Thursday, September 25, 2014

The New Kids In Town: Lola's Baja Tacos and Main Kitchen Cafe

Ceviche.
After food truck night, the corner of Balboa and Chatsworth is on its way to becoming Granada Hills’ new favorite dining destination, with two recently opened spots — breakfast and lunch joint Main Kitchen Café, and ceviche specialists Lola’s Baja Tacos. Both are delightful in their own ways, and both should serve as notice that the perpetually disappointing Pampas, right next door, better step up its game.

Pampered Granada Hillsians typically whine if there’s more than 20 feet between their parking place and their destination’s door, yet ironically, it's the ample parking that may be Lola’s Baja Taco’s undoing. Set back from Chatsworth Street behind a small parking lot, the place is easy to miss, especially since buildings on either side come right up to the sidewalk, and since the same location has been home to at least a half dozen unnoticed failures over the course of its history. Yet Lola’s, one desperately hopes, will finally be different, because they do nearly everything right.

The near blinding acid yellow of the paint on the wall is a hint of what’s to come. Order the watermelon mint or cucumber lime aguas frescas, but don’t finish your beverage before the entrees arrive — save some to accompany the meal. Lola’s food is aggressive with spice and tang, to great effect. It’s just the lively flavors one hopes for but so often doesn’t get, especially this far north of downtown. We had to order a second basket of chips to offset the acid of the ceviche and the heat of the salsa, but it was a good kind of hurt.

Dessert was a fried glazed mango and ice cream dish, which I was afraid might be cloying, but was actually a delightful balance of hot and cold, rich and sweet. Some complain about the prices at Lola’s, which are way above the typical taco stand’s, but Lola’s isn’t the typical taco stand — it’s way above.


 
Tin plate breakfast at Main Kitchen Cafe. 
Not as aggressively cute as that other breakfast and lunch joint, Joe’s Cafe, Main Kitchen occupies a space that’s a wee bit more spacious and a lot more sunny. The décor is plain, yet fresh and clean, the best feature being a counter nestled right up against the kitchen, making diners feel like part of the action as you watch your food being lovingly yet efficiently prepared by the chatty chef/co-owner, who sings along to 80s and 90s tunes on the radio as he works.

There’s the breakfast basics, plus a few nice additions like frittata, eggs Benedict, a breakfast burrito, and a lemon ricotta granola parfait. Lunch is similarly based in fundamentals — burgers, BBQ pulled pork and turkey Panini sandwiches, as well as a pesto chicken salad and a flawlessly executed fried chicken sandwich.

How you feel about lunch here will in large part depend on how you feel about tater tots. They're served with everything. It’s a campy alternative to ubiquitous French fries that brings back warm, oily, salty memories of grade school cafeterias and college hangover breakfasts. But if you’re the sort of person that thinks s/he’s outgrown that sort of thing, stick to the salad.


I could quibble (though it was still a good sandwich, the pesto chicken seemed essentially pesto-free, and I wanted a higher-rent cheese in the beet salad), but that seems like a waste of time given the scarcity of charming, independent, bricks-and-mortar dining options in this franchise-dominated town. I'd rather just spend my time sitting at that counter, sipping coffee, and watching the cook sing.  



Lola's Baja Tacos, 17027 1/2 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills

Main Kitchen Cafe, 17013 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills

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