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Nov 28, 2007 12:53 PM

Jonathan Gold inspired Mexican restaurant question

In a recent L.A. Weekly article, J Gold proclaims the excellent state of authentic, regional Mexican redtaurants here in LA.

I've spent the greater part of my 7 or so CAY (Chowhound Aware Years) exploring the glories of the San Gabriel Valley but I am sad to say that I am still relatively ignorant of the diverse regional styles of Mexican cooking (I have heard that Mexico's culinary diversity is on par with China's... and after spending upwards of 3 months backpacking Taiwan, Mainland and Hong Kong last year I now have a profound sense now that I am missing out on a hell of a lot of excellent Mexican food.

J Gold states that the states of "Jalisco, Zacatecas and Sinaloa, Oaxaca and Guerrero, Colima, Veracruz and the Yucatán, Baja, Puebla and León (with the possible exception of Chiapas)" are well represented here.

The question that I am therefore posing to my fellow Latino/Latina 'hounds then is this (and to J Gold if he happens to be reading this).... Please pick one, two or all of the states listed above. What is a dish that represents the region well, and where is a restaurant that serves up a great representation of that dish?

I can start with one... I've had the chicken in black mole at Guelaguetza (Oaxacan) as well as a huitlacoche quesadilla. Impressions... mole tasty at first but surprisingly monotonous to eat te entire massive plate, which looked like an oil slick on a plate. Huitlacoche quesadilla was better, musky and funky, but underdone and ultimately not something I would go out of my way for (and Guelaguetza is generally out of my way).

Please know that I have no fear of traveling for food... truly my 7 months in Asia last year was fueled by an intense desire for delicious regional grub.

Many photos of our exploits (and lots of food porn) if you're curious at:
(one of these days I'll get around to posting the China and Korea photos


Looking forward to your replies!

Mr. Taster
Chowhound since 2001
(Chowhounding but unaware of it for much longer)

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  1. I dunno.. this veering off to a place that is going to get me edited, but Mexican Cuisine is quite different from what is typically Asian. If I were to find it something 'akin', it would Korean in that you have to assemble it while you eat (Which probably explains why it's my favorite of the region). I'm afraid that if you found Mole monotonous, that is pretty much what you are getting in for when you talk about different Mexican Guisados and dishes. Mexican food is not so much about different tastes, it is more about components to create one big taste. A Chirmole is different from a Recado Rojo, a Pipian different from a Mole Pobano.

    Further, is no sense of "Umami" in mexican foods, instead it's about comfort, heat and experience. So it might not be as statisfying for you as Asian.

    Of course, that is not to say that Mexican food is not a great cuisine or that it's not satistifying. But I also don't want you be let down either because you are expecting something else...


    1 Reply
    1. re: Dommy

      Hi Dommy

      Bear in mind that I am not totally unaware of Mexican food... you'll find me down there grubbing on those ultra yummy $1 al pastor taco table tacos there on Vermont south of Venice. I know great tacos... I just don't know much else.

      Also, I am only mentioning my China experience with regard to how vastly diverse the food can be, as I've heArd it is in Mexico. I certainly wouldn't stop myself from experiencing a new plate of something lovely because it doesn't remind me of something Asian I've eaten before.

      Consider this request merely a plea for education and guidance... I learn about culture through food and this is just another step in achieving my life's goal of learning about the world by eating everything delicious everywhere :)

      Mr Taster

    2. First of all - this is a great question/topic. I want to say that I appreciate your enthusiasm for wanting to explore the nuances of the regional cooking of Mexico -because it is a driving passion that is also shared by me.

      My real awareness of the beauty that is Mexican cuisine can be attributed to the incredible Eat Nopal, a former Angelino, whom I just had lunch with today at a restaraunt in Napa called La Mixteca - which references a region within Oaxaca. Search for post by him and you will be rewarded and armed with immediate information regarding Mexican cuisine that you cannot find anywhere else.

