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REVIEW: La Huasteca, Lynwood

"We should get some lunch somewhere," said the colleague.

"Yep," I said, as I steered the car from the 710 north onto the 105 west. "We'll find someplace on the Wests... WHY is there traffic at 11:30 in the morning?"

"I dunno. But I'm hungry."

Now, many of our "interior" freeways are pretty thin on immediately-accessible Chow. The 105 at Long Beach Boulevard, however, has Plaza Mexico, which is worth a visit just for the wandering around in the Lost City of Tehuantepec, North.

"Lynwood, thank you. And yes. You wait until you taste this food."

We parked and walked through the plaza to La Huasteca on the south side of the building (closest to the freeway), which is in most Chowhounds' Top Five list for Mexican food in Los Angeles. La Huasteca provides a somewhat "alta cocina" alternative to your typical Mexican places -- combo-glop plates need not apply here, sort of.

First of all, the decor. If you've been to Babita, this is almost exactly unlike Babita. Babita feels like you're sitting in someone's slightly-overcrowded living room. La Huasteca is much, much larger, open, with tile floors and twenty-foot (at least) ceilings, and wrought-iron furniture. It's dark, even in the daylight, and a bit cavernous -- like you're eating in a mysteriously-air-conditioned outside plaza.

We were sat behind the tequila cabinet (it's forty feet long) and ordered (non-alcoholic) drinks. Chips were set down, and the busser who brought them asked if we wanted something besides the salsa. "Pipian rojo," I said, "and maybe some mole negro." In short order, the drinks returned with a small bowl each of each sauce, for dipping the sauce. You can also ask them to pour sauce (esp. the mole) over the chips.

The last time I'd gone I'd got a black mole chicken dish and ceviche (both excellent), so this time I ordered a panucho (a flat corn masa object on which are reposed Yucatan-style cochinita pibil and pickled red onions) and a chile en nogada, even though it's not pomegranate season. My colleague ordered enchiladas La Huasteca.

The panucho was tasty, but not as good as the chicken version at Babita. I would have preferred a little more of the pickled onion. The chile, however, besides being absolutely enormous (and studded with pimento instead of pomegranate), was perfectly done. My only beef is that it was a little too sweet. I would have liked a little more chile heat in the chile itself to balance the fruit in the filling. It seems counterintuitive to add salsa to a dish like that, but I did.

I had a bite of the enchiladas and they were delicious -- excellent green salsa and queso Oaxaca on top. They came with rice and beans, for an effect like a $12 combo-glop plate, except not gloppy at all.

There are so many other things I want to try -- the moles, including an intriguing-looking "white mole", and anything in that absolutely scrumptious (and mercifully understated) pipian rojo... their desserts. We were far too full for dessert, but they looked very, very tempting.

I'll be bringing Mrs Ubergeek there as soon as I can find a reasonable excuse for the drive to Lynwood. I think she'll like it better than Babita -- the dishes are more her style. I like the menu at Babita better (those beef cheeks -- my GOD) but there are more dishes I want to try at La Huasteca. Also, you're not exactly going to wander San Gabriel after dinner, whereas at La Huasteca there is tons to be seen.

Service was excellent -- the restaurant was only half-full but fully staffed, so we never lacked for someone nearby to respond to a cocked eyebrow or an understated gesture.

Prices, incidentally, are expensive compared to, say, a taqueria, but they should be. Most of the entrees are in the $10-$20 range. Desserts are, I think, $6. There is a full bar, which is something Babita sorely (SORELY) lacks. There's a mariachi nightly, according to signs in the restaurant.

I really enjoyed it and am hoping for more excuses to end up in traffic on the 105 so I can explore more of the menu.

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La Huasteca
3150 E Imperial Hwy, Lynwood, CA 90262

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  1. I think I have mentioned it before... but I will again. La Huasteca is owned by Chinese-Mexicans from Baja... and I think it would be worth asking them about doing a Mexicali Chinese-Mexican fusion menu for a Chowdown sometime.

