Restaurant review: Accept the challenge to explore XOC Tequila Grill in Woodland Hills

From the day it opened, The Village at Westfield Topanga has been jam-packed enough to qualify as an outpost of Disneyland. Go there on a Saturday night, and you’ll be glad it offers valet parking, for every spot is taken — and believe me, there are many of them.

Over the next several months, the culinary profile of Woodland Hills will rise considerably, with the opening of a raft of trendy new eateries in The Village — some of which are currently in beta mode, some of which are coming soon, some of which are coming later.

Open right now (one of the first, if not actually the first) is XOC Tequila Grill, on the northern edge of the The Village, not far from one of the biggest Costcos in creation. And XOC is making shoppers very happy; who wouldn’t be happy with an encyclopedic list of tequilas, margaritas and exotic cocktails to sip on while sitting on a sprawling outdoor patio with a front-row view of locals dressed in high style, spending an afternoon or evening pushing the limits on their plastic.

Though I can’t guarantee my experience at XOC, a pattern seems to have emerged. If you want to sit inside, especially at the tables in the back, there isn’t much of a problem. If you want to sit at the bar, or the lounge tables adjacent to the bar, things get busy, especially on weekends and when there are big games to be watched on the big screens.

But if you want to sit on the outside patio, a wait is almost guaranteed. Everybody wants to sit out there — and for good reason. On even the hottest days, there are cooling breezes in the evening. And, as I said, they also like to slide into a nice cold beverage on a hot day. There are about 50 tequilas on the list, with the selection broken into blanco, reposado, añejo and reservas; if you’re living large, there’s a shot of Gran Patron Burdeos for $75.

The tequila flights are an admirable bargain, a trio going for $19, along with a shot of housemade sangrita and a plate of lime wedges.

Myself, I go for the micheladas — flavored beer drinks, with your choice of brew (mostly Mexican) mixed with lime juice, with Worcestershire and Tabasco, or with sangrita and lime. It’s refreshing, it goes down easy, and it’s a deal.

Oh, and for those in need of something mixed, there’s a wide variety of margaritas, and other tequila drinks, including both an Old Fashioned made with mezcal, and a Moscow Mule made with tequila. The place is true to its name.

And that name also includes the word “grill.” Indeed, “grill” is the dominant theme here, for the menu is long and complex, almost encyclopedic in its depth. There’s an opening page that describes (in very small type) the roots of Mexican cooking in Mayan cuisine, which gave us maize, tomatoes, tomatillos, cocoa, beans, avocados, chilies and more.

We’re told XOC was a Mayan queen. And the decor of the restaurant echoes the Mayan pyramids and open-air markets. The menu says “Dare to explore.” And so, we do.

And what we come up with is a nifty platter of crispy tostaditos the size of Ritz Crackers, topped with ceviche, shrimp and ahi, with guacamole on the side.

There’s a Caesar salad prepared tableside, in the style of Caesar Cardini of Tijuana. There’s a fine mole poblano from Oaxaca, a dish with deep Mayan roots, and a platter of cochinita pork from the Yucatan.

There’s a whole section of ceviches — and, yes, I know they come from Peru, but it’s good to have them anyway. And along with the ceviches, there’s an unexpectedly large assortment of seafood dishes, though I’m not at all sure that either salmon or mahi mahi were known to the Mayans.

The dishes are well crafted — even the complimentary chips are extra crunchy, and come in a brown paper bag, with a big bowl of hard-to-resist salsa.

But mostly, there’s the whole package — the spacious room, the ebb and flow of the shoppers, the sports on the big screens, the lively bar scene, the over-the-top cocktails, the dishes small and large. And the servers, who have been well trained in the fine art of making you feel cared for.

This may be a Mexican restaurant in a shopping mall, but it feels like a fine dining experience in the Zona Rosa, with Mexico City all around.

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at


Rating: 3 stars

Address: The Village at Westfield Topanga, 6316 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills.

Information: 818-992-7930.

Cuisine: Mexican.

When: Lunch and dinner, every day.

Details: Full bar. Reservations essential.

Prices: About $35 per person.

Cards: MC, V.

Source: Los Angeles Daily News