El Coyotito #3 (see review) is a real Mexican restaurant -- all tacos and menudo, sopas de mariscos and sad accordion music on the juke. Lola, on the other hand, is a very fake Mexican restaurant that, in being fake, has earned the freedom to be so much more. In its new location on Boulder Street, Lola has shed any pretension of being the comfy, tattered Ensenada beach restaurant that owners Dave Query and chef Jamey Fader once envisioned for their little spot on Pearl, and has now fully embraced its potential as a place where pouring margs and mojitos into well-heeled yuppies is job number one, and feeding them a pleasant afterthought. The double-sided bar is well staffed and comes with a great view of the city (though much of that will be blocked by a new loft development across the street). The dining room is overseen by a wide-open kitchen where the cooks in their black-on-black house colors work to keep ahead of the tides, and the floor is kept dim and crowded -- throbbing with guests and floor staff and the buzz of a new restaurant, even though Lola isn't new (and even the new Lola isn't really). What is new is the menu, which debuted last week. The kitchen now serves fried-oyster tacos, which sound great on paper but don't work on the plate. Imagine three giant oysters -- each too powerfully fishy, their sea funk accentuated by the heat and the oil -- breaded and fried, slathered in avocado tartar sauce and served spilling out of a cone-shaped shell that tastes like a giant Frito with a dressing of roasted corn and microgreens, and you come close to the taste of these tacos. The new spinach-and-manchego empanadas tasted like my mom's spinach pie, only deep-fried; the chuletas in pomegranate syrup were sold out by 8 p.m. (as they had been the night before). The scallops two ways came seared with chile threads (that's okay, I don't know what they were, either), then mounted in a puddle of smooth chile sauce and paired with an excellent little Anaheim relleno, a bay scallop and a corn cake over bitter greens and black beans, plus a single egg fried too hard. The combination was good, if overpriced at twenty bucks for two scallops and a salad. But then there was the wickedly hot charred-jalapeño-and-piñon tamale covered in pickled onions and lobster barbacoa, which was fantastic (especially when scooped out with shards of giant Frito from my oyster taco). And a soup of shrimp albondigas, whole onions, shredded onion crisps, garbanzo beans and stewed lemon in a lobster stock smelled -- in its first bloom of lemon and garlic and onion -- like the kind of thing you'd get in some Baja Italian restaurant gone totally bamboo, and tasted so great I was rendered temporarily speechless. For me, that's really saying something.
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