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Five Dishes to Try at El Patron

Altadena's newish Mexican joint at the top of Lake Avenue has a lot of good options, but here is one take on what to order.

When I moved to Altadena in 1976, the building at 2555 N. Lake Street was vacant.  Someone told me it had been a restaurant at one time but had closed.  There were even fewer restaurants back then in Altadena, and I hoped that someday there would be one there again.  I was understandably disappointed when a real estate office opened!  Years passed, the real estate office moved out and the space stayed mostly vacant. 

 I was excited when finally it reopened as a soul food restaurant, and then a sort of fusion restaurant, then a Mediterranean/Italian (with great bread and yummy lasagna) restaurant.  Then the space sat empty again for a couple of years until a barbeque chicken place opened.  The chicken was pretty good, but the hours inconsistent and the staff somewhat clueless.  It ended up yet another memory of what wasn’t. 

 I could NOT have been happier to see activity there again in the beginning of 2010!  I was even more excited to see that a Mexican restaurant was coming!  In May of 2010, my son told me that they were having a free taco opening.  So, we loaded up the van and drove down. 

I really liked the tacos; they were REAL tacos, the same ones that you would get at an authentic Mexican family backyard party.  The ones like the “taco lady” makes.  No cheese, no lettuce, no tomatoes……only two small corn tortillas, some great meat, chile, maybe pico de gallo, and limes or lemon. Then to find that they are $.99!  Muy bueno!!

We met the owner, Alejandro Cortes, at that opening and he has always greeted us with a very friendly hello every time we go there. The staff there is wonderful.  They are always friendly, courteous, attentive and fast.  They know us by now and treat us like friends – I like that.  There are a couple other places in town that have been open much longer and that I have frequented and still barely get a nod from the staff. 

I have eaten at dozens of Mexican Restaurants over the years since I left Ohio.  I will never forget my first experience with a taco made by my college roommate’s mother!  My poor delicate taste buds had never been exposed to such HEAT!!  It engulfed my tongue and shot up my Eustachian tubes.  My ears were ON FIRE!! 

If you have ever frequented some of the authentic restaurants in El Sereno, HP, East LA, you know that they are NOT for the feint of tongue!  Forewarned is forearmed!  They don’t Americanize for anyone like many of the chain restaurants do.  I think that El Patron gets it right.  Their salsa is very good, fresh tomatoes, onions, and cilantro with just the right amount of mild spice.  If you want more heat, you can add it from their selection of chili sauces, or ask for a side of jalapenos.  The chips are good too and I like the guacamole as well. 

Now on to the FOOD!!  From the appetizers, we have ordered the cheese quesadilla for my granddaughter many times, and the nachos are my teen daughter’s favorite thing on the menu.  We also have ordered the “El Patron Style Appetizer” of nachos, taquitos and quesadilla.  The appetizer plate is a lot of food, we split it for lunch and ordered iced tea and had lunch for two for $12!

I love to order a la carte, because I get to eat the combination that I want.  I’ve eaten the cheese and the chicken enchilada, and I recommend their enchilada sauce.  They make their own and it has a great smoky chile flavor that I enjoy.  The chile relleno is just yummy.  I like the egg batter in contrast to the relleno pepper and jack cheese.  They cover it with a broth-y ranchero sauce and the combination is wonderful.  I have never had a relleno with sauce like their sauce and I am a convert!!

Peoples’ tastes, when it comes to tamales, can vary greatly.  There is the sweet tamale, the savory tamale, the Mexican tamale, Central American tamale and the South American tamale wrapped in banana leaves.  My favorite tamale at El Patron is the chicken tamale.  For me, it has the perfect amount of masa/meat and it is served with a green tomatillo sauce that I LOVE!  The cheese tamale is good too.  I look forward to trying beef and pork at later dates.

El Patron has combination plates served with tasty rice and beans, fajitas plates, sea food dishes and House Specials.  I’ve tried the Chile Colorado and the Chile Verde.  They are both very good.  The Chile Colorado has a delicious red sauce with a nice amount of heat and I ate every bite!

