All week, R and I had been trying to decide where to go after we got our bar exam results. Good or bad, we knew we were going to want some good food and a beer. We just had an amazing (expensive) steak dinner at David Burke’s in Chicago not too long ago, so we decided somewhere more casual would be just find with us. After tossing around the idea of a DTLA or Pasadena happy hour, we decided we both deserved to get nice and boozy. We didn’t feel like taking the train (yes, LA has a Metro rail), so we decided to check out a Salvadoran restaurant that’s about a 10 minute walk from our home.
El Buen Sabor is located in Mt. Washington, where we normally tell Angelenos we live because no one has ever heard of Montecito Heights. At first look, the restaurant looks “fast-foody” with its plastic booths and dishes and those red plastic baskets for chips or fries. It reminded me of a place early twenty-somethings would stumble into post-bar (the other kind of bar) in Lakeview, Chicago. But, after hanging out there for three hours, we realized El Buen Sabor is much more than a place you stop in for a quick burrito.
First, the beer. We opted for the Salvadoran beer because why not? The Regia is pretty much your standard mass-produced lager, but with a bit more flavor than Tecate. It was served in a frosty cold mug, which makes everything better.
Next, the food. I really liked my chili relleno stuffed with pork. The meat was juicy and whole dish was packed with flavor. R said his burrito was okay, but not wet enough for him. That man loves two things: wrapped foods and wet foods; combine them and you’ve got one happy R. I also really liked the mixed pupusa with pork, beans, and cheese served with a cabbage slaw and a red spicy sauce.
Saving the best for last, the people. This is definitely a restaurant where we “stuck out” as being the only non-Latino/a people. I noticed a couple curious looks when we first sat down. Nothing offensive like, “What are they doing here.” More like, “Hmm, I wonder how they found this place.” While we were drinking our beer another customer who looked very much like a Latin Gene Simmons asked us if we liked the Salvadoran beer. He seemed genuinely friendly and interested in us and impressed that we went with the Regia (although, now that I think about it no one else in the restaurant was drinking it, so maybe he was wondering why were were drinking that instead of a Bud Light).
Toward the end of the meal they started the karaoke. I fought back the urge to sing that’s coded in my Korean DNA and listened as a woman sang Hotel California and a series of Spanish songs. At this point, there were maybe six tables of people who all seemed to know each other enjoying the music.
As we were getting ready to pay and head out, a man motioned for us to join us. I wasn’t sure at first if he meant us, but since we were the only ones on that side of the restaurant, it seemed like a logical conclusion. R and I thought, why not?, and joined them. After introductions with our new friends, a group of 50-something year old El Salvador-born Angelenos, we ordered another beer. They were so friendly and welcoming and kept trying to get us to sing.
One man in particular really took an interest in us. Tito asked us where we were from, how old we were, and a bunch of other questions that prompted his wife to jokingly scold him for being so nosy. In his slightly “broken” English, he told us that we looked very happy and happiness is everything. He told us he had been married for 35 years and that love is everything. He gestured to me, Korean, and R, not Korean, and said, that us together was beautiful and said, “Race? Bullsh!t. It’s just love.”
By the end of our night, karaoke turned into more of an actual show with Latin Gene Simmons on guitar and one of our new friends singing. Before their first song, our new friend said something in Spanish but I was able to pick out my name, “Korea”, and R’s name. We said our goodbyes and thanked them for inviting us over. They thanked us for joining them and invited us to come again the next night when the duo would be performing again. As we were leaving, R pointed out that they had just started to play Stairway to Heaven and were probably playing it for us because they stopped once we walked out.
So, after finding out that we passed the hardest bar in the country, we didn’t go to a fancy restaurant, we didn’t get wasted (although those were some pretty big beers), and we didn’t do anything that could potentially get us disbarred (a favorite saying among lawyers). But, I did get to hang out with my favorite, eat good food, and connect with some really nice people whose warmth just put a big smile on my face all night. A pretty awesome way to celebrate, if you ask me.