Red O: Rick Bayless Brings Mexican to Melrose

Last weekend I had the absolute pleasure of dining at Rick Bayless' West Hollywood flagship: Red O. It must have been fate as just one week earlier I tried to get reservations for my 31st birthday. The lovely hostess let me down easily, sharing the news that they were fully booked until June 19. I shared my disdain on Twitter, only to be rescued by my friend and fellow food blogger, Mary from Butter + Cream. She had a reservation and another couple had just bowed out, leaving two coveted spots open. Would my husband and I like to go? I could barely type a profound "YES" (and THANK YOU!) fast enough!

Chef Rick Bayless
Before we get to the good stuff – you know, the FOOD – here's a little background. Rick Bayless is a master of regional Mexican cuisine, sharing his passion for traditional South of the border dishes at Chicago's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. When I lived in Chicago in the early 2000's, Frontera Grill was my casual go-to and Topolobampo was a perfect first-date spot. While my affection for my dates may have not grown, my love and respect for Rick Bayless' mastery of Mexican food certainly did. So when I heard that he was bringing his cuisine to LA, I was beyond thrilled. Not to mention Red O is less than five minutes away from our apartment, so it must be fate.

While Bayless is not overseeing the kitchen on a nightly basis, he acts as Red O’s consulting chef. He designed the Frontera Grill-meets-Topolobampo menu, trained Executive Chef Michael Brown (Patina Group, Wolfgang Puck Catering), Sous Chef Armando Martinez and Pastry Chef Nika Yazdani and worked with Dodd Mitchell Design and G+ Gulla Jonsdottir Design on Red O's breathtaking interior. Since reservations are such a hot ticket, security is taken very seriously. We're talking not one, but two check-in points. Bottom line: you're not getting in unless your name is on that list.

Red O | Restaurant
Mexican Cuisine by Rick Bayless
For anyone who dined at Chocolat – the former occupant of the 8155 Melrose Avenue space – you will simply be amazed at the design transformation. Upon entering, you're immediately dwarfed by 25-foot walls, fireplace and an open-air ceiling, accented by wispy white curtains billowing in the evening's breeze. The main dining room has two 14-foot chandeliers (handmade by Mexican artisans), sofa-style banquettes and a 14-foot communal table made of solid walnut and bronze. The bar area is a showpiece in itself, surrounded by handmade leather swings and tree trunk stools. If you're into high-end tequila, just take a quick walk through the main dining room and into Bayless' glass Tequila Tunnel, which connects the main dining room with Red O's Tequila Lounge. As if the main dining room's bar isn't enough, the Tequila Lounge's bar is made from solid boulders and a palm tree surrounded by a small pool filled with floating candles. It's a simply fabulous mix of modernity, artisanal Mexican artistry and comfort.

Red O's Main Dining Area
Photo Courtesy of NBCChicago.com

Main Bar Area
(Leather swinging chairs are to right of photo)
Photo Courtesy of NBCChicago.com

Tequila Tunnel
Connecting dining room to Tequila Lounge
Photo Courtesy of NBCChicago.com

Tequila Lounge
Bryan and I arrived a bit early, so we were led to the main bar area and perused the cocktail menu. I ordered a Topolo Margarita ($12) and Bryan got a Mojito Mexicano ($12). Both were fantastic.

Cocktail Menu

Topolo Margarita ($12) | Mojito Mexicano ($12)
Once our party arrived we were seated at a large, circular wooden table between the bar and the main dining room. We were in the middle of the action (potentially a negative), but our sofa-style seats, view of the hustle and bustle and wonderfully attentive wait staff put any worry we may have had to rest. We surveyed the menu and were overwhelmed by how delicious Bayless' regional Mexican dishes sounded, so much so that we had to restrain from asking our server to "bring it all!" The menu is broken into Bright Bites (Tostaditas, Ceviche), Savory Snacks (Sopes, Taquitos, Tamales, Queso Fundido), Salads & Soups, Casuelas for Soft Tacos, Enchiladas & Tacos Al Carbon and finally, the "Celebrated Seven," home to Bayless' signature dishes, including his famous mole.

Red O's Dinner Menu
I was nominated Team Captain so after consulting the table, I went for a combo of Bright Bites, Savory Snacks, Casuelas and two of the Celebrated Seven.

Classic Guacamole ($9)
Freshly made, chunky, with warm chips & salsa

Alaskan Halibut Ceviche ($12)
Cilantro-Serrano "Chimichurri," cucumber, avocado & corn chips

Gleason Ranch Pork Belly Sopes ($9/four)
Black beans, salsa negra, sesame

Homemade Chorizo Sausage Queso Fundido ($9)
Roasted Poblano chiles & corn chips

Fresh Corn & Goat Cheese Tamale ($9)
Roasted poblano chiles, corn husks

Sonoma County Lamb in Chile Colorado Casuelas ($14)
Ancho & guajillo chiles, roasted garlic, cumin, black beans & warm corn tortillas

Cochinita Pibil ($29)
Tortilla-fed Gleason Ranch suckling pig, achiote-marinated and slow-cooked in banana leaves, black beans, pickled red onions, roasted jabanero salsa
Pollo en Mole Poblano ($25)
Grilled Mary's young chicken, homemade mole poblano, black beans, watercress salad
For dessert, we ordered Veracruz-Style Buñuelos, essentially flattened churro rounds served with salted caramel ice cream. Amazing, even though I could only manage one bite. We'll just have to order that one again next time.

Dessert Menu

Veracruz-Style Buñuelos ($8)
Salted caramel ice cream, warm Kahlúa chocolate sauce
The verdict? Rick Bayless has yet another major winner on his hands. His praised regional Mexican cuisine has finally made its way to LA and I couldn't be more happy about it. For our group, stand-outs included the pork belly sopes, chorizo queso fundido, both casuela dishes, the mole poblano and the homemade tortillas that accompanied almost every dish. The service was fantastic; our waitress even asked for detailed feedback as Rick Bayless was headed back to town this week to check on the success of the menu. And our sofa-style chairs were incredibly comfortable, even after three hours of eating and chatting. Our table's only complaint? As much as we wanted to, we literally just couldn't stomach any more food. Oh well, just means we have to go back! I'll just have to work on getting another reservation...

Red O
8155 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90048


  1. Christie speaks the truth! This dinner was insane, and I want to go back and try everything we didn't get to the first time. Thanks for the lovely writeup, I am extremely hungry now! xo, M

  2. Yumm!! Everything looks sooo fabulous! I'm actually going there for dinner tomorrow night! I can't wait!! :)

  3. Christie...I can almost taste it. Great review, can't wait for our next trip to L.A. so we can try it. Also we're off to San Francisco in September, any places on your 'must hit' list there?

  4. How would you compare this to Frontera and Topolo?

  5. Red O is a great combination of both restaurants. If the left side of the menu is Frontera Grill, the right side is Topolobampo. In Chicago, I personally preferred the more complex regional cuisine at Topolobampo – Celebrated Seven, gourmet casuelas, etc. – but it's fantastic to see Bayless has brought some of his tried and true offerings as well.

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