There is something undeniably wonderful about eating in a parking lot late at night. The fresh air, the view, the fact that calories don't count when you're using your trunk as a table. We were initially a bit worried that the magic of Mexicali Taco & Co., cachetada champions and winners of Taco Madness 2011, could fade with the opening of their new brick-and-mortar spot. How stupid we were to fret. As soon as we saw the bright smiles of Esdras and Javier working in an actual kitchen, we knew it was right.
They may no longer be located in the most beautiful parking lot in L.A., but Mexicali's new digs are just as lovely, and somehow even more warm and inviting. The five bright red picnic tables make the place feel casual and familiar, continuing the friendly tradition of the stand in the parking lot. If you prefer it, there is also a metal counter outside, so you can still eat standing up in the fresh air. The walls are minimally adorned, with pictures at one end and a very dramatic cutout of Mexicali on the other. The wood accents add a nice modern touch, and reference the block on which they used to chop all of their meats.
That original wood chopping block sits on the counter not far from the three giant plastic jugs of aguas frescas, one each of horchata, tamarindo, and an excellent milky sweet barley drink called cebada. There's no beer on the menu at the moment, but we already know that Mexicali's tacos pair well with great brews, and we could definitely see ourselves sipping a cerveza or four in there on a hot day. Until then, though, the aguas frescas more than suffice, and we couldn't get enough of the cebada.
The menu has all of the original favorites, from vampiros to cachetadas and zupermen, and there are also some noteworthy additions. For one, they're now offering a vegetarian option, so the meatless among us can get their garlic-infused fix with chopped vegetables. They've also added nachos to the menu, with gooey cheese and their meats in portions so large we didn't see anyone put them down alone. And in an unexpected touch, you can now get a fried egg on top of anything on the menu. You haven't seen messy until you've tried to eat chorizo nachos covered in avocado salsa, pico de gallo, and lime with a runny egg on top. It may be a good thing they aren't opening for Valentine's Day.
Mexicali Taco & Co. officially opens its doors on Feb. 15, and they'll start out serving both lunch and dinner, with a short break in between. The exact hours are still up in the air at the moment, but from what we hear for now it looks like they'll be open until 10 on weekdays and close to midnight on weekends. See you there next Wednesday.