If you’re at all familiar with the relaxed ambience and polished drinks at Everson Royce Bar in the Arts District, it’s easy to understand why Vamos Vamos initially whipped Santa Monica into a frenzy after opening late last summer. The New Mexico-influenced drinking establishment is the farthest west E.R.B. owners Randy Clement and April Langford have ever gone; all of the couple’s other beloved concepts, including Echo Park’s Triple Beam and Hippo in Highland Park, are miles and miles (and by car, at least two freeways away) from the 405. Now, anyone in the general vicinity of the beachside city’s tree-lined Main Street has ready access to the same level of high-quality food and cocktails that has long made E.R.B. one of the city’s best bars, albeit with a Southwestern, family-friendly twist.
Why? It’s a long story-slash-poem on the first page of the restaurant’s menu, which also includes a kid's section. Years ago, Clement and Langford met in New Mexico, where they drank margaritas and munched nachos on their first date. The drink-snack duo fueled them after they moved to Los Angeles, where they would eventually welcome a set of twins—for whom E.R.B. is named. Vamos Vamos pays homage to the place and pairing that set everything in motion. In practice, that means imported hatch green chili versions of E.R.B. favorites like cheeseburgers and potato taquitos, plus six different nacho dishes and a dozen colorful, fruity, spicy, salt-rimmed margaritas. There are also a few pizzas, salads, vegetables and Southwestern specialities, including hard-to-find sopapillas (fried pastry doughnuts), which come with a side of honey from Flamingo Estate, the bougie Eagle Rock co-op. On Sundays, the bar opens at 10am for brunch, where those same hatch chilies make their way into breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles.
As with its sibling in the Arts District, the down-to-earth fare at Vamos Vamos complements the house margaritas perfectly. They do tend to run on the sweeter side, especially the Carpinteria Heart (strawberry), but all that sugar balances out the salty, savory components of the food; you’re gonna want to order at least one of them, or—if you’re going for a non-alcoholic outing—an agua fresca. First-timers should try at least one plate of nachos—in particular, the chili verde variety, which combines shredded pork, hatch green chilies, refried beans, tomatillo salsa and three kinds of cheese. While the delights of the high-lowbrow approach may be lost on the snobbier “food people” hidden among us, the timeless pairing of nachos and margs are definitely done justice here. (Unless you’re especially craving pizza, we’d skip the wood-fired pies, especially with Ghisallo under 10 minutes’ drive away.)
Best of all, the long waits from the bar’s first few months have finally died down, especially on the weekdays, making the nacho bar the ideal Westside meeting place for afterwork drinks or a casual light dinner. For those coming from farther away, a reservation system makes a primetime weekend visit even more appealing. So is it worth a crosstown trip? We’ll just put it this way: There’s nowhere else in Los Angeles right now offering this many different kinds of nachos (nacho superfans, this is your place), and if you’re about as far east as Mid-City, Vamos Vamos is much quicker to get to during rush hour than E.R.B. The menu might be wholly different, but the casual vibes and high-quality food and drink are just as excellent—and at the end of the day, isn’t that what matters?
The vibe: Casual and unfussy, like a good neighborhood spot should be.
The food: New Mexico-inspired cuisine, including nachos, tacos, quesadillas and a few specialties like hatch chili verde and carne adovada (chimayo red chili braised pork). Highlights include the classic nachos, green chili cheeseburger and sopapillas.
The drink: A dozen different fruity salt-rimmed margaritas, palomas, wine and other cocktails, plus a full list of premium mezcals and tequilas.
Time Out tip: Bummed by the 10pm close, and don’t want to hit up Main Street’s middling bar scene? It’s a short rideshare away to Nostalgia, another great low-key Westside bar with an excellent bar program.