Entertainment & Arts

SCENE SETTER: Mexico Restaurante y Barra

Diners enjoy food and drinks on the patio at Mexico, a new Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times)

A woman in impossibly high heels and the sheerest of black shirts wiggles her way across the patio of Mexico Restaurante y Barra in West Hollywood. She passes a table of sedate retirees contentedly munching on tortilla chips, a trio of wolfish metrosexuals with too much product in their hair and into the waiting arms of her girlfriends, who squeal with joy and thrust a margarita into her manicured hands.

Mexico Restaurante y Barra: The Scene Setter feature in Monday’s Calendar said that two patios at Mexico Restaurante y Barra in West Hollywood overlook Sunset Boulevard. They overlook Santa Monica Boulevard. —

Mexico, owned by Larry Nicola, the genial lord of leisure behind Nic’s Beverly Hills, has been open for only about a month and a half but has already carved out a niche as a party palace. On a recent Thursday night, the two-story restaurant hosted no fewer than three birthday parties. Servers dressed in vacation-chic attire rushed between tables delivering plates of chunky made-to-order guacamole studded with thick bits of tomato and laced with lime juice; crispy pork carnitas; kettle-fried red snapper Veracruzano in a light, salty tomato-based broth loaded with fat green olives; and carne asada with sliced avocado and vinegary escabeche.

Then there are the margaritas. At Nic’s, Nicola is known for his creativity with vodka and his eye for garnish. At Mexico, it’s the same, only with tequila. A satisfyingly complex choice is the Silveranno, made with Corzo Silver tequila, muddled cucumber, serrano chiles and lime sour. Then there is the honey-kissed Ruby, which wraps grapefruit juice, Corralejo Reposado and basil in a salty embrace. The old-fashioned margarita is done right too, but beware: The drinks will set you back about $11 apiece, and they go down awfully fast.

On the flip side, the food is reasonably priced for the neighborhood, around $14 for an entree, so the check tends to balance itself out.

Nicola refers to the atmosphere at Mexico as “Acapulco poolside” and says he was going for the feel of a backyard in Mexico. The restaurant’s somewhat gaudy exterior looks as if it were built in three days and resembles the boxy, multilevel concrete restaurants and bars that dot the streets of Mexican vacation towns. The walls are painted bright pink, and a giant lighted sign on the building screams “Mexico.” There are two Santa Monica Boulevard-facing patios, one on the ground floor and one just above it. The homey mismatched furniture is from salvage yards. The resulting ambience is spruced-up spring break.

And Nicola knows from spring break, having spent time in his youth surfing down the coast to the little fishing village of Sayulita and on to Oaxaca. “The fish we make here is something I ate on the beach every day,” he says. Now if only you could surf home after all those margaritas.

Mexico Restaurant y Barra

Where: 8512 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

When: 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Price: Margaritas, $10 to $15; appetizers $9 to $12; entrees $13 to $16Contact: (310) 289-0088;

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