Paxia is what Colibri wants to be. Or what it should want to be. Colibri, you'll recall, unless you're lucky enough to erase unpleasantries from your memory, is the ill-guided Mexican restaurant in Baldwin Park. Nice atmosphere, but no follow through on the food. And don't get me started on the service.
Paxia has the atmosphere and good food and pleasant service to go with it. It doesn't do everything right -- in fact there was one really annoying thing that happened during my dinner -- but it hits the mark on enough points to warrant a recommendation.
Paxia touts itself as "alta cocina," which is Spanish for haute cuisine. The food is a little more upscale than the average Mexican restaurant, at least in presentation, but we're talking fine dining in relative terms.
For appetizers my guest and I chose the queso fundido ($9) and the "traditional" Mexican nachos ($4.50). The queso was a plate of melted cheese that was beginning to reharden. It was topped with cubes of spicy chorizo sausage and served with warm flour tortillas wrapped in a crisp white napkin. We scooped the deliciously greasy cheese and sausage into the tortillas and gobbled the whole thing down.
The nachos were small triangles of tortilla chips topped with a bit of refried beans, melted cheese and jalapenos -- different from the mound of chips and the globs of cheese seen in Tex-Mex restaurants. It was a fairly boring presentation with a flavor to match.
(By the way, did you know that in Mexico the International Day of the Nacho is celebrated every year on September 11? Something tells me that we'll never see that one co-opted as an American celebration the way Cinco de Mayo has been. Just a guess.)
For my entree I selected the tamales ($10.50), which are available with beef, chicken or cheese, but, curiously, not pork. I chose the beef version, which featured a large "cake" of steamed corn dough topped with shredded beef and a bit of cheese. It was good, but nothing like the usual tamale.
My friend selected the skirt steak fajitas ($13.50), your basic sizzling platter of tender strips of steak with onions and peppers. It was accompanied by a dollop of guacamole and sour cream and a few flour tortillas, presented as before in a white napkin.
We requested some more guac, which I expected would add a charge to the bill (it did: $1.50). But when the few flour tortillas proved not enough for all the fajita fixings and we asked for more, I was stunned to hear there would be an additional charge.
"For tortillas?" I asked with the right amount of incredulity? The young woman must have heard it before because her reply, something about the price of the entree being so low, blah, blah, blah, sounded rehearsed. We said no thanks -- I'm not paying extra for bread, and if the restaurant feels the need to charge more, add it to the cost of the entree.
But that was the only negative to the experience. The restaurant has brightly painted walls of burnt orange and yellow, though they are Spartanly decorated. Tables are topped with white cloths and annoying white butcher paper. The lounge area is stylish and moody.
Speaking of the lounge, the bar serves a delicious margarita ($6). And they don't charge extra for salt on the rim