Because the place is so popular, and has cheap valet service, there is usually a wait so reservations are highly recommended. But, the wait is half the fun. Just spend it in the bar – it alone is worth the trip.
The bar has unbelievably good margaritas, the kind that give you just the right ping of tequila; not too much so that you're reminded of that high school party where you blubbered to your best friend that you loved him (and you're a dude), and not too little that you're asking your friends to taste it, certain the bartender slipped you a virgin. No, the real reason the bar is great is because of the people who drink there.
While munching on free chips and salsa you can people watch what will inevitably be one of the most eclectic group of folks ever to populate a bar outside of a sitcom or a Jim Jarmusch film. Yuppies (do people still use that word), tourists from Japan and Idaho, college kids, junior executives with their blackberries glued to their palms, failed writers on their fourth scotch (okay, that was me) and has-been c-list celebrities rehearsing their audition tapes for the next cycle of “The Surreal Life.”
After spending an hour in the bar waiting for your name to be called, the margaritas and the c-list celebrities will have you feeling pretty good about your life and you'll make a mental note to yourself that maybe it's okay to cheat on your diet today – but you're definitely going back on it tomorrow, you swear. This will be the best decision you make all night. The worst, deciding that you always did have a crush on Scott Baio, and since he is sitting at the bar and you probably will never have this chance again …
Somewhere amid all the people watching the restaurant host calls your name and you line up at the front, eagerly awaiting the massive amounts of food you will very soon eat. As you navigate the maze-like interior of El Coyote you realize why there are now building codes. Patios connected to add on rooms, connected to outdoor structures, connected to what was once a house, connected to a banquet hall and so on.
This may not be the epitome of Feng-Shui, but the low ceilings and small rooms strung with Christmas lights provide a cozy comfortable feeling that you just won't get at the El Torrito in Canoga Park; just make sure you leave a trail of tortilla chip crumbs when you go to the bathroom so you can find your way back.
The waitresses, there are no waiters, are all outfitted in flowing Mexican dresses that make them look like they just came from the Cinco De Mayo festival at the county fair, once again adding to the timeless mood of the restaurant. You are immediately served more free chips and salsas, which you will once again scarf down, and failing to heed the wisdom of your grandma, proceed to ruin your appetite.
But, if you can hold back for just one second, you will have time to order guacamole for your chips which is well worth the momentary delay of starch induced satisfaction. The guacamole is perfectly blended, not too smooth, not too chunky, and real avocado, none of that green sour cream stuff other places try to pass of as “Guacamole American.”
I ordered the carnitas and was very pleased when my food came, besides the mandatory rice and beans; there was a pile of tender shredded pork high enough to offend vegans three states over. The meat was flavorful and the warm corn tortillas I wrapped them in were just as good.
My girlfriend had the chicken fajitas which came on a sizzling plate with plenty of peppers and onions. My cousin, who somehow seems to attach himself to any free meal, had the chicken and rice plate. He enjoyed it despite the fact that hew was worried it would be too spicy – he once described a saltine as mildly piquant.
Last but not least I had to try the ostrich taco. What do you know? Ostrich tastes like chicken, actually it doesn't, but the joke works better that way. Ostrich tastes like lean ground beef, and the taco was excellent, covered in real crumbled Mexican cheese, it was the highlight of my meal.
To finish the dinner off, I ordered the flan , which to you food snobs, is crème brulee turned upside down. It was soft yet firm with a slight hint of carmel. It was just the rich dessert I was looking for.
When we finally eased our way out of the table our bellies were full and there was plenty of food left over for lunch tomorrow. Oh to hell with the diet! This place had great food, a great atmosphere, and did I mention Scott Baio?
For reservations and more information, call (323) 939-2255 or visit www.elcoyotecafe.com.