Los Angeles Times critics continue roving throughout the city, with new reviews this week for M. Georgina at Downtown’s Row and Tirsa’s Mexican Cafe on the eastern edge of Chinatown. Bill Addison’s review is a positive note for the embattled ROW DTLA, after Tartine’s Manufactory closed in early December. Co-reviewer Patricia Escárcega discovered Tirsa’s, a Chinatown spot where the chef combined traditional Mexican sopes with her favorite childhood snack, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Chef Melissa Perello named M. Georgina after her paternal grandmother and opened the ROW DTLA restaurant in early November. Addison finds the staff and food radiates warmth, and notes that Row “needed a middle-ground beacon — sophisticated but not too fancy, with food that simply leaves you feeling happy.”
Addison raves about Perello’s elevated baked potato:
“Perello roasts a fist-size russet in a wood-burning oven and finishes it in the coals of the kitchen’s hearth. The potato’s jacket blackens and crisps; its insides turn fluffy. It arrives at the table slashed open and sidled up to a mound of sour cream. The garnishes are always changing: snipped chives and whatever appropriate herbs Perello might have on hand, with duck cracklings or crunchy guanciale scattered over top. Customers often ask for cheese. Perello obliges with nutty Fiscalini cheddar from Modesto.”
Perello might be a recent transplant, but Addison finds her a solid fit to the LA landscape:
“Her style — micro-seasonal, with Italian leanings and occasional subtle nods to other cuisines — meshes seamlessly with the city’s dining ecology. Sometimes Angelenos bristle at chefs from elsewhere, but this is cooking that already feels of the place.”
Tirsa’s Mexican Cafe
Patricia Escárcega took on casual Chinatown spot Tirsa’s Mexican Cafe, and turned a big shining light on its popular dish, Flamin’ Hot sopes. Escárcega shared a bit of history about the origins of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, then pivots to the varied options made by chef/owner Tirsa Nevarez.
Escárcega dove into those Flamin’ Hot sopes:
“Nevarez turns the pulverized corn snack into a binder for her masa, which she hand-shapes into sturdy corn discs that are fried to order and then filled with refried beans and your choice of grilled meats (the frizzled carne asada is most popular). The meat is buried under layers of cheddar cheese, chipotle aioli and fanned-out avocado slices, and then finished with a thick, vivid dusting of crushed Hot Cheetos.”
Tirsa’s menu is not completely dedicated to the fast food snack. Nevarez also prepares a chipotle lime chicken platter, carne asada and french fry-stuffed burritos, plus a vegan option with a “dense, fibrous tangle of jackfruit served in a citrus and chile marinade.” She also favors the DTLA torta:
“The colossal specialties inspire delight: The DTLA Torta is an enormous, flat, crusty telera roll plumped with crinkly strips of carne asada, beans, rice and guacamole, served with a steak knife plunged into the sandwich’s mammoth heart. The enchilada plate is a chile-stained quartet of rolled tortillas oozing with cheese and your choice of meat — try them filled with the dark, caramelly barbacoa. Grilled chipotle chicken sounds humdrum, but the juicy breast is cooked in a bright, sharp marinade streaked with chile.”