It can be intimidating moving into a space with history. In the past year, chef Ray Garcia (FIG) has done it not once, but twice. First, B.S. Taqueria replaced Ricardo Zarate’s Mo-Chica, a much-revered Peruvian spot. Then, Broken Spanish took over the Rivera space, where mixologist Julian Cox gained recognition for blowing our minds with his craft cocktails. But step into Broken Spanish and any sentiment you may have attached to Rivera will soon fade. The space, bright and colorful with tables boasting hand-woven doilies and Mexican pottery, is wholly inviting; while the prices here indicate an upscale restaurant, the environment is certainly down to earth.
So, too, is the food. Garcia may be cooking things like lamb neck and oxtail, but they are wrapped in tamales and quesadillas, hearty and elevated at the same time. The “prettiest” dish we might have had was the requesón—a ricotta-like cheese—surrounded by Mission figs, black sesame and agave. It could be compared to most ricotta and fig dishes except for the addition of sea bean, which lends it a crunch and some appreciated salt. In a heavy skillet, two hefty lamb neck tamales come with king oyster mushrooms and queso Oaxaca. Our friendly server nodded approvingly when we ordered the dish and she was spot on—the meat is beautifully tender, and the tamale isn’t so starchy that it sinks like a stone in your stomach. There is a goat cheese version, too, if the thought of lamb neck weirds you out.
Seafood is few and far between here, but there is a fiery shrimp dish with cascabel chili, pequin peppers and pineapple that left my mouth tingling for a good five minutes. The shrimp arrives two to a dish and are extracted out of their shell with ease, though I wish the price tag ($19) was a bit lower or the shrimp count higher. What is worth the price tag? The cellophane-wrapped rabbit stew which, when untied, emits the most incredible smell that can cause diners across the room to look up from their own dishes. You can eat the mix of rabbit, nopales, bacon and cherry tomato by the spoonful, but it’s better to order a side of corn tortillas for scooping. To finish the night's meal: a chile mango panna cotta, which balances sweet and spicy with passion fruit curd and habanero caramel, diced mangos and cayenne meringue. Yes, it's pretty. But it's also a nod to the mango con chile hawked on LA's streets, and gives us that same feeling of diving into the simple snack on a hot summer day.
What to Eat: The requesón ($9). The lamb tamale ($15). The rabbit ($18). The chile mango panna cotta ($11).
What to Drink: Michael Lay (Faith & Flower) is the beverage director behind Broken Spanish’s cocktail program, so it’s no surprise that it’s worth it to come here just for the drinks (though I wish there was more Mexican craft beer available). The cocktail list is broken up by phrases you might say to your bartender for guidance: “I want something with citrus, shaken that’s not too sweet,” “I’d like something decadent,” and so on. Under the citrus category, the Green Garden ($14) is a total hit: blanco tequila, Belle de Brillet, ginger, a green juice medley and fennel flower make up a drink that’s both summery and complex. The Señor Ted Mosbley ($14) is a bourbon-based cocktail mixed with Fernet-Vallet, Oro Blanco Cordial, damiana and tea pot bitters, and served over a large ice cube. It’s listed under the “I’d like something that’s spirit-forward, aromatic and stirred” category, and it fits this description to a T.
Where to Sit: Whereas Rivera had a darker, more masculine feel to it, Broken Spanish is much lighter—namely because most of the seating is close to the windows that line Flower Street. Booths cradle the wall furthest from the street, while a row of high tops line the center of the restaurant and a chef’s counter sits closer to the front. A separate room with a retractable window and scattered tables overlooks L.A. Live. Want even more light? There’s seating outside, too, a casual row of high tops that are perfect for post-work drinks.