Two Psychobillies walk into a Mexican restaurant on Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles. One is Mexican-American, one Australian; both are musicians, both fans of Vampira, both hungry. Only, one of them has a secret: he doesn’t eat onion or coriander. This is their story. And my story as well, cause I was also there. Finding the best Mexican joints in LA is a bit like trying to pin down the best Thai food in Sydney: overwhelming. ThaiRiffic, ThaiTanic, ThaiFoon, BowThai, ThaiNoon, AppeThaising; it gets a little Thairesome. In LA there’s El Cholo, El Ranchero, El Pueblito, El Gitano, El Nopal… And, El Coyote. Bloody ‘ell! Now, if lucky enough to have stumbled out of the LA glare and into El Coyote, it’d be a rare gringo who would turn to leave. Fairy lights, vinyl booths and buxom senoritas wearing long, frilled skirts and peasant tops? THE END. Epilogue: You can also get ostrich meat tacos there. It’s our penultimate day in LA, and the Psychobillies decide to meet for one last lunch. In the courtyard, over a red vinyl clad table they talk about who’s playing in what band and – “your Sprite, mijo”, our senorita interjects – which bands are touring and which bands are the best but not touring anymore. It’s a secret, Psychobilly language I don’t understand, but have always enjoyed listening to; names like ‘Strangy’ and ‘Köefte’ now as familiar as they are alien. Those times they saw The Cramps play; that time they met Vampira; Jonny Koffin is the best; Halloweentown; who rests in Hollywood Forever cemetery… It’s the same enthusiastic, spooky conversation from our visit three years earlier, minus the band-practise-induced-tinnitus. The senorita waitress brings us our complementary corn chips, black and regular (yellow, Wiz Khalifa?) and a selection of salsas from mild to sweat-inducing hot. When this happens I do two things: wonder why there are no complimentary offerings at Australian restaurants and then proceed to eat all of the complimentary corn chips and wonder why I ordered food. Until the food arrives. On the advice of the local Psychobilly and for only $6.50, we each choose the especiales (special) chicken street tacos (tacos, from Chicken Street). Three small, perfectly formed corn tortillas, topped with grilled chicken, chopped onion, fresh coriander and a wedge of lime. That’s it, no messing about. As two of us enthusiastically tuck in, one gingerly scrapes away some onion and wonders if the coriander will give him a headache… before giving up and hoeing in. Psychobillies and holiday guts are tough.
It hurts me to disagree with AA Gill. My fantasy is that we will one day meet, perhaps over lunch with Sir Elton John or Jeremy Clarkson, wearing snappy neckerchiefs and matching smug smirks, then arrogantly stare each other down and… well, I’m blonde. Surely it’s no biggie for him to replace one with another? But then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like, ‘There Is No Such Thing As Nice Tex Mex Food.’ Slammed back to reality – where I don’t wear a neckerchief (well, not often), nor dine with rich fat cats – I bring you Exhibit A in the case against AA Gill: Guisados. (Hear: BING-BING! dramatic Law & Order sound effect). Somewhere in the 1000s on Sunset Boulevard, in Echo Park Los Angeles, my first hint that Guisados will be great is that it looks so bad. What is it about an open, utilitarian kitchen and sticky, vinyl-topped tables that denote something deliciously special? Ugliness bordering on unhygienic neglect is my beacon for the best South East Asian food. Heck, a stray cockroach and ‘out of order’ restroom practically make my mouth water. Now, I don’t know to where AA was referring when he wrote this: ‘The things that weren’t simply odorously disgusting hurt like scrubbing your uvula with a rusty wire brush,’ but it can’t have been Guisados. And though it nowhere resembles a Taco Bell, I still fit Guisados into the Tex-Mex category, both due to its geography and for the sake of this argument. I realise authentic Mexican food can be served outside of Mexico, but I’m not Mexican enough to confidently call this authentic Mexican food. I am, however, Mexican enough to say, ‘ay caramba! Guisados is goood!’ On the advice of a local (Angelino, not Mexicano) we order the sample plate of six perfect tacos ($6.99). You hear me, Gill? Perfect [per-fekt] tacos [tah-kohs]. The handmade corn tortillas are small, earthy and carby. Not thick, gluey dinner plates, or sweet as I expect, but pleasingly, mildly savoury. Which is a relief, cause the various pulled pork and braised chicken toppings make me pant like a carsick cat. Here’s the thing: I love me some Tex-Mex, but holy hot-and-spicy-Jesús, I am no hero when it comes to heat. Here’s the other thing: though quite hot, there was certainly no ‘uvula-scrubbing’ pain at Guisados. The heat here is flavour. Where usually I find chilli-hot foods completely numbing, to the point of rendering taste or enjoyment impossible, Guisados-hot is different. I can taste chilli, sure, but I can also taste the other hallmark spices of Mexican cuisine: cumin, garlic and oregano. In Spanish they call it, ‘equilibrar’. We make short work of the six small, spicy, perfect tacos. And had I known my flight would be delayed two and a half hours, I would have demolished another six. So, hey. AA? In my revised fantasy, I imagine the two of us sitting across a sticky-topped table at Guisados, with a cup of their sublimely sweet, almondy, cinnamony, heavenly-Horchata ($3) between us. As we sup you look me arrogantly in the eye and declare, ‘you’re right. You’re SO right. You’re always right.’ Then I peel my elbows off the table, lean across and smugly adjust your jaunty neckerchief.