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Jonathan Gold inspired Mexican restaurant question

Mr Taster Nov 28, 2007 12:53 PM

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: http://www.travelpod.com/members/adam...
(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. Dommy Nov 28, 2007 01:49 PM

    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...

    --Dommy!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dommy
      Mr Taster Nov 28, 2007 03:18 PM

      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. kare_raisu Nov 28, 2007 07:02 PM

      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 http://www.chowhound.com/topics/382482 [Jalisco]

      > Guerreran Mole Shop in Santa Ana
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/328646 [Guerrero

      ]

      >DF Mexico City Cuisine (Huaraches) in Santa Ana
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/382930 [DF

      ]

      > Nancy Puebla in Santa Ana [Puebla]

      > Conde's Cakes in Santa Ana for Yucatecan Pan Dulce and Antojitos
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/382465 [Yucatan]

      1. Eat_Nopal Nov 28, 2007 07:40 PM

        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
          ipsedixit Nov 28, 2007 08:32 PM

          What a fantastic list. Thank you very much.

          1. re: Eat_Nopal
            Chowpatty Nov 29, 2007 10:40 AM

            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. re: Chowpatty
              Eat_Nopal Nov 29, 2007 12:16 PM

              That is the one!

            2. re: Eat_Nopal
              a_and_w Nov 30, 2007 08:53 AM

              Just...awesome!

            3. streetgourmetla Nov 29, 2007 10:44 AM

              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.

              1. k
                ktanji Nov 29, 2007 12:16 PM

                OK, Eat Nopal gave us a good start, but what Mexican dishes would you most want to see served in LA. You can limit this to dishes that as a practical matter could be served here in high quality (because the ingredients are available, not so exotic that hardly anyone would want to order it)?

                7 Replies
                1. re: ktanji
                  Eat_Nopal Nov 29, 2007 12:25 PM

                  That is a very good question... one of my dissatisfactions is that Mexican eateries stick to the institutional ingredients way too much... when there are reasonable subsitutions available in the area... here is my list of 10 dishes I would like to see:

                  > Crab Chilpachole
                  > Tortitas de Seasonal Greens (if Huazontle is not available... then I will take Chard, Collards or whatever grows NOB... but I want this dish)
                  > Mixiotes de Hongo & Nopales
                  > Any of the traditional cooked vegetable salads from Puebla or Queretaro
                  > Duck in Mole / Pipian Verde
                  > Trout Steamed/Baked over Salsa Borracha
                  > Sopa Corriente (the everyday tomato broth, vegetable soup you get at every Fonda)
                  > Lamb Shank Mixiotes
                  > Filet Mignon over Tres-Chiles Sauce
                  > Clemole or Pozole Verde

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal
                    s
                    sel Nov 30, 2007 09:20 AM

                    I want to try everything on your list! I would humbly add to your list one dish that Rick Bayless showed on one of his shows, Hamburguesa de Camerones from a street cart, made to order and damm I must have one from that vendor!

                    1. re: sel
                      Eat_Nopal Dec 5, 2007 12:53 PM

                      FYI.... El Rincon Chilango in Santa Ana (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/382930) has Mexico City style Hamburgers including the following toppings:

                      > Chicken Tinga
                      > Milanesa
                      > Blackened Chiles
                      > Griddled Cactus
                      > Red or Green Mole
                      > Chorizo

                      I talked to the manager about the various hamburger stands from Mexico City we both frequented... and he was amiable to doing some of their versions which I mentioned my earlier post.

                    2. re: Eat_Nopal
                      The Chowhound Team Nov 30, 2007 01:05 PM

                      Hi folks.

                      We've moved Eat_Nopal's food recommendations in D.F. to the Mexico board. You can find the post here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/465235 . We encourage you to continue discussing recommendations in Mexico at that post, and recommendations on Los Angeles restaurants here on this thread.

                      Thanks,

                      The Chowhound Team

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal
                        v
                        vpm Nov 30, 2007 01:44 PM

                        I'm not entirely sure if I'm remembering correctly...but I think Babita was serving lamb shank mixiote the last time I visited there, a couple of weeks ago.

                        1. re: vpm
                          Eat_Nopal Nov 30, 2007 01:51 PM

                          Yes, Babita is one of the few places that offers it... but I would like to see it offered much more often... after all its a very, very popular & traditional dish in Hidalgo & the Valley of Mexico.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal
                            k
                            kevin Dec 2, 2008 10:07 PM

                            i was going to say a lot of the unusual, or more esoteric dishes you mentioied might be served up at Babita. i definitely have to go there again if only for the shrimp tombobolomapo.

                            and maybe the deep-fried machacha,

                            or perhaps the raw tuna stuffed in strawberries.

