Saturday, January 05, 2008

Remembering El Jarrito

It was one of the first places Mu Sang Sunim took me out to dinner when I arrived in Los Angeles in 2001. I had arrived from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Sunim wanted me to taste good local Mexican food. Down on Olympic Boulevard, in the heart of Koreatown, he brought me to this modest, family-run place with a deli display up front, friendly lighting, small booths, and delicious food.

The soda was sold in cans and you could watch the waitress fetch baskets of fresh hot chips from a steel drawer. They put most of their budget in the food, yet the waitresses were warm and matronly, describing unfamiliar dishes with a smile, in their uniform pink frocks and white aprons. It had been around since the 1950's, and this was one place Zen Master Dae Kwang (who spent much of his childhood visiting Los Angeles) always asks to go for dinner when he visits Los Angeles.

I remember leaving the restaurant once and noticing a small handwritten sign, in Spanish - a help wanted notice for servers, specifying female applicants only.

Last night, the fiance specifically wanted to eat there, as we had many times before but not in a while. In the pouring rain we drove into Koreatown only to find El Jarrito gone, and some Korean establishment in its place. (The sign was exclusively in Korean so it could have been a furniture gallery for all I know.)

We resorted to El Cholo Cafe down on Western, which has delicious food as well, and has been around even longer for that matter. Yet we felt rather sad and were given to memorializing one of 'the old places,' quietly vanished.

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