Editor's note: Farley Elliot usually checks in with reviews of tacos in Los Angeles for Serious Eats, but when a recent taco shop visit resulted in better burgers than tacos, he ended up with a more AHT-worthy review.
8832 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90035 (map); 310-271-0900; mexikosher.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A surprisingly delicious sometimes-only secret burger from a kosher Mexican spot
Want Fries with That? Not really. They're skin-on and thick, but don't have much crispiness
Price: Big Makosher, $13, with fries
It's well understood that when The New York Times comes a'knocking, you open the door pretty wide. For Mexikosher, the aptly named casual Mexican spot in the heart of Pico Boulevard's Jewish corridor, they about flung the hinges off when writer Jennifer Medina stopped by in search of the new Kosher movement in Los Angeles.
The result is a glowing review of both chef Katsuji Tanabe's food and his concept, a slightly quirky, and completely kosher, take on the popular Mexican staples that have been tantalizingly close to restricted eaters in LA for years.
The article has already picked up a fair share of detractors, as opinion pieces are wont to do, but I feel like plenty of people hearing about Mexikosher for the first time as a result of Medina's words are going to miss out on a key piece of info: the Mexican food isn't nearly as great as it sounds. There is a burger, however, that is very worth talking about.
At Mexikosher, all of the food is bit of a conundrum. As a kosher Mexican restaurant, I had expected the beef—particularly the carne asada—to excel. Instead, the wisps of beef inside my $12 taco plate were thin enough to stand in for a Philly cheesesteak, but with half the necessary salt. Alternatively, the charbroiled chicken breast packed plenty of flavor from its "secret Mayan marinade" (which certainly included a hit of citrus), but couldn't overcome its extended time on the grill.
There are a couple of winners on the everyday menu board. The Kosher carnitas, a slow-braised beef and duck confit, is delicate and smooth, pulled to near perfection with just a hint of crisp, fatty edges. Additionally, the orange mango habanero salsa is an absolute delight. If anything, this is the sort of forward-thinking Kosher cuisine that ought to earn Tanabe a few words of New York Times praise.
But the real confusing thing about Mexikosher is what they don't tell you. Well, not at first. See, at the end of the day, Mexikosher is really just a cheeseburger spot with a kosher Mexican food problem. Yes, despite the trumpeting from the New York Times, the not-so-secret burgers are outshining the main offerings, and it's not even close.
Finding out about these burger concoctions isn't hard. They are off-menu evening only items to be sure, but anyone following along on their Facebook page knows that Tanabe and his crew are usually cooking up something special for dinner. In the past, fried egg burgers have garnered some attention, but it's their semi-frequent Big Mac-inspired burger behemoth, the Big Makosher ($13), that should have you running for your car keys. Here, in the griddled and well-salted, cooked-to-medium double patties is the deft handling of Kosher beef that I'd been searching for. The dual five-ounce patties make for a hefty bite, with what I assume is a just-fatty-enough 80/20 ratio. With a spongy sesame seed bun, a slathering of house-made "secret sauce," and a few slices of
processed, from the plastic American cheese American-style vegan cheese, this burger homage can stand up to The Oinkster's yearly Big Mac clone on a good night.
I should add the caveat, however, that it's best to order the burgers sometime in the evening, before it gets too late or the guys in the back haven't had time to prep first. For whatever reason, the front-of-house side of Mexikosher can be a bit harried at times, and the last thing you want is a forgotten patty that's spent a bit too much time on the flattop.
Here's perhaps the most perplexing thing. If my shoddy memory of conversations with kosher Jewish friends is to be trusted, aren't the very ideas of dairy and meat mutually exclusive at the dinner table? How telling, then, that the single best item that Mexikosher—a Kosher restaurant serving Mexican food—serves up is perhaps the most seemingly un-Kosher, iconic American dish available.
That is what's so maddening about Tanabe and his Mexikosher hotspot. His crew can cook up a mean burger when they want to, and the Big Makosher double patty monster is a testament to their abilities. Yet, for some reason, Tanabe doesn't display the same tenacity with the everyday stuff he happily serves to his Jewish neighborhood. All this just makes me wish, despite the kind words from the New York Times, that Tanabe would open up an LA burger joint.
[UPDATE: After being contacted by Mexikosher, I'm told that their American cheese is in fact 'American-style', a confusion that was made during a recent visit. The cheese is in fact vegan and Kosher, which means Tanabe is as dedicated as ever to keeping it Kosher with his burger. I still wish he'd just open up a burger place instead, though. - FE]