The city of L.A.'s had Mexican restaurants as far back as its history stretches -- in fact, prior to Mexico ceding California to the U.S. in 1848, they'd have been known simply as "restaurants." But bringing the flavors of Mexico's varied regions to American palates was something of a challenge in the twentieth century, one reflected in the menus below. From an era when patrons needed assurance that "not all Mexican food is hot" to the focus on authenticity and freshness that set in in the eighties and nineties, here are nine menus that show Mexican dining in evolution.
Inglewood's The Red Onion introduced diners of the fifties to "Sonora-style Mexican food," which turns out to be pretty regular Mexican-American food. Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
Meanwhile, Glendale's La Fonda offered just a handful of items to eat in for lunch or take out. Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
Casa Lucey's sprung up on Melrose in the sixties and took the brilliant marketing tack of reminding potential diners that "not all Mexican food is hot." Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
In the seventies, things start to get a little more inventive. Here, the El Cholo restaurant offers nachos and a crab meat enchilada alongside more traditional Mexican-American standbys. Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
Senor Pico's, a seventies offshoot of Trader Vic's, paired Mexican-themed cocktails with finger foods like taquitos and chili con queso. Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
By the time the eighties rolled around, interest in more authentic, regional Mexican cuisine was starting to set in. Here, Pasadena's Merida restaurant advertises Yucatan dishes. Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
This groovy menu belongs to El Porton, a Mexican chain that opened a US outpost in Montebello in the eighties. Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
The eighties also saw Tex Mex explode in popularity. The Tex Mex Café pushed fajitas and other "Texican" specialties. Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
Finally, just for fun, here's one that rocks some killer nineties design. No MSG, no Styrofoam, no excuses! Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.