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RESTAURANTS: EARLY BIRD

Yxta Cocina Mexicana

The owner of a dining mainstay opens a downtown L.A. site named with a nod to a former instructor.

March 09, 2009|Jessica Gelt

Walk east down 6th Street from Broadway and you'll find yourself in skid row. On either side of the street are budget hotels, grimy bodegas and down-and-out folks searching for a bite of food or a bit of change. Continue to Central Avenue and you'll hit a strip mall anchored by a free-standing new restaurant called Yxta Cocina Mexicana, named for Loyola Law School professor and writer Yxta Maya Murray, who painted Echo Park gang life in vivid keystrokes in her well-regarded 1997 novel, "Locas."

Peer through the glass front door and you'll see a pleasant dining room and bar with an open kitchen, whitewashed brick walls with curved corners, high ceilings of arched wooden rafters, stacks of silverware rolled in cloth napkins, polished wood floors, and a rectangular, dark-wood bar backed with shiny tiles.

It's an odd juxtaposition to be sure: This restaurant is an outpost at the end of a tough street, far from the scene of much of downtown's rampant upscale development. However Yxta's owner Jesse Gomez (who also owns Highland Park's 45-year-old, family-run institution El Arco Iris and took a class from Murray when he was in law school) chose the spot knowing he had a built-in clientele. "Where do you go for a nice, sit-down Mexican meal in the area?" he asks.

The space housing Yxta has long been a restaurant, and Gomez frequented it when it was Central City Cafe, which buzzed during lunch hours. Gomez expresses concern about drawing an evening crowd to his 2-week-old restaurant, but with free parking and the precedent set by Church & State -- just a few blocks southeast and helmed by former Bastide chef Walter Manzke -- he may find the task easier than he expects.

The food alone might do the trick. Handmade tortillas, juicy, slow-cooked carnitas, piquant enchilada sauces and salsas, Mexican sweet shrimp with mojo de ajo and lime rice, and flaky grilled seafood are just a handful of items on the menu. A full bar -- with large margaritas and a curiously delicious escabeche martini -- is also available, along with an appropriately discounted happy hour menu.

So what does Murray think of the new spot? "She still hasn't been here," says Gomez with a grin. "But she says she's coming soon!"

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jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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Yxta Cocina Mexicana

Where: 601 S. Central Ave., L.A.

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.

Price: Appetizers, $6 to $12; entrees, $10 to $22; happy-hour margaritas, $5.

Contact: (213) 596-5579; www.yxta.net

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