Lisa’s LA: Ortega 120

June 20th, 2009

Updated: Monday, 04 May 2009, 12:51 PM PDT
Published : Monday, 04 May 2009, 6:36 AM PDT

Redondo Beach ( – In Lisa’s LA, just in time for Cinco De Mayo we head to Redondo Beach for a look at a new, modern Mexican restaurant that has already won local and international awards for it’s food and bar.

Ortega 120
1814 South Pacific Coast Hwy
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

Los Angeles Times / The Guide

August 21st, 2008

Ortega 120 in Redondo Beach

Ortega food

Mexican food by the beach will appeal to even the pickiest palate.

By — S. Irene Virbila Times Restaurant Critic
July 17, 2008

MEXICAN cooking doesn’t get as much respect as it should in Southern California, at least in terms of formal restaurants. Taco trucks are generally where you find the best Mexican nosh. But now Thomas Ortega — a veteran of the kitchens of Water Grill, Lucques and Patina — and his friend Demi Stevens have opened an unusually appealing Mexican restaurant in Redondo Beach.

A trio of metal folk sculptures of musicians stand outside the doors of Ortega120, located right on PCH. Inside is a sprawling bar stocked with a stupendous array of premium tequila (and a flat-screen TV at the very back for anybody who wants to catch a game). The dining room is painted in bright Frida Kahlo colors, the walls hung with whimsical folk art from Mexico — crucifixes, masks, carvings and Day of the Dead motifs. There’s also an outdoor patio for catching the breeze while snacking on housemade chips and complex, smoky salsa.

The menu is very specific. Guacamole, for example, is made with Hass avocados, red onion, cilantro and lime juice. Chunky and delicious, it’s here and then it’s gone, gone, gone. Ortega also makes a killer version of queso fundido. That’s a molten cheese dip made with Oaxacan cheese, housemade chorizo (when’s the last time you saw housemade chorizo on a Mexican restaurant’s menu?), mushrooms and spinach.

The tortillas are all made right there and you can taste the difference. The shrimp cocktail features meaty Mexican white shrimp in a wonderfully spicy sauce.

This is a chef who sources his ingredients carefully.

He’s also got some modern takes on Mexican classics — for example, a taco stuffed with sushi-grade ahi tuna, roasted corn, fresh mango and more. If you love tacos, go for the “Tour de Tacos,” a platter of five different street-style (i.e., small) soft tacos — al pastor, pollo, carne asada, shrimp and carnitas. At $17, given the quality of the ingredients, it’s quite the bargain.

Platos principales (main courses) include a deliriously good lamb shank birria braised in a chile broth and served with garnishes and handmade tortillas. I wouldn’t say no to the carnitas plate either, with pickled red onion and fluffy lime-scented rice. Or the mahi mahi in mole verde.

Just those few dishes are enough to get the idea that Ortega120 is a cut above. For diehard gringos, Ortega has even put a Kobe burger on the menu, with a Mexican twist that includes Ortega chiles and queso asadero, and a pan de leche bun. Smart — and fun.

Polish off a meal here with an order of freshly made churros (squiggles of fried dough) with a chocolate dipping sauce. Somehow, I think I’ll be back. There’s certainly nowhere near the beach where you can find such heartfelt Mexican cooking.


June 27th, 2008

When you’ve got something good, you want to experience it in all its dazzling variety — if not, how come you can’t enter your kitchen without climbing over the Costco Frosted/Honey Nut/Berry Burst Cheerios 3-pack? Do it with tequila, at Ortega120, opening Monday.

Thrillist - Ortega120Tsotchke’d up with Dia de los Muertos figures and toy low-riders, O120’s a casual Mexican joint on PCH in Redondo Beach, with a tortillaria at the entrance, car-upholstered banquettes in the main room, and (most importantly) a central, black-topped bar stocked with 120 tequilas, one for every minute you once hung with Matt Pinfield. Selections range from “barrio tequilas” like Montezuma and Jalesco, to standbys like Sauza, to a $60 sipper of Partida Elegante; specialty cocktails are also anejo’d up, e.g., the Patron Silver Pomegranate Ginger Margarita and the grapefruity Sauza Hornitas “La Luz”, translated as “The Light” (to be drunk, not walked into). To soak it all up, O120 serves up tortas, tacos, etc, plus heartier dishes like chile rellenos w/shortrib, and carnitas w/chile verde, cotija cheese, and lime-scented rice — doggy bag some to use as potpourri after a long night of carnitas w/ chile verde.

Soon, O120’s adding tequila flights to its arsenal, with special attention paid to complimentary flavor profiles — because tequila’s become such an expansive category, the wrong trio could end up going down like Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Fiber One.

Check out the drinks and the food menu