    In Omaha, a couple months ago I ate at a Mex restaurant owned by people who had cooked at one of TJ's prominent Chinese-Mexican owned restaurants... and they prepared a fantastic Cornish Game Hen a la Diabla... with a barely sweet Orange Peel/Arbol Chile Sauce that was reminiscent of Mandarin / Orange Chicken but in a much more grown up & sophisticated style than the typical California steam table Chinese.

    Another thing... you call the area "Lost City of Tehuantepec"... is the implication that there are immigrants from the Isthmus in L.A? I ask because StreetGourmetLA's blog report on Guelagetza wonders why there is no Manchamanteles Mole (Fruity mole featuring Pork, Pineaple, Pears, Apricots etc.,). I asserted that L.A's Oaxacan community all comes from just one of Oaxaca's seven regions... the Valley of Oaxaca where Oaxaca City is located... and that there is no migration of Mixtecs, Istmenos or Coastal peoples etc., If you have information to contrary... this could lead to some exciting chow finds!

    5 Replies
    1. re: Eat_Nopal

      Gosh, I've never associated Manachamantes Mole with Oxacaca... I've always had it in Mexico City and have always assumed to be from the region because it's closer to Mole Pobalana IME...

      Glad La Huasteca is still delivering! I LOVE their Steak in Huitlacoche... One of the best Huitlacoche dishes in the city!

      --Dommy!

      1. re: Dommy

        Yeah... Manchamanteles is common in the southern most tip of Oaxaca being THE regional specialty of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec and the towns along MEX 185 & 190... towards Minatitlan, Veracruz... and into the stone fruit growing areas of Southeastern Puebla. And it is considered one of the 7 famous Oaxacan moles. It might also be related to other Sweet Moles like the Mole de Xico... and also in the Yucatan (Campeche & Southern Tabasco) there is a type of Mole that is served with Whole Fish, Langostines & Grilled Mangos but the name escapes me.

      2. re: Eat_Nopal

        Aha! I'm aware of the predominant states represented here in LA but never thought of the specific regions of states.Now that you mention it everything is crystal clear.Gracias!

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          Eating Chinese food in Chinese Food Restaurants in Baja California are some of my best memories while growing up many, many years ago. It was a family tradition, every Sunday, the whole family would get together and enjoy delicious Chinese food. It must have been the Mexican/Chinese fusion, but I have not tasted anything like it here in the US. Your post brought back so many memories, thanks for reminding me.

          1. re: lvgoodfood

            Your welcome... maybe you can chat up the owner of La Huasteca to understand how deep the fusion guys... but I think one of the differences with Chinese in Mexicali is that the immigrants were strictly from Guangdong province and really stuck to their regional cooking style... which hasn't been as true in California. Also, I think historically Mexicans have been more open to trying "interesting" foods that Californians might have been put off by in earlier decades (fish cheeks etc.,)... so I think Mexico is traditional a bit more ripe of authentic culinary traditions from abroad.

        2. Great review as always Das! :)

          I love Babita's and have never made it to La Huasteca yet. I'll have to go soon. :)

          1. Nice review. I need to try this place.

            1. With regards to the Mariachi.... one of the bands is comprised of reserve members for Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano... there is a short chubby guy, whose specialty is singing jazzy boleros... he also plays the trumpet... he plays one mean trumpet. We took my viejo for father's day a couple of years ago... and they were strolling table to table... after he played some good rifts on "Como Han Pasado Los Anos"... I jokingly requested Caravan... and they absolutely blew me away.... they also performed an excellent version of Nereidas... and of Pelea de Gallos.

              If anyone is interested in listening to Mariachi.. I would highly recommend calling ahead to find out when those cats will be playing.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                A group of friends and I thought that the Mariachi was excellent, but excrutiatingly loud. So loud that we finally just gave up trying to talk during dinner. My girlfriend, who loved the food, has refused to go back ever since because of that. I've been back and will happily continue to go back, but at night I don't harbor any delusions of having a good dinner conversation.

