When I first heard that there was a new Mexican restaurant in Beverly Hills, immediately I imagined it to be an overpriced, watered down experience. Well, after sitting down for dinner at Taberna Mexicana I now know that this place not only turns out flavorful Mexican food punctuated with pleasant surprises, but it is also quite affordable, especially when you consider it’s smack dab in the middle of the 90210. (And FYI, the daily $4 happy hour is the best deal in town.) I’m already planning my next visit.
To start, I had the chicken albondigas. I haven’t been this excited about a Mexican soup since Mas Malo’s chicken pozole. Not only are the albondigas (meatballs) made from chicken (usually it’s beef), but the broth was completely unexpected. The menu says “spicy broth with avocado, Oaxaca cheese and chile de arbol,” but what it doesn’t say is cinnamon and star anise. OMG! Adding those two little spices to the already piquant flavor of the broth added an aromatic complexity and taste that I just couldn’t get enough of!
Although my photo below does it no justice, the space itself is lovely. Lots of wood and tropical touches, Mexican tiles, that sorta thing. The hyper-graphic wall reminded me of those optical illusion photos that you stare into, so I had to force myself to stop looking. I think they might be adding a couple of big mirrors there though. Good idea.
Of all things, one of my favorite dishes ended up being the tiradito de pulpo. (It’s the first photo in this post.) Let me just say that I am not a fan of eating octopus. The thought of chewing on those little tentacle suction cups just kinda ruins it for me. But I’m also a good sport when a restaurant’s chef–in this case, the fabulous chef de cuisine Jose Miguel Santa Ana (executive chef Alex Padilla wasn’t there that night)–and manager (in this case, the supremely friendly Christian Gonzalez) are both telling me I simply MUST try a particular dish. So yes, I did it. I gave the poached octopus a chance. To which I now say: Wow! Not only was the octopus thankfully suction-cup free thanks to the carpaccio-style slicing, but the layering of roasted jalapeño, caper aioli, garlic chips, cherry tomatoes and lemony arugula just sealed the deal for me, adding spice, crunch and a touch of saltiness.
Another menu item you’ll probably end up loving as much as I did is the ahi tuna. It’s listed under the ceviche category, but it’s actually presented more like tacos. Only these tacos are made with jicama tortillas. (As chef Jose said, “Gotta keep it low carb for Beverly Hills!”) Worth noting: The roasted pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, which add texture and flavor.
Everything is made from scratch, from the tortillas to the sauces, and I always appreciate a place that sources from the farmers’ markets. (Chef Jose said he usually does Wednesday mornings in Santa Monica.) The chile relleno is also a delicious version of the traditional Mexican dish, filled with Oaxaca cheese (although not too cheesy) and cubed roasted veggies while the cochinita pibil is a stewy little pot o’ pork that’s been marinated for 48 hours and bursts with flavor. At least that’s what my fiance said. I’d rather have a pig as a pet than eat one, so I’ll take his word for it. Also, don’t leave without ordering the tres leches dessert. Two words: Blowtorched marshmallows.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mexican restaurant without a margarita or two. Taberna focuses on small-batch tequila, doesn’t use any commercial mixes and gets their fruits and produce from the farmers’ market. Try the seasonal pumpkin margarita while you can and the blackberry basil margarita if you like your cocktails (really) spicy.
Nothing on the lunch menu is more than $18 and you can do a dinner entree for about the same price, depending on what you order. But if you really want a deal, stop by during the daily $4 happy hour. It’s offered at the bar and sidewalk patio 3pm-7pm every day and 3pm-8pm Thursdays & Fridays for the month of December. There are about 10 different edibles on the menu–from hard-shell chicken tacos to a chorizo burger–and a great selection of wine, beer and cocktails like the Smokey Paloma, a mix of Partida Reposado, grapefruit and lime juice with a mezcal rinse. Sign me up.
More info: www.tabernamexicana.com