Approach Cascabel from the street and all you see of the place is signage. But enter the driveway and you’ll spy the gorgeous, quintessentially LA 1920s Spanish-style house that is Cascabel.
Serving delicious, unpredictable takes on Mexican cuisine, Cascabel is owned and manned by Alex Eusebio, a Top Chef alumni from season five. Born in Spain and raised partially in the Dominican Republic, Eusebio’s been cooking Nuevo Latin food for over a decade. His second local venture (his first, Toluca Lake’s Sweetsalt, has been a hit since opening in 2010), Cascabel goes way beyond the typical combo plate. Actually, they don’t even offer combo plates. But they do serve a number of fantastic fish and seafood dishes, among them four ceviches, along with tacos with fillings that veer from the traditional — carne asada, lobster, or al pastor — to the less common — fried chicken or duck confit. Cocktail fans will appreciate the list of a a dozen well-crafted specialty drinks. There are three dozen tequilas to choose from, along with a dozen mezcals.
What to Eat:
Start with the smokey bacon guacamole. Yes, everything’s better with bacon, and guacamole is no exception. Scrumptious potatoes, sautéed and topped with mole negro, smoked gouda, macha sauce, and a fried egg. Roasted bone marrow with garlic and chile arbol butter. Melty yellowtail ceviche, accented with tequila, grapefruit jus, hearts of palm, pickled jalapeno, and avocado salsa. The duck confit taco, topped with black bean puree, goat cheese, avocado salsa, and pickled shallots. Tuna, nestled in a crispy taco shell with chives, tomato, cucumber, and chile arbor oil. Shrimp ceviche tostadas, topped with charred tomatoes and grilled red onions and refreshingly paired with a fruit salad.
What to Drink:
You can’t go wrong with the Signature Margarita, enlivened with a touch of fresh ginger. I loved the Oh My Guava: tequila, guava, and lime, with just a hint of pleasant heat from guajillo chile salt. Guajillo chile is also present in the lively Fuego Verde, featuring tequila infused with cilantro and serrano chile, along with lime and pineapple. The Mezcal Old Fashioned is a smoky symphony of espadin mezcal, grapefruit, bitters, and agave.
Heather Ward, formerly of Downtown LA’s beloved Bottega Louie, is the pastry chef. I tried two selections from her wonderfully unpredictable dessert menu and loved them both. The heavenly mousse terrine consists of passion fruit cremeux, chocolate sponge cake, guava, and tajin feuilletine. The trio of flans — coconut, lime, and vanilla — is topped with a crumble of piloncillo and pepitas. The panna cotta — salted cajeta, avocado-coconut-lime cream, and lime shortbread — sounds like a must for a future visit, as does the spiced hot chocolate brownie topped with Dr. JJ’s Creamery rum raisin/horchata ice cream and a cinnamon wafer.