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E.K. Valley in Culver City

My wife and I dropped in to this small, homey dining room on Washington Blvd. near La Cienega on Friday.  As we were on a mission to shake up our comfortable routine, our trip here proved to be a worthy departure.

We started with a couple horchatas and chips and guacamole, which was brought out with some salsa.  The guacamole was fresh and pretty straightforward.  Avocado, onion, cilantro, tomato; no hint of lime. Some may desire a dash of salt, but it was clearly homemade and quickly consumed by us.  The salsa was a smoky, tangy, slightly sweet deep red concoction, not chunky but not thin and with a little bit of heat.

My wife had the red mole chicken enchiladas.  I had the cecina plate, chile-marinated thin-sliced grilled pork.  The cecina plate featured maybe eight slices of pork, grilled perfectly.  It came with three corn tortillas, some sliced avocado and other veggies, rice and beans. I got pinto beans, which were good but paled in comparison to the phenomenal black beans my wife got with her meal.  I'm still trying to determine what they were seasoned with, but they were just full of flavor.  The mole enchiladas she got were excellent.  The mole was the expected deep brown color with the requisite flavor and complexity and a nice undercurrent of heat.  Underneath this blanket of mole were tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken, to which I maybe would have paid more attention had I not been so taken with the mole.  It's the best mole I've had in some time.  Maybe I need to sample more moles...in fact, my life would probably be exponentially better if I did, but I think I've found a pretty good one that I will return to often.

This is a small operation; I understand this to be a husband-wife team. The owner/chef welcomed us, thanked us for coming, and served us. He was actually working all of the tables (about 7-9, which were all full by the time we left).  As such, the service was a bit disjointed, but my wife and I didn't mind as we weren't in a rush. Our food took a little longer than might be expected, which the owner recognized and prompted him to refill our bowl of guacamole.  Given that it is a smaller operation and that the food was as great as it was, it's something I don't mind, particularly as I expect this is something that will improve over time.  The owner shook our hands on the way out and thanked us again for coming.  The meal came out to about $33 with tax and tip.

Me, I'm excited.  There's just not enough good flavor out there, or in most cases it's very hard to find.  The flavor was here and in abundance.  I'm thinking about the beans.  I'm thinking about the mole.  I'm thinking about the genuine welcome and send-off we received.  I want to try the rest of the menu, as long as one of us always gets the mole so I can have a bite.

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  1. Thanks for the review.

    I've been noticing the sign and thinking about stopping in.

    That whole stretch of Washington in eastern Culver City looks interesting; the stretch east of all the furniture stores and the like. There is an African place that has jazz combos. There is a sports bar type place. I've been to Brunello's.

    Anyway, I can't name every place along that stretch, but I do feel I should head over there a little more often.

    1. Great to know! Thanks for the review. We may be hitting that up soon.

      1. i gotta agree this place is very good and cheap. right near my work. another solid option for oaxacan? in los angeles. plus very hospitable. i really hope they succeed.

          1. re: sarahbeths

            E. K. Valley is open on Sundays. I was hoping to try them, but on "that other" food board it says they open M-Sat. I was driving past after eating elsewhere and noticed the place with their door open so I called. The gal who answered said they will be open (Sunday) until about 8:30pm depending on customer traffic. I plan to try them soon. I've been eating at Taqueria Los Anaya (4 times now) and even though their origins are different they both have been getting very good reviews. E. K. Valley is Oaxacan and TLA is from Jalisco.

            1. re: Feed_me

              Both have their place. I LOVE TLA for lunch. Their outstanding sopes. tacos of all types (love the shrimp and nopales last time we went.). Their food is so fresh and bright, it's a great place to fuel up and go! But EK Valley is our get unstuck from a rut dinner place. Their dishes are so flavorful, serving sizes generous and they are rather hearty. They make one of the best Clayudas out there with housemade Chorizo (although I also ask for Veggies on it!) and we love their pork dishes with plenty of tortillas... ;)

              Now I haven't tried any of TLA specials, and we REALLY want to go for breakfast, but I think there is more than ample room for both, even on the same day... ;)

              --Dommy!

              1. re: Dommy

                Thanks for your comments Dommy. You are very knowledgeable in these matters. Sounds like I'd better get to E. K. Valley sooner rather than later. I'm glad you've enjoyed TLA and the other day when I ate there someone did get a sope and it looked really good.

                1. re: Dommy

                  My son and I were in last night.

                  I had the chicken enchiladas with red mole. I thought that would be a good test of that mole sauce. My son had the burrito with carnitas (there is only one burrito on the menu, you just pick the meat).

                  I really dug the enchiladas, which are not something I typically order. The mole was rich with that recognizable smoky/spicy/sweetness. Very good dish, though I'd surely try something else when we go back and we will go back. (Just to be completely open, the rice and beans on the side were fine, but not any better than you find at any combo plate Mexican joint.)

                  I did taste the burrito, too, which had a nice char from being finished off on the grill. I only had a bite or two, but thought it was damn good. Very moist and tender carnitas inside.

