What’s in Mexican food and sports that fits so well – maybe even better than the classics like hot dogs and hamburgers. Fries, salsa and guacamole accompany all sports. And God knows, tacos too, which could well be the sports food par excellence.
Then there’s beer, lots of beer — pitcher beer; heck, beer on the barrel. And in the case of the remarkable Jalapeño Pete’s (11618 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; 818-579-4264, www.jalapenopetesla.com), beer with a full pseudo blender. I don’t know where they got those crazy Bud Light dispensers, but they’re on pretty much every table – and they’re drained of crazy thirst.
There’s also Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade. Which is… quirky at best. But then, when there is a match, nobody complains about anything. Except maybe a missed pass or an interception of a nice pitch by Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. Because it’s the SoCal destination for Chiefs fans. During football season, they show up to cheer, yell and holler – and get downright manic when their team wins a game in the dying seconds.
Jalapeño Pete’s is so obsessed with the Chiefs that there’s a video on the restaurant’s website all about the fans and their destination Studio City. They even print a “Chief Chow” menu – Mahomes Sliders, Kansas City BBQ, Ponak’s Nachos (Ponak is a famous Mexican restaurant in Kansas City) and Tomahawk Fries, as well as a Chiefarita margie with a red rim and a KC BBQ Bloody Marie .
The rest of the menu hits all the right notes for a Mexican sports bar. It starts with the “Mexican Munchies” – guac de la casa and guac fuego (with mashed habanero), street corn and jalapeño poppers, short rib taquitos and chicken flautas. There are nine tacos, including one with fried avocado and another with butternut squash.
There are also “Pete’s Favorites” – asada fries and Mexican wings, Sizzlin’ Fajitas and Pete’s Taco Salad. There is a hot chocolate brownie for dessert and a churro waffle.
And the list of drinks is…long. Eight signature cocktails, with names like Mexican Pick Me Up, Cali Cartel and El Chapo; and, yes, those are references to some illegal businesses. There’s a full bar, but no beer list as far as I can tell – although the visual (and auditory) confusion in the place was so extreme, it could have been right in front of me.
The place has a looseness that keeps it just on the edge of madness. There’s a wall sign that says, “Go sit down…tequila won’t drink itself.” Another suggests: “Please sit down…you are no longer a child. There is a non-stop lottery going on. Drink samples are distributed. This is perhaps the craziest sports destination we have.
On the other hand, Fuego Bar & Grill (19563 Ventura Boulevard, Woodland Hills; 818-578-8847, www.fuegobargrill.com), on the western edge of Ventura Boulevard, is downright quiet. Lots of big screens, but not as many as Pete’s.
Plus, without a big screen everywhere you turn and a game on every one of them, you can’t be a sports bar. It is the basic ingredient. (And that makes me wonder how the installers do it! When there are multiple games on the screens, my understanding of how they are controlled and tuned goes beyond my understanding.)
Fuego has just a fraction of the crowd at Pete’s, in a space where you can sit and study a more – dare I say it – adult menu. Instead of “Munchies” we have “Appetizers” like Mango and Mahi Ceviche, Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower, Elote Cheese Bites. Far from boring, but done with more care than at the other end of town, where, as I said, food isn’t the point.
Here it is getting closer. What else would inspire chicken tortilla soup, roasted pepper and tomato bisque, barbecue steak salad, and Tumbleweed Cobb salad (made with smoked blue cheese and chipotle ranch dressing).
There are tacos stuffed with potatoes and guac, and tacos with mahi-mahi. That’s it for tacos, which is unheard of in these taco-heavy times. Instead, there’s a Wagyu beef burger and a grilled chicken club sandwich. There’s grilled spicy rubbed mahi with pineapple salad and penne pasta with grilled chicken. The Alaskan cod in the fish and chips is “wild caught”.
There’s also a long list of beers, both draft and bottled, none of which come in a Bud Light mixer.
Pete is great fun for a game…especially if you’re a Chiefs fan. Fuego works for me all season. And, although football is my game, it also works until football returns.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance food critic based in Los Angeles. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.