Wheatgrass and carnitas live side by side on the menu at Señor G’s
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
I’m amused when I find a restaurant that specializes in two cuisines that aren’t usually associated with each other. I fondly remember a Korean and Greek restaurant where you could get souvlaki and a side of kimchi, but not a dish with both — it wasn’t fusion, just two unrelated cuisines served in traditional ways. Whether such pairings happen because an owner has a tradition in one cuisine and a passion for another or for some other reason, the result is often delightfully quirky.
Señor G’s in Playa Del Rey, which serves traditional Mexican food and health-club style smoothies, is a good example. Mexico has a tradition of juice drinks called licuados or bionicos but that’s not what is served here. Instead of arcane tropical fruits, wheatgrass, celery juice and other staples of the hippie-friendly juice bars hold sway.
I hadn’t been to Señor G’s in years when I stopped in for lunch recently and decided to sample something from each side of the menu. There’s a long list in each category, but I narrowed the choices down to a juice drink called Green Machine and a “Carlito’s Way” burrito. (My server didn’t know why this concoction of steak, grilled onions, guacamole, rice and beans got its name. I presume that somebody named Charlie likes the combination, because the movie of the same name is about a Puerto Rican ex-convict in New York.)
The Green Machine smoothie arrived first, and the reason for the name was obvious — the mix of green apple, celery, cucumber, kale and spinach juices was the color of a healthy lawn. It had a thick texture and was well balanced between fruit and vegetable flavors, and I was glad I ordered a small portion because a large one would have been a meal.
I sipped this while demolishing a basket of freshly made chips that had a rough corn texture and plenty of flavor. Unfortunately the salsa that came with them was watery and bland, with large pieces of rough-cut tomato that fell off the chips unless carefully balanced. I was offered a hotter sauce and was presented with a squeeze bottle of the most explosive green chili sauce I’ve had in some time. It was invigorating, but I would have preferred something midway between the two.
The Carlito’s Way burrito was stuffed to the limits of the tortilla, and the mix of steak with lime and grilled onions worked well. Refried or black beans were offered, and I chose black because I prefer the fuller, smokier flavor. The burrito was tasty, but so huge that I took half home and had another full meal.
I came back to Señor G’s a few days later and, since the small interior was full and the weather mild, sat outside. It’s a pleasant streetscape despite the cars zooming by, but I’m not likely to sit there again — the tables are wire mesh, so if you drip any of that salsa, it’s onto your pants leg.
This time I ordered a taco salad topped with chicken chili Colorado. The big mound of lettuce surrounded by a ring of corn chips was topped with portions of guacamole, chopped tomatoes and chili, and it made for a nice presentation. The chili was thicker than usual, and though not highly spicy it had full flavors of spices like clove, cinnamon and cumin. For a slightly exotic variant on an old favorite, this dish is worth a try.
I almost didn’t stop in on another day when I had only a light appetite because the portion sizes are so intimidating, but it was time to sample a few tacos. Carnitas is one of my benchmarks at any Mexican restaurant, and I also wanted to try something called Martin’s Kickin’ Chicken. The later is chicken breast and grilled onions in red chili sauce with shredded cheeses and guacamole, and it’s quite a combination. The dish employs a different chili sauce from the Colorado, spicier with a touch of sweetness, and it became one of my favorite items here. Sure, it’s a gringo taco — shredded jack and cheddar rather than cotija cheese — but good all the same. The carnitas was also first-rate, flavorful pork cooked so there are some crunchy bits to give extra texture, with a little spiciness and herbal flavor. I think I’ve found my default meal here: though it wasn’t the light lunch I expected because the tacos were generously stuffed, this was the first time I was able to finish a whole meal at Señor G’s.
The prices here are slightly higher than at many other Mexican restaurants on the Westside, but those restaurants aren’t located a few blocks from the beach. Speaking of the neighborhood, the parking lot here is small, so you may have to find a space a few blocks away. That’s OK though — you’ll want the chance to walk off your meal, because they feed you well here.
Señor G’s open from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily. Find street parking if the small lot is full. No alcohol. Menu online.
Señor G’s, 343 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey. (310) 822-7733 senorgs.com