You really can please everyone with dinner at La Cabaña after seeing “Isle of Dogs”

Tacos + Margaritas = Happiness at the unpretentious La Cabaña

By Angela Matano

If you’re not a fan of animation or superheroes — and I’m not — watching movies with a kid like my son, Amos, is more of a chore than a diversion.

One of the few exceptions, for our family anyway, is Wes Anderson’s terrific “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Already a 21st-century classic, it showcases the director’s natural charm and wit in a way that gets my 8-year-old cackling in delight and I don’t feel like I’m slumming.

When word of a new Anderson stop-motion feature reached me, I was thrilled with the promise of a film the whole family could enjoy, bursting with crackerjack humor and visuals to delight my son, my husband, and myself. And boy does “Isle of Dogs” succeed.

The simple tale of a boy and his dog writ large, Anderson’s story takes place in a fantasy version of Japan, in the fictional city of Megasaki. Overwhelmed with canine pestilences, the citizens struggle to find a solution. The mayor, really more of a cat guy, decides to banish all of the diseased beasts to Trash Island, the city’s dump.

When a young boy goes on a quest to recover his beloved Spots, the ensuing adventure mixes rip-roaring fights, energetic chases and glorious scraps. A multitude of characters voiced by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Kunichi Nomura and Koyu Rankin brings something to the table for everyone. My only
gripe is the lack of tough female characters. Time’s up, Wes! Girl dogs can rough-and-tumble just as well as boy dogs can.

“Isle of Dogs” showcases a raw, jolie laide beauty that makes even garbage look surprisingly attractive. Like the Combine Painting of artist Robert Rauschenberg, Anderson elevates objects that would normally be dismissed as junk to a place of honor. Old sake bottles, striped garbage bags and crumpled paper get Anderson-ized from junk into treasure.

The best place to celebrate the perfect family movie is, of course, a restaurant where everyone feels comfortable and leaves happy. Every family has its own special watering hole — the place for birthdays, special occasions and shared memories — and for my family it’s La Cabaña.

I went to La Cabaña as a child in the ’70s, and the restaurant’s cool, dark interior has been a backdrop for various and sundry combinations of parents, step-parents and significant others. The cheese enchiladas — a sincerely basic version of the classic dish, with loads of melted Colby jack and a mild ranchero sauce — ooze comfort from every pore.

And so it is for my son. Like me, his favorite restaurant is La Cabaña. From the moment solid food showed up on his radar, the restaurant’s creamy guacamole made its way from his fingers to his maw. As Amos has gotten a little older, he drinks up the mild salsa like it’s gazpacho. Sometimes he drinks two bowls. The beans, refried and smothered in cheese, make their way inside the homemade corn tortillas, hot from the comal, a chiminea-like oven. The Spanish rice, mild and just a little sweet from the tomato sauce, also finds itself folded into impromptu burritos.

The rest of my family wades further into the menu than Amos and I, stuck in a delicious rut of our own making. Fish tacos, shrimp burritos and chile verde all crowd our booth, the table already laden with hot, greasy chips, the aforementioned guacamole and steaming tortillas.

The food at La Cabaña, exactly the same as it was 40 years ago, bears little resemblance to the Mexican food favored by health-conscious, food-snob Angelenos. Not a thing on the menu references provenance. In fact, the whole place thrums with the vibe of good times past. Margaritas, by the glass or pitcher, go down easy. Sweet and sour, the flavor enhanced by something artificial. These cocktails boast of absolutely nothing artisanal: No muddled herbs. No macerated fruit. What a relief!


“Isle of Dogs” is now playing at Arclight Santa Monica, Arclight Culver City and The Landmark.

La Cabaña is at 738 Rose Ave., Venice. (310) 392-7973; lacabanavenice.com

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