I Moved To Oaxaca

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Still haven't made it back to Oaxaca. And, no, the jones for some real Oaxacan food never went away so we just flew down to Los Angeles for two and a half days to eat at some of the Oaxaqueno ex-pat restaurants there.

First, we are totally stuffed because they exceeded our wildest expectations—especially after I went online and checked out some restaurant reviews. People were curious and on the whole enthusiastic, but pretty uninformed. Most mentioned only mole, some tlayudas, chilaquiles, and "crickets" so we thought we'd get something familiar, but nothing like we did. At all three restaurants the beans—black, smashed, and runny, just the way they should be—tasted of epazote and asiento. Mmm. On the other hand, the LA Oaxacans have adapted their guacamole to Californian tastes: all the guac we saw was thick and chunky.

Another Oaxacan adaptation to local tastes was the chips. US-based Mexican restaurants always serve a basket of chips before the meal, but never in Oaxaca unless it's a gringo-popular restaurant. But at the restaurants in LA we tried, the waiters and waitresses brought out a basket of chips—covered with a yummy red mole and crumbled queso fresco! Really good, and a very nice touch, we thought.

3337 1/2 W. Olympic Blvd at Irolo in Koreatown
Los Angeles
Parking on the street and in back

Well, we never got any crickets, but we did start out with tlayudas at Guelaguetza. We went to the Olympic Blvd location (the other is on 8th St), which was comfortably full of mostly Latino diners. We each got a tlayuda con cecina enchilada y quesillo. The waitress stopped to clarify, "Both?" which we took to mean, you both want the same thing but what really meant, you both want one of these enormous things yourselves?

We ate here twice more, the next time splitting a tamal Oaxaqueno, wrapped in a banana leaf and hiding a generous chunk of chicken and slathered in black mole, and a large taco de barbacoa de chivo. The third time we split a plate of enmoladas con cecina enchilada and another tamal Oaxaqueno. All three meals were in the $20-$25 range, and included drinks (Jarritos for Greg, really good iced tea with free refills for me). Highly recommended. They also have a little counter up front where you can buy their moles and some other products.

(As a side note, G-man said he got a hard look from one of the other diners at our second outing there, until he bid the man a genial "Buon provecho!" as we left, which changed his outlook entirely.)

Monte Alban
11927 Santa Monica Blvd at Armacost
Los Angeles
Street parking

The little strip mall that houses Monte Alban also has restaurants featuring Greek, Thai, Persian, Japanese, and generic Mexican. How LA is that? We liked this place, too, but Guelaguetza was closer to our B&B, and I thought the food was a little better at Guelaguetza—I had a couple of cold spots in the masa of my memela which says "microwave!" to me. But G-man rated the taco de barbacoa de chivo at Monte Alban as superior. The meat was better spiced, he said, and I agree with him, though the goat at Guelaguetza tasted more like goat, which I also like. We were still grossly full from our double-tlayuda lunch earlier in the day, so we only got the goat taco (also very large for a taco), a very good sopa azteca, a mediocre sandia agua fresca, a latte mug of atole champurrado, a memela with quesillo, and a tuna nieve which gave me a brain freeze but was yummy. $18.

Juquila is only a couple of blocks east of Monte Alban, and although the storefront is unimpressive we decided to go back the following day and try it.

11619 Santa Monica Blvd at Federal
Los Angeles
A tiny lot in back; we parked on the street

The inside's nicer than you'd expect from the outside. As this was to be our last evening meal on our Oax-Tour LA, I ordered a Corona michelada while G-man got a plain Corona, plus enfrijoladas con cecina, a tlayuda con quesillo, and another atole champurrado, this time in a regular coffee cup. It was all good, though I like the tlayudas at Guelaguetza a bit better: it had the brown marks I associate with cooking on a comal which the tortilla at Juquila did not have. Dinner was a shade over $24, including our beers.

We also picked up the Oaxacan ex-pat paper and scoured it for more restaurants. It'd take us a month to work our way though it all, but I list them here for your benefit, in no particular order:

Guelaguetza Palms
11127 Palms Blvd
LA, 310-837-1153

El Sazon Oaxaueno
12131 Washington Pl
LA, 310-391-4721

El Texate Oaxacan
316 Pico Blvd
Santa Monica, 310-399-1115

Restaurant Antequerade Oaxaca
5200 Melrose at Wilton

El Meson del Taco
"Los Mejores Tacos" "con sabor a Oaxaca"
12326 1/2 Venice Blvd at Centinela
LA, 310-482-3739

Oaxacalifornia Cafe Juice Bar
3655 Grand Ave at 37th
LA, 213-747-8622

El Chapulin
featuring "la torta sexy"
3303 W. Pico Blvd between Wilton and Arlington
LA, 323-766-0757

Manolys Pasteleria y Cafeteria
11771 Santa Monica Blvd
LA, 310-473-0622

El Torito Oaxaqueno
they say they have tejate and
"authentico caldo de costilla estilo Yalalag"
2005 W. 8th St
LA, 213-483-3640

Mieto's Ice Cream y Fruit Bars
1250 S. Vermont - 105
LA, 213-738-7288
and four other locations

La Morenita Oaxaquena
"autentica comida casera"
3550 W. 3rd St at New Hampshire
LA, 213-365-9201