu at Ronan, particularly in the pizza section.
Taste-wise, the first hit of smoky char soon gives way to the dough’s pronounced tang. The textures lean plush rather than crisp. While I can appreciate a soupy Neapolitan pie, I really prefer a sturdier, cooked-through center, which is what Cutler achieves.
Some dishes fail to shine on their own, including a “wonky” take on gnocchi, “spongy” meatballs, and a couple of other stumbles, but for the most part the place is a worthwhile addition to a pretty packed dining scene along greater Melrose, particularly when dipping into the breads, pizzas, and that calzone. They’re the mastery of chef Daniel Cutler, who is “a seasoned, wry chef, fully in command of his powers” right now.
And elsewhere is TimeOut’s four stars for Hollywood Japanese stunner Inn Ann, which sits curiously atop the Hollywood and Highland complex. Inside, sushi maestro Mori Onodera has been working up gems nightly for those willing to make the trek, with critic Simon Majumdar calling it “one of the best Japanese tasting menus in L.A.”