About the only affirmative thing that can be said for Austin’s Steakhouse is — they’re consistent. From start to finish, every last detail about our most recent visit and meal was bad. Shockingly awful. I’ll address these numerous shortfalls of what’s considered the premier restaurant located inside the Texas Station Casino in this blistering review:
One of the perks of betting lots of sports is generating a large amount of free casino comp dollars.
Over the past eight months, Marieta and I have been afforded the unique opportunity to pretty much wolf our way through the entire menu of dining options at the various Stations-owned casinos, located around town. This includes a couple of dozen quite good restaurants scattered throughout the Las Vegas valley — inside Red Rock, Green Valley Ranch, Palace Station, Santa Fe, Fiesta Henderson, Fiesta Rancho, Sunset Station, and most recently, The Palms (which Stations recently acquired).
Last night, I attended a local beer tasting here in Las Vegas.
I’m not really much of a beer guy. Oh yeah, I went through that childish phase some time ago. Okay, the childish phase lasted two decades. Maybe three. I admit it — I used to love my beer. I still do. But, the truth is, I can’t slam down cold pints of golden brew like I used to, because it makes me fat as all fuck.
Screw you people for confronting me with the truth.
I have a lopsided love-hate relationship with beer. I love it. I love it. I love it. But, it hates me. Beer makes me bloat like a puff fish. After I drink 3 or 4 or 12 beers, I feel like a beached whale. I’m Tony Montana all powdered up like a coke fiend drunk on his own supply. Let me tell you something. It’s embarrassing as shit when you have to poke a screwdriver into your leather belt to punch one more notch so your pants will stay up instead of drooping down to your ankles. The beer-drinking fatties will likely get that reference. We all done that, haven’t we? The rest of you — please carry on.
The Words and Wisdom of Jonathan Gold (a.k.a. food critic of the Los Angeles Times)
A food writer reveals the local ethnic restaurant isn’t just a cozy place to eat; for millions of new immigrants, it’s the modern-day highway to the new American dream and a reflection of who we are
If sprawling boulevards lined with ethnic restaurants up and down the sidewalk define the cultural boundaries of our greatest cities, then food writing and the art of criticism have become our culinary cartography.
In Los Angeles, one of the world’s undisputed food capitals, that makes restaurant critic Jonathan Gold the city’s Ferdinand Magellen. Voyaging atop his exploratory palate and innate gift for empathy, and later persuaded by the scribe of his fondest recommendations and “Best of….” lists, when we read Gold’s words we’re taken on a circumnavigation around the globe, sometimes without ever leaving the same zip code.
Within this seemingly endless urban checkerboard of combustible cultures, a city where where a fabulous new Korean restaurant is typically be wedged in between a Dunkin Doughnuts and a Dollar Store, distances in and around Los Angeles aren’t measured in miles. Distances are measured by time — as in the amount of time if takes to drive from one place to another. Even a seemingly short drive of just a couple of miles can take an hour or more during the busiest time of day, and in LA, at whatever the hour, it always seems to be the busiest time of day. This fact of daily life and living has made the automobile here, more than in any other city, the extension of one’s personality and an advertorial moxie.
Tasty barbecue shouldn’t be slathered beneath a pool of barbecue sauce. That is, unless it’s a tasty sauce.
When the barbecue sauce is shitty, wanna’ know what happens? The barbecue turns shitty, too — that’s what happens.
When you slather shitty barbecue sauce atop barbecue of undetermined quality, we’ll never discover if the barbecue was any good or not. That’s because it’s slathered beneath a puddle of shitty barbecue sauce, turning the whole fucking plate into an unsolved mystery.
One would expect Bakersfield to be a terrific barbecue town. The city’s outskirts are ringed with giant cattle farms in California’s Central Valley. Cattle roam in green fields eating their way a bite of grass at a time to warm waiting plates of carnivores who are passionate about their barbecue. If those poor beasts only knew of the horror that eventually awaits them, to be humiliated beneath a slathering of shitty barbecue sauce, they’d probably chose something different. Then again, they can’t make choices for themselves. Because, after all, they’re cows and besides — there’s no such thing as free will.
When I first heard El Cholo was the favorite late-night hangout for actor Jack Nicholson right after Laker games, I knew this was the place to visit.
El Cholo first opened up in 1923. It was founded by Mexican immigrants who nurtured their family business and handed down secret recipes over multiple generations to the present day. Nearing a full century in business, El Cholo has since expanded outward to other locations throughout Southern California. However, the original flagship restaurant location remains at 1121 S. Western Avenue, just a short distance from downtown Los Angeles.
There’s lots to love about El Cholo, which has varied meanings in the Spanish language — from “peasant farmer” in some Latino regions to what’s regarded as a derogatory term, particularly in Peru. Jack Nicholson’s tastes and his endorsement aside, there were a number of things which attracted me to try out this historic location, most of all its authenticity and obvious recognition of its heritage.
