Getting Your Game On At Maria’s Ramada

don’t let the outside fool you...shantytown awaits thee!Sure, sure. It’s in Little Armenia, a neighborhood you usually zoom through on your way from West Hollywood to Los Felix. On your way from the Echo to Westwood. On your way from Bergamot Station to Disney Hall. On your way from Urban Outfitters on the Promenade to Urban Outfitters, Pasadena. On your way from The Town House to The Smell. Aw, whatever the hell you’re on your way from and to, it sits in the middle and you couldn’t be bothered with it. Well, pooh-pooh to you, mister, Maria’s Ramada doesn’t care if you know about it or not. I’d just as soon you didn’t drop in and help keep the joint from being eerily empty.

Suppose for a minute that you did stop, though. You park. After saying some fond farewells to parts of your car (rims, ornaments, stereo) you walk inside and are immediately assaulted on three of your five senses: sight, sound, touch.

  • Sight: The place is a shanty-town maze, all corrugated tin and driftwood draped with neverending Christmas lights. Mind you, this isn’t some craptastic chain restaurant’s faux shanty-redux replete with t-shirt stand…this is a one-of-a-kind faux shanty-redux, without the t-shirt stand! The very tall outside facade deceives your head and you realize you may well have to stoop to reach the important parts of this establishment.
  • Sound: If the jukebox isn’t cranking out some mariachi band full-tilt, the thrummmmm of what sounds like a low-cruising jet engine emanates from someplace through the corrugated tin above your head at a sub-sonic level. Erstwhile dining couples whisper sweet nothings, exchange coy glances and murmur ’Holy fucking shit, is that sauce hot!’ in nearby cabanas.
  • Touch: Warm heat envelopes your skin, hugging you. Welcome home, son. We’ve missed you.

Eventually you choose a seat and receive the requisite bowls of chips, salsa picante, pico de gallo and pickled oddities standard at all Mexican restaurants. The salsa in this joint looks deceptively friendly. It’ll blow your lid off but quick, and you’ll soon need a beer. You’re in luck, buddy. Beers cost a whopping $2.50; Mexican imports, an outlandish $3.00.

The rest of the menu reads like a textbook Mexican menu. The food’s not bad but if you haven’t realized it by now, you’re really here for the games. One visit and you’ll quickly learn that Maria’s is a place to get your game on. My favorite games follow:

  • Jukebox game
    I’ve been working my way through this jukebox for years. Easily one of the best jukeboxes in town. I still don’t know what any of the men are singing about. Give your dining partner a dollar and see if you can distinguish one cantador from another. Advanced players, try to guess the artist and cover artwork as the song comes on. The one rule is that you never select the Santana cd (the only recognizable title for most gringos)
  • Hide-and-scare-the-bejesus-out-of game
    Wait until your dining companion goes to the little ladies’ room. Crouch in an adjoining cabana, someplace out of sight, where you can still peer through the planks. When she walks past unsuspectingly, jump out and scream ’HAAAAAAAAA!’ at the top of your lungs. A hoot. This one also works with your server. See if you can make her scream when she brings your change.
  • Move cabanas game
    Your server will check on you periodically, but the place can be confusing and she may occasionally get lost in the tin shanty alley maze. During one of the lags, move your entire party (food, beverages, jackets, silverware) to a different cabana and act none the wiser when she eventually finds you. If she never finds you again…you win!
  • Find-the-chef-playing-solitaire game
    This one’s pretty straightforward.

Others have called it creepy. I call it home.

Maria’s Ramada
1064 N Kingsley Drive (at Santa Monica)