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Back in September 2020, amidst the chaos of the pandemic, the team behind plant-based hit The Butcher’s Daughter opened a new Mexican restaurant, De Buena Planta, in a Venice parking lot. The all-outdoors space became a popular escape for Westsiders seeking a taste of Tulum, and now, the team is bringing a similar tropical-inspired experience to the heart of Silver Lake.
As De Buena Planta planned its expansion across town, owner Heather Tierney didn’t want to replicate the exact look and feel of Venice, which led her to chef Chaza Smith. Smith, who trained along the Amalfi Coast in Italy, brainstormed a new menu alongside Tierney that features original dishes while still making Angelenos feel “like you’re on vacation in Mexico,” she says. They transformed the once alley-like bar into a plant-filled oasis, which fits neatly into its new neighborhood with weekly specials and live music.
Here’s everything you need to know about this shiny new Silver Lake summer hot spot.
1. The menu has some new tricks up its sleeve.
Smith has kept a few of the original items from the Venice De Buena Planta on the menu in Silver Lake, like the housemade guacamole topped with Aztec chile oil and mushroom pastor tacos. However, she’s also created new signatures, often from dishes that appear in her own home kitchen.
The buenos nachos, for example, come on a platter that can serve as an entree, loaded with housemade pecan-based chorizo (or Impossible chorizo), kale, salsa, guacamole, housemade plant-based queso, and seasonal veggies — a lighter take on the classic gut bomb.
Smith often makes snacks like the buenitas, crispy corn cakes, at home for her kids. “I fry them on special occasions, but mostly just cook them right on the plancha,” she says. At the restaurant, Smith gets cheffier, frying the masa and Jack cheese disks until golden brown, and serving them alongside an herby guasacaca sauce.
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2. Plant-based is the focus, but the protein alternatives don’t aim to mimic meat.
The menu is 100% gluten-free, with dairy and eggs making an appearance in a handful of dishes. However, diners have the choice to opt for a totally vegan experience (just let your server know), and non-dairy cheese can be substituted on the majority of the menu.
“I really love cooking the same way that grandmas used to cook, but thinking outside of the box to create plant-based versions that don’t compromise flavor or texture,” says Smith. She prefers traditional flavors and simple raw materials. “Most of my food doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, it’s just the technique that makes it so special,” she says.
Entirely plant-based standouts on the menu include the cashew and carrot queso fundido and an aguachile made with young coconut. Chaza’s food philosophy is, as she puts it, “clean, clean, clean,” avoiding the use of ingredients like gums, unnatural starches, and other substitutes.
Enchiladas de la novia and cashew-crusted poblano chile relleno are two dishes that can’t be made without dairy. The mole blanco uses Oaxacan white chocolate, and the chile relleno is filled with a queso chihuahua that wouldn’t have the same dramatic cheese pull if swapped.
3. Cocktails at La Casita will set your spirits straight.
As you make your way through the patio to your table, you may notice a glowing sign above the doorway that houses the kitchen. This is the entrance to La Casita, a small speakeasy within the restaurant. “Heather really wanted to create a little ‘dive bar in Mexico’ feel, so she hired an artist from Mexico City who came in and painted La Casita for us,” says Smith. Filled with rattan lounge chairs, loveseats, and pastel colors galore, La Casita has a timeless feel.
The menu offers cocktails highlighting popular mezcal and Tequila flavor pairings like passion fruit, lime, papaya, and mango. The Mexico City Cosmo, for example, combines Tequila (dealer’s choice), hibiscus, and lime, and is served with a shot glass containing a stick of burning palo santo. A drop of palo santo essential oil is placed at the edge of your hand so you take in the essence (and good energy) with each sip.
4. There’s live music and DJs weekly.
In the back corner of the outdoor dining area, a small elevated platform acts as a stage for musicians and DJs to set the mood on a weekly basis. On Wednesday nights, catch a live salsa band getting hump-day diners and dancers through the remainder of the week. Friday night and Sunday brunch feature live DJs to keep the energy up, and overhead misters help keep everything cool on hot summer nights.
5. Don’t miss the chef’s specials (or weekend brunch).
“I’ll get an email about brussels sprouts from one of our farmers or purveyors and they’ll show up as a special,” Smith says. Within the first few months, she has already added specials such as brussels sprouts and kale lollipops, smoked and made into tacos, “with the same flavors as Mexican-style garlic shrimp.” The smokiness of the brussels is balanced with hibiscus pickled onions and crispy bits of kale, wrapped in a soft tortilla and topped with chipotle crema.
The restaurant also serves brunch on the weekends, one of the prime times to see eggs on the menu. As with most Silver Lake staples, it’s essential to offer something hearty to help all the local bar-hoppers recover the next day. Case in point: the breakfast burrito, which Smith describes as “all of my cravings put together” — fried potatoes, eggs or Aztec spiced tofu, regular or vegan cheese, and an array of condiments.
With Smith’s careful approach (and a stunner of an outdoor dining area), De Buena Planta Silver Lake fits seamlessly into its new neighborhood.
Magdalena O’Neal is a California native who spends her time between Los Angeles and New York. She works as a food stylist, recipe developer, and journalist. Follow her cooking and eating on Instagram, and writing on her website. While you’re at it, follow Resy, too.