                  I want to add that the place had a very warm atmosphere, like you were eating in someone's living room. Very nice woman.

                  We will likely go back on Sunday, she said she would pack up some burritos for us for a picnic at the Hollywood Bowl.

                  1. re: PaulF

                    I finally made it down to E.K. Valley for lunch. I brought mom along even though she "wasn't hungry." Ordered the chicken taquito plate of 3 taquitos and and some rice. I ordered the Oaxacan barbacoa taco. First off...the chips were freshly made with a very nice smokey salsa which was very slightly sweet. We're off to a good start! My barbacoa taco was outstanding. Very interesting sauces and great tasting meat in a nicely grilled tortilla. Mom loved her taquitos and let me eat the last one. They looked gorgeous and tasted great. We'll definitely be back. A couple of things....the prices are a bit more dear (but still extremely reasonable) versus Taqueria Los Anaya which I have eating at recently, but as a first impression the food is probably even better. EK's menu isn't as extensive as TLA's, but there's plenty of choices.
                    EK gives you metal utensils. TLA uses plastic disposables which some might find off-putting. Both places are pretty small. I think they might get pretty packed when the word gets out. You have been warned. p.s.~Listen to Dommy.

                    1. re: Feed_me

                      I would have never dared ordered Taquitos at a Oaxacan place.... I wonder if they would give me some mole as a dipping sauce? Hmmmm!!

                      BTW, the Taquitos at TLA are OUTSTANDING. The make me swoon... and Taquitos is my favorite Mexi-snack guilty pleasure...

                      --Dommy!

                      1. re: Dommy

                        I should never show my food ignorance when I'm talking to someone wise in the ways of food. My cop out is mom wanted something not too big so I went with the taquitos. Actually if memory serves....(I'm ancient) they drizzled on some guacamole (which seemed thinned compared to their nice and thick freshly made guacamole), crema and some mole sauce. Mighty tasty. They didn't list jamaica on their list of agua frescas. So ordered tamarindo. When a couple came in after us and asked about what agua frescas were the girl mentioned they had jamaica. I learned my lesson. Don't be afraid to ask. In fact I did ask about desert and the gal serving us said they had cooked plantains with yolo cheese and strawberries. Unfortunately, all that food I ate had filled my tummy and then some. My stomach is going to make an encore performance and soon.

                  2. re: Dommy

                    Dommy, I went back last night, this time with my wife, and I have a question for you.

                    I tried the clayudas on your recommendation -- though I forgot you like the chorizo and the nice lady who runs it recommended the beef. A really good dish, couldn't come close to finishing it, not after splitting a guacamole appetizer (fresh) and a few bites of my wife's asada burrito. She isn't really a burrito person, but my son liked his burrito so much the other night, she gave it a try.

                    My question is: How do you eat a clayuda without making a mess of yourself? LOL - this gabacho couldn't figure out if I should cut it with a knife (not easy), use the side of my fork or just pull it apart with my hands. I tried them all and ended up using 10 napkins.

                    For the record, I brought home some leftovers with the idea of adding some of the "soyrizo" we keep in the house.

                    Totally as an aside - we went to EKV last night after trying to get in to Corner Door, which was packed. I called EKV at 845 and they told me that they closed at nine. But, they said "come on down, we'll wait for you" and they did. Super nice people.

                    Final thought: my wife loved her hot chocolate.

                    1. re: PaulF

                      Ooo! They should have good hot chocolate, I think they also have cafe de olla... but haven't tried...

                      Anyway, Clayuda is just a giant tostada. You eat it with your hands. So you crack off a piece, then eat. And yes, it's messy (although the finger dexterity master tostada eater is something to see). yes, you might have to ask for more napkins. It's okay... as they say in Mexico "Estas en casa" ;)

                      --Dommy!

                      1. re: Dommy

                        Thanks Paul F for asking about eating a clayuda, and thanks Dommy for giving an answer. I've tried it at Monte Alban and did end up breaking off hunks and eating the thing. I must have waited about 5 minutes looking around for someone more knowledgeable to get one and copying their technique. Unfortunately, I was the only soul except my mom who I also ordered one for to have one. "How do you eat this thing?" she kept asking.

                          1. re: PaulF

                            Just back from E.K. Valley and had the classic chicken mole plate. I'm not expert on mole, but it was probably the best I've ever tasted although my points of reference are Monte Alban and Gish Bac. The place is coming along. They just got some snazzy new menus and Epy told me they are planning on being open earlier for breakfast in the near future. Got to try their black beans soon. I got the grilled veggies with my plate and they were very nice.

                            1. re: Feed_me

                              I was at E K Valley on Friday and did order the clayuda with their homemade chorizo (reading those Dommy posts pay off). It looked beautiful and tasted great. My face probably looked like I was in a pie eating contest after eating that dish. Another thing I liked was their jamaica. Lots of places make it pretty sweet, but theirs was less sweet and more concentrated in the flavor of the hibiscus. They weren't too busy Friday, but when I passed by Saturday night 5 minutes before their listed closing time it looked packed inside and there were a number of diners at tables outside.