Located near the famed farmers market in the bustling Fairfax district, Cobras and Matadors is "underground Spain meets urban Los Angeles." Here, one will discover a tapas-centric menu filled with traditional Spanish favorites and eclectic variations on the theme, as well as a fast-paced atmosphere that is simply intoxicating. It’s anything but stuffy, and is still delicious and surprising enough to please even the most cultured Los Angeles diner. Go for the inventive dishes. Go for the fabulous vibe. Go for a fantastic night out. Just go.Read More ...
It is a gorgeous breezy Friday evening in Los Angeles and my two girlfriends and I are anxiously fighting our way through the throngs of post-work drivers to get to our 8pm dinner reservation in time. Battling this kind of traffic is no easy task, but it’s well worth it. Mention that you are going to Cobras and Matadors to anyone in the know and you’ll be rewarded with a smile that communicates both jealousy and approval. Needless to say I had no trouble recruiting dining partners for the evening.
Fortunately Cobras and Matadors offers valet service, as finding a parking spot near the famed farmers market and bustling Fairfax district is tricky at any time, let alone a summer weekend night. We arrive with a few minutes to spare and spend it selecting a gorgeous Spanish Rioja from the little wine shop next door to the restaurant. While the Westside Cobras and Matadors location does not offer any alcoholic beverages (the Eastside locale serves wine and sangria and has a wooden bar in the back of the restaurant), guests can purchase wine at the store and have it added directly to their tab. Servers will then open it sans corkage fee. How very civilized!
In addition to operating without a liquor license, the original Westside Cobras and Matadors location differs from its Eastside sister restaurant quite substantially in the clientele it draws. Here you will find the more traditionally “polished and perfect” LA crowd that one expects to see as they venture further west towards La Cienega and the Beverly Center. In contrast, the Eastside Cobras and Matadors in Los Feliz is filled to the brim with edgy hipsters sporting carefully selected vintage finds and well-crafted “oops I overslept today” looks. The Beverly location echoes the trendy west Mid-City vibe and is loud, festive, and fast paced. It is overflowing with well-tressed girls and well-tailored guys; patrons are far more interested in an electric and lively atmosphere than a quiet corner for deep conversation and soul searching. This is definitely not the place for anything but fun, fun, fun.
Indeed, Owner Steven Arroyo has somehow crafted two separate and distinct, but equally perfect, locations for his tapas-centric creation, Cobras and Matadors. Both locales are clearly marked by a red neon signature above the door, but even more noticeably by a huge crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk waiting to sample the delectable dishes that await within.
It could be said that Arroyo has food running through his veins instead of blood. Growing up watching his grandmother operate her Eastside LA taco stand, and no doubt also learning from his grandfather, who supervised LAUSD’s cafeterias, it is no wonder that by the tender age of 25 Arroyo had already opened his first restaurant, Boxer. That first attempt was reworked into the wildly successful Cobras and Matadors on Beverly Boulevard in 2001. The second location, on Hollywood Boulevard, opened in 2004. Arroyo is also responsible for the Cobra Lily bar and so called “Mexican dive” themed Malo restaurant, which echoes the vibe of the eastside Cobras and Matadors location with a dark, gritty demeanor befitting its name. Arroyo recently retooled his Happi Songs Asian Tavern into Goat and is set to expand his empire downtown with Church and State, a 70-seat French brasserie set in a former Nabisco factory loading dock. Truly, Arroyo is an absolute master at matching ambiance with clientele.
At Cobras and Matadors, the tables are covered with butcher paper and the small, exquisitely presented dishes are set in the middle of the table to be shared and enjoyed by the entire table. Plates come out as they are ready, so the traditional rules of courses do not apply. And guests need not expect to wait long for their meals, as the kitchen is extremely fast, much like the tapas bars in Spain that the restaurant is modeled after. Even though it is a busy Friday night, and the restaurant is packed to capacity in the dining room, all five of our selections arrive within fifteen minutes. Dishes start as low as $5 for Patatas Fritas and range upwards to $19 for Paella. Nothing is above $20, and there is much to choose from in the $10 range, making it possible to sample many dishes even with a small dining party. That being said, the more people you dine with, the better, as the entire menu is absolutely worthy of sampling.
We start out with the Asparagus and Manchengo Cheese and Sugar Chile Prawns. The crisp asparagus dish is delicately decorated with Manchego cheese and a walnut vinegreta, which is so divine that it entices my group of three to actually count the number of stems and divide them up equally.
We are then forced to play rock-paper-scissors over the last sugar chile prawn, as there are four served on a plate. The sweetness mixed with spice is simply irresistible, and with my “rock” smashing my friend’s “scissors,” I win the last prawn fair and square. Our friendly neighbors at the table next to us (tables are set very closely which encourages the trading of culinary information and a raucous atmosphere), laugh at my passion for shellfish and assure me that the Prawns Mojo d’Ajo (a Spanish favorite which come still in the shell sizzling in oil and garlic) are well worth my consideration on my next visit.
The Socca Cakes and Sweet Papas Fritas arrive next. The Socca Cakes, or chickpea crepes, are soft and tender and just as delicious as our first two selections. We choose the version that is served with the Mojo de Cilantro dipping sauce, although the Honey and Goat Cheese version delivered to our new friends at the table next to us appears just as mouth watering.
The Sweet Papas Fritas, which have long been one of my favorite dishes ever since my first visit to the eastside Cobras location three years ago, do not disappoint. They come served with two distinct dipping sauces. The Mojo Picon red sauce packs a punch of flavor without being spicy; mixed with the Aioli dipping sauce we almost forget we are eating a mere modification on french fries.
We end our meal slowly nibbling on a plate of Spanish Cheeses (ask your server for the current selection – I highly recommend the Drunken Goat Cheese). Served with applesauce, toasts and grapes, we found this dish to be a wonderful choice in lieu of a more traditional dessert.
However, if one favors sweet stuffs, they will not be let down. Cobras offers Churros laced with chocolate, sugar and cinnamon and served with a Mexican dipping sauce that appears most appetizing as they are escorted past our table and to a couple a few tables down. Our new friends next to us are about to enjoy the Flan as we prepare for our departure.
So with our bellies full and our moods lifted we leave Cobras and Matadors to attend a party up in hills of Laurel Canyon. We all agree that nothing quite prepares you for a party like a party. And dinner at Cobras and Matadors certainly qualifies as just that. It is underground Spain meets urban Los Angeles and the combination is simply intoxicating.
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