December 30th, 2018
Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. I find myself sitting on the couch falling into a gloom. In said gloom I begin to review the year concluding. I’ve made a habit in my adult life of stealing a moment in the final days of December to look back on the year that’s about to pass. It’s a tradition I’ve found value in. Some years it’s fine remembrance, and pride in accomplishments and some years it’s good riddance and I hope the door hits you hard on the way out. 2018 was neither my best, nor my worst year on this planet. I suppose that’s most years. After some contemplation of my 2018, I decide what I really need is to kiss it off with revelry. Goodbye 2018; thanks for the 30 NIGHTS premiere, Dad’s 70th, thank you for Paris, San Mateo, thanks for friends and lovers, good food, for all the wine and wine knowledge, for my health, Thanksgiving, Yankee baseball, every single belly laugh and always, thanks for Harlow. Good riddance 2018 struggles; the moments of sadness, worry, fear, disappointment, uncertainty, missing friends and family, shoulder pain, all things Orange Menace, toxic atmosphere, fires, overblown political correctness, Bourdain’s exit and the Red Sox championship. December 30th, I know tomorrow night’s the main event, but that’s really all about ringing in the New Year. This, as you can see, is about farewells. So we are gonna Irish wake the year. The undercard will be me, solo and just for me, sending 2018 off in a style. I need someplace festive, I think. And what’s more festive then Salsa & Beer?
A few year’s back I was making conversation with a stranger at my then bar when he asked me where I lived. When I told him North Hollywood he said, “The best Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles is there, right? What’s it called?”. He proceeded to tell me how his friends are obsessed with the place and took him once. I ran through a few Mexican places I knew;no dice. He literally called the bar later that night when he found out the name. I wrote it on a bar napkin.
North Hollywood is, as advertised, North of Hollywood. Crazy, right? Over the Hollywood Hills and into the Valley. Ventura Blvd is the main fairway in the San Fernando Valley and the first major street you hit over the hills. Running parallel the boulevards stretch north; Moorpark, Riverside, Magnolia, Burbank and so on. Generally the closer you are to Ventura, the nicer the homes, restaurants and shopping. The further north you go…you get the picture. Salsa & Beer is in deep North Hollywood. The ride there turns less and less scenic with each passing block. Sketchier, dirtier, more rundown and more industrial the closer you creep. This has zero impact on Salsa & Beer’s popularity. It’s always a party. Generally there is a line of cars just waiting for the parking lot. The valets engage in an automotive Tetris each night working hard to maximize their capacity. When I arrive this Sunday at 2:30 PM a crowd is gathered outside and a wait for a table is forty minutes. I have never visited when it wasn’t mobbed. Luckily, since I am alone, I snag a seat at the bar, (of which there are two, bars that is). Margarita por favor!
I run my tongue over the salted rim and then swallow a gulp of the tangy, citrusy liquid. Good Tequila, fresh lime juice and agave is all you need to make a first class margarita. While we are at it, fun fact about Tequila; it’s a natural stimulant. This distinguishes it from all other alcohols (Vokda, Gin, Whisky, Rum, Wine and Beer) which are natural depressants. Thanks blue agave plant! This is also the reason so many people have “bad nights” on Tequila in their youth. It affects you differently than any other booze. You never see it coming. I do. Right into my belly.
The bar stools at Salsa & Beer are very comfortable but ,oddly, the bar is not. The stools are wood and wicker. They are huge, with generous base and back. But the bar top barely extends past the foundation. As a result you need to keep a little distance from the bar unless you want your legs pressed up against it, but this becomes challenging when the food comes. I’ll find out soon enough; my steak quesadilla appetizer is on it’s way. My only other knock on Salsa & Beer is that they serve a slightly spicy bean dip with their chips. Salsa & Beer.
When I first sat down at the bar the couple to my right seemed to mark me with suspicion but it was barely a speed bump on PDA Highway. As they neck and grope I survey the landscape. Dim lighting, Spanish tile, wood beams and fixtures and a steady stream of sizzling fajita dishes passing through the crowd for color highlight the atmosphere. The demographic is mostly Hispanic which, when I was younger, would always make my parents comment was a good thing. Not like they had a thing for Hispanics, but if we ever ate out at any ethnic cuisine and the large majority of diners were of that ethnicity they would mark it as, “a good sign”. Salsa & Beer boasts to be “authentic Mexican food from Jerez Zacatecaz”. My research team, (Google) shows me it’s a town and municipality located pretty much smack in the middle of Mexico and is known for fruit and dairy production. Also my research team keeps correcting Zacatecaz to Zacatecas. I got nothing here. I had to look five times at the website to make sure I was spelling it correctly for the search. Back at the restaurant the make-out couple next to me declines the flautas the runner presents, insisting they ordered taquitos instead. He holds his ground and glares at them like a stone cold killer. Rapted by the excitement, I hold my margarita with both hands in front of my lips eagerly awaiting the next move. It’s all I can do to stop myself from yelling, “Fight!”. This runner is for real and he is not swerving!
The steak quesadilla now resides in my tummy. I order a second, large margarita. Don’t worry I took a LYFT. It’s the modern choice for responsible intoxication. On the TV the LA Rams are finishing their playoff tune-up by trouncing the 49ers. It’s not my sport but I’ve always thought this place would be a great place to watch a game so I am making do with what I’ve got. A live band with drums, maracas, and tambourine in full, traditional Mexican regalia makes it’s way through the restaurant. I bounce a little. My carnitas plate has arrived. It’s fucking fantastic. The Tequila working it’s magic has me set upon it like the wild carnivore I am. In a little while I’ll roll out the door to meet my LYFT home. Before that happens I eat and drink and drink and party in my brain some more at the always lively and uber festive Salsa & Beer. Yes, so long 2018!! This is me saying a proper goodbye to you as I wash you away with carnitas and margaritas. To the year that was.
P.S. That “tequila effecting you differently” moment, likely in your youth… at least yours didn’t involve a clown suit. Fittingly, below was New Year’s Eve.