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First Bite: Chips, Chips Especial, Menudo + Vegan Hangovers at Mas Malo

I am sitting in Mas Malo's huge Beaux Arts dining room, a floor beneath the whiskey-soaked revelry of the bar Seven Grand. I am on the outside of a satisfying organic margarita, I am watching my young son tackle an enormous burrito ahogado, trying not to cringe as the splattering red sauce makes him look like a hog butcher toward the end of his shift, and I am attempting not to crunch too noisily -- not that you could hear it over the dance music -- on a hard-shelled fried taco stuffed with bacon and tiny bay shrimp.

The waiter has spent several minutes calibrating the elaborate presentation of chips, which seems fairly exorbitant at $12 an order but includes substantial saucers of a creamy habañero salsa, hot mole and a few other things arranged in a tower that would do credit to a Jenga champ, plus what can only be described as a trough of fresh guacamole. The thin house chips soon are supplemented with thicker, bendier "chips especial" -- the chips may well be the specialty of the house, as odd as that sounds, and are served at brunch as both Mexican-style chilaquiles and Texas-style migas.

There are soft tacos of pork al pastor, which are pot-roasted instead of cooked on a spit, if you care about that sort of thing, and ground-beef-and-pickle tacos, which sound odd but are a beloved drunk food at the original Malo, in Silver Lake. Hey, Silver Lake. We've all been there. It's about time it had an ambassador downtown, especially now that there may be a critical mass of local customers who until now were bereft of soy-rizo burritos, potato-cheese tacos and enough eggplant to give fits to the macrobiotically inclined.

But what I can't figure out is why I have in front of me a bowl of vegan menudo -- a soup that has many of the features of menudo, including chile, onion, lime, oregano and a funky blast of hominy, but substitutes bits of boiled tofu for the original tripe. Vegans have hangovers, too, I guess. At Mas Malo, the vegan hangovers are organic.

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