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Where To Find Tapas Inspired By Coastal Mexican Cuisine

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If Toluca Lake is a place mostly known to you as the neighborhood where Jules and Vincent meet The Wolf in Pulp Fiction, you might be interested in knowing there are also some excellent culinary destinations there. Chef Alex Eusebio and his wife, Sarah Mann Eusebio, opened Sweetsalt there a few years ago and in October, they launched a new joint. Cascabel puts fresh spin on coastal Mexican cuisine served alongside craft cocktails in a vibrant, casual environment.

Eusebio's goal is to reeducate Angelenos about Mexican food's possibilities: "If you want cheese dripping tortillas, overcooked rice, heavy sauces and inferior meats...this ain't your spot," he told LAist.

Though admittedly partial to the burrito truck parked nightly outside my apartment that serves just those things, I decided to give Cascabel a try.

Eusebio, who appeared on Top Chef prior to his restaurateur days, offers a unique, internationally-influenced twist on traditional Latin cuisine. He was born in Spain, grew up in the Dominican Republic and lived in New York City prior to settling in Los Angeles. The menu at Cascabel has lots of seafood, as well as Mexican food with his own flare, like tacos made with fried chicken or Brussels sprouts.

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Though the restaurant calls itself "coastal Mexican cuisine," Eusebio admits he uses the term loosely. His fusion style of cooking at Cascabel seems to play on the concept of Baja-Med cooking that's become so popular South of the Border as of late, where chefs are fusing traditional Mexican ingredients with Mediterranean and Asian influence, all while using local produce.

"This concept emerged from when my wife and I were vacationing on the coast of Mexico. I noticed locals ate from local farms and healthy proportions—heavy on the seafood and freshness. So I took the 'coastal feeling' as the base of the restaurant and since then, we've evolved into our own individual fare as we throw in our personal experience and flavors."

Eusebio said he also runs new dishes by the restaurant's dishwasher, also named Alex, who is from Veracruz. Sometimes, Alex approves while other times, he offers to show Eusebio something he cooks at home. Eusebio says it's not uncommon that Alex "schools" him.

The tapas-style menu at Cascabel is meant to be shared, and the items on the menu change frequently. Our meal began with complimentary chips and a variety of salsas. The smoky, red salsa here was our favorite. This was followed up with bacon guacamole ($8), a simple dish where the salty bacon paired well with the sharp lime.

Next, we sampled a salmon crudo ($12) with pineapple, radish, ginger-lime syrup, smoked salt, and chorizo powder which I really enjoyed, though my dining companion found the ginger-lime syrup-which permeates the dish too sweet for his tastes. (For reference: he also hates donuts.) Other small plates we sampled included a fried chicken taco with a chili honey glaze ($8), fresh tuna tacos in crispy shells with lime and cilantro ($16), and a rich duck confit taco topped with goat cheese, a black bean puree and a tarragon-tomatillo salsa ($10). The tacos here are small (two bites), but flavorful and would work well shared (the lobster and tuna orders come with three tacos, the other with two).

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Our favorite dish was the bone-in short rib mole ($18): the savory short rib is served with butternut squash, pepitas and sesame seeds. The mole is rich, and the meat is incredibly tender.

Cascabel has a full bar with a modest beer and wine list, as well as a list of solid craft cocktails. While many are more traditional drinks—a michelada, paloma, caipirinha, and old fashioneds and mules made with mezcal and tequila—our favorite was the Fuego Verde. This cocktail made with Arette blanco cilantro and serrano chili-infused tequila, lime, agave nectar, pineapple and a chili salt rim isn't afraid to be legitimately spicy, but is balanced by its refreshing sweetness. Cocktails will set you back about $10-12, while a Tecate is $5. They also have a variety of tequilas and a few mezcals.

The trendy turquoise decor and art-covered walls feels modern over formal, making it an ideal venue for a fun catch-up session or a date— especially if you order dessert and have to sit closer to share. If you do, we'd suggest the spiced hot chocolate brownie served with rum raisin horchata ice cream and cinnamon wafer, $12.

While much of the menu is meats and seafood, there were a few veggie options including roasted cauliflower, brussels sprouts, guac and a brussels sprouts taco topped with artichoke, beans and purple cabbage slaw.

Cascabel is located at 10717 Riverside Dr, Toluca Lake. (818) 927-4210.