Tacos and cocktails play nicely together at the lively Roadside Taco in Studio City
Roadside Taco (which is not to be confused with Roadside Tacos in Carlisle, Iowa!) is not where you go for a quiet, contemplative meal with an old friend who’s going through a midlife crisis, and needs a shoulder to cry on. It’s where you go with a bunch of homies who want to drown their crisis — midlife or otherwise — in an ocean of exotic margaritas, accompanied by piles of tacos, mountains of nachos, heaps of street corn, and globs of guacamole.
You go to this Studio City phenomenon with the right attitude, and you’re gonna come away crazy happy, well-stuffed, and in need of an Uber. This is not where you bring your existential angst — unless you want it chased like the morning fog in a windstorm.
The road that Roadside is on the side of is Ventura Boulevard — though it’s easy to drive by the high fence that surrounds the space and not notice it, as you wonder where the well-concealed freeway on-ramps could possibly be. It used to be home to a would-be trendy called Xen Lounge, a late-night hang with a business statement that informs: “Xen is a celebration of life. Industry professionals, celebrities and locals love to taste laugh and unwind at Xen Lounge.” Roadside doesn’t have a statement of purpose; it just is.
And what it is, is a non-stop party. On weekends, there can be a bit of a wait to get in. And once you are in, and nab a table, the waits have just begun. There’s a line for the counter where you order your food. There’s a line for the counters where you order your drinks. And in this case, surprisingly, strikingly, amazingly…waiting on the lines is…okay. These are not lines at LAX, where the overwhelming sense is cattle on their way to the slaughter.
Here, the music is loud, friends schmooze and schmingle everywhere, and happy is the dominant motif. I’m not entirely sure how they do it; maybe there’s something that exudes from the plantings that line the outside dining area wall.
And do note: Outside is what Roadside all about. I suppose there’s some sort of roof covering, and heating units that will roll out if our weather ever turns chill and wet again. But in the meantime, with summer running from March to November (or thereabouts), Roadside is a warmly cool destination all year round. And a notable hot spot in which to bend the old elbow; the cocktails outnumber the dishes, which works just fine in the party vibe. With an “After Work Roadside Marg” in hand, the world is a much rosier place. And the roar of the nearby Hollywood Freeway fades into just white noise.
There are numerous margaritas, made with both tequila, and mezcal — which is essential tequila but without very good manners; where tequila raves, mezcal rants. They both get the job done in the end. And then, there’s the madcap world of “Specialty Cocktails,” which range in exoticism from “sounds tasty” to “say what”?
On the more rational edge is the Bloody Maria, made with “assorted peppers” and tequila, a fine drink for those of us with a taste for the spicy side of the street. On the other hand, drinks like Slice of Heaven push the edge of what’s properly in a cocktail. It’s described as a mix of “homemade cinnamon syrup, pineapple amaro, apple/pear liquor, cherry bark vanilla bitters and La Adelita Blanco Tequila.” Aside from the tequila…what is that stuff? And does it really matter? If you’re in the mood, it’s there to keep the mixologists well-occupied.
Far more down to Earth are the tacos, inspired (according to the menu) by the taco rituals of TJ, Mexico City, Baja, Michoacán, Sonora, Jalisco, Salvador and the Yucatan — a culinary tour of Mexico and beyond. It’s Where the cocktails may cause some befuddlement (both in the ingredients, and in the drinking), the tacos are made with stuff we know — carne asada, chicken, marinated pork al pastor, carnitas, cochinita pibil, chorizo, fish, shrimp, and even turkey picadillo. Cauliflower too, and mushrooms.
The guac is fresh, smooth and as spicy as you want. The chips got their crunch on — and a choice of six sauces to keep them going. There are seven add-ons to make the big nachos even bigger. There’s both street corn on the cob, and esquite corn off the cob — both with chipotle aioli, cotija cheese, cilantro and Tajin spice.
Once seated, with a drink in hand, and a chip to chew on, life feels very good at Roadside. This is a Roadside you want to linger at, where the vibe sets you free from the stress of the day, and of city life.
Xen was pushing for “industry professionals and celebrities.” Roadside is for the rest of us. Roadside rocks, Roadside rolls. Roadside reminds that — in many respects, at least — COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. … I’ll drink to that!
- Rating: 2.5 stars
- Address: 10628 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
- Information: 323-284-2400; www.roadsidetaco.com
- Cuisine: LA Taco & Cocktail Culture
- Atmosphere: A non-stop party, in a completely open space on Ventura at Lankershim, with lines to stand on for drinks and food, and a happy crowd of revelers knocking back the margies and inhaling the tacos. This joint is all about the fun.
- When: Lunch Sunday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday
- Details: Full bar; no reservations
- Prices: About $18 per person
- Suggested dishes: 14 Tacos ($3.95-$4.25), 8 Sides ($3-$8), 23 Cocktails ($10-$30)
- Cards: MC, V
- What the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A good place to go for a meal. Worth a trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry, and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic going.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)