Echo Park restaurant will leave you and your wallet feeling thinner

Some restaurant owners can’t wait for a visit and review from the L.A. Times’ Jonathan Gold. Others may wish that the Pulitizer Prize-winning critic had never shown up.  The latter might be the case for the owners of Cortez, the Spanish and Mediterranean-inspired  that opened in Echo Park last fall.  In Saturday’s Counter Intelligence review,  Gold seemed to have nothing but praise for the dishes served up at the restaurant  owned by Marta Teegan and Robert Stelzner, who also own Cookbook, the upscale Echo Park grocery. But Gold  did not seem to care for much of anything else, taking jabs at the service, the wait and the “self-selecting” clientele – “if you belong here, you know who you are.”

But Gold’s biggest problem with Cortez was the small size of the portions,  saying the restaurant may have taken the small plates concept to a pricy extreme.

You are going to cut the two globes of merguez sausage neatly into halves, wrap your bit in a bandage-sized scrap of flatbread and hope that you have not taken more than your allotted half-teaspoonful of yogurt sauce … Tiny portions are great in principle and on tasting menus, but there may be a reason so many of the regulars at Cortez fit nicely into skinny jeans. And by the time you finish ordering, you are going to have spent a shocking amount of money.

But it does not appear that Skinny Jean crowd has a problem with those small portions. Gold described a nearly hour-long wait for a seat to open up.


  1. Pretty funny!

  2. this is so very true. i couldn’t wait for cortez to open – it’s beautiful, it’s right sround the corner from me and the food all looks and sounds amazing. but the portions are comically small and SO expensive! perhaps there are hour-long waits now, but not for long. unless cortez decides to fork over more food, or lower their prices to numbers less absurd, its regulars will run out of money and patience eating there, while the rest of us head to the many other great places in this neighborhood that offer more generous portions at a fairer price.

  3. That is pretty funny! I like that guy with the BBQ on cypress ave just fine!

  4. Yes, the food is inventive alright but the service is indeed rude and annoying.

    Looking forward to something better moving in there by 2014.

  5. Echo Park is not Beverly Hills or the Sunset Strip, nor does it aspire to be. It sounds to me like Cortez chose the wrong neighborhood. Then again, the lower lease payment coupled with high prices is probably netting the owners a bucket of bucks. It will be interesting to see how long they last.

  6. Yes I totally agree, was very happy that a place was opening up close to work where I could get coffee and some lunch. Was shocked on the portion sizes at $14 I got a mediocre side salad and $5 dollar latte that I had to hold with 2 fingers it was ridiculous. They did a nice job remodeling the space but I hope they work on a realistic portion size.

  7. I think Cortez is a great addition to the neighborhood–albeit the portions are small. But there are various other restaurants with similarly sized, if not smaller, portions in different neighborhoods acclaimed with praise (i.e., Son of a Gun). Simply because this restaurant is not in a more “ritzy” neighborhood does not mean that Marta and Robert should not charge the actual cost of food (of course with a profit margin). Buying produce from smaller farmers, using ethically raised meats, and etc. is expensive.

  8. i agree !! we went there with friends – and waited well over an hour. in that time – we had a glass of wine and shared one appetizer – it came out and was basically a roasted potato with two types of sauce to dip the potato wedges into…it looked like the wedges all together would have made up about 1/4 of a potato. for real? and when that hour had passed and we still hadn’t been seated, we just left. the staff and owners were shocked – but we just kind of got over the place. oh well. we will try it again – but we went to El Compadre across the street and had the time of our lives !!

  9. Is that the old Scorpion Tires? I miss that place.

  10. Indeed. We tried it once. $150 dollars later and still hungry, it was easy to decide not to go back there. There are tons of great options within walking distance.

    And the whole ‘no reservations’ thing? Please. I have to wait to give you my hard earned money?

