Dear Mr. Gold:

Could you please recommend one or two outstanding Mexican food restaurants in the L.A. area. I am sick to death of El Cholo, and I have what you could describe as a special date coming up.

Lovell, Los Angeles

Dear Lovell:

Mexican restaurants come in all different sizes and shapes, and I'm not sure exactly what flavor you have in mind. I'm assuming that you're not looking for divey regional places, although the Guelaguetza on Olympic and the Chichen Itza on 6th Street near Macarthur Park are nice enough for special dates, and I'm pretty sure that the unique characteristics of Maria's Ramada in Hollywood, which has private booths, twinkly lights and passable mole, can also come off as the sort of shrine movie serial killers sometimes construct in their basements.

If she were the kind of girl who went for the glam of Beso or the from dusk till dawn ambiance of Velvet Margarita, you'd know it by now. Border Grill tends to be a place to go to with eight people more than it is a place to take a date. The manifest delights of

Moles La Tia and La Casita Mexicana have been described at length in these pages. The Hollywood Boulevard location of Loteria Grill has a nice menu of light, unusual tacos and such, and a fine array of tequilas, but it may be a bit bright for your purposes.

Which leaves us with Babita, a wonderful, innovative restaurant in San Gabriel, with old-fashioned service, a carefully selected list of Baja wines and a roster of innovative dishes mostly rooted in the owner's hometown of Los Mochis, Sinaloa.

And although it may not precisely be a destination for its cuisine, which tends toward Mexican resort cooking, Tamayo, in a 1920s industrial building revamped into a splendid hacienda, is a beautiful restaurant in an unexpected setting, decorated with chattering fountains, massive oils (probably including a few reproductions) by the late Mexican artist from whom it takes its name. The spinach enchiladas, and the enchiladas made from the recipe of the artist's wife, Olga, aren't bad.

5300 E. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (323) 260-4700

LA Weekly