Anybody attend the Feria de los Moles (Mole Festival) at Olvera Street yesterday? This event, closely followed by the Laundering-Brown-Stains-Out-Of-Your-Shirt Festival, drew huge crowds seeking rich sauces of chilies, ground seeds and chocolate.
Like any other food event in LA, many of which you smarter chowhounds have learned to avoid, crowds were massive and actually getting some mole required determination. Even with the huge number of vendor booths, lines were long. Much of the offerings looked nearly identical, and I'm not sure a strategy of picking the longest line would have been justified as some less popular booths really looked terrific.
I liked the looks of the plates coming from Tacos Manzano, so I braved the line after ensuring that the customers waiting to the side were eventually getting fed. I went with the mole combo: chicken drumstick and thigh smothered in rich mole poblano sauce with a side of Oaxacan white rice embedded with corn and peas. The mahogany sauce was delicious and as complex as a fine Napa cabernet.
The most popular items were Tlayudas, a pizza-like creation of a giant flat corn tortilla (some looked like whole wheat) topped with black beans, avocados, cabbage, cheese and mole sauce, among the ingredients I could recognize easily. Most of the moles were standard mole negro or mole poblano. I'd hoped to encounter a green or pipian mole but didn't see any, although some booths may have had them. A trio of enchiladas seemed to be a favorite at Manzano, and I also saw tamales wrapped in corn husks and banana leaves.
One of the longest lines was for Juquila, a small restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd in WLA which I find quite good, although I slightly preferred (and miss) the former great Guelaguetza on Palms.
In retrospect, there were probably easier ways of obtaining mole, especially given the traffic-jamming trifecta of Obama's fundraising event downtown and the massive Ciclavia bicycle-fest happening, which closes off many downtown streets to car traffic. I'd arrived by metro and bike and felt great sympathy for anyone attempting to drive or park yesterday. However, a true mole fanatic out for a comparison study would have had much to enjoy. Musical performances, games and other activities sweetened the pot.
I thought yesterday's mole-fest was a big improvement over past years. Instead of one long row of stalls they put them facing in two different directions. This meant a lot less chaos. The addition of more vendors meant the lines were manageable. The other advantage was that you could walk between stalls and see what was happening in the back. When you could scope out the kitchens you could see who was the real deal and who was frontin'. My only complaint would be that most places still don't put out signs with what they have on offer.
Highlights for me included a horchata con nieves de tuna (horchata with a scoop of prickly pear sherbert) from Sabores Oaxaca and some banana leaf mole tamales from Saby's. Had a pipian rojo from the much touted Juan's but wasn't impressed.