MBy Merv Hecht

This week I write again about a particular dish instead of a particular restaurant.

We all know that Mexican food is wildly popular in Los Angeles. But from what I see, the top dishes are Tacos and Burritos. Huevos Rancheros is pretty popular, and various mole sauces are appreciated, but my favorite dish, Chile Rellenos, is far behind.

There is a lot of variation in Chile Rellenos. I used to see them on menus stuffed with various meats, especially shredded pork. I never see that any more, and I miss it. Today what I see is a traditional cheese stuffed chile in a tomato-based sauce. But there are still a lot of variations.

The first question is what kind of chile to use. Most of the time I see the poblano chile, which is not very spicy. I wish a hotter chile was used. Second is the kind of cheese to use, and usually I think either jack cheese or something similar is in use. I don’t like cheddar cheese in this dish. Third is whether to use a thick fried batter or a thinner batter, and to me it’s clear that the thinner batter makes for a tastier dish. Fourth is the sauce, how much, how thick, and how spicy. This separates the men from the boys.

For me, the cheese and the sauce should not overpower the chile, as happens in many of the restaurants I frequent. So, for example, at Tepeyac & Tequila Sports Bar in the City of Industry, one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in that area, they serve a chile that is a bit too large for my taste and is overstuffed with cheese and is over-sauced. It’s not bad, but it’s too rich and too much for me. That said, it’s a really good restaurant. It’s even worse at Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica. This is my go-to place for tacos, with the best salsa bar and hot sauce in town. But the Chile Relleno is a disaster. First of all, the chile is so small you can hardly find it and it is totally smothered in tomato sauce and cheese.

A nice variation on the dish can be found at El Cholo on Wilshire in Santa Monica. The Chile Relleno there is more round than oblong and is stuffed with something more like a cheese soufflé, which makes it much lighter. I don’t prefer it that way, but some people will like it.

The main reason I go there is for the sauces. The sauce served on chilis just about everywhere is not spicy. I like it hot. El Cholo has a collection of five sauces, two of which are really hot. However, you have to make a special request for them, as the regular “gringo” sauce they serve is bland. Their habanero sauce is really great, served slightly warm.

Surprisingly, Kayndaves Cantinas in Pacific Palisades, best known for its mole sauce, serves a good, customary Relleno, not over breaded, but in a somewhat bland sauce, and they don’t have a good selection of the hot stuff. Their only hot sauce is from green chilis, and lacks the right flavor for this dish. Their red sauce is mildly spicy and you have to request that as well.

I’ve been trying Chile Rellenos all over the west side the past few months, and there’s not all that much difference. Nowhere have I found the meat stuffed variety so maybe a reader or two can help me out there. But for me the perfect rellano is at Lares Restaurant on Pico. The chile is the right size, the breading not intrusive, the sauce not overwhelming, and the cheese not too strongly flavored. They serve it with tortillas, and I usually cut off a bit of the relleno, and put it with some of the cheese and sauce into a tortilla and roll it up. Heaven! And a good feature is that they have a really hot red chile sauce to put on the relleno – but, of course, you have to special request it. The regular salsa is not bad either.

My friend Jorge Quiroz took me to the opening of Lares about 40 years ago, and I’ve been going there ever since. Sometimes they have guitar music, but it’s gotten too popular and too crowded at times. But you can’t beat their Chile Relleno!

Tepeyac & Tequila Sports Bar
13131 Crossroads Pkwy South
City of Industry, CA 91746
(562) 695-2277

El Cholo
1025 Wilshire Blvd,
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 899-1106

Kayndaves Cantinas
15246 Sunset Boulevard
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
(310) 459-8118

2909 Pico Blvd,
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 829-4550

(Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law. In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books. His latest book is “The Instant Wine Connoisseur” and it is available on Amazon. Or you might like his attempt at humor in “Great Cases I Lost.” He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and beverages, including wines, internationally. Please send your comments to: mervynhecht@yahoo.com.)