Thursday, February 20, 2014

Leaving on a Jet Plane By Way of Hawthorne

Zacatecas Mexican Restaurant
13737 Inglewood Ave. 
Hawthorne, CA 90250

Well it's been like three weeks, so it must be time to take Chuck and Stephanie to LAX, for their almost monthly trip to South Carolina. Okay, they really don't go that often, but I think they went five times last year. Our reward for taking them to the airport is of course Stephanie's great company, and Chuck buys us dinner at the restaurant of my choosing. One of my favorite things to do when we are headed up this way is to do the research on where we should eat. I have gotten us to some pretty good spots, and some pretty mediocre places. I had high hopes for this trip to Zacatecas.

We left OC at 7PM to make it up to Hawthorne by 8PM. Chuck usually makes this a white knuckle ride with his driving, but on this particular night he was particularly safe and speedy. He must have been hungry. They had a red eye flight, so we had plenty of time to eat, relax, and catch up. Zacatecas is located a few blocks away from the freeway, on busy Inglewood Avenue. It's easy to miss this place, so if you've gone past 137th Street, you'll need to turn around and keep a better lookout.

Zacatecas is actually a lot bigger than it looks from the outside. Long and narrow in size, this is a locals place that features a bustling to go business, with a walk up counter, just to the right of the front door. Even at 8PM, they were doing a brisk business at both the take out counter and in the dining room. We were directed to a table, and given menus. The menu here is pretty good sized, with a lot of the usual suspects that you see on Mexican restaurant menus. Nothing on the menu was over $12, so we really let Chuck off easy on this trip up the 405 Freeway. This might be why he was in a better mood after looking at the menu. Let's see if we will be sending Chuck off to South Carolina with a great meal or not.

As is customary when we eat in a Mexican restaurant, we always start off by checking out their Chips and Salsa. I was pretty happy with the salsa at Zacatecas. It had a decent amount of chunk to it, and it had a rich flavor. A very good salsa, that I ate more than my fair share of. The chips were pretty good as well. Fresh, with a nice crunch to them, they did a great job of holding up to the salsa. Stephanie likes things a little more spicy, (except when it comes to men, sorry Chuck), so she asked for a hotter salsa. They brought out this Green Salsa, which was hotter, but lacked the depth of flavor of the red one. We joked that we should have mixed the two, which probably would have been a pretty good idea.

While we were ordering, I asked the waiter what the most popular items were, and he mentioned this one first. Chuck swooped in and got the Costa Azul ($11.25) before I could snag it. Bacon wrapped shrimp stuffed with cheese. How can this ever be bad? Chuck was in such a generous mood that he even allowed me to have one of his five shrimp that came with this. The bacon was cooked crisp, the cheese inside did not overpower, and the shrimp was pretty good sized. I liked the contrasting flavors here, with the smokiness of the bacon, the brininess of the shrimp, and the smooth cheese. This came with rice, beans and a generous dollop of guacamole.

When we walked into Zacatecas, I had a pretty good idea that Katie would be getting her usual dish when eating in a Mexican restaurant, Chicken Fajitas ($10.25). This heaping plate of chicken, red and green bell peppers, and grilled onions did not come with the usual sizzle and steam that most fajita plates leave the kitchen with. This more subdued version was definitely to Katie's liking. She felt the chicken was very tender, but what pushed this to the forefront of one of her top fajitas was the seasoning used on the chicken. It elevated this above others she has had in the past. The corn tortillas were good, and with the amount of chicken here, she had enough for five tacos. Well worth the ten dollar price tag.

The other item that the waiter mentioned as being one of the best sellers is this Tom's Burrito ($7.25). This big burrito was sure to send Stephanie off on her vacation the right way. Filled with carne asada, beans, sour cream, onions, and then topped with a medium green salsa and cheese. Lucky for me Stephanie could not take leftovers on the plane, so I had the other half of this for breakfast the next morning, and it still held up. Very good carne asada inside. I liked this green salsa better than the hotter version we had with the chips. It's easy to see why this burrito is mentioned so often in their Yelp reviews. This is the thing to get at Zacatecas.

The menu did not have my usual order of carnitas on the menu, so I ventured out with this Carne Asada ($10.25). When I ordered this I thought it was going to be shredded, but it came in one big piece. It was cooked to a nice medium rare, and was pretty tender in spots. I used flour tortillas to make a few tacos, and then just ate the steak alone the rest of the way. This came with beans and rice, which were actually pretty good. The rice stood out more to me than the beans, which is a rare thing because I usually like beans more than rice. A solid plate of food, but I'd get the burrito the next time.

Zacatecas did have carnitas on their menu, but only in taco form. Since Chuck was paying, I made sure I got to try a Carnitas Taco ($2.25) before I left. The carnitas were pretty good, even though they lacked the natural greasiness that usually accompanies the pork. They still turned out to be pretty tender, while providing enough flavor. I would have liked a little more pork on these. There were like two big hunks, and then some secondary shreds thrown in.

When we were waiting for our check, we were given this Flan. I had read in the Yelp reviews that they have a habit of giving this to their guests at the end of their meals. None of the four of us are really into flan, but we all kind of liked this version. Not as sweet as others we have had. The caramel might have been bruleed, to form the hardened top of the flan. The bottom layer was moist, with just enough sweetness. A very nice send off for our friends Chuck and Stephanie.

Zacatecas was one of the better finds we have had on our numerous LAX trips. If you want fine dining, this might not be the place for you, but if you want good, honest Mexican food, at an affordable price, in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, give Zacatecas a try. I was not wowed by my plate, but both Chuck and Stephanie's choices were very good. Even with a full restaurant, the service we received was great. We did not wait very long for drinks, and our every request was met. I'm sure that Chuck and Stephanie will be making many more trips to South Carolina this year, and it'll be hard for us to bypass this little gem in Hawthorne.

Out of five bars of silver, (because the Mexican state of Zacatecas is home to two of the largest silver mines in the world, lending to Mexico being the largest producer of silver in the world), five being best to zero being worst, Zacatecas Mexican Restaurant gets 3 bars of silver.

Zacatecas does not have a website, but you can find more information about them on their Yelp page, right here:

Zacatecas on Urbanspoon

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