Sitting on the southish side of Pico near 26th Street in Santa Monica is a Mexican restaurant that has been satisfying Angeleno bellies since 1974. Upon arriving at the doors of Gilbert’s El Indio, we were greeted by a statue of a Native American with a noticeably large chain wrapped around its leg, securing it to the establishment.
Ask the staff, and they’ll describe a great tale of kidnappings (yes, that’s plural!) and ransom behind this third generation El Indio statue!
Once seated in this cozy Mexican restaurant, our table was immediately set with a basket of freshly fried tortilla chips and salsa.
If you’re feeling extra spicy, kick it up a notch by asking for the El Diablo salsa!
We spoke with Ricardo Rodriguez,
who is the 8th of 9 kids born to Carmen & Gilbert Rodriguez, the founders and namesake of Gilbert’s El Indio. He shared that at home, Mama Carmen cooks much spicier foods than what is served at the restaurant, which is more tailored to a mid-level heat range for their patrons. The flavors here are distinctively Southern Californian with heavy inspiration from its family roots in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
But first, drinks! Gilbert himself started in the industry as a bartender, so you know these are good. The bar here specializes in beers and margaritas. Pro-tip: come here early and kick off your week at 2p for Margarita Mondays! The specials are loco (a pitcher of marg for $12.50!! and $5.50 food specials), so expect a packed house.
Marg numero uno: the Gilbert’s Special, made with Casa Noble, agave nectar, and lime juice. We should’ve ordered the pitcher.
Marg numero dos: House Blended Mango—taste the tango in your mouth!
Marg numero tres: …was actually a Paloma, and it was this tequila-lover’s personal favorite.
And just for SmvEATS readers, we have collaborated with Gilbert’s to create a super secret off-the-menu special! We’ll save that for the end. ^.~
For noms, we love the Asada Mini Super Special Burrito, filled with hearty steak, beans, avocado, and lettuce, slathered in melted cheese and their mild yet savory verde sauce. The components are simple and perfectly complimentary for that melt-in-your mouth kind of food heaven. Feeling a little extra? Nix the “mini” part of the order. Feeling extra extra? Go all out and order the Extra Super Mule, and please send us pics of you taking it down!
If you want a plate of deliciousness to put together and wrap up yourself, order the Plato De Carnitas. Each piece of prepared pork has this delightfully crispy edge to it. While nice on its own, the staff showed us that dunking it in their red salsa before wrapping it in a piece of fresh tortilla brings this carnitas plate to a whole new level of wow!
Popular among regulars is the #6 Taco & Enchilada. Our taco was stuffed with beef and our enchilada with chicken. The taco has a lovely crisp that gives the entire bite an exciting combo of textures; the enchilada is encompassed by a beautiful crust of cheese that melds the whole thing into its surrounding accompaniments of well-seasoned beans and rice. If you’re thinking this is the prefect combination of all necessary food groups and you’d like to enjoy this on the daily, Ricardo suggests omitting the cheese and asking for boiled beans—it’s what he does to keep up his figure!
What about dessert? Good news and bad news. Bad news: they don’t serve dessert here. Gilbert’s menu of savory Mexican foods is phenomenal, and they want to keep focusing on doing what they do best—we can appreciate that. Good news: we here at SmvEATS believe margaritas are a perfectly acceptable form of dessert! Which brings us to our super secret SmvEATS menu item at Gilbert’s El Indio: the Smokey Robinson Went to Mexico margarita.
The best way we can describe this is as a divine amalgam of smoky mezcal and fresh strawberry fields in a glass. Trust us, you won’t even miss dessert.
On a small business note, we’d like to mention that we love this place for its community impact and awareness. Since 1974, Gilbert’s has employed 23 local families, growing our local economy and creating work opportunities in Santa Monica. They have also taken an active step towards sustainability by participating in the Green Business Program this year. This family-owned business is making a big difference, and that’s something we definitely support!
Please keep in mind that Gilbert’s El Indio is a cash-only establishment. And mark your calendars for May 20th, 2019, as they’ll be celebrating their 45th anniversary with a return to their original menu (if you’re curious, it’s framed on the wall around the front door)!!
It will be a fiesta you don’t want to miss. By the way, Mama Carmen still comes in every single day 7a-11a, so make sure you stop in to say hello! And for all of you brunch-lovers, Gilbert’s El Indio opens at 8a every day, and we hear the Huevos Indios is a must. Provecho!
2526 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405