Wednesday, January 25, 2006

El Coyote (Pt. I) -- The Secret Menu

El Coyote Cafe (Pt. I)
7312 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90036
Google Local Info, including maps, directions, and other reviews.

A lot of foodies I know have already stopped reading.

"El Coyote," they say. "Blecch. How can you even eat there?" Or, "Why, when you can get such good authentic Mexican in L.A.?" Or, "Well, the margaritas are strong... they have to be because you gotta be drunk to eat the food," or, most damning of all, "They put canned beets on their tostadas!"

Here are my answers to that. First off, I eat there simply because it's probably my favorite restaurant in the world. I not only eat there, I often eat there twice a week. And El Coyote is authentic: authentic early 20th-Century California-Mexican cuisine, of which I'm a big fan. Don't get me wrong, I love "authentic" Mexican food, too, but El Coyote is a different beast altogether. Comparing it to Serenata de Garibaldi or Guelaguetza just because the both serve tortillas makes as much sense as comparing In 'n' Out Burger to Nick & Stef's because they both serve meat and potatoes. And damn straight the margaritas are strong... and delicious. And even damner and straighter there's canned beets on their tostadas. My wife loves 'em... with blue cheese dressing, motherfucker! You got a problem with that?

My point is El Coyote needs to be taken on its own terms. No less a foodie luminary than Jonathan Gold (and for those of you who don't know it, all L.A. food bloggers are Jonathan Gold-wannabes) says that he's eaten more meals at El Coyote than any other restaurant on earth, and that Los Angeles is "unimaginable without it."

Okay, enough defensive El Coyote apologism. I'm posting to tell you who love the restaurant, but always order the same thing, or those of you who ate the tostada once, freaked at the beets and have only gone for drinks since, how to Work The Menu. There's some good eating to be done at what my household lovingly calls The Dog (from Howling Dog) if you get a little bit creative.

Here, at last, is the dish...

The guiding principle with working the El Coyote menu is to remember that the kitchen is very accommodating with substitutions. Use this to your advantage. The menu can be daunting, with bizarre entries like "Scratch Margaritas," (that doesn't sound appetizing at all), Enchilada Howard (we love to ask "is the Howard fresh today?"), and "Mexican Spaghetti" (it's actually fideo, a plenty "authentic" Mexican dish.) But don't be frightened. El Coyote is a Mexican restaurant, and has almost all the ingredients you'd expect in a Mexican restaurant; they're often just disguised with 1930s-friendly Americanized names. Don't see "carne asada"? It's there: it's just called "fajita steak." Machaca? It's "shredded beef." Flautas? They're "rolled tacos." The only thing you won't find buried in the menu is seafood. A bias of the owner, I'm told; I'm guessing she got some bad shellfish back in the ice-box 1930's.

So, a theoretical order from those "in the know" might go something like this: "I'd like an El Coyote Pizza with guac, a Garden Salad with ranch on the side, and a number one with a shredded beef taco -- suave, no grasa -- and a steak fajita enchilada, frijoles de la olla, and no cheese on the beans. And I'll have a scratch margarita straight up with rocks on the side."

Now that sounds like a pain-in-the-ass order, and your head is probably spinning. But the waiters and waitresses know what I mean as well as your local In 'n' Out knows what "Animal Style" means. And you will too, once you check out my Secret Menu of El Coyote delights:


El Coyote Pizza - This is what most folks think of as nachos deluxe. Where the nachos are just chips, cheese, and jalapenos, the Pizza includes beans and salsa. Guac and sour cream optional.

Albondigas Soup - Take this, authentic Mex snobs. This fresh-made meatball soup is one of the best versions in town. Even better? Ask for some cilantro, lemon slices and Cholula hot sauce on the side. Some cilantro leaves, a squeeze or two of lemon and a couple of dashes of Cholula hot sauce (available if you ask for it... same with Tapatio) make it a truly awesome appetizer.


Ignore the confusing menu. ANY taco, whether in a combo or not, can be made with these fillings:

Stewed Chicken
Grilled Chicken
Ground Beef
Shredded Beef (Machaca)

And they can come in three different wrappings:

Crispy Shell
Rolled (pictured)

Special warning here: if you just order "soft" tacos, the tortilla is grilled in little oil, making it ultra-greasy. If you want a traditional "soft" taco, order it steamed or "suave, no grasa"). The rolled tacos are made fresh when you order 'em. Crispy shell, a little bit toothsome... try the shredded beef. It's tasty.


