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Mexican Cuisine With a Bit of Ooh La La

Maria Magdaleno, head chef at El Mariachi in Encino, adds a French twist to her dishes.

El Mariachi is a newly opened restaurant featuring authentic Mexican cuisine with a French flair. This unusual concept combines executive chef Maria Magdaleno's love of both cuisines at the Encino eatery, which has an elegant yet inviting Mexican Hacienda decor and a great sports bar area.

The bar features multiple plasma televisions and various margaritas. Combine all these ingredients with Magdaleno’s great cooking, and you have a recipe for success.

Magdaleno's affinity for food developed while she was growing up in Mexico. “Everybody is into the restaurant business in my family, so we were always making something,” she said.

Her family moved to California when she was 13 for her father’s business. When Magdaleno was just a teenager, she started working at Cha Cha Cha, a local Caribbean restaurant, as a line cook, and soon worked her way up to sous-chef. It was there that Magdaleno realized she wanted to make a career of cooking, and now has 17 years of experience under her belt.

“I went to cooking school at Pasadena College while still working at the restaurant and being a full-time mom, which was hard, but definitely worth it,” said Magdaleno.

While attending cooking school, Magdaleno fell in love with the elegance of French cuisine. She went on to work as a sous-chef at Spazio in Sherman Oaks, where the menu combined Italian and French elements. Her most recent position was at Senor Fred, also located in Sherman Oaks, where she was the executive chef. There, she planned the menu as well as the presentation of the food. That is where she really found her cooking groove.

“Usually everyone thinks Mexican cuisine is just enchiladas, and it’s not—we want to show that we have all different types of food and spices to offer,” said Magdaleno. “I want to present the flavor of Mexican cuisine, but more fancy—more presentation and maybe a little twist with the French element.”

One of her favorite meals to make is Carne Durangenze (see recipe below), which features steak marinated in spices including garlic, cumin and ancho chile. This is served with tortillas, rice, beans and a garnish of cactus, onion and tomato mixed together.

Her one-of-a-kind meals are not just a hit with customers; they’re a big hit with her four kids, who range in age from 8 to 16.

“My kids will be like, ‘Mom you need to bring something to school because I already put your name down,’ and I’m thinking oh, great,” joked Magdaleno. “The parents also know that I work as a chef, and they always like when I bring something for events."

El Mariachi is open every day from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday brunch from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Tuesdays, tacos are $1.99, and include asada, chicken apasto and vegetarian options as well. For more information, go to the restaurant's website at mariachicantina.com.

Here is Magdaleno's recipe for Carne Durangenze:

Carne Durangenze (serves 1)

1 pound boneless steak

1 tablespoon paprika

3 tablespoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons ground ancho chile

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 tablespoon kosher salt

½ cup black pepper

½ cup lemon juice

½ cup orange juice

Instructions:

Mix all ingredients except the meat in a bowl. Cover the boneless steak in the mixture and let it marinate for 20 minutes to an hour. Put the steak on the grill and brown on each side.

After the steak is cooked to your preference, slice it into thin pieces. Serve it with a mixture of refried beans, rice, cactus and tomato, inside a flour or corn tortilla.

Ahmed Abebe April 01, 2011 at 11:41 PM
We were excited to see a Mexican restaurant open on Ventura Blvd in Encino. We were very disappointed when we tried it. Neither the Margarita's nor the food were very good. We won't be going back.
Erica Andrews April 03, 2011 at 04:22 AM
I’m sorry you had a bad experience. Chef Magdaleno said they’re still working to incorporate a number of new recipes into the current menu, since they’re still so new. I personally tried her new Carne Durangenze entrée and thought it was delicious.

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