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Mas Malo hits the ground running in downtown L.A.

January 11, 2011 |  4:01 pm

Mas Malo, the sister restaurant to Silver Lake's popular Malo taqueria and cantina, has opened in the sprawling space below Cedd Moses' dapper whiskey bar Seven Grand. Located inside a former jewelry store that dates to the 1920s, the split-level restaurant and its downstairs bar are owned by Jeff Ellermeyer and Mitchell Frank (of Spaceland Productions).

On Thursday, the restaurant, which has a 309-person capacity, had  already soft-opened, and by 6:30 p.m., many of its wooden chairs were full and a fair number of drinkers idled at the upstairs bar. Frank and Ellermeyer were present for a special preview party, and they guided interested bloggers and journalists through the restaurant.

MasMalo2 Frank noted that the space was a protected historical landmark. To that end, he and Ellermeyer weren't allowed to make any drastic alterations besides those that restored the classic-looking room's soaring ceilings (decorated with pronounced floral patterns); pink marble floors; vintage woodwork; and original murals. The result is a grand, New York-style restaurant, made to feel more enticing by the presence of the chic and bustling Bottega Louie just across the street.

There's also a tequila tasting room and shrine in the confines of an old jewelry vault. Frank says when the room opens, it will house more than 150 bottles of tequila.

A stairwell at the front of the restaurant leads guests to a subterranean cantina with hanging wicker couches and plush couches and chairs.

More after the jump.

MasMalo1 "If upstairs was Mexico City, this might be Acapulco," Frank says of the cantina, which will serve finger food such as tacos until 2 a.m. And in a clever spin on L.A.'s obsession with speakeasies, the cantina has a side entrance that is accessed through a secret room. The room is dressed up to look just like Malo in Silver Lake, with rich crimson wallpaper, the same candle-shaped light fixtures and a single black wingback chair beside which will rest a phone. Visitors must pick up the phone to gain entrance to the cantina.

"It's your portal from Silver Lake to Acapulco," Ellermeyer says with a grin.  

The menu is much the same as that of Malo in Silver Lake, with the requisite, eerily addictive ground beef and pickle tacos; Oaxaca shrimp with chipotle and cream; tangy, chile-laced birria de res; and the deeply disturbing (because they are so delicious and must be so bad for you) chewy corn chips with a flight of salsas.

Chef Robert Luna also has created some items unique to Malo's downtown location, including egg-less chile relleno and vegan pozole.

To drink, you'll find a wide variety of cocktails with a focus on tequila concoctions. Favorites include the Medicina Latina made with ginger and agave nectar; a spicy cucumber margarita; and, of course, the traditional Malo margarita.

Mas Malo, 515 W. 7th St., L.A. (213) 985-4332.

-- Jessica Gelt

Photos: The downstairs cantina (top) and the cantina's secret entrance (bottom) Credit: Jessica Gelt  / Los Angeles Times.