Dear Mr. Gold:
I heard somewhere that you visit four or five restaurants for every one that ends up in a column. I realize that most of the rejected places are probably pretty bad, but you must be holding something back. What restaurants are you keeping to yourself?
—Laura O., Altadena
I do go to a lot more restaurants than I write about, but believe me — you wouldn’t want to know where they are. Los Angeles may well be among the best and most diverse eating cities in the world, but that doesn’t mean that more than a small percentage of those restaurants is worth even 30 seconds at a drive-through ATM. I can say, though, that there are thousands of perfectly good restaurants in Los Angeles that are perfectly good but not quite mind-blowing — the tenth Shandong-style noodle shop to open in San Gabriel, say, or the pleasant ramen shop on Sawtelle that doesn’t happen to be as good as the ones in Torrance. I eat a fair percentage of my meals at neighborhood places like Tops Burgers and Burrito Express, but I wouldn’t suggest that anybody drive across town at rush hour just to sample them.
That being said, there is a particular stratum of restaurants that I really enjoy but usually don’t write about: tiny, family-owned Mexican restaurants, often awkwardly located, whose blackboard menus tend to change every day, whose customers seem to come every day, and whose food usually reflects less finesse on the part of the cook than real love and a perfect understanding of their clientele. Sometimes community is more important than consistency, and sometimes community is easily overwhelmed. So if you should happen to stumble into something like Taqueria Tepeque, and happen to have a lunch of spicy beef stew, homemade tortillas and fresh watermelon juice that blows your mind, don’t expect the finesse of Border Grill. Just be happy that you live in a city where a place like this can exist. 4030 S. Broadway, L.A., (323) 231-8595.