                1. re: estone888

                  BTW... I should mention that Plaza Mexico is quickly becoming the cultural center of Mexican L.A.... displacing more established places in East L.A. They have a great variety of free concerts going way beyond Mariachi (which about 80% of people in Mexico don't really like)... they recently started several festivals of regional music including Son Jarocho ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47EDC1... ), Son Huasteco ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VDege... ), Chilenas ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yT19u... ) and Yucatecan Trova ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90LiNT... )

              2. "Also, you're not exactly going to wander San Gabriel after dinner, whereas at La Huasteca there is tons to be seen." Depends on what you're interested in seeing. Babita is just a block or so south of the San Gabriel Superstore, one of those ungodly huge one-gigantic-room malls combining some cheap eating opportunities, a very good pan-Asian grocery store, and then many smaller establishments that only an Asian person (preferably a very rich one) or perhaps a white woman with a Hello Kitty fixation could love. I usually leave Mrs. O to wander amongst her imaginary Japanese friends while I ogle the fish...

                Seriously, La Huasteca and its surroundings sound to me like a visit is long overdue. We never got to the version that appeared so briefly here in Pasadena, which reportedly did not exactly live up to everyone's expectations, and our one Babita experience, while pretty nice, was not all I'd hoped for either. So thanks for bringing it up again.

                9 Replies
                1. re: Will Owen

                  Yeah, I know it's right next door, but I'm always just disappointed when I wander through there (well, unless the custard-cake woman is outside in the winter). Imagine if Babita were in the Great Mall of China and you've got a better picture of what La Huasteca is like, only Mexican stores, not Chinese.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    OOooohhh, the custard-cake woman, yesssss. There's another one down the road at Hawaii Supermarket, who I think has more flavors. Coconut for sure. HS is also good entertainment, if you enjoy being weirded out by such things as frozen fox and armadillo.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      Hi Will,

                      Surely you jest: They're selling Frozen Fox and Armadillo at Hawaii Supermarket?! (O_O)

                      1. re: exilekiss

                        They have all kinds of stuff at Hawaii Supermarket. Live turtles. Frozen cow penis too, I think, at least some sort of penis!

                        1. re: Debbie W

                          I've seen cow, sheep and something purporting to be rooster penis. In the same section they do often have really good, and reasonably priced venison and wild boar. At least I know how to cook those.

                          They've also got some very nice looking live frogs.

                          1. re: estone888

                            Mrs. O is still trying to work out the bit with the armadillo, since no appreciable numbers of Asians would have encountered this animal until recently. Did all those Vietnamese moving to Texas suddenly fall in love with armadillo meat? Did someone accidentally kill one on the road, and say, "What the heck, don't let it go to waste"? Fox we can figure out - the meat is the obvious byproduct of the fur trade, and we have seen that on a Vietnamese menu, at that Famous Catfish place down San Gabriel Blvd. - but armadillo, that's just weird.

                            I've gotten lots of good hard-to-find meat at Hawaii, mostly frozen: boned lamb shoulder is about $7/lb, and they have rabbit as well. In the seafood department, I've bought skate a couple of times. Fun store, when I'm in the mood to put up with loud crowds.

                  2. re: Will Owen

                    Describe in more detail your Babita experience being not as you had hoped for. My times have been very very good.
                    I too have hearing issues, and the mariachi music would preclude me from ever heading for Huasteca unless there is an outdoor patio where I might be able to hear table conversation. Cacaphony and I do not get along well.

