There are a few specific moments when you might realize a restaurant has figured it out. Maybe it’s when you walk in and there’s a giant crystal fish chandelier hanging from the ceiling and Issa Rae is sitting at the bar. Other times, it’s on the drive home when a video montage of every dish you just ate scored to Careless Whisper plays in your head. On rare occasions though, this realization occurs before you’ve even stepped inside.
Walking up to Bar Calo, the modern Mexican bar/restaurant in Echo Park, you can tell something special is happening. And you can’t help but want to be a part of it.
People wearing clothes that look like repurposed Trader Joe’s bags are spilling out of the place and onto the sidewalk. And they look good doing it. There will inevitably be a hand holding an Old Fashioned dangling out of the window. (It probably belongs to someone sprawled out on the couch inside who’s snacking on Oaxacan hot chicken and peanut salsa.) There’s a group standing around the parking lot smoking cigarettes like it’s 1988.
A night here feels like a fantastical version of LA. One that involves Mexican food and drinks and velvet furniture that looks like it was pulled from a ’70s telenovela. Maybe you thought this version only existed in movies and on TV. But it does exist in real life - at least for a few hours every night at Bar Calo.
At its core, Bar Calo is a tequila bar, which means that it’s going to be loud and cramped and that you’ll probably be leaning against a stranger for most of the night. A place like this - one without reservations, real tables, or a full dinner menu - isn’t going to be for everyone (we’re not taking important clients here anytime soon). It’s for hanging with your best friends on a Friday night after work, or taking a second date here when it’s time to see if you have the important things in common.
Bar Calo is the kind of place where you come with the intention of having a few rounds of cocktails, and end up staying for dinner. Good news - bar food doesn’t get much better than this. Whether it’s the perfectly cooked tortilla chips, an aji feta dip that tastes like a spicy cheese cloud, or a twice-baked camote stuffed with chorizo, Bar Calo’s food proves it’s not just the atmosphere that make this place exceptional. This place reels you in, keeps you for dinner, and reminds you why you ever said you loved this city in the first place.
That’s the version of LA we want.
This seems like an obvious order for a tequila bar, but you need to make sure it happens. The chips are made in-house and come out thick, crunchy, and fantastic. Our favorite of the dips are aji feta dip and a chipotle peanut salsa that will ruin all other salsas.
Served in a pool of mole negro with a side of tamarind crema, this is our favorite of the bigger dishes on the menu. The chicken is perfectly fried, and spicy enough to feel the burn without feeling the pain.
Not our favorite dish on the menu, but it’s a good option if you’re looking for something a bit lighter. The ceviche is always fresh and the tom kha broth gives it just a little bit of sweetness.
Our favorite cocktail on the menu. It’s basically a tequila old fashioned and if you have a problem with that statement, we’ll happily drink yours.
Though probably not the best dish to order if you’re on a date, this corn on the cob is very good. And the anchovy aioli smothered on top gives it just to right amount of bite without making it a complete salt bomb.
This is basically a giant sweet potato stuffed with chorizo and topped with a poached egg, cilantro pesto, and feta. And yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds.