The evening is well underway, and I’m hungry in the incredible food city of Los Angeles, but rather than eating in the digs of some talented chef, I’m sitting in a touristy octogenarian Fairfax cantina. Why? Because 35 years ago when the busboy with the feathered ’70s hairdo whispered “gracias” and flashed me a dazzling smile as he cleared my plate, I fell in love with El Coyote. Back home in Philadelphia, the guys in my ninth-grade class ignored me, and the closest I got to Mexican food was a 45-minute drive with my older brother to a suburban Taco Bell. But in L.A. at El Coyote, I was flirted with and the enchiladas suizas were loaded with chicken and sweet onions; they were bathed in a spicy, tangy tomatillo sauce and gooey with the Monterey Jack cheese that puddled around them. My West Coast aunt ordered the cheese enchiladas; they were earthy with red chiles. She snuck me a sip of her margarita, and I thought this old joint was the most marvelous of Edens. I still do. The busboys are just boys now, but the enchiladas being placed before me at my table right now, with their crowning dollop of sour cream punctuated by fresh cilantro? Those have stayed in my heart.
7312 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA