California Grill is probably most often called "that place ... jugos naturales?" because the sign on the awning advertising its fresh juices is much more prominent than the restaurant sign itself. It's on Virgil, in a neighborhood that's either East Hollywood or Silver Lake, depending on who you ask, though more people are starting to refer to the area as Virgil Village.
According to the framed accolades from the city hung by its front door, the restaurant has existed for about a decade. Shamefully, I had never visited California Grill until recently. Now that I have, though, I probably will be there at least once a week for the rest of time.
The pupusas are the stars here. There are about 10 varieties on the menu, and on Mondays and Wednesdays the pupusas go for 99 cents each, which is a deal so good you might start to feel a bit guilty. So come here on other days, too, to even it out.
Your favorite pupusa will depend on how much you like melted cheese. If you don't like it at all, you can order the corn flour patty (imagine a very thick tortilla) filled with a puree of black beans. This is a solid, and very filling, option. There are a number of bean, cheese and meat pupusa filling combos to choose from, but I most highly recommend the loroco, a flowering vine that tastes like a mix between squash and a leafy green, and happens to be highly nutritious (but as a pupusa comes mixed with cheese). The ayote, or squash, option is delicious as well.
This is a casual restaurant where most orders are taken at the counter, but it's not as quick as fast food. The pupusas are made to order, and it takes a while to slap the flour into disks, fill them, slap them together and grill it all up. It's worth the wait, especially when you get bits of crisped cheese spilling from the edges of the pupusas. There's a tart and slightly spicy pickled cabbage and carrot mix that comes with the pupusas, a great topping if it's all a little heavy on the palate. But be warned, it will make your pupusa soggy.
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And then there are the breakfasts. In my experience, if you look wide-eyed and friendly enough, the staff will make it any time of day. The breakfast platters include scrambled eggs, which can be a real disaster at a lot of quick-service restaurants. But California Grill's are among the best restaurant scrambled eggs I've experienced, which probably is due to high fat content (they can be ordered with chopped chorizo) but also speaks to good technique. Then, the plantains, the crema and a fourth element of your choice — I recommend the beans, which are the consistency of lentil soup, but you can choose avocado or farmer's cheese as well.
The breakfast plates come with "tortillas." As someone with vastly more experience with American Mexican food than Salvadoran cuisine, I wondered if these would be the tortillas I'm used to — and was delighted to find that the term means unfilled pupusas. Even without a protein inside, these little grilled circles are delicious. It's a huge breakfast, but never becomes monotonous.
Come for the pupusas, stay for the pupusas.
800 N. Virgil Ave., East Hollywood. (323) 660-0427.