Ah, the good old days. The early '60s, when dinner for two at the best restaurant in the United States, Le Pavillon in New York City, was $50. You could roar through the streets on a '62 Ferrari 250 GTO that cost you less than $10,000. And you could open a little restaurant in Redondo Beach for $700, which is what Arthur Pesqueria did in 1960 when he started El Indio.
Today, dinner for two at the best restaurants in the country will run about $400. That '62 Ferrari GTO has gone for over $10 million at auction. But not everything has gone haywire, because at El Indio you can still get a satisfying and filling meal for under $4.
Pesqueria was only 24 when he opened his restaurant, but he had been plotting its premiere for years. The fire was kindled at age 12, when he started helping his mother make tamales. At 19, Pesqueria got a job at McDonnell Douglas, and when he was a few extra bucks ahead, he would buy pots and pans for the restaurant he had in mind.
By the time he was 24, on the basis of that $700 investment, he was the owner of El Indio. It wasn't a smash success from the start. Pesqueria worked the restaurant alone from early morning till late at night, averaging $15 a day gross sales. But he stuck with it.
"I loved the business," he says. "You've got to love what you do to do a real good job." His enthusiasm for his work slowly began to garner attention and the place began to thrive.
The Mexican fare at El Indio is tailored for families who don't want fire in their mouths. If you're in search of a burning sensation, this isn't the place. However, the food is very popular. Even on weeknights, there is likely to be a full house enjoying the large and tasty dishes.
One of the bestsellers is the chile colorado burrito ($3.45): big, tender chunks of pork mixed with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes, topped with cheese, guacamole and sour cream. Another is the roast beef taco ($1.50)--shredded beef and grated cheese filling a lightly fried corn tortilla.
For those wanting to concoct their own Mexican dishes, the restaurant opens early to sell freshly ground masa for tamales, fresh corn tortillas and assorted chilies and sausages.
El Indio is at 2523 Artesia Blvd. (310) 370-0038. Open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.