The Wednesday Gastrokid Restaurant Review: Pueblo Viejo, Los Angeles

We’ve all been there as diners (pre-children or on date night) wishing the family of four at the nearby table would just clear out, taking their trail of spilled sugar, knocked-over water glasses, and unruly offspring with them. And then (post-children, on family night) we find ourselves trying to sweep up the spilled sugar, sopping up the spilled water, and attempting to contain unruly offspring. You hear about the restaurants that can tolerate such assaults. They’re usually just passable on a food level, but that’s okay when you feel the need to get out of your house, have someone else cook, and maybe, just maybe, teach your kids some dining-out table manners. Then there are the places that not only handle kids with grace, but satisfy on a culinary level for both kids and parents.

Pueblo Viejo is one such place. It sits on Melrose, near the Paramount Studios, and has a reputation for serving strong, top shelf margaritas for parents and serviceable Mexican food for families. Foodie parent friends had recommended it as the kid-friendly alternative to Lucy’s el Adobe just up the street, where Linda Rondstadt and former California governer Jerry Brown canoodled, and where valets park cars and studio employees enjoy passable Mexican food in a place where the Eagles once partied. My friends who love Lucy’s tell me it’s a perfect place to tie one on when you’ve run out of other options in stumbling distance. In other words, not an obvious Gastrokid spot.

Pueblo Viejo, as we learned on recent visits, is another matter entirely. We’ve gone early, as is G-kid strategy supreme for getting good service. An early, quiet, and otherwise unprofitable hour can turn into a tip bonanza for a savvy waitstaff. Word to the wise Gastrofamilies when it comes to any restaurant: go early, go often. You likely will be rewarded.

The place is cavernous at an early hour, and the bar is always open. The stage in back of the dining room is clearly built for kid-free karaoake, but to our kids provided a large sombrero and a couple of oversized tequila-bottle pinatas for amusement. Jokes of scale are always hilarious to kids. We’ve always been in and out in about an hour and have always appreciated the rapidity with which the kitchen fires the quesadillas, which is a smart thing to order promptly on arrival.

Time it right, and your kids will first snack on the cut jicama and carrots dipped in the mysterious, creamy sauce, and then be chowing down on cheesy buttery sustenance while you enjoy a couple of margaritas. Unbidden, the owner brought out a couple of virgin margaritas, in plastic lowballs, for my kids, which they appreciated for their strawless, tippy, tart nature. Anti-sippy cups in the extreme. Chips and quacamole are what they should be (though the red salsa is a tad too spicy for the kids; let ‘em try it and figure out whether they like it hot or not. Too hot? Have a palate-soothing bite of cheesy, starchy quesadilla). The entrees for the adults inevitably arrive just after the kids have finished their dinners, but the empty restaurant can handle their explorations. The kids go on the stage and dance around. You have a swig of margarita and bite of chipotle shrimp. The kids dance around on the stage. You have two swigs of margarita and a bite of chips and quac. They fall off the stage (luckily it’s only 6 inches or so off the ground). You chat with the owner about how his once little kid is now a waiter there. He tells you he understands how hard it is to eat out with kids. You have three swigs of margarita. You talk your kids off the stage. He asks you if you want another margarita. You say yes. Please. It comes quickly. You drink it quickly. You pay the bill. You tip well. He says come back soon. You will.

Rating: 3 Gs

Pueblo Viejo, 5722 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood California, 323-464-0624

Kid favorites: cheese quesadilla, likely fried in butter; jicama and carrot crudite with creamy dip; virgin margaritas in plastic lowballs
Grownup favorites: limey ceviche served with crisp tortilla rounds; deeply flavored chicken mole; smoky, incendiary chipotle shrimp not to be shared with anyone without a high scoville-unit-tolerant palate
Service: humorous, knowing, empathetic, and, most importantly, encouraging of kiddie culinary exploration
Kid tolerance: High

The Gastrokid Scale Explained
Gastroparents ideally practice common sense when they have their wits and the luxury of levelheadedness about them (sometimes a rare thing at the end of a long day with hungry kids in tow). A date place is not a gastrokid restaurant at 8 p.m. on a Friday night. 5:47 on a Tuesday with an almost empty dining room is another matter altogether. While Gastrokid respects the rights of all diners to enjoy a meal unspoiled by the occasional chaos, noise, and challenges attendant with a meal out with a young child, we also know that a meal for money should be a generous and nurturing experience for all guests. Parents should, of course, keep their kids from making an unholy mess of things, but restaurants should also provide guests of all ages with as lovely an experience possible. Mutual respect is key.

1 G: passable in a pinch for family fuel and only that, but not Gastrokid-friendly
2 Gs: decent food in a place that is tolerant of Gastrokids
3 Gs: good food and an environment that makes a Gastrokid and his/her parents happy to be there
4 Gs: A thoroughly welcoming spot to enjoy excellent food with your kids. A place to feed and nurture the Gastrokid in all of us.

—Hugh

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