      The spark which set it off was a near day long experience making mole coloradito with the DiningDiva - an individual whose knowledge and passion of this subject is so admired and respected by me. Again - search for her posts!

      And Dommy who is a treasure trove of knowledge of the cooking south of the border - specifically the Yucatan. This is really a subject on to itself! It was armed with her information that I finally found the cuisine which I adore the most and I need to thank for opening to me. Again search: Dommy!

      LA is the place (with possible exception of Chicago) to eat regional Mexican food, especially Oaxacan.

      I can steer you to:

      In LA,

      >Antequera de Oaxaca for the Mole Amarillo (Yellow mole) and the chile relleno which is a reconsituted dried chile stuffed with a Oax picadillo. [Oaxaca]

      > El Parian for perhaps one of the best Jaliscan dining experiences north of Guadalajara. Get the Birria de Chivo - which is my favorite dish in LA. [Jalisco]

      > La Flor de Yucatan (to die for!) for Cochinita, salbutes, panuchos, tamales colados, relleno negro and blaco [Yucatan]

      In the OC,

      > Chivas truck in Santa Ana - Tortas Ahogadas, Guadalajaran Street food [Jalisco]

      > Guerreran Mole Shop in Santa Ana [Guerrero


      >DF Mexico City Cuisine (Huaraches) in Santa Ana [DF


      > Nancy Puebla in Santa Ana [Puebla]

      > Conde's Cakes in Santa Ana for Yucatecan Pan Dulce and Antojitos [Yucatan]

      1. KR... you are always too kind.

        My personal assessment of L.A. as a representation of Mexican culinary diversity is that it still has a long way to go. The top city in the world for diverse, quality Mexican cuisine is of course Mexico City... if Mexico City is a 10... honestly L.A. is maybe a 4 (although I think that might be generous)... and Chicago is a 5. Two quick points:

        > The universe of Mexican dishes in L.A. (and this is just might be my speculation) probably #s 500 or less different dishes. In Mexico City... I would say its 2,500 or so. The number of common, documented Mexican dishes numbers somewhere around 7,500 or so. These numbers aren't scientific... and very subjective (as we have define what constitutes a different dish vs. a shallow variation)... but it should give you a sense of the proportion.

        > Now, it should be noted that even if you can track down the 500 different dishes in L.A.... this doesn't change the fact that 90%+ of the restaurants mainly serve the same 50 or so dishes... with just a handful of examples of less common dishes like Cochinita Pibil, Camarones en Agua Chile etc.,

        > The bigger problem with L.A. is quality... there is a lot of sloppiness. That is not to say there isn't great Mexican cuisine in L.A.... but 90%+ of the restaurants either serve consistently mediocre... or widely inconsistent food. Many of the problems are structural... too much price competition, too high of rents & wages... rather than improve competitiveness tends to undermine the quality.

        > Aside from quality there is a vast problem of inauthenticity vis-a-vis the Cal-Mex choke. Even a restaurant like Birrieria La Barca which whole heartedly recommend without reservation is mudied by Cal Mex traditions... too much Rice & Beans... rather than the traditional, appropriates sides & garnishes that go with each dish... and of course the offering of Burritos & Nachos... detracts attention from the specialties etc.,

        With all said & done... focusing on the positives... there are alot of good Mexican eats in L.A. Of the top of my head... here are 10 dishes I will stake my reputation on:

        > Jalisco - Goat Birria @ Birrieria La Barca
        > Nayarit - Camarones a la Diabla @ Birrieria La Barca
        > Oaxaca - Chile Relleno with Tomato-Epazote Caldillo (side order) @ Tacomiendo
        > Oaxaca - Oaxacan Style Barbacoa Taco @ Monte Alban
        > Jalisco - Shrimp Pozole @ Frida
        > Puebla - Chiles en Nogada @ Babita
        > Oaxaca - Mole Verde with Espinazo @ Guelaguetza (West L.A.)
        > Mexico City - Shrimp & Octopus Cocktail @ Truck that serves the Arroyo Seco Park
        > Baja Norte - Baja Style Fish Tacos @ El Oasis (Montebello)
        > Central Mexico - Shrimp & Cactus Molcajetes @ Birrieria La Barca

        4 Replies
        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          What a fantastic list. Thank you very much.