  11. I’m kind of loathe to admit that Cortez is a gem of a place for lunch. .

    I can’t attest to the night time experience at Cortez, but I can say that I love going there for lunch. There is no wait and plenty of elbow room because only a handful of people eat while the vampires in skinny jeans are working of their hangovers in their coffins or at Pop Physique.

    The small portions are great for lunch and the service is both casual and charming.

    I want to keep the secret to myself but worry that it won’t be there in a year if the crowd doesn’t pick up

  12. Will avoid as always have the skinny jeans ripoff restaurant.When I go I need food, practical that way. In fact, craved something Saturday I haven’t in years enjoyed at old standby, a massive, drenched HOLLENBECK BURRITO, caps necessary.

    From what I’m reading here, thing coulda fed entire house.

  13. I moved out of Hollywood because it became over priced and commercial. Love Echo Park for what it is and I really hope it doesn’t get run over by places like this. There are enough pretentious places in l.a., please stay out of Echo Park.

    • Puhleeeeze.
      You have missed the curve already !
      It has already been drenched in over – priced establishments .

      Echo Parker Since 1967

  14. “The food is terrible. And such small portions.”

  15. I love Cortez. The reviewer was Mr. Cranky Pants that day. We go early for dinner around 6 or 6:30 PM before the crowds show up. I find the portion sizes at Cortez much larger than other tapas places. The staff has always been friendly, helpful and gracious with answering our questions in regards to the menu. I hope Mr. Gold’s review doesn’t harm their business as it really is a nice addition to Echo Park.

  16. I went here once was received extremely rude service. Put me in the “does not belong” category. I’m glad Gold called them on their crap!

  17. He has merely converted the attitude in Echo Park about real estate prices into the approach to a restaurant. And so he gets long lines just waiting to be gouged, just like the idiots who pay that prices for housing.

    If you want to know who it is who have been flooding into Echo Park and making it the home of idiots, just go see who is in that line. Or alternately, just go see who shows up at the next open house when they could get so much more for their money in many other nice neighborhoods that are not overrun with drunk drivers.

  18. Hey, Jonathan Gold,

    How much do you wanna eat anyway? Go to Applebee’s. I’ve had several really delicious, ample, pleasant (though a bit pricey for the neighborhood) meals here…though I always choose my meal times to avoid the crowd.

  19. I’m sure I will get a lot of grief from some but I think Mr. Gold’s review is a little unfair. My husband and I have been twice. Once we sat at the bar and once we were with our young son. Both times we went early. The service was friendly and yes, the prices were a bit high, especially if you were to order wine. AND every dish was exceptional.

    Cortez is expensive but not overpriced. If you are going to a restaurant where you know you don’t have to worry about the origin of the meat or quality of the vegetables AND have it exquisitely prepared, expect to pay a little more. As for the portions, it’s a small plates restaurant and in my experience, you’ll get more at Cortez than at other places.

    Give these guys a break. Echo Park offers a variety of options. Cortez is just one. Ariza’s taco truck has fantastic tacos. The Park has great burgers. Huevos Charros at Rodeo Grill not to miss!

    • I agree. Plenty of options in Echo Park. I’m glad to see some variety, and I also had a good experience at Cortez. The brunch is definitely better value for money than dinner, in the sense that the portions are larger.
      On another note, I am so sad to see all the businesses leaving Echo Park and relocating (I won’t bore by listing them, but Echo Park Ave. is losing 3 faves of mine) and I’m curious as to why the Delilah’s space is still empty—seems like a prime spot. Please greedy landlords don’t be unrealistic about the economy. Empty commercial spaces are no good for anyone, they become eyesores and deplete our neighborhood of diversity and services. Let’s hope it’s a reverse-able trend, and let’s hope the land is not razed and filled with ugly condos.

