Our Day in LA… First Stop, Gilbert’s El Indio, Santa Monica

by McKinnon Baxter

It’s 3:30 AM. I don’t ordinarily enjoy waking up at this hour, but today is different. Today is MEXICO day.

The wee hours of the morning are only bearable when you have such motivation… 88 degree weather, white sand beaches… amazing food… and the ultimate in relaxation.

Getting ready for an 18 day trip to any part of the world is the ultimate test in brain power… It’s a test of the wits… and the test goes like this… “Can you… and will you remember it all?” Or… will you FORGET something critical… Passport, check, itinerary, check, underwear… enough underwear, check… laptop AND charger… but it’s those little things that often elude us and rather piss you off as you are now 10 minutes away from home and on your journey.

Today it’s sunglasses. This is, by the way, why I insist on buying $10 sunglasses. They need to be largely disposable or you’d lose a small fortune just by leaving them behind not once, but dozens of times.
Our trip today starts with a 24-hour stay in LA… and for both my wife and me, it’s a playground of sorts. First, it’s where we met more than 13 years ago, but second… LA just vibrates with freedom. Not perhaps the all American bald eagle kind of freedom… we get plenty of that at home… but something more along the lines of freedom to live, to be, to stretch yourself out a bit. I love living in a small town, but it has its drawbacks…

Top of the list today is Gilbert’s El Indio… our first stop after picking up the rental car. Gilbert’s is a family run Mexican restaurant that just rocks. The staff has become like family to me… although I only see them about once a year now. There’s Javier, the bartender… He calls me “El Presidente”… not sure why, but it could be that I used to use their place as a second office of sorts when I first started my internet company 14 years ago… I always tipped them very well too… so perhaps that made me presidential… not sure… there is Ricardo, Luna, Ezekiel, Mario, David and few others whose names escape me at this moment. I always feel terrible when I forget the others’ names, but we all seem to make a game out of it every time I am there…

There are a few reasons why this place is so cool… and it starts with the happy, care-free, often “joking” environment they have cultivated there. Then… everyone who is anyone is allowed to bring a picture of themselves and pin it somewhere to the wall or ceiling… so the place is plastered, wall to wall with photos. Gotta love it. But then… the food.

Gilbert's El Indio, Santa Monica
Gilbert’s El Indio, Santa Monica

First stop, their amazing chips and “el diablo” salsa. It’s criminal really. I used that word to describe an octopus pasta dish “Pulpo de Ajo” in Puerto Escondido one time and the waiter nearly gave me a Pulitzer for my choice of words. “Criminal” he said… that’s it! That’s the word for it! Thank you, thank you amigo for finally giving me the word to describe this dish! And it would seem to fit at Gilbert’s as well.

The hot carrots, peppers and onions that come in a small dish are also amazing and unlike any others I have found elsewhere.


Gilbert’s, smartly, is an all cash business. I love that. People come far and wide to eat at Gilbert’s… regardless of their all cash policy… so they conduct business the way they want to… that right there adds another 2-3% to their bottom line. I suppose there are other advantages to the cash approach… not withstanding maintaining privacy and control over your operations.

I usually order the Huevos Mexicano, but sometimes the Machaca… another egg dish, but add the beef for a little more Mexican satisfaction… and both are… well… criminal.

Margaritas of course flow night, morning and day at Gilbert’s… another draw for sure, but I have to say to bring it all home… the prices at Gilbert’s El Indio are just slightly under what you might expect for such culinary satisfaction… and so committing this crime… and experiencing this ultimate pleasure without actually going to jail… is pure, unadulterated, Mexican… ecstasy.

gilberts el indio margaritas
gilberts el indio margaritas

Gilbert’s really has it all… unforgettable environment… fun staff, absolutely criminal food… and something I have not yet mentioned… great private booths making it always a place of great conversation with friends. If you have not been to Gilbert’s El Indio on Pico Blvd in Santa Monica… put it at the top of your list when visiting the west side of LA. I have to say, for me… this restaurant, is most certainly #1 on my LA list… and perhaps ranks #1 as my favorite worldwide.

When we are arrived at Gilbert’s today, my experience was, as usual, a carbon copy of the countless perfect experiences of my past… all the boys were still there, and for good reason. Why would you change your job when you work in a place where everyone is having fun, everyone is happy to be there, and I would imagine the tips they get rival any so called “job” you could get out there sitting in a frickin cubicle all day long.

I asked “Luna” if he would indulge my wife with “that picture” he has of himself as a baby. I won’t give away the surprise, but unfortunately he doesn’t carry it in his wallet anymore. What? Is he growing up or something? Well, he promised to bring it to our next visit in 2 weeks. So if you make it to Gilbert’s… be sure to ask for Luna and his impressive baby photo. But ask at your own risk… hahaha, Luna, what a character… what a good amigo.

One man's perspective…