You have by now, gathered that I am a big fan of El Patron.  They have a kids menu, the caldo de pescado (fish soup) made with sea bass is delicious, the flan is great and last but not least, there are those wonderful $.99 tacos.  I took my co workers to lunch one day.  The three of us ordered tacos and a soda…….with chips and salsa.  The tacos were great, we were full and the check was -- $18.00 including the tip!!

Speaking of tacos……..my favorite is the lengua (tongue).  I can’t believe that I am actually saying that as I was traumatized as a young girl when I lifted the lid of a delicious smelling soup pot only to be confronted with a beef tongue at a full rolling boil!!  I could never order it at a deli or think about eating it.  El Patron has changed that and erased any memory of trauma with their tender, succulent lengua tacos.

The food, the staff, the ambiance and the prices make El Patron a real winner in my book.  If there were anything that could be improved, it would be the plating presentation could be a little neater….but this is family dining, and the tasty food more than makes up for that.

So to round up the top 5 dishes I'd recommend there:

1) The tacos - the authenticity of the dish and the price makes this the top choice

2) The chicken tamale -- nice amount of masa and delicious green sauce

3) Chile Relleno -- very good batter and wonderful ranchero sauce

4) Nachos - ask them to make them the way you want them

5) Chile Colorado - well seasoned red sauce really makes this dish

Leslie Aitken March 30, 2011 at 06:23 PM
Mmmmmm....please share your favorite thing to order. I was so hungry after I wrote this!!
Dan Abendschein (Editor) March 30, 2011 at 06:30 PM
I have not been yet, but the nachos and the taco plate look incredibly good in the photos.
Leslie Aitken March 30, 2011 at 06:38 PM
Another thing.......no orange cheese in sight.......not that I don't like it, just not authentic.
Shaquonia March 30, 2011 at 08:32 PM
The fajitas are really good! Great place for affordable family dining and the staff is very friendly.
Maeve McGrath March 30, 2011 at 08:52 PM
I always have the carne asada plate when I go - they grill the onions with broth and they are delicious. The staff are always attentive and sweet, refilling ice tea before it's even finished. I also love the chips and salsa - tastes so fresh and just enough bite. My husband usually does carnitas and he says it's amazing. It's nice that they bring the fried tortillas dusted with sugar at the end as well. Our meal is never more than $25, with tip.
Lori A. Webster March 31, 2011 at 12:02 AM
I really like their tostadas - the traditional type with only a fried corn tortilla on the bottom, although they do make the other type as well. Very delicious with some guacamole and shredded chicken. Scott really loves the carnitas tacos and the taquitos. Leslie, we ordered the nachos for that social media event we had a few months ago, and the raves about them were many and loud!
Robert Goins March 31, 2011 at 05:43 PM
I have eaten at El Patron several times,the food is very tasty ,except for the Menudo.The flavor isn't there,and the tripe could be cleaned and the fat removed a little bit more.
SteveB May 11, 2011 at 09:20 PM
The tortilla soup. It wasn't on the menu, but we asked, they had it, and it was among the best I've ever had.
Pasadena Adjacent May 20, 2012 at 05:45 PM
This place seems to have taken off. I've stopped in 3 times over the last month. Finally a descent place to drop in after a hike. Chile relleno and bean and cheese burrito; were vegetarians. The pico de gallo salsa is excellent. The chips are blah - purchased. I like the fried in house chips best and often don't return to lessor establishments, but the food is so well prepared and the environment so comfortable that I'm willing to overlook it. No overwhelming loud music, reasonable and people are happy. It reminds me of the early mexican restaurants that were run by moms in the kitchen. I grew up here and know the difference
Revvell May 21, 2012 at 03:26 AM
I've had the potato tacos sans cheese a few times and now I get a side of rice, a side of beans (minus cheese again) with pico de gallo. I love the friendliness of the staff no matter how busy they are.

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