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            I'm not familiar with Birreria La Barca, but you've certainly got me intrigued. Is it this one in El Monte? There's another one listed in City of Industry.

            Birrieria La Barca
            10817 Valley Mall, El Monte, CA 91731

            1. The original comment has been removed
              1. Mexico City is far superior for a myriad of reasons.Ingredients,hello! Fresh huitlacoche vs. canned makes a world of difference. Real Seville oranges for making cochinita pibil, field corn, more varieties of chiles, and more items from open air markets as opposed to Smart and Final.Even our best suppliers in the food/produce district downtown are no match for the mercados in every city in Mexico, save Agua Prieta.Many restaurants here mix citrus fruits to approximate the flavor of Seville oranges in making their pibil marinade.

                The majority of the people coming from Mexico to live in the U.S. are from a few states and mostly from the labor sector of Mexico.So, the diverse restaurant clientele does not exist here to fuel the variety of restaurants or to push the quality.Although Babita and La Casita Mexicana make a very good Chiles en Nogada, they are not the equivalent of what can be found in D.F., or for just about anywhere in Mexico.In D.F. you have Mexican chefs trained in Paris that make Chiles en Nogada only when the white walnuts are in season, around September to October.

                Additionally, our regional restaurants often only have a sampling of the cuisine, like maybe a handful of dishes, the rest being typical plates like enchiladas.I like the pescado veracruzano at Mi Ranchito in Mar Vista.They also have a handful of solid versions of Veracraz style cuisine.

                There are many good Mexican seafood restaurants in LA.Try a campechana(Campeche) on a Suturday afternoon, which is the "gran coctel" of the people, pescado Sarandeado(Sinaloa), pescado relleno, camarones Costa Azul(Sinaloa), lobster(Baja-Style), etc.I go to Mariscos Colima on Vanowen because it's close, but you can find many places in East LA/Boyle Heights or other Latino communities.Baja Tacos Ensenadas for great tacos de pescado.

                For street food, try the stands on Breed St., next to the Big Buy Foods on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 7PM to about 10PM. They have great sopes, huaraches, pambazos, quesadillas preparadas, and gorditas with a variety of guisados at Nina's.There is also an excellent pozole, both red and white across the street from Nina's and some fabulous tacos al vapor.These stands are excellent and in the proper context; comfort foods served like in the streets of Mexico for la cena(supper).

                We have many Oaxacan restaurants to try a majority of the 7moles of Oaxaca:Verde, rojo, amarillo, or negro.Guelaguetza, Antequera de Oaxaca, El Sazon Oaxaqueno, El Texate and Juquila.Tlapazola for an excellent Nuevo Oaxaqueno with a nice selction of mezcales. In terms of Oaxacan cuisine in LA we are fortunate to have restaurants with complete Oaxacan menus served to and by Oaxaquenos to keep the quality high.

                For alta cocina try La Casita in Bell.Huevos Divorciados, mole poblano(Puebla), los chiles rellenos, the Conquista plate, and cecina dishes.

                For Yucatan style, papadzules, sopa de lima,poc chuc, tikin xic, huevos motulenos and cochinita pibil from Chichen Itza.Go to both locations.

                Chicago has better regional cuisine restaurants for sure.But, it will never compare to Mexico City, or even the regional cuisine restaurants in Northern Baja just to our south.So, it's really not a fair comparison, nor is it relevant.When the fresas and business men from D.F., or middle class Mexicans start crossing the border we will have the clientele to push the Mexican scene here in Los Angeles.

                In the meantime, enjoy this wide an delicious selection of Mexican eats we do have.