DTLA: Dinner at Bar Ama

frito pie

Nana’s frito pie

When I first started going to Bar Ama, I was swinging by for lunch. I’ve now gone in a few times for dinner and it’s a different vibe. Both are excellent but there’s something fun about sitting at the bar and having dinner versus the usually low-key lunch service. Some days I dream of just going in for the frito pie and nothing else.

The trend has been more comfort-food driven restaurants and there’s nothing like elevating a humble snack often served in its bag to this magnificent dish at Bar Ama. I wish I had Chef Josef Centeno’s Nana if this was the stuff he grew up with.

The following is a collection of several dinners but I suppose you could gather a group of 6 and get through quite a bit of the menu. I still want to do the young goat dinner with a group.

Ama Old Fashioned

Ama Old Fashioned

If you snag a seat at the bar, I recommend starting with either Ama Old Fashioned with tequila anejo or the Chingon (tequila reposado, citrus, orgeat, Benedictine, orange). Chingon means “badass” which the drink is most definitely.


scallop escabeche


Oddly I usually concentrate on the meatier dishes when I’m at Bar Ama but I really like the seafood as well. My friend insisted we get the scallop escabeche which turned out to be an excellent choice. I’m usually wary of smaller scallops but Chef Josef is a master at super light breading. The avocado added a richness and the dish is studded with quinoa. You could call healthy. I do.




Everything is better with crushed ice.


nopales and hearts of palm salad


Speaking of healthy, this nopales and hearts of palm salad truly is. The veggies are dressed lightly and tossed with Oaxacan quesillo, a drier salty string cheese.




If you like spicy cocktails, test your limits with the Zapatista (Bacanora blanco, serrano chile, cilantro, citrus, honey). This is a great food cocktail as it enhances the food rather than detract from it.





As expected, the ceviche is awesome. I love the matchstick-sized radish, watercress, onion and fresh fruit in this dish as well. I was told the fish changes but the prep usually remains the same.


sunchoke, potatoes, chayote


The sunchoke, potatoes and chayote wasn’t exactly my favorite even though I love all of those three things. I finally pinpointed it to the dressing of sour cream. While I love sour cream (who doesn’t love it?), I thought it’d be better if these veggies were deep fried to be dipped in the sour cream.

puffy tacos

carne guisada puffy tacos


One of these days, I will try the shrimp puffy tacos. Until then, I enjoyed the carne guisada tacos. I bet the corned tongue (lengua), chorizo and cheese and potato tacos would be great too. There are just so many things on this menu!


confit duck & bean chalupa


I grew up in Los Angeles and went to LAUSD schools all my life. Chalupa meant this awful, inedible disc of horror. So, you can imagine me “overlooking” the confit duck and bean chalupa when I was perusing the menu. But someone said something to someone who said something about it to me (like that logic?) and well, I had to try it. It’s now one of my favorite dishes. The duck is so good and the beans were just the right amount of softness. I thought the chalupa was closer to my favorite sopa and I can easily order these things without the flashbacks. Well, almost.


mole enchiladas


Chef Josef sent out these mole enchiladas to us. We were so full but we happily ate them anyway. In fact, we really couldn’t stop eating. Bottomless pits, I tell ya.


Luz’s Cooler


For more easy sipping, I recommend the Luz’s Cooler (Smith & Cross rum, white rum, pineapple-canela, Velvet Falernum). Somewhere out there, a rum nerd just geeked out.


Mondongo – menudo


On a lunch visit, I wanted to try the mondongo which is menudo. Usually I don’t get to get this treat until weekends but Ama has it all week. There’s even a vegetarian option for this stew normally chock full of tripe and oxtail. One order is meant for at least 2 but it’s more easily shared with 4. I went home with leftovers and had the stew in the morning as breakfast – just the perfect thing if you’ve been bar hopping the evening before.

blood sausage

blood sausage & pork cheek


Blood sausage? Yes. Pork cheek? Yes. Fried egg? Yes. Plus corn and quinoa. Done.


green calabacita


Mark my words, amaranth is going to be the next super food. In this veggie dish, amaranth is combined with cotija cheese and you’re given tortillas so you can make your own taco of sorts. I would actually love to see this over rice (or quinoa) with a fried egg. It’d make a simple one-dish dinner.

Big Red

Big Red


On one of my last visits, bar manager Jeremiah Doherty handed me something he was calling the Big Red. Possibly I want every night to end this way.

Now who wants to get some young goat with me?

Bar Ama

118 W 4th St., Los Angeles, CA 90013  —  (213) 687-8002

© The Minty 2013