LA Guestlist

Sourcing Los Angeles Culture

A Case For Places: Have a Home Cooked Meal at Maestro Modern Mexican Cuisine with Chef Elena Vega

Here at LA Guestlist, we’re not kidding when we say that we’re sourcing LA’s culture. We’re constantly on the search for new locations and offerings from the great city of Los Angeles, whose endless, nonsensical landscape presents a never-ending whirlwind of spots to claim you found all on your own. It’s okay, we know what’s up. We’re here to help you live out your pseudo-hipster wannabe fantasy. We won’t tell anyone.

Since we’re in a position to promote some of the best that Los Angeles has to offer, we decided to start a series on some of our favorite places. Some are quiet, some are crowded, and some a little out of the way – but what’s a good spot in LA without at least twenty minutes of traffic?

If I say the word Maestro, there is an honest uncertainty as to whether or not you will know what I am talking about. I say this because the growth of the place is simply staggering – nine months out from restaurant’s inception, and the space is completely packed during every meal. From their brunch to dinner hours, something special is cooking up every single day over there. Since I encountered my first experience at the establishment, I have discovered that there are two groups of people – those that have not heard of Maestro, and those who have trouble finding reservations.

While that may sound like a strong endorsement from the get go, there isn’t much to question once you make your way into the place. It may not be clear the moment you step in – the space feels packed upon entrance, almost too small for its own good. But once you make your way past the small, singular host stand over to the tiny bar in the back corner, it’s clear that this spot has one quality many young, hopeful businesses do not acquire until they have witnessed several years of experience: warmth.

First, find parking on Union Street in Old Pasadena’s flavorful slice of shopping and eateries. Actually – wait – back up several weeks. CALL THE RESTAURANT AND MAKE RESERVATIONS. 626-787-1512. There. Now you have their phone number and no excuses. NOW you can skip forward to the big night, and land that perfect parking spot. Good job, champ.

Once you’ve made it past that step – you’re almost there. You just have to walk the several blocks (we all know you’re not parking out front) and make it past the two large, glass doors that let you see inside the establishment’s constantly moving ecosystem. Once you’re inside, you can speak to the host/hostess, grab a drink, and take a seat. Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll sit down immediately and one of the dedicated bartenders will serve you.

Which brings me to the next point – the bartenders here are really about their craft. Upon immediate arrival, I was handed a menu, with a list of their few signature drinks. However, that doesn’t mean you have to know what you want – the woman next to me, almost right after I got the menu, was handed a drink made up entirely from scratch. That’s right, this woman didn’t know what she wanted off the menu, so the bartender just made up a new drink for her, right on the spot. He didn’t even know I was writing for a website.

I know, right?

During my meal, I was introduced to their meticulously curated selection of wine and spirits. Every single wine they offer is there for a reason, and every single meal has a wine specially selected to coincide. Their liquor was the same case – every single bottle, as it was thoroughly explained to me, is there for a specific reason – whether it be a personal connection, or otherwise. Just ask.

We haven’t even gotten to the main course yet. If you’ve made it this far, gotten a table, and received your food, you’ve most likely discovered that everything else I’ve talked about doesn’t even matter. Yes, the atmosphere is important, but you’re here for the food – and it’s nothing like you’ve ever had before. From their Kumiai Oyster Shooter to Free Range Chicken Mole offering, there is warmth cooked into every meal.

“If you’re from Mexico, you know rice isn’t rice unless there’s broth involved” chef Elena Vega explains to me in the middle of my meal. She’s smiling, still glowing from pride after another long day of cooking for a fully-booked restaurant and speaking with everyone that comes into the place. Before my table was even ready, it was reasonable to assume which one in the room she was, as she could be spotted consistently talking to guests that had come to eat. Fresh from shopping at the farmer’s market, Vega was clearly coming from the foremost place of sincerity. It eventually became evident to me that this isn’t the kind of place that you wonder if a plate is good or not, it just comes down to what you’re willing to try.

I’m not making any of this up – and you can probably ask her yourself, as she makes her way from table to table, daily, on a regular basis. The restaurant serves Mexican cuisine that differs from most offerings in the LA area. Even if you have a vegan diet, Vega is willing to introduce to you a world of seasoned vegetable combinations, many of which are traditionally steeped in Mexican cuisine’s culture. I experienced an offering of specially prepared Scallop and Mushrooms over Huitlacoche Rice (among several others I couldn’t resist), which truly offered a  welcomed earthy undertone. The Heads Cheese Tostadita features cheese personally handmade by Vega’s ninety-one-year-old grandmother. Can you name many places in Los Angeles as warm as that?

When you’re there, listening to the owners speak about their food, it’s almost impossible not to feel like you’re in on it with them – which brings me back to the warmth that Maestro resonates. All there is to say is the food is incredible. It comes from honest, welcoming, family and culture oriented roots. It truly feels like a special outlier in our infinitely vast selection of restaurants in Los Angeles.

If you have the time, stop by. No matter what you pick, you will be trying something new. This is not Mexican food like you’ve had it in Los Angeles, I can guarantee that.


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