If you're looking for a top-notch brunch to satisfy your weekend cravings, Red O on Melrose is the perfect spot. Bearing the name of the renowned chef of authentic Mexican cuisine, Rick Bayless, the restaurant exudes style, class, and substance to back it all up. I had the pleasure of reviewing the dinner menu a while back, and knew I'd be just as satisfied with the brunch menu.
From the moment you walk into Red O, you are enveloped in a relaxing sense of luxury, not pretentious in the slightest; instead, making you feel like you're on vacation at a Mexican resort. That was exactly the intention, and they did a fantastic job of accomplishing it. The décor is clean and crisp, the floor plan open and inviting, with comfortable couches adorned with white pillows at some of the tables, plants and wooden furniture throughout. There is also a bar area, and an outdoor patio area with another bar. It is quite expansive, but you will feel very comfortable wherever you sit. So much so, you won't want to leave.
And the best part is, during weekend brunch, there is a guitarist playing beautiful music live, making you feel even more like you're on vacation. Need a little escape? This is it. You definitely won't feel like you're in the middle of West Hollywood.
Making it all even better is that the food and drinks are fantastic. To start your dining experience off right, they offer special brunch cocktails, like Mimosas and Bellinis, made with Prosecco, a Roasted Bloody Mary, Champagne Margarita, Grape & Agave Caipirinha, a Champagne Cocktail made with Prosecco, prickly pear purée and Gingercello and a Winter Sangria, made with Zinfandel tangerine, Meyer lemon, persimmon, apple, cinnamon, cloves, Ferrand Dry Curacao and pomegranate.
I started off with a Bellini, which was beautiful. And to whet my appetite, our server brought us the Classic Guacamole to start. Served anytime, the guacamole at Red O is absolutely perfect, sometimes hard to find the perfect balance, with one bite you know Rick Bayless' countless trips to Mexico paid off. It's freshly made with generous chunks of fresh guacamole, sundried tomato, onion and a nice citrus kick, served with wonderful chips that are perfectly crunchy and not greasy at all. For only $9, it's a great deal.
Next, I tried one of the Tostaditas appetizers, Maine Lobster Jicama "Tacos", made with lime-marinated oyster, which really gives a nice smokiness to these light tacos, shitake, cremini & enoki mushrooms, serrano chile, salt-cured no pales (cactus), Castelvetrano olives, grilled knob onion and cilantro, these are not your usual tacos, as the tortilla is not corn or flour. Instead, it's made of jicama, the crunchy, white root vegetable, giving them a fabulous crunch and making them much lighter in calories, an added bonus.
What I tried next was hardly low calorie, but well worth it...the Sweet Plantain Sopes, delectable bite-size (or two bites) of fried corn masa with sweet plantains, thick cream and queso añejo on top. Another treat are the Fresh Corn & Goat Cheese Tamales, my favorite. You definitely need to try these. Though they're quite filling, they're perfect to share, as they come with two. Made with fresh ground corn masa steamed in corn husks, with fresh corn, goat cheese and roasted poblano chiles, they are slightly sweet and so scrumptious. They are definitely rich, which is why I recommend sharing them. They are also delightfully fluffy, giving them the perfect texture. Our waiter informed us that even Bayless himself says the ones at the Melrose location are lighter and fluffier than the ones at his Chicago restaurant. They're made exactly the same, so they say perhaps it's the water that makes the difference. Whatever it is, they are divine!
I needed to take a break after these to try some more dishes, moving on my favorite brunch item, the Picada de Carnitas con Chile Ahumado. Made with deliciously tender pork carnitas, black beans, shoestring salad, Oaxacan pasilla sauce, giving it a delectable smokiness, cotija cheese and a poached egg atop a large corn masa sope. All the ingredients combine perfectly to create the perfect entree, the poached egg, the perfect way to top it off with the yolk oozing all over all the yumminess beneath. The carnitas are spectacular, as well.
I also tried the Chilaquiles al Guajillo, which are also delicious...a different twist on the chilaquiles you may be accustomed to. These chilaquiles are more in the form of a quick simmered tortilla "casserole" with strips of corn tortilla, rather than the triangle chips chilaquiles are normally made with. Accompanied by a rustic red guajillo chile sauce, homemade creme, aged Mexican cheese, sunny-side up egg & tangy baby greens, this is a hearty, tasty dish that will definitely leave you satisfied. You can also add chicken breast for an extra $2.
If you want something even heartier, the Huevos Motuleños are a good option. A traditional dish from the Yucatan peninsula which separates the Caribbean Sea from the Mexican Gulf, the Huevos Motuleños definitely evoke the Caribbean influence with its sweet fried plantains and black beans, on a crispy tostada with two fried eggs, roasted tomatoes, country ham, peas and queso fresco, combining a variety of ingredients.
You can also opt for the Huevos Rancheros Verdes if you're in the mood for some roasted green tomatillo sauce, always delicious, with sunny-side up eggs, fresh baked corn tortillas, black beans and homemade fresh cheese, or the Huevos Mexicanos, egg scrambled with fresh tomatoes, serrano chiles, grilled green onions, cilantro & avocado, served with black beans and salsa verde. You can add chorizo for an extra 2 dollars or grilled shrimp for an extra $4.
Or how about some Organic Hot Cakes with stone ground corn pancakes and whipped goat cheese, organic syrup, applewood-smoked bacon and two sunny-side up eggs? I didn't get a chance to try these, but they sound absolutely delicious...definitely on my next visit. The Budin del Día, savory brioche bread pudding with jack cheese and crispy onions also sounds tempting. The brunch entrees are all priced great, ranging from $14-18.
You can also order from the lunch menu, if you prefer, where you can get such Mexican delights as the Tacos al Carbon, Crab & Shrimp Enchiladas Suizas and Pollo en Mole Poblano. What's so great is that the chefs at the Melrose location constantly go to Chicago and cook the menu items for Rick Bayless himself who has to approve them, so you know you're getting the real thing.
Don't forget the dessert, which they also master at Red O. I tried the Creamy Goat Cheese Cheesecake, the name itself evoking pure deliciousness. You get four bite-size heavenly squares of this mouthwatering cheesecake, which is just the right amount of sweet, creatively topped with caramel corn and Mexican "root beer" sauce...just perfect! If you're in the mood for chocolate, the Mexican Chocolate Torta is divine, with Mexican chocolate mousse, canela (cinnamon) ice cream, caramelized almond crunch and seasonal fruit. If you're looking for a Mexican classic, the Traditional Flan is superb. Sometimes a challenge for restaurants here to get just right, Red O's is made to perfection, just the right flavor and consistency, not too sweet, the way it's meant to be, and the seasonal fruit salsa on top an excellent touch. I didn't get a chance to try to the Coconut Tres Leches Cake, but I'm sure it's also fantastic. They also offer Just-Made Churros, served with warm chocolate-Kahlua dipping sauce, which sound absolutely sinful.
Red O's brunch is offered Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 am to 3 pm and can't be missed. Red O is located at 8155 Melrose Ave., on the corner of Melrose and Kilkea. For more information, call 323-655-5009 or visit their website at www.redorestaurant.com. You can also find them on facebook. Buen provecho!