The Location: El Vez at 13th and Sansom
The Time: Sunday evening at 8:30
The Occasion: “Hey guys its restaurant week and we don’t have work tomorrow, let’s go to dinner!”
El Vez is the self proclaimed “Mexican-American meets East L.A. in a Tijuana taxi” restaurant which is a hip way of saying they specialize in modern Mexi-Cali cuisine. Sounds cool right?
I dined here one time previously for my friend’s bachelorette party, but we focused a little more on the margaritas than the food, so I was extremely excited to give El Vez another try. Since it was restaurant week, they were offering a 4 course pre fixe menu which seemed like a good opportunity to sample a wide range of the traditional menu.
The first course was definitely the highlight of the meal. I ordered the tuna tostadas which were little bite sized corn tortilla chips topped with thinly sliced seared tuna and a spicy pineapple salsa. They were awesome and I inhaled them in about 2 minutes. My friends both ordered the guacamole and it was some of the best I’ve had in the city. El Vez actually specializes in made-to-order guacamole so it definitely did not disappoint.
Unfortunately, things just went downhill from there. For the second course we all ordered the tortilla soup. I found it to be kind of watered down and flavorless. It wasn’t bad, but as I was eating it, I kept thinking I could make this better at home. I hate when that happens. I want to feel inspired, not bored, when I go out to eat.
The main course. Ugh. The main course. I wanted so badly to love it. It sounded so good. But it was just ok. We all ordered the pork chop with pineapple salsa and black beans and rice. My pork was cooked perfectly but I found it to be over seasoned. It was very salty, requiring me to chug my water after every three bites. The rice was either over-cooked or under-cooked, I’m not sure which, but it was definitely hard. The black beans were very good though and I cleared those right off my plate.
Finally the only word for the dessert course was underwhelming. The two options were a tres leches cake and an orange flan. They both were fine, but far from memorable.
Actually, underwhelming is probably the best way to describe the food at El Vez. If I go back, I think I’ll just stick to the margaritas and guac. Or maybe I’ll give the tacos a try, because they looked pretty good!
I actually really like the atmosphere as well as the location of El Vez. It is modern and hip and matches the whole “Tijuana Taxi” theme quite well. The bar area is huge so I’m sure it makes for a really fun happy hour and they have large, comfy, round booths that are perfect for dining with a group. There is also a photo booth which is a fun touch, although I have yet to give it a try.
Here’s where things get shaky… the service. I felt like it was slow on my first visit, but it was 7:30 on a Saturday night, so it seemed understandable. The place was packed and I’m sure understaffed for a weekend night. But then it happened again. On a Sunday night at 8:30. Trust me when I say things were not busy when we got seated and dinner still took forever. Service was just slow and boarding on inattentive We waited a good twenty minutes for our pre-made desserts to arrive at the table after we finished our entrees. Everything about the evening felt a little… well… off.
El Vez may be the most over-hyped restaurant in center city. Or maybe we just had a bad experience, because people rave (I mean go absolutely nuts) about this place. It is next to impossible to get a weekend reservation and every time I walk by it is packed. I just don’t get it. To me, El Vez is just average.
The whole thing is strange to me too, because El Vez is a Steven Starr restaurant, and anyone who knows me, knows that I am usually the one going nuts over Steven Starr joints. I jumped on the Starr train a long time ago, and never plan on hopping off. I’ve literally never been to one I didn’t like and always think he is spot on brilliant at nailing the exact right theme and cuisine for a given neighborhood. El Vez just doesn’t do it for me.
Do you know what does do it for me though? Steven Starr’s El Rey. It is unpretentious Mexican street food at its finest and has arguably the best happy hour (and margaritas) in town. Sorry El Vez, I’m never cheating on your sister El Rey with you again.
Bang For Your Buck:
I’d say that 4 courses for $35 is a pretty good deal, but I would never recommend paying full price for the entrees. The tacos, salads, guacamole, salsas, etc on the regular menu are still a bit pricey, but much more reasonable than the entrees. I think your best bet is to come and split a pitcher of margaritas and some appetizers with friends, but pass on dinner.