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Esperanza Cocina de la Playa

Restaurants, Mexican Manhattan Beach
3 out of 5 stars
Esperanza Manhattan Beach Exterior
Photograph: Courtesy Art Gray
Bar and lounge seating at Esperanza Manhattan Beach
Photograph: Courtesy Art Gray
Shrimp Taquitos at Esperanza Cocina de la Playa
Photograph: Courtesy Bread and Butter PR
Esperanza Manhattan Beach Ceviche Trio with Plantain Chips
Photograph: Courtesy Bread and Butter PR

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

With a striking, resort-chic interior, Esperanza offers an excellent—if slightly dizzying—Mexican menu worthy of your next night out in the South Bay.

In a time when seemingly every big restaurant opening taps into our collective need for escape, Manhattan Beach’s Esperanza Cocina de la Playa (or Esperanza for short) might appear to be no different from the other glitzy, resort-style L.A. eateries that have sprung up since the start of the pandemic. Initial read: no thoughts, just vibes. Taken as a composite, its all-white façade, luxurious lounge seating and artisanal light fixtures might imply Esperanza’s team, who also run Palmilla in Hermosa Beach, have single-mindedly focused on the superficial to the detriment of the quality of its food.

To the pleasant surprise of this still soft-boiled critic, nothing could be further from the truth at Esperanza. On its upscale yet approachable seafood-centric menu, crowd-pleasers like enchiladas and chiles relleno get the gourmet treatment courtesy of ingredients like lobster and crab. Flamboyantly served with tails intact, the must-order playa shrimp taquitos are a revelation in crunch and flavor—the latter derived from the dish’s fresno aioli, jalapeño cream and a careful sprinkling of cotija cheese. (The vegan-friendly potato taquitos also pack a similar punch.) 

Although Esperanza’s lengthy menu might have the word density of a British encyclopedia, knowledgeable servers will take you where you need to go, from the restaurant’s most popular dishes to finding something that suits your particular tastes that day. While most plates lean towards coastal Baja California cuisine, Esperanza’s head chef Ray Alvarez ensures its beachside neighborhood regulars can grab a well-executed filet mignon if they’re in the mood for steak, even if seafood standouts, like the ceviches los cabos garnished with edible flowers, take up the lion’s share of most patron’s dinner orders.

Compared to other Manhattan Beach restaurants, Esperanza’s interiors exude a level of decadence that seems more at home in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood. Thanks to (relatively) down-to-earth clientele and a more relaxed approach to hospitality, the mostly open-air restaurant is comfortable enough for a weeknight dinner. However, it also draws a sizable, more going-out oriented crowd on weekend evenings, particularly to its upstairs rooftop lounge area.  

As for beverages, settle into a booth or at a stool at Esperanza’s glamorously lit bar, since the illustrious menu of margaritas, cocktails, sangrias and other alcoholic drinks mean you’ll probably go cross-eyed trying to figure out what to order. Whatever you decide on, however, is likely to be pretty good, from the refreshing watermelon cilantro cooler to the stronger, spicier cucumber jalapeño martini. Agave purists will probably enjoy its extensive tequila and mezcal list, which is sourced from small-batch Mexican distilleries.

While a delicious upscale dinner at Esperanza is likely to leave you with no complaints, it probably won’t knock your socks off either if you’ve patronized more than a few of L.A.’s best Mexican restaurants. Then again, in a world full of uncertainty, do we always need to be surprised? 

The vibe: Sleek Baja five-star resort chic that plays well on more casual weeknights and the upstairs rooftop lounge’s rowdier crowds on the weekends.

The food: Excellent, once you overcome the crushing decision paralysis induced by Esperanza’s lengthy menu. To minimize tyranny of choice, ask your server. 

The drink: An agave spirit lover’s dream, plus plenty of refreshing cocktails, sangrias and margaritas with fresh fruit, vegetables and spice that most Angelenos have come to expect in their mixed drinks.

Time Out tip: Avoid the lure of the cheesy (literally) enchilada and order from the seafood or kitchen specials sections. You won’t be disappointed.


Address: 309 Manhattan Beach Blvd
Manhattan Beach
Price: $$$
Opening hours: Mon–Thurs 4pm–12am; Fri 4pm–2am; Sat 12pm–2am; Sun 12pm–12am
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