Delicious Spree LA to Z: Guelaguetza
LAist is going on a delicious spree around LA from A to Z. This week, we are on G. Today, we visit Guelaguezta, a Oaxacan restaurant with an original location on 8th in Koreatown, and a second location on Palms Boulevard in West LA.
At the westerly location of Guelaguetza restaurant, the somewhat dark, tiny dining room feels comfortably like someone’s home kitchen. At 7:00 all the tables are already taken - about half by Mexican families and couples jabbering away in Spanish, and the other half by, well, others. Everyone looks like they eat here all the time. Thius is LAist's first time at Guelaguetza. In fact, this is the first time we're trying Oaxacan food (and yep, we did know how to say "wah-HA-kin").
The front of the restaurant is a bit of a Mexican mini-mart, with a small, high case of food things, what look to be imported cigarettes, and candy for sale. There are different-sized bottles of rich golden liquor that looks like tequila. We pick up a bottle. It’s mezcal, and there’s a worm inside. We put it back down. We weren’t so sure about our first Oaxacan dinner now.
LAist sits against a yellowing wall that has been purposely treated to look old-authentic, eroded away in several spots, exposing the brick underneath. For some reason though, the walls, the strangely scary marionettes hanging on the far wall, and the thin glass over the multicolored tablecloths, don't feel cheesy the way it does in some other places.
We are overwhelmed by the menu. There is an English translation beneath the spanish descriptions for everything listed within the plastic-protected sheets, but the language isn't the problem; it's the menu itself. The foods are unfamilar to us - this ain't burritos, taco, and fajitas - and except for breakfast on the first page, the dishes are grouped into confusing categories. We can't tell the difference amongst "lunch and dinner," "comida oaxaquena," and "especialidades." Oaxacan food terms are explained at the top of one page, but we didn't quite get how they fit into the whole ordering process. Photos on the facing pages show dishes, but most of them look strangely alike - something hidden under a flood of red, black, or green mole, for which Guelguetza is known.
There are dies made with goat and *gulp* crickets, too.
Chips were covered in a thick red salsa that was scrumptiously sweet, with a faint smoky smoothness. The cheese that was sprinkled on top added nothing, except to show how very beautifully red the salsa was in contrast. We snatched up more chips and happily crisped away, but still puzzled over the menu.
We ordered enfrijoladas, rolled tortillas in a black bean sauce, and served with a choice of chorizo, tazajo, or cecina. We chose the tazajo, which according to the Oaxacan lexicon on the previous pages, is sliced salted beef round. We daintily dipped a fork in the mashed black bean sauce that covered the entire plate for a taste, but quickly abandoned all civilized untensils for a tortilla chip to take a heaping scoop. The beans were delicious and flavorful. However, we weren't as excited about the beef. We think it absolutely tasted the way tazajo is supposed to, super thinly sliced and grilled well done, but it reminded us a bit of a moister beef jerky.
We went straight for the chicken in the verde de espinazo, a green mole. The meat wasn't tender per se, but it fell apart in shreds that, if it didn't soak up the mole, we would have found to be somewhat dry. unlike the rich and creamy black bean sauce on the enfrijoladas, the verde de espinazo was lighter and fresher. We thought it would taste like the somewhat bland tomatilla-based salsa verdes we've had at the big bad Mexican chains, but it was a little different, a little more complex. The menu said it was made from a spicy green chile, which meant it was spicy flavor-wise, not spicy heat-wise, which sort of diappointed us (the heat part, not the flavor part). i had to have some heat, since nothing yet, not even the sweet salsa on the chips, had been spicy.
A bad choice was the clayuda sola, which sounded interesting on the menu: a large, thin, handmade tortilla baked on clay. It came out on a large 12" pizza pan, and had domed up during the baking to look like a giant piece of crispy naan. It felt like it would be crisp, but when we tried to break it apart into bite-sized pieces, we had some difficulty. The clayuda was hard, not crisp, and biting into it, we really thought we'd chip a tooth. Even soaking it in the black bean sauce or the mole verde didn't help.
Mexican desserts are usually a "pass" for us, except for pastel de tres leches. Guelaguetza has a few traditional things: arroz con leche, gelatinas, and dulces regionales. None of them appealed to us. The platanos fritos sounds like something we would order, but after a meal that was already fairly large, would be too heavy, especially with sour cream and walnuts. That only left flan, which like all other pudding-y desserts (including creme brulee) we have never quite cared for, but sheesh, why not this time? Maybe we've just never had good flan. The server told us oaxacan style flan is made from tres leches, so maybe Guelguetza's flan would finally do it for us. *eh* not really. It still tasted like flan, with a stronger milk taste, but it sure looked pretty enough to take a picture.
LAist didn't looooove Guelaguetza, but don't know if it's the restaurant, or the Oaxacan food. We liked it, the mole was interesting, and now we can say we've tried it. At some point we'll go back to try the other moles to see if perhaps we missed out on something, or might even venture *gasp!* east to try the Koreatown location. Guelaguetza is very reasonably priced (there was only one thing over $10 on the menu), comfortable inside, and that sweet salsa sure was good!
11127 Palms Blvd (@ Sepulveda)
Los Angeles, CA 90034