                    3. e
                      exilekiss Nov 29, 2007 01:19 PM

                      Eat Nopal,

                      I also have to Thank You! for a fantastic list and for educating a fellow Chowhounder on some great Mexican cuisine. :) If I may ask from your list,

                      1. Oaxaca - Mole Verde with Espinazo @ Guelaguetza (West L.A.)
                      Is this the location you were talking about? (there's like 5 listings for this restaurant):

                      http://www.chow.com/places/9934

                      2. Baja Norte - Baja Style Fish Tacos @ El Oasis (Montebello
                      )Do you remember what street it was one? When I googled it, there were 2 restaurants that came up, but neither are in Montebello:

                      http://maps.google.com/maps?num=20&hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&hs=fFC&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=El+Oasis,&near=Montebello,+CA&fb=1&view=text&latlng=34041244,-117968839,5057698595368244683

                      or this one?

                      http://maps.google.com/maps?num=20&am...

                      Thanks!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: exilekiss
                        Eat_Nopal Nov 29, 2007 02:13 PM

                        Woah... don't know if Guelagetza has opened a new location... but the one I am familar with, is at the corner of Palms & Sepulveda in the Trader Joe's shopping center.

                        The correct El Oasis would be the 2nd one... I will never forget there was a Dairy Queen right next to it... because my dad would always complain if we didn't get an ice cream cone afterwards.

                        1. re: Eat_Nopal
                          k
                          kevin Dec 2, 2008 10:10 PM

                          i think the main Guelaguetza is on 8th street in koreatown, a couple blocks west of taylors steakhouse. there is also a location on venice blvd and a huge space on olympic.

                          they have severed ties withe the location on palms/sepulveda, as can be seem from the menu, which lists all four or five locations except for the one in palms.

                          a question: is chichlones or chicha lones, worms or insects or grasshoppers?

                      2. corydon Nov 29, 2007 02:24 PM

                        I almost hate to mention this since they always run out, but barbacoa at Huaraches Azteca in HP on the weekend if you want to eat some chilango food. Oh, sorry I meant to say comida capitalana.

                        I realize that the questions posed here in this interesting thread are deeper than ordinary CH endorsements but let's just say my memory of comida corrida type suppers in DF and special occasion parties at middle class homes have been pleasantly stoked by the flavor of the consome. If they run out of the lamb meat, I'll get milanesa or a Huarache and a bowl of the consome.

                        1. e
                          exilekiss Nov 29, 2007 02:35 PM

                          One other recommendation:

                          (Note: I'm not an expert on provincial Mexican cuisine, but I have to say this was the tastiest (fresh, inspired, tasty) Oaxacan Mexican food I've had in LA so far:)

                          La Morenita Oaxaquena Restaurant
                          3550 W. 3rd St.
                          Los Angeles, CA 90020
                          Phone: (213) 365-9201

                          The LA Times introduced this place a few months ago, and I tried it and it was really good. My favorite was their Tacos de Barbacoa de Chivo (Goat). Super FRESH and really tender!

                          They had 3-4 types of Mole there as well(!) (Negro, Red, Yellow and something else IIRC). I'd be curious to see what Eat Nopal and other experts on Oaxacan think of this restaurant. Thanks!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: exilekiss
                            b
                            bluemonster Nov 30, 2007 08:36 PM

                            Yay! I like this place a lot, too. I'm particularly fond of their coloradito mole--I think it's much better than their negro. The tlayudas are particularly crave-worthy, too.

                            I haven't tried their tamales yet. They have a chicken mole, an elote, and a dulce tamale.

                            Another suggestion for Mr. Taster: have you done a "tamale tour" at Mama's Hot Tamales? They have several regional types daily.

                          2. TonyC Nov 30, 2007 12:58 PM

                            J Gold hosting a Mexican Restaurant round table with Zocalo in 2 wks:
                            http://zocalola.org/#dec11

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: TonyC
                              s
                              snooze button Dec 5, 2007 01:15 PM

                              I went to the last Zocalo that he participated in and had a blast... hopefully this will be another good event.

                            2. Mr Taster Dec 2, 2008 09:14 AM

                              I'm bumping this, partly because this post contains so much valuable information that bears repeating, and partially because I wish to throw myself on the ground in shame by admitting that in this past year I have expanded my Mexican repertoire by only two.... El Parian and La Casita Mexicana.

                              The meal we had at La Casita was phenomenal-- chile rellenos and a tres moles dish, and a complimentary flan (outrageously decadent) because we admitted we were newbies. El Parian was tasty but largely unimpressive-- we ordered a few goat tacos and a few carne tacos. I think we need to give it another shot.

                              La Flor de Yucatan and Antequera de Oaxaca are seriously on my radar right now....

                              AdO: memolitas con cecina, tacos with red mole, hot chocolate, horchata, mole amarillo and chile relleno

                              FdY: kare_raisu's recs (cochinita pibil, salbutes, panuchos, tamales colados, relleno negro

                              I'd also love to hit up chichen itza for the queso relleno.... dutch cheese in mexican cuisine fascinates me to no end. I'll report back.......

                              Mr Taster

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Mr Taster
                                k
                                kevin Dec 2, 2008 10:14 PM

                                the fish dish at chichen itza is amazingly good, as well as the habenero salsa, there's a new location near macarthur park just west of downtown.

                                also definitely give babita a try,for almost any and all of the dishes on the menu.

                                and as for el parain, i have not tried it yet, but the goat stew (birria or barbacoa de chivo) is the dish to get here, not necessarily the infamous carne asada tacos (which i've tried before but just were not that great).

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