The same choices as tacos. But you can add to the mix:

Chile Con Carne - Anywhere else, this would be called "Chile Colorado con Puerco." Here it's called "Chile Con Carne," or, simply "Howard." Seriously. The Enchilada Howard, named after an old regular, is just an enchilada smothered in the pork chile colorado.)

In fact, for burritos, just tell 'em exactly what you want in it. My current fave is ordered like this:

"A burrito with black beans, lettuce, tomato, fresh avocado slices, pico de gallo, and salsa verde, mojado." This nets you the beautiful beast pictured here.\


There are three varieties, all of which are made with vegetable oil; no lard.

Whole Pintos (or "frijoles de la olla").

The whole beans and the new black beans are particularly delicious. The combo plates tend to come, as Jonathan Gold puts it, "welded to the plate with great leathery straps of cheese." Ordering the beans "sin queso" lets the tasty flavor of the freshly-made beans come out.


Combination Salad - My wife's fave... canned beets, limp shredded lettuce and all.

Garden Salad - If you're a normal, beet-fearing person, you want the Garden Salad, made with mixed greens and a little bit of carrot and purple cabbage.

Fiesta Salad - made with grilled chicken.

Caesar Salad
- they make a delicious, tangy Caesar here. Order it with chicken, and it's a full, healthy meal. Or ask for Caesar dressing on any of the other salads.

Tostada - this is what inspires so much fear in the average diner. Shredded iceberg lettuce, Veg-All Three Bean Salad, canned beets, and Thousand Island dressing on top of beans and a crispy corn tortilla. Now as long as you're not expecting a real tostada, this can be pretty tasty. But it can also be tweaked to something more recognizable. Order it with "no vegetables" and "no dressing, " and add guacamole, or your favorite meat, some lemon slices, and extra hot sauce. Squeeze the lemon, drizzle some hot sauce, and you're in biz.

Chicken Taco Salad - This is more like your standard El Torito style gringo tostada, with the big upright flour tortilla, the "good" lettuce, shredded three-cheese blend, and grilled chicken. Try it with fajita steak instead of chicken... or some Howard! Yum!

And finally...


You can order 'em strawberry, mango, Cadillac, whatever you like, but 95% of the margaritas consumed here are of one variety:

House Margarita - It's what made the place famous. It's delicious and refreshing, with its slight splash of pineapple juice. True it's not $1.95 for a double anymore like when I first came here, but it's still a good deal. Especially if you order it "Straight Up, Rocks on the Side." Why? Because the straight-up glass is larger, and without ice taking up space in it, you get a nice little sidecar of about 35% more bang for your margarita buck.

Scratch Margarita - If you really wanna get fucked up and fast, this is the drink for you. While the house margarita is made in a giant vat each morning and pumped into the bar -- hence the slight effervescence -- the scratch margarita is made fresh when you order. It's stronger. Much stronger. You can smell the thing coming about 20 feet away.

So, go back and read my would-be order above. All make sense now? Good. Go forth to El Coyote and blaze through the menu like the intrepid adventurer you are!

Oh, and be sure to get a margarita or two... the food really is better if you're drunk.

I still have more to say on the topic of El Coyote. I'll save it for another post. Or maybe two.

El Coyote Photo by Hughes Hall


  1. Yay! Although you're right about the "welded to the plate" combos, I'm still a big fan of the #6, chicken taco and green corn tamale, with ranchera sauce.
    Love, love, love those tamales, and you don't actually have to be drunk to eat them.
    Although it's true that all of my favorite margarita memories (fuzzy though they are) reside within the walls of El Coyote.

  2. Jonah posted a link to yr site from lafoodblogging -- glad I checked out what you have to say.

    Love yr brash, funny writing style.

    Def gonna check this place out, now. 'Bout time. At least I'll know what to order.


  3. this is great! I just wrote about El Coyote this week too. I've got to link this post, as you summed it up much better than I did.

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  5. Anonymous8:47 PM

    You should also be sure to mention that you can order most any dish with the fajita chicken, which is nicely sauted or grilled chicken, very tasty!

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  7. Wait! They've got FIDEO? I thought only my mom made that. (Don't let my super-Irish name fool you...) Seriously, I've never seen it at any restaurant. It's that authentic, I guess, that it never leaves the home kitchen. For the record, I love the stuff. With some salsa on top - with a bit of chile colorado and some homemade tortillas - HEAVEN.

  8. Moira, I doubt that El Coyote's Mexican Spaghetti is nearly the delight that your mom's fideo is! But after going to El Coyote for years, we were in Spain, and we had some fideo at a restaurant; we went "oh my God... that's why El Coyote has spaghetti on the menu!"

