Joining the recent wave of New York-born restaurants opening in L.A., ATLA brings its hip, modern take on Mexican cuisine to the streets of Abbot Kinney. From renowned chef Enrique Olvera’s Casamata Group, the same people behind downtown hits Damian and Ditroit, the relaxed and roomy indoor-outdoor space (twice the size of the New York original) features bar seating, a large dining room, and two verdant patios.
Drawing inspiration from the fondas (or food stalls) of Mexico City, the brand’s home base, ATLA’s menu features items like a juicy barbacoa, potato and cheese flautas, and plenty of fresh guacamole to go around. Focusing slightly more on health-minded dishes for the California crowd, you’ll also find L.A. staples like their take on an avocado toast as well.
“The overall goal for the whole company and with ATLA in particular is expanding the brand, being able to replicate the menu in multiple locations,” says chef de cuisine Marisol Corona. Olvera is best known for the Michelin-starred Pujol in Mexico City, and later Cosme in New York, before opening the first ATLA in 2017. Since then, the restaurant group has expanded across Mexico to both Cabo and Oaxaca, as well as to Madrid, Spain. But the ATLA concept, for now anyway, is unique to just New York and L.A. (bicoastals: look out for a new taqueria in Brooklyn in 2024 as well).
To help you navigate the expansive menu, below we’re breaking down the five essential dishes you need to try when dining at ATLA Venice.
Eschewing commonly-seen staples like a classic Caesar, the carrot salad is Corona’s take on a healthy Cali-inspired salad, specific to the Venice location. “We had this dish in New York at one point, but instead of shaved carrots, they were shredded,” says Corona. “It was our brand director’s favorite salad and she kind of begged me to bring it back.”
The dish has been revived here with a few subtle changes. “It’s spicy, bright, and colorful, almost like a sunset,” says Corona. It starts with shaved rainbow carrots that are tossed with radicchio, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, dried apricots, and preserved black olives with a dressing made of olive oil, turmeric, ginger, miso, habanero chile, lime, and grapefruit juices. Less of a riff on a traditional Mexican dish, this is instead something of a fusion, drawing in influences from across Mexico, California, and Asia.
Pork al Pastor Gringa, Pineapple Butter
Inspired by one of the most popular street foods in Mexico City — al pastor tacos — the “gringa” version uses flour tortillas as well as a pineapple topping. “We’re trying to source as much as we can locally, like the Mejorado tortillas,” says Corona. “Those are something that we can’t get in New York,” she adds, referring to the locally-made tortillas, from the folks behind Boyle Heights’ Burritos Las Palma.
At ATLA, they’ve made the dish bigger (and arguably, better) using a large flour tortilla as the base. Then, instead of laying the fruit directly on the taco, Corona instead makes an infused pineapple butter, which she spreads onto the base of the tortilla, then tops it with a layer of Oaxacan quesillo cheese. Pork shoulder, which is marinated in adobo sauce and slow-braised for four hours, goes on top of that, and the whole thing gets topped off with onions, diced serrano chiles, and fresh cilantro, and is served with a spicy salsa roja for a kick.
A playful mash-up of an East Coast lobster roll and a California burrito, this dish is perhaps the ultimate representation of NY meets L.A.. “We slow-poach Maine lobster in butter and then toss it into a slaw made with mayonnaise and yellow chile,” says Corona of the process. The crunchy slaw is made from red and green cabbage, chives, and carrots, while a black bean purée lines the tortilla. “It’s very simple, but very indulgent,” Corona adds. For now it’s unique to Venice, but Corona is considering adding it to New York as well. Expect to see one or more of these being Instagrammed as you eat.
Branzino a la Talla
ATLA’s take on the classic “fish of the day” special is one of the lighter, healthier options exclusive to the Venice location. “We source dry-aged fish from The Joint [a Sherman Oaks-based fishmonger]. It just makes the dish 10 times better,” says Corona. An adobo marinade, made from rehydrated chiles with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices, is then basted onto the fish in the skillet. Accompanying the finished dish is a pineapple vinegar sauce (made from leftovers from the pineapple butter-making process), fish sauce, and árbol chiles. It’s all served with large lettuce leaves for wrapping, making this an ideal choice for gluten-wary friends.
The pièce de résistance is the braised beef-chuck barbacoa. The classic Mexican dish is reinterpreted at ATLA with regional inspiration in mind. “We wanted to do something different for Venice,” says Corona. “Instead of doing a red barbacoa, it’s white, which is something typically found in Hidalgo, a region known for its barbacoa,” she says. “It’s usually cooked in pulque, but since we can’t source that right now, we’re cooking it in beer,” she adds. What makes the braise white? “Instead of adding more chiles and tomatoes, it’s just simmered with the beer and spices and no additional coloring,” says Corona. The carefully cooked meat is served with its own broth for dipping, alongside corn tortillas, white onions, cilantro, and limes.
Kelly Dobkin is an L.A.-based writer/editor and former New Yorker. She has contributed to Bon Appetit, Grub Street, Michelin, Here Magazine, and is a former editor at Thrillist, Zagat, and Eater. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.