Legend has it that the dish we all know as “nachos” was introduced here during the 1950’s. According to El Cholo’s restaurant history which is posted on the wall in the lobby area, a former waitress named Carmen Rocha crafted nachos in San Antonio, before moving later on and introducing the dish to Los Angeles at El Cholo, where she worked up through 1959.
One of the most impressionable things about El Cholo is the “Louis Zamperini Room,” which is named after the Los Angeles native who was once an Olympic athlete (competing in the 1936 Games held in Berlin) who later enlisted in the U.S. Army-Air Corps, was shot down over the Pacific Ocean, miraculously made what was then the longest survival on a life raft on the open sea in history, only to be followed by capture, imprisonment, and torture in a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan during World War II. If this story sounds familiar, last year’s movie “Unbroken,” based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand was based on Zamperini’s life. Any place that honors such a remarkable man in this special way with his own dining room, complete with photos of the genuine hero who died last year at age 97 merits a visit in my estimation. [Note: My review of Hillenbrand’s book can be read HERE]
With so much going for it, I really wanted to like El Cholo. But blatant honesty can be a painful thing. Unfortunately, I probably won’t repeat as a customer. I can’t recommend this historic establishment for at least a couple of reasons. Before I get to these critiques, first here are a few positives.
El Cholo makes a fantastic margarita on the rocks. I ordered the house specialty, which was splendid. Everything about this staple of Mexican cuisine was perfect, from the generous portion served, to the kosher salt on the outer rim, to the frothy shaken ambiance atop the cocktail, to the float of Triple Sec, to the exceptional lime-based mixer which was as good as any margarita I’ve ever had outside of Dallas.
The layout of the restaurant and ambiance as also quite pleasant. The adobe architecture throughout — both inside and out — which divides several rooms into different sections provides for an unexpected quaintness, even though this is a large-scale operation capable of serving hundreds of covers at a time. One gets the feeling that a discovery has been made — a nice quiet restaurant no one else knows about, although that’s the furthest thing from the truth.
The food is also pretty good. Not great, but generally pleasing. I say this having enjoyed so many Mexican meals in so many different cities that I’ve now lost count. Yes, I do know what great Mexican food is — and on a scale of 1-10, this gets a solid “7.” My dinner included two beef enchiladas rolled in corn tortillas. I also ordered the New Mexico-style green chili sauce (not a fan of the usual red sauce), which gives the dish a bit more kick. I added a chicken taco. The platter came with the customary rice and refried beans. The standard chips and salsa were fine (chips were warm, a good sign). Salsa was a bit of a bore — nothing special.
So, where did El Cholo go wrong? Here are two criticisms.
First, the service was atrocious. I felt like the invisible man during most of my one-hour stay. I waited for what seemed like forever to get served. Then, the waiter barely came around at all. I was forced to rely on a busboy who didn’t speak much English (most of the staff were Mexicans). Contrary to what I often write, I tend to be very tolerant of slow service and miscues. However, this entire episode was unnecessary and unforgivable. The restaurant wasn’t busy (I dined late in the afternoon). But each time I needed something, a member of the staff would be around but never make eye contact (something which drives me crazy). I resorted to shouting at one point in order to get someone’s attention. One supposes that Jack Nicholson never had to resort to these measures.
Whack! Here’s Joooohny!
Second, was the lack of value. The bill finally arrived (after considerable begging for the waiter’s attention), which amounted to a whopping $35.45 for one patron. Seriously, who in the hell spends $35 on Mexican food, with just one drink and no frills? $35? I could have eaten in Chinatown for a week and bought extra lottery tickets for that amount. I did some quick calculations and the enchiladas must have run about $20 (about 33 percent higher than average elsewhere based on my experience), plus another $6 for a chicken taco, then $10 for a margarita. In hundreds if not thousands of meals over the years, I may have tipped less than 20 percent only a handful of times, but given the non-existent waiter and being engulfed with neglect from start to finish, I tossed two $20 bills on the table and stormed out. Fuck it.
What a shame. El Cholo should be much better than this. Based on the utter lack of value combined with the abominable service, I must strongly recommend dining elsewhere. There must be hundreds of Latino-themed restaurants in and around Los Angeles which are far superior. Next time, I’ll embark on that discovery.
Postscript: Special thanks to Jessica Welman, who once lived in Los Angeles and graduated from USC which is close by. She recommended El Cholo based on its reputation but was also careful to warn me that it might not be the same place that it once was. Welman, who previously recommended Philippe the Original to me (another Los Angeles institution) remains undefeated in her culinary assessment. [READ MY REVIEW OF PHILIPPE THE ORIGINAL HERE]