Ortega 120: Best Tequila Bar
Demi Stevens did a very bold thing in 2008. Stevens, a veteran of the the Venice and Santa Monica restaurant scene, decamped to Redondo Beach, where she invested her life’s savings on a restaurant that approached tequila and traditional Mexican food with the seriousness, creativity and passion usually reserved for more modern cuisine. She and her business partner, Thomas Ortega, opened Ortega 120 at a location where several restaurants had failed. Like many great ideas, both the concept its success now seem inevitable, but only in retrospect — at the time it seemed high-nigh foolhardy. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, several restaurants have since opened that following Ortega 120’s concept. Regarding 120: it denoted how many tequilas the bar at the restaurant served (now it’s up to 200), which was also something seven years ago that was unheard of. In mainstream America, tequila had largely been something to be endured as a shot, not savored as a delicacy. “When it started [in the U.S.], the idea with tequila, was to get one shot and hold down the vomit,” Stevens said. “People still don’t realize — tequila is the most regulated spirit in the world.” Ortega 120 even established its own “Tequila U.” to help educate customers on the nuances of the spirit, and it took its house margarita more seriously than almost any previous venue — making fresh mix daily out of limes, oranges, lemons, and agave nectar and using top shelf tequilas. The results have been astonishing — the drink won the best margarita award LA-wide several times from the LA Weekly and Fox Good Day LA, and Ortega 120 has become a national attraction, most recently spotlighted by the Esquire Network as one of top bars in America. “It’s Demi,” said manager Nick Riera. “She created the drink menu herself. She knows her tequila. And knew it way before it became the trendy thing.”
Ortega 120 1814 Pacific Coast Hwy, Redondo Beach, 310-792-4120, Ortega 120.com.
Runner up: Palmillla Cocina y Tequila, 39 Pier Ave, Hermosa Beach, 310-503-7722, PalmillaRestaurant.com