Nopales and hearts of palm salad at Bar Amá
Puffy tacos, light, deep-fried versions of this town’s staple, may be the claim to fame at Bar Amá', but the essence of chef Josef Centeno’s second Downtown venture lies in its Queso ($9). The molten orange substance with both the color and viscosity of melted Velveeta cheese tastes shockingly similar to the low-brow, store-bought stuff. It may be confusing at a restaurant where $12 gets you two tacos, but we’re happy to dive right in to flavors this good.
Centeno, the top-notch toque of the popular Bäco Mercat, upgrades down-home dishes including Frito pie, taquitos, fajitas and enchiladas. That melted bowl of queso is topped with avocado, diced red onions, a dusting of cotija and served alongside a mound of piping hot, glossy tortilla chips, fresh from the fryer. Go for haute dishes such as banana leaf-wrapped rabbit ($24)—the menu proudly declares, "All meat is from Niman, Heritage, Paso Prime & Pitmas Farms"—cooked on the wood grill. Lighter items on the generally heavy menu include hearts of palm salad ($12), a stringy bed of cactus, palm hearts, citrus and quesillo cheese, and a small bowl of cauliflower florets ($9) dressed with a cilantro pesto and a heavy shower of lime. Neither would be out of place on Bäco Mercat’s pan-cuisine menu.
Much like its sister restaurant, Bar Amá is one of those new-old places, built to look like it has been around for much longer than its three-months. Planks of chevron-pattered, reclaimed wood against an unfinished ceiling and patterned tiles behind the bar define the casual, modern space. Service is generally prompt, though it’s sometimes hard to tell who is a waiter and who is not, since the uniform appears to be skinny jeans and plaid. True to its Tex-Mex roots, Bar Ama is a fun restaurant that doesn't take itself too seriously.
What to eat: The base of many dishes at Bar Amá is the tortilla. Be it flour or corn, both are standout specimens handmade daily. Try the chorizo puffy tacos ($12), a satisfying bite finished with shredded lettuce and cotija cheese, and for those unafraid of carb on carb action, go for cheesy polenta taquitos ($8), corn tortillas rolled up with cheesy grits-like filling. And, of course, there's the Queso. If you consider yourself to have an addictive personality, you might want to sit this one out.
Where to sit: Without a reservation, you'll likely be relegated to the bar. But for those who reserve in advance, ask for a seat by the window or along the back banquette.
What to drink: Bar Amá specializes in tequila and mescal-based drinks and offers a lengthy selection of those spirits at up to $35 a pour. Beers are Mexican and local brews, offered by the bottle, can or on tap and also available in pitchers. Non-boozy options include fresh fruit agua fresca ($4) and housemade sodas ($3), in flavors such as sweet and sour hibiscus and tamarind-mango.
Conversation piece: Centeno, responsible for introducing Bäco Mercat's pizza-sandwich-taco hybrid called a "bäco" into every Angeleno's vocabulary, has created another instant classic with his puffy taco.
|Venue name:||Bar Amá||Contact:|
118 W 4th St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Thu 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-11pm; Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30-midnight; Sat 11:30am-3pm, 5:30pm-midnight; Sun 11:30am-3pm, 5-10pm|
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Average User Rating
4 / 5
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We ate one of pretty much everything on the menu, but the standout for me was the fried squash blossoms. The space is really nice and definitely high on the hip vibe, but the service could use some work.
I agree with Cezara—the vegan queso is amazing, and I'm not even vegan!
The food is fresh here and the table service is always friendly. The
food is inventive and there are lots of options for every diet
type—although we did bring a friend here who's allergic to cilantro,
which was tough! I guess next time we shouldn't take him out for
Even if you don't have any food allergies, the vegan queso is worth ordering for it's I-can't-believe-it's-not-cheese deliciousness. Elsewhere on the menu, the fried squash blossoms are must, as are the heirloom tomatoes. Most menu items are made to share (i.e. overpriced) but you won't leave hungry—nor thirsty for that matter thanks to some spectacular mezcal cocktails.
The vegan queso is one of the best queso's I've tried in Los Angeles! It's a great restaurant to check out while you are DTLA.