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THE MIXER

Dollar Taco Night: Hard shell, easy sell

July 27, 2006|Liam Gowing | Special to The Times

IF you take a drive down Pico Boulevard in West L.A. on a Wednesday evening, you'll probably find yourself rubber-necking toward a small sea of humanity on the sidewalk between Barrington and Granville avenues. What's the fuss? Could it be a swanky new club opening? A Brangelina sighting? An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on a break? Nope. It's just Dollar Taco Night at Don Antonio's.

"It was my mom's idea," says Adam Castellanos, manager of the restaurant and youngest son of owners Esteban and Esther Castellanos. "We always had a pretty good end of the week and into the weekend following, but during the middle of the week, the place was dead. So my mom came up with Dollar Taco Night and it's been a hit ever since."

Legendary among Westside natives and tuition-challenged college kids from nearby UCLA and Santa Monica College since its inception in 1987, Don Antonio's Wednesday night promotion has definitely been a smash.

"The last time my friends and I were here, we waited an hour and 45 minutes for a table," says Lourdes Vasquez, a bubbly 20-year-old UCLA student and restaurant regular. Far from complaining, she says it was worth the wait: "Once you get inside, the service is fast, and it's like tacos galore!"

Galore indeed. Despite their price tag, Don Antonio's tacos are pleasantly plump affairs. On a hard shell, there's grilled chicken or ground beef (both with a zesty onion-tomato relish) or refried beans or fried potato (both with parmesan cheese). On soft corn tortillas, there is grilled sole with cabbage or carne asada with guacamole.

The other menu items are moderately priced too, with giant burritos from $4.50 to $6.50, and decadent combination platters from $9 to $15. And the food isn't the only attraction.

The "cave room" -- a spelunkers' paradise decorated to look like an underground cavern with stucco stalactites hanging from the rocky ceiling -- has a beguiling theme park atmosphere. The outdoor patio, sequestered from the parking lot by giant ligustrums and faux-aqueduct walls, is a big draw for smokers.

And the bar is always off the hook. From hip-hop honeys to bleach-blond skater-punks to college students, it's a cross-section of the Westside singles scene.

It's mighty crowded, though. The lucky folks who find an open patch of Spanish tile within its confines need a drink just to stay cool while they wait for their tables.

There are no happy hour specials; the drinks are priced as they would be in any modest restaurant.

Apparently, Senora Castellanos knew exactly what she was doing.

*

Don Antonio's

Where: 11755 Pico Blvd., L.A.

When: 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday (closes at 10:30 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday)

Price: House margaritas, $6: beer, $4; entrees, $9 to $15; burritos, $4.50 to $6.50; lunch specials (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), $5; tacos, $2.50 to $3.50 (99 cents from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesday)

Info: (310) 312-2090

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