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LA Times Critic Finds Comfort in the Tex-Mex Queso at Amacita in Culver City

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Plus, a peek at the success of Birdie G’s in Santa Monica

Bowl of nachos covered with condiments on a wooden table.
Nachos at Amacita
Wonho Frank Lee

This week’s LA Times review by co-critic Bill Addison centers around Culver City, the once again hot dining destination that is shaping up to be a big restaurant player for the greater Westside. More specifically, Addison heads into Josef Centeno’s colorful corner restaurant Amacita for some Tex-Mex classics that come by way of California.

Amacita, which opened wide in July, is a flip of Centeno’s casual Bacoshop space right in downtown Culver City. Centeno himself has been spending quite a bit of time there as of late, making sure the new Tex-Mex focus catches on with customers (he also owns Orsa & Winston, Baco Mercat, and his original Tex-Mex experience Bar Ama in Downtown). Apparently all the attention to detail is working.

It’s imperative to start with an order of queso for the table; “do not resist,” says Addison.

The consistency doesn’t become plasticky or gluey like most queso; it stays silky, and the tiers of flavor keep revealing themselves. Even as other dishes begin filling the table, I find myself moving the queso back to the center of the action.

There are other highlights too, of course:

Heartier main courses offer easy contentment. Roasted chicken rubbed with Sriracha tingles only mildly; it is served with pico de gallo and gently pickled carrots and strewn with some herbs and greens for SoCal prettiness. Grab one of the freshly made flour tortillas and inhale: earth and warmth. Chorizo-spiced Wagyu shows off the kitchen chops, cooked to a spot-on medium-rare.

As Addison notes, the restaurant does not lean too strongly on tacos (they are “engineered to augment rather than dominate the menu”), and despite their deliciousness, that’s a good thing. After all, the San Antonio-born Centeno has been in California for years now, and his restaurant Amacita is at its best when it bends the distance between the two places:

Pimento cheese fills fried squash blossoms; reimagined elotes highlight grilled local baby corn. It’s Texan-Mexican food made by an adopted Angeleno fresh from wandering the farmers market.

Hangtown Brei, with cheese sauce, pork belly, and eggs, on a white plate.
Birdie G’s
Wonho Frank Lee

Meanwhile, the Hollywood Reporter sent restaurant critic Gary Baum out to Santa Monica’s new Birdie G’s for a look. The Jeremy Fox dream restaurant is already firing on basically all cylinders, says THR, noting that the large and complex menu is specifically designed to evoke “a nostalgic sense of only-in-America bounty.” That’s true writ large, and on one individual plate, the Hangtown Brei shown above:

The centerpiece of the nouvelle Jewish cuisine is a riff on a Hangtown Fry, a Gold Rush-originated omelet of bacon, oysters and eggs popularized by San Francisco’s Tadich Grill. Fox also draws inspiration from Musso & Frank and Howard Johnson’s. For his “Hangtown brei,” he swaps the bacon for wood-grilled pork belly and then makes it his superlative own with a delicate-soft scramble anointed in schmaltz (chicken fat) and matzo.

Not everything is a smash, says Baum, but the place really does know what it’s doing, and where it’s going. That’s a very, very good thing not only for Fox, but also for LA’s many eager diners.

Amacita. 9552 Washington Blvd., Culver City.

Birdie G’s. 2421 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica.

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