  9. Anonymous1:38 PM

    I'll have to try El Coyote again. But I've been there three times and every time I've gone there,I've gotten food poisoning.

  10. Anonymous6:12 PM

    we have always called the tostada salad the del monte. I recreate it at home I love it so much.

  11. Anonymous9:48 PM

    There is NOTHING in this world as life-affirming as the epoxy-tasting house margaritas!!!

    Come to think of of the all time lows of my life was back when they were shut down for far too many months. I'd longingly stare in the window for any signs of hope of reopening.

    ARRGGHH...ENOUGH of that nightmare!!!

  12. Anonymous4:44 PM

    GREAT post!!!
    You are obviously a seasoned patron.
    I've been going since '78 and still learned a couple of tips. Thanks.

  13. Anonymous7:56 PM

    I was in diapers the first time i went there. My family used to ell them their plastic grape leaves, fake birds, flowers and interior accesories. I can tell you of every change they have made since the 60's. The resturant was called Mac Donalds before it was the El Coyote. My fav dish is the Spanish Omlette with fiedo. It comes with their combo salad with a fantastic thousand island dressing. This omlette is about the size of a football oven baked and fantastic!

    Try it and let me know what ou think about it !

  14. I've been enjoying your posts so far. You've even convinced me to eat at Toad House, after passing it twice a day for the past 8 years. I thought "hey, I agree with the way this guy thinks about food."

    Until I got to this review.

    I have had the misfortune to eat at El Coyote twice in my life. It is an experience I will never repeat. First, there are the irritating crowds of hipsters to fight through. Once that ordeal is passed, why, then there's the food.

    It's not a matter of customizing properly. I could customize a spoiled egg and motor oil sandwich and it will still taste like crap.

    It's not even a matter of "authentic" Mexican. I'll happily eat 1930's-style Mexican-American from El Cholo on Western, in fact it's one of my favorite places in LA.

    No, the reason El Coyote fails is that the food is poorly made from low-quality ingredients. The lettuce was wilted and brown. Everything was overcooked, greasy, and looked incredibly unappetizing. My friend found bugs in her salad. The guacamole was gray. From start to finish, my two trips to El Coyote were two of my very worst dining experiences ever.

    The margaritas aren't even all that friggin' strong and they taste like floor varnish. My suspicion is that that's what they're made of.

    I apologize, but I had to get that off my chest.

  15. Anonymous2:11 AM

    If you enjoy it that is all that matter, and really you do not know, any better because you did not grow up with real Mexican food. A place like el coyote has become diluted; it is not being cooked for Mexicans it is being cooked for strangers and money. By the time, most people are ready to eat, their hammered on margaritas made with cheap tequila. You cannot go wrong with any caliber of Mexican food after that. If I would have brought my mother there for dinner, I think she would have slapped me. You want to try a restaurant recommended by a Mexican food snob (me) try "Casita Del Campo" in silver lake just try I guarantee you taste a difference.

  16. Anonymous2:12 PM

    Anyone who doesn't like El Coyote just doesn't get it. Hey, please stay away... more fun for the rest of us. Food poisoning? Sounds like a mental problem. Stay home and eat Jello. Food poisoning indeed... 3 times? What a joke!

  17. Re: last-Anonymous-but-one, I've eaten at any number of "real" Mexican places (which of course they aren't because they're not in Mexico), including Casita del Campo. They can be good, bad, or indifferent. All I know is, if your mom would slap you for taking her out to dinner, she sounds kinda bitchy!

    And last Anonymous, I think you're right. I've been going to EC for twenty years, hundred or thousands of times, with hundreds or thousands of people, and no one I know has ever gotten food poisoning there. More likely that poster simply had one too many margaritas!

  18. I've been going to El Coyote since I was a toddler. I'm 63! My dad was born and raised in W. Hollywood, and my parents dined there as early as the early 40s, when they were dating. Love ALL of it. Even though it's no longer listed, I always order the guacamole dinner. Love the house margaritas do much that I make them the same at home! We always feel like we are at home at EC!

  19. I've been going to El Coyote since I was a toddler. I'm 63! My dad was born and raised in W. Hollywood, and my parents dined there as early as the early 40s, when they were dating. Love ALL of it. Even though it's no longer listed, I always order the guacamole dinner. Love the house margaritas do much that I make them the same at home! We always feel like we are at home at EC!

  20. Thank you for your un reservedly joyful El Coyote loyalty. I'm jonesin' for a green corn tamal this very minute, and I wouldn't reject that salad with those crazy 'stains everything' purple canned beets. Yum--true and classic LA.
    Sleepless in Sarasota