As an ode to the food of his childhood, chef Josef Centeno's Bar Ama gives us an excuse to indulge in the glory of Tex-Mex cuisine. In some ways, the downtown establishment is two restaurants in one: The first serves giant mounds of guacamole, oozy bowls of queso dip and gut-bomb enchiladas smothered in cheese. It's slutty Mexican-American food made with better ingredients than is typical of the genre but with the same emotional underpinnings: salt, fat and a touch of delicious sleaze. The other restaurant has slightly higher ambitions and serves next-generation riffs on Mexican ingredients and California produce. While plenty of customers will be regulars purely for the fat-kid fun of restaurant No. 1, and plenty of food snobs will lean toward restaurant No. 2, the place's brilliance (and best way to experience it) is the indulgence of both extremes. 118 W. Fourth St., dwntwn. (213) 687-7000, bar-ama.com. —Besha Rodell
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