  20. First let me say that I am not often in agreement with Jonathan Gold, but I found this review HILARIOUS and accurate. I was excited to have a new place in my ‘hood that I could walk to… and went with a friend. The host tried to squeeze us into one of the three ‘communal’ table swhere on one side I would be shoulder to shoulder with 4 other men (and not twenty-something sized men, either) and on the other side several very drunk women who were having fun – very loudly. What is this space allotment… New York style? We finally had to relocate to the bar, where we could actually hear each other speak and not be physically touching our neighbor. I do have to say the food was delicious… but it was very very small portions. Isn’t there a mid-way between this portion size and Cheesecake Factory? We ended up spending over $80 on ‘snacks’ and pricey wine. The place is REALLY LOUD. (And what’s up with that dusty hunk of fur hanging on the wall… kinda gross!) There will be folks who will love this place… good for them. I’m going back to The Park and Red Hill.

  21. I didn’t mind the brunch that I had there, except for the woman who owns it was standing in the corner, staring at us. FOR NEARLY THE ENTIRE TIME! I’m not sure what she enjoys while trying to eat a meal at a local establishment, but if being stared at is on the list, then we obviously don’t see eye to eye. I can’t support a business that finds that acceptable…. Also, why do they have 3 storefronts on Echo Park Ave? Isn’t 1 storefront for Cookbook enough?

    • Owner does stare patrol at Cookbook as well. I also wish they weren’t hogging the store fronts on EPA. It would be great to see some other shops in there. More variety. Fingers crossed for storefront at EPA@Duane and the future of garden ctr and Mi Alma @ Avalon.

  22. The food at Cortez is delicious.
    We went early…around 6…and were seated right away. It can be a little pricey, I agree, but please keep in mind that the food is locally grown and selected with care. And it tastes divine. I won’t be eating there every weekend, but it is a nice place to go once in a while. I hope Cortez sticks around.

  23. Haha, wutta buncha suckahs. PT Barnum had it rite..one born every minute, and moving to EP. And waiting in line to get ripped off at Cortez.
    It seems the slumlord jacked up the rents on the corner of Avalon, astonomically high..luckily, the Lees found a huge place on York to relocate, and Mi Alma will go to Melrose/Wilton. Our loss. I live up the street since ’85, and we will be damned if condos will go on that corner..already been fighting the Baxter nightmares. I would like to see him try..bastard.
    Theres a whole corner in Hell now devoted to EP..let em burn. Landlords & overpriced staring food cookers. Ha!

  24. How is the place if you go there really, really baked?

  25. aw, get over it gawddammitt, they will be built. bet on it. you didn’t stop them before, the great recession did. and look around you. there are a ton of multi unit places all around you and you don’t bitch about them. and think of the benefits of density…… walkability, for one! most of the charm of this area comes from the density. if you want wide open spaces, move to Tujunga! this is the city! people live here. if it’s nice, then more will come. I was a pioneer in three different cities, stepping over crack heads and puke, and getting stuck up and bitching about the gentrifiers. Now i have kids and I want nice shops and clean parks and a car that isn’t broken into in the morning….. hello, Echo Park! Cities are in a constant state of change. If you are not enjoying the current incarnation, find another place that suits you.

  26. Thank you Mr. Gold for injecting some reality into the EP dinning scene. He’s not afraid to ruffle some hipster feathers.

  27. Echo Park is right on track to fully becoming Brooklynized. Now if only those pesky latino residents would hurry up and get priced or zoned out.

  28. Not Another Neighbor

    Cookbook is insanely overpriced but stocked with deliciousness so its no surprise that Cortez is as well. The market will judge and we’ll see whats happening in 6 months.

  29. Not Another Neighbor

    And besides… its not as good as Guisados.

  30. Cortez
    (after Jonathan Gold)

    Past the unmarked
    the waiting crowds
    servers impatient slightly
    with the idea of
    the damp
    a windowsill
    small greens to be tended to
    like delicata a bowl of
    as bouillabaisse to yourself
    scraping the sauce
    vibrating as one
    restaurant critic
    taken to extremes
    in his shoebox

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