El Salto

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I'll admit that the idea of a "cheap eats" Mexican food joint sends electric shocks of fright as well as a foreshadowing of flatulence all through my body. Refried beans for a buck? That's almost as scary as the watermelon-sized hole in El Salto's bathroom wall stuffed with toilet paper and accompanied by a note which read, "Don't you think you should fix this?" Kudos to that previous customer with a Sharpie and a dream.

Armed with two $10 bills and a bottle of Beano, my roommate and I shuffled apprehensively into the little diner-style Mexican eatery. The intricately colorful Mexican murals and green swinging vines were memorable, and I had a sudden sense that I had been to El Salto before -- an embarrassingly painful and partially repressed experience that involved a batch of Jumbo Peach Margaritas, which I refuse to discuss here.

We squeezed our hungry bodies into the third booth, and were immediately greeted by an overflowing basket of complimentary nachos and salsa. Assuming that you, the reader, would be concerned with the possibility of free refills, I huffed them down at record speed -- a sacrifice I was willing to make for the good of "Your broke. Eat here." readers everywhere -- and my hopes were realized with a second batch.

The service, however, didn't go nearly as fast as the nachos. When the waiter finally did show his face again, I quickly discovered that his English was as limited as my budget. I read that El Salto customers often order in the native tongue, so I received an awkward silence and a blank stare when I attemped to order in English. I tried sputtering out some Spanish (if you want to call it that) in a broken, speech-impedimental sort of way. The waiter treated me to a withering glance then wandered away, probably hopeful that if I ever managed to find my way to Oz, there would be an extra brain waiting for me there.

Despite the awful reminder of my 7th grade Spanish oral exam, El Salto's authenticity makes chain Mexican food digs like Taco Hell and Baja Fresh beg for mercy, as the food is so much better than those places can muster. If you're looking for a realistic Mexican experience and can't afford a plane, or even the bag of peanuts, take a chance on El Salto.

Dish: Although the service was slow, the food was so appetizing that I actually caught myself voluntarily dipping things in refried beans. I walked away one or two belt buckles looser, and with hardly a strange noise coming from my digestive organs. My only gripe: I spent three bucks on a bottle of Beano and it was all in vain.

Damage: The menu has a butt-load of options, and it includes combination dinners for indecisive and slightly apprehensive people like yours truly. I ordered the most expensive thing on the dinner menu, a combination dinner of a taco, burrito, refried beans and rice, and it was still only $7.45. That left me enough loot for a large Coke with free refills for $1.65, which brought the total to $9.10. My roommate ordered a different combination meal with two tacos, refried beans and salad for $6.45 and tried out one of El Salto's popular Mexican beers, Negro Modelo, for only $2.95.

Decision: The endless nachos alone are reason enough to come here. Just bring a couple bucks, an empty tummy and a full-body Handy Wipe if you plan to use the bathrooms, and your experience will be a pleasant one.

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