Summer at McArthur Park: Mama’s Hot Tamales and Chichen Itza
Summer is here and for me that means salads. I love Salads, chopped, cesar, cobb. Our current favorite is Spinach with my mom’s homegrown plums, a sprinkling of goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.
Summer to me also equals Mexico. Going back to Merida as a kid. Gawd it was hot… but the days on the beach and all the fresh seafood made me forget it all…
And so earlier this year I was longing for summer days… seeking Salads and Seafood and Home. So we made a couple trips to McArthur Park and Mama’s Hot Tamales and Chichen Itza…
Our first stop was at Mama’s
I had recently heard that Mama’s had expanded in space and menu. Now it’s a glossy professionally done menu full of all sorts of treats… of course highlighting the Tamales
But having done a Japanese Pub Craw the night before, I was seeking something cleansing. Luckily for me, they now offer a wonderful Nopales salad…
I have a love hate relationship with Nopales… I don’t like them in stews, but I like them in eggs. I prefer salad preps like this but ONLY with Tortillas… If you think there is no such thing as a good Veggie Taco… have one with Nopales… YUM!!
P. of course could not resist the lure of Tamales. He ordered a Tamale plate, two with a side of rice and beans. Of course, I had steal a couple of bites…
He ordered the Honduran Pork Tamale (Banana leaf) which we found underspiced (We put some Salsa on it to make it a bit more flavorful) and the Chicken Chile Verde (Corn husk) which was wonderful. Moist, flavorful and full of Chicken. I also snagged some of his rice and beans… Mama’s has some of the favorite in the city… The rice is buttery and she adds Yerba Santa to the beans which adds a nice herbal pop!
To cap off the meal, I ordered something from their expanded drink Menu….
Mama’s has always had the best Champurado, but now they have killer coffee too… I had the Mexican Mocha… which was the best of both words…
Finally, I owed P.some Plantains. I had brought dinner back from Pollo Campero and ‘accidently’ ate all the plantains. (Which can see why I didn’t I didn’t think P. would want any…)
P. totally got the better end of the deal, because Mama’s version is just worlds apart…
A whole Banana, fried lightly, it doesn’t have the same caramel edge that others do, but Mama does give you some awesome Black Rice and Crema to go with, so I can look past that transgression. Just an awesome way to end a meal…
My last trip to Merida was in the fall so I missed Octopus season. I was SO upset… but upon arriving to Los Angeles I heard the news that Chichen Itza had it on their menu… So a couple of weeks later we found ourselves back in the area…
To start, we ordered a Seafood Appetizer Sampler which included their Shrimp Ceviche (The shrimp was cooked through, so it’s wonderfully approachable) their Mussels in Smokey Habanero Sauce (So fresh!) and their tuna stuffed chiles. Although a bit more upscale than I would get at the Botana Bar in Progresso… it set the summer mood just right…
Then came out my Pulpo en Su Tinta… The Octopus was cooked tender and the ink sauce was one of the best I’ve had. Not too metallic, not to sharp, and married with other wonderful spices. This is truly a unique Mexican Dish and they execute it so well…
P. ordered Camaron al X’catic, shrimp in a super spicy Chipote Habanero sauce. One of his favorite dishes is the Shrimp Topolobampo at Babita, Shrimp in Habanero Sauce and he wanted to see how this version stacked up… Well not only did it reach its hights, but surpassed them. The sauce was true to its aromatic and fruity Habanero base, while making most of the complex smokey notes. It was similar to the one in the mussels, but with the shrimp, it took a different form.
Enjoying the lovely space, the wonderful seafood and a glass of great Sangria, we realized that although we love Babita… Chichen Itza is definitely in their league when it comes to the fine dining experience and inventiveness of dishes. Best of all though, the execute. Babita does has it’s pros, homemade tortillas, better wine list, etc… but I now feel totally confident to recommendinf Chichen Itza for those longing for Alta Cocina experiences in L.A.
Nice reviews Dommy!
I think the one area where Babita sometimes falls short is the fact that they don't have the business side of running a restaurant down. The cooking, yes. The management, not much.
Gahh!! I hit and run from work so I always forget to look up the contact info! :P
Here are their websites
And I'm so glad I just looked those up because Mama's is expanding to Pasadena!!! :DDD
For Mama's my FAVORITE dish is the Black Mole Tamale... just awesome... And for Chichen Itza my favorite is The Cochinita Pibil Torta... my last meal leaving Mexico was a Cochinita Torta... One of the best sandwiches invented in the history of meat and bread....
Again... Not only do I love the food that these places serve, but also just adore the bravery of the owners and their mission. They could have done what other 100s of other places have and played it totally safe... but they stuck their neck out and prepare dishes that are TRUE to the spirit of their origins... best of all and have succeeded... They are a shining example to other future restaurantuers that they too should be brave... come on folks... bring on the Borego!!
I certainly hope Mama's can make a go of it in that space. It's been about four different restaurants in the eight years we've been here, none of them particularly outstanding, but most of the time it's just been one of those AVAILABLE FOR FILMING places. I'm a little worried about the lack of foot traffic in the area, and parking is a bit of a problem there too.
"If you think there is no such thing as a good Veggie Taco… have one with Nopales… YUM!!"
Yeah, I guess vegetarian tacos in L.A. are terrible (all those rice & grilled bell pepper abominations) but ah to think back to the Tacos Doblados stuffed with garlicky wild greens you get from the Marias on the Mexico DF - Toluca highway, Tacos de Seta con Huitlacoche (Portabellos & Huitlacoche) in Temoaya, or Tacos de Flor de Calabaza Guisadita (Squash blossoms sweated with Tomato-Jalapenos suace) in the Mercados around D.F., and of course Nopales con Mole or Pasilla Sauce in the roadside eateries around Desierto de los Leones... authentic vegetarian tacos are some of THE most delectable eats on the entire planet!
"Camaron al X’catic, shrimp in a super spicy Chipote Habanero sauce"
> So I take it they can't source X'catic peppers and that is the best way to replicate them? I thought X'Catics were a little more like the Chile de Agua used in Oaxaca, no?
Dommy: SHHHHHH! We've already been past C.I. for the Chowspouse's regular pan de cazon fix and found, at least once, that we couldn't get in without a reservation.
I'll have to try the pulpo and particularly the new camaron. Certainly more accessible than going to Chicago to eat it at Bayless' place...
I have been wanting to try Chichen Itza for a long while but somehow haven't made it, but will go very soon. Would love to go to Merida...
Maybe I'll have to give Mama's Hot Tamales another try, since you say they have an expanded menu. It just didn't do anything for me, and the tamales we got (can't remember which) were dry.