Soon after moving to Echo Park, I came upon Taix, an oasis of old-fashioned dinner-house culture on the edge of downtown. My widowed mother was in a war of attrition with her children over the cocktail hour. We took fiendish delight in denying her a highball by choosing for our nights out a little sushi joint or vegan juice bar with, at best, sake or chai for stimulation. But Mother, who was nothing if not indomitable, usually found a way to get her stinger or one of the other drinks she’d learned to love during her wartime years at CBS Radio, where she survived on a $15-a-week salary by eating out on her dates’ tabs at places like the Ambassador. Taix (pronounced Tex) was a good compromise: a restaurant with a full bar and the raffish energy of my own hood.
Taix opened 72 years ago in L.A.’s original French quarter, northeast of City Hall (an old bordello, complete with laudanum bottles to numb the girls, was recently exhumed during a nearby building project). The cream-colored, stamped-tin roof, the faux-Normandy exposed timber (my children swear it’s where they filmed the Caddyshack convertible vomiting scene), the sign boasting of the Lions Club or Oddfellows meeting in the Champagne banquet room: All are pure Angeleniana. If you want to meet SoCal natives, this is the place; they drive in once a year from West Hills, from Rancho Cucamonga, for their L.A. fix. So what if you have to watch out for diners in walkers?
After my own children were born, I came to love the Taix experience on its own merits. And, now that they are school-age, they can read the old handbills themselves and marvel at the 60-cent duck dinner (85 cents for a private table). My friends and I imagine ourselves in a Nick and Nora Charles movie, with songs from the swinging years rippling in the background and a French-speaking waiter palming a bottle of nice Bordeaux for our approval. All we have to do is slide into one of the shell-shaped banquettes, and suddenly, we’re gay, we’re witty, we actually converse! — a rarity for any modern family, let alone one with a 12-year-old son (he’s developed a sudden enthusiasm for sit-down dining; I blame the decision to bus him to the Valley for middle school). You can also sit in the bar and eat a full meal in front of the ball game; it’s a great spot to watch the playoffs.
You can easily get out the door for $20 a person, tip, tags and license. Kids (under 12) get a huge meal — soup du jour, salad, entrée, vegetables and dessert — for an unbelievable $3.95, plus crayons and a follow-the-dots activity sheet (slow to notice trends, Taix only recently changed its coloring mascot from the Taix Tiger to the Taix Triceratops). It’s the only place where I don’t have to bribe my kids to eat the healthy stuff: the carrot sticks on the relish tray (we still miss the crock of pâté that used to come with it), the lentil soup and the salad.
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I’ve had several arguments with pickier friends over this, but the food at Taix is just fine, especially the roast chicken and lamb. The wine list has got to be one of the best in its price range in the city, including decent wine-by-the-glass in all the major varietals for $4 to $6 (the bartender pours with a heavy hand). There are also great bargains on cases; I once got through a whole summer with a box of very nice white Bordeaux that I bought from Taix. 1911 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 484-1265.