When ‘Mexican’ means atmosphere more than food — the thing about the seventy-year-old-plus El Coyote Cafe in Los Angeles is not that the food’s great. It isn’t. Not necessarily HORRIBLE, mind you, but you are not going there for the food, in that it’s LA and the amount of uncountable and thoroughly fantastic great Mexican places, in all their variety and regional differences, can’t be imagined. Instead it’s generic food, the kind of step up from the unfortunate Taco Belling of the nation’s tastes which means you look down rather than up at the menu you are ordering from and there’s full waiter or waitress service and all that, but still, it’s mostly grease with lard elements. On a rainy night like last night, that was actually very lovely, but otherwise it all just tends to sit in your stomach poorly.

So why go? Those of us in LA ILX world and related parts like it for a couple of reasons, and it wasn’t just convenience to the New Beverly Cinema last night that we suggested it for the visiting Lady Ms. Lurex, from New Zealand and here on a two month or so vacation. First is the fact that the margaritas are really pretty damned good, in a number of varieties but all in all very tasty. Ms. Lurex had never had one before so it was a fine introduction to that most joyous of drinks, and she approved heartily. I was one of the few people who asked for salt with mine, maybe no-salt is the new trend, I never pay attention to these things.

But frankly it just also looks good. Somewhere between affection and camp and vague knowledge of what ‘Mexico’ is like. That’s why the inside looks like this:

It’s a very LA thing, I think, to interpret the experience this way, and though I’ve seen similar restaurants try for it many other (non-Spanish-speaking) places, El Coyote is top of the line. The photos actually don’t get the best measure of the place, in that the flashes are too bright — take the lights lower, turn up those smaller light strands a bit, have everything not too dark but not too bright either, the seats are comfortable and the fresh chips keep coming along with your margaritas. It’s a pity we only had a little bit of time there that night, since the movie schedule demanded an early departure, but it’s a great place to socialize, and that’s often all that matters.