                    1. re: carter

                      Our visit to Babita was not a regular order-from-the-menu dinner, but a private party of SCARFers with a prix fixe arrangement. While the food was excellent for the most part, the chef had just one guy in the kitchen helping him, he clearly had not pre-prepped anything, and he made a point of giving us little lectures between courses. Any one of these things would be OK, but the cumulative effect of all of them meant extreme gaps between courses, sometimes half an hour or more. Mrs. O and I agreed that while the price for all this was not unreasonable, we wouldn't repeat the experience. A regular dinner there would probably be much more enjoyable, but we haven't felt impelled to confirm that.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        I do like Babita Mexicusine but I will add that the last time we dined there the Chef/Owner spent a very long time chatting up a table of women, not really working the room, just that one table. It made for a long and leisurely meal, pretty long gaps between courses etc.

                  3. We had a delicious lunch at La Huasteca yesterday. One of us had the Huachinango con Chipotle y Jenjibre, red snapper with chipotle and ginger sauce, which was smooth and velvety. The other had the Pollo "Vela de Novia" -- Chicken "Bridal Veil" -- which had an unusual white mole sauce made with white chocolate, almonds, walnuts, and chiles. Both portions were huge -- we could have split one entree and been fully satisfied.

                    La Huasteca continues to offer innovative and haute cuisine.

                    1. The hermosa y talentosa Senora Grub & I have eaten at La Huasteca on many occasions. While their version of chiles en nogada won't make you forget Babita's any time soon, La Gruba really enjoys the dish. As for the Grubhombre, everything he's tried has been good, but nothing close to soaring. The sheer volume (no noise pun intended, see below) of patrons served must make close attention to culinary detail difficult.

                      Love the reference to the lost city ... the first go at getting to the place is a bit of an adventure. ("I know, honey, I see the sign, but it was over THERE before.") Other downsides: the noise. Between ultra mariachis, scraping wrought iron chairs on tile floor, & partying patrons, this is not a place for the faint of ear. And the menu. It is sincerely not kid friendly. So the party-like atmosphere is really an adults-only vibe.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Mr Grub

                        I don't have objections to non-kid-friendly (sorry, all you mommies and daddies, but then I'm sure YOURS know how to behave in public!), but both of the Owens are seriously mariachi-averse, at least while we're eating. Are these a constant component of the La Huasteca Experience, or are there windows of non-mariachiness? I'm speaking of weekends, of course, as these are the only times we both get to do food excursions.

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          I didn't see a mariachi at the lunch we went to, though that was weekday lunch. I did, however, see kids (and wouldn't have a problem bringing Die Ubergeeklet).

                      2. Can some one let me know where is Babitas's located please ..

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: TalyTaly

                          One or two blocks (I can never remember which) south of Valley on San Gabriel Blvd. in San Gabriel. Itty bitty building on a northwest corner...yes, you CAN miss it!

                          1. re: TalyTaly

                            You're more likely to see it if you come NORTH on San Gabriel Blvd. from the 10 -- it's just past the Roman Catholic church on the left side and just BEFORE the Serbian Orthodox church (which is on the opposite side of the street). If you hit the Superstore you've gone a block and a half too far.

                            The sign is very plain and says "Babita Mexicuisine".

                            -----
                            Babita
                            1823 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              Yeah, well...I can't seem to help being Pasadena-centric!

                          2. I am going to La Huasteca for the first time tonight. The ceviche sounds like something I'll be ordering. The chile en nogada sounds interesting as I love chiles rellenos, but I don't see it on their online menu. I like moles but they can be very hit and miss. Love seafood too.

                            Any recommendations for what to order other than what's been previously mentioned?

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: THINK_BLUE

                              not an answer to your question, but, keep in mind that Rocio Camacho hasn't cooked there in years.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                Thanks for the info. I didn't know who she was so I did a quick search on her. Does this mean I should stay away from the moles? Or is the food in general not that good anymore?

                                1. re: THINK_BLUE

                                  dunno
                                  because of their location, i don't frequent them.
                                  sorry

                                  1. re: THINK_BLUE

                                    It definitely took a hit after Rocio left, but I think it's still worth a visit. I haven't been in eight or nine months, though.

                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                      i was there about 8 or 9 months ago too, but only had one dish: the ceviche.
                                      completely forgettable.