Mexican food has a new place to shine — at El Gringo in El Segundo

Enchiladas come with a choice of sides at El Gringo restaurant in El Segundo. (Photo courtesy Yelp)
Enchiladas come with a choice of sides at El Gringo restaurant in El Segundo. (Photo courtesy Yelp)
Scrambled egg with chicken and guacamole (Photo by Merrill Shindler)
Scrambled egg with chicken and guacamole (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

EL GRINGO

★★½

Address: 422 Main St., El Segundo.

Information: 310-648-8788, www.elgringo.com.

Cuisine: Mexican.

When: Lunch and dinner, every day.

Details: Full bar. Reservations helpful.

Prices: About $15 per person.

Cards: MC, V.

For a long time, when it came to down-home Mexican food in the South Bay — to the flavorful world of enchiladas. tacos, burritos, tamales and the many combination plates that we love so well — local loyalties were split between the more casual El Tarasco chain and the more upscale El Gringo chain. Both are good, and even better than good, especially when the need strikes. Both offer a lot of food for the money. And with the opening of a new branch of El Gringo in El Segundo, both have four branches. Though in the case of El Segundo, El Gringo has upped the ante, with a shop that offers — yes! — a full bar.

This is where you can have your ensalada del mar with a margarita, seated on the outside patio that made the former occupant, Farm Shop, such a pleasant destination. Over the years, El Gringo has evolved from a land of tacos, enchiladas, burritos, into a Mexican mini-chain offering much more. Including some terrific salads, sandwiches, burgers, bowls and serious dinner dishes. El Tarasco is where you go with your buds. El Gringo — especially in El Segundo — is where you go on a date. Or even with the folks.

The menu tells us that the El Gringo chain was born in 1986 in Hermosa Beach, in the oddly shaped building on the hill that descends from Manhattan Beach. I remember going there when it first opened — and encountering a wild scene that was pure barely controlled Hermosa.

BRIEF HISTORY

In 2001, restaurateur Bill Graw purchased the original. And grew it with somewhat less raucous branches in Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and now El Segundo — and a menu that’s a world beyond the original.

At the new El Gringo, you can ask for blankets if you’re sitting outside, and feeling a tad chill, watching the sports of the moment on the numerous big screens. While you consider craft beers on tap, versus Mexican beers in bottles — the question being, are Corona and Dos Equis more appropriate to guacamole than something from Smog City Brewing or Ballast Point — you might sooth yourself with a cup of the Xcholti Soup, a South of the Border cousin of Jewish chicken soup, made with avocado, tomato, cilantro and rice. Instead of matzoh balls, you get tortillas. Which may be easier on the digestion.

If you want to go old school with your burritos, they’re chunky and big, served topped with a red sauce or a green sauce (both mild enough to keep you from gasping), along with melted cheese and a filling of the requisite beans and rice, sour cream and guac, and your protein (or veggies) of choice — carne asada, carnitas, machaca, shredded chicken and so forth.

If you want to go new school, look under the heading, “More Burritos,” for matchups like the taco burrito, the fajitas burrito — or an amazing creation called the Asher Burrito — pollo negro, eggs and avocado with green sauce. All the burritos are also served in bowls, without the flour tortillas wrap, which makes for an alternative experience — a deconstructed burrito with the tortillas on the side.

 AND BURGERS TOO?

The burgers come in bowls as well, but over chopped romaine, which never seems to work for me — the lettuce gets soggy from the heat of the meat. On the other hand, without the lettuce, the bowl seems a bit empty. It’s a puzzlement, though it works if you’re trying to stay low carb.

If you want your tacos simple, go for the quartet of street tacos, with carne asada, carnitas or chicken. If you want them more complex, try the combos with a choice of two sides, and more of that good blackened chicken negro. A pulled pork sandwich isn’t expected, but there it is. And there are five salads as well, including one called “Funky Beets,” that’s far more South Bay than Baja. And just to remind us that they haven’t lost their funk, the surfing monkey logo is still there. With his red striped bathing suit, from back in the day.

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at mreats@aol.com.

EL GRINGO

Rating: 2.5 stars.

Address: 422 Main St., El Segundo.

Information: 310-648-8788, www.elgringo.com.

Cuisine: Mexican.

When: Lunch and dinner, every day.

Details: Full bar. Reservations helpful.

Prices: About $15 per person.

Cards: MC, V.

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