8200 West Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90046-2414
Open seven days. MC/Visa/AMEX. Free parking.
For much of my life, the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Havenhurst, just west of Crescent Heights was one of my favorite corners in Los Angeles. As a twentysomething cartoon geek, I'd make occasional pilgrimages there to visit the Dudley Do-Right Emporium, the only place (back in the pre-Internet era) where you could buy officially licensed Jay Ward merchandise. I'd load up on Mr. Peabody figurines and George of the Jungle t-shirts and worship the iconic statue of Rocky and Bullwinkle outside the doors..
Alas, the Emporium closed permanently in 2004 (though the statue blissfully remains), but I'm going back to that corner regularly again. Not to see and be seen at Bar Marmont across the street. I'm there for the stellar Mexican food at Pinches Tacos.
There is so much to love about Pinches. First there's the name. If you don't even speak that much street Spanish, well... you need to get out more, but it's translated in the title of this post. Suffice to say goes well with puta and cabron. Beyond the name, there's the pleasant corner location, where you can sit on the shady sidewalk patio and watch entourage-laden Escalades and Range Rovers pull up to the Chateau Marmont. And there's the fact that this tiny establishment offers... wait for it... free pinche parking! On the Sunset Strip, this is pinche rare and pinche awesome. Pinches is open til midnight, but stretches out to 3:00am Thursday-Saturday, for those late night post-club burrito needs.
The interior is perfect for a taco stand, and surprisingly down to earth for such a high rent location. Except for the Dayglo pink exterior with the bright blue neon sign on the side, it feels like any friendly neighborhood taqueria. Sombreros and the usual pictures of Mexican revolutionaries, artists and chanteuses adorn the walls. The menu is written on a white eraserboard, and features a deceptively simple array of tacos, burritos, tortas, sopes and enchiladas.
The food is perhaps best described as a meeting point between the Yucatecan stylings of the hip but overrated Lotería restaurants (at Farmer's Market, on Hollywood Blvd. and in Studio City) and your local taqueria. The servings at Pinches are larger, the offerings more kitchen-sink; my wife often complains that Lotería doesn't put enough "stuff" on their tacos and burritos. At Pinches, burritos ($7.50-8.95) come with the works: beans, rice, guacamole, onions, cilantro and salsa. Tacos ($2.00-2.95) come with whatever the chef thinks belongs on that taco. No overachieving salsa bar here: they give you what's good for the goose, not the gander.
Al pastor -- though a little dry for my taste; those who prefer a gooier, sweeter pork will want to go for the excellent marinated pork adobado -- comes with a sweetish red. The delicious Angus beef grilled carne asada comes with onions, cilantro and a fiery roasted salsa verde. The Veracruz style pescado comes with a well-matched slaw and an medium-spicy roja that adds a little heat without overwhelming the delicate fish flavor.
Ingredients are excellent and carefully prepared. The guacamole is tangy, chunky, perfectly seasoned; rice is fluffy, seafood items fresh and tender. Like Lotería, their rich black chicken mole is a star here, and especially nice to be able to get in that big burrito format -- with all the "stuff."
In addition to the standard taco and burrito fillings, there are California touches like optional wheat tortillas, and a unique array of unusual regional items: Oaxacan cheese enchiladas ($7.95), cactus tacos ($2.00), and taquitos or flautas filled with potato and Manchego cheese ($2.95-3.95), corn on the cob served street-vendor style, and homemade guava flan. But let's face it, you're probably getting a burrito or that 3-taco combo plate (a bargain at $8.95) pictured above.
True, prices may be steeper than your local taqueria, but hey they gotta pay the rent, and... isn't that pinche Lindsay Lohan naked in a window across the street?
And if you're like me, when you walk back to your freely-parked car, you can take a few extra steps and take a moment to bow your head to Rocky and Bullwinkle.