The sauce of kings
3014 W. Olympic Blvd. (@ Normandie/Irolo)
Phone: 213-427-0608 | map
3337 1/2 W. 8th St. (@ Irolo)
Phone: 213-427-0601 | map
11215 Long Beach Blvd. #1010, Lynwood
The first location on Olympic was once the VIP Palace, and the exterior is still tiled with blue Korean stylings. The interior feels open, with thin pillars holding up the ceiling and a stage with elegantly carved wooden marimbas reposing grandly along one wall. The blankets on the tables are checkered in warm color.
While you're reading the all-Spanish menu and working through the tortilla chips smothered in an almost too-sweet red mole, dare to order one of their mezcaladas. Bianca likes the Garra de Tigre, as kin to a conventional blended margarita as a tiger is to an irritable housecat. Instead of tequila, Mezcal (the one with the worm in it, mind you) is blended with orange juice (and maybe the worm), into a grainy snow the color of raw sugar. The glass is rimmed with lime and chili powder, keeping it hot enough to keep drinking but strong enough to make it a foolish proposition. The paw of the tiger smacks you if you get more than one.
A simple introduction to the mysterious mole of Oaxacan cuisine is the Enchiladas de Mole Rojo. Ordered with chicken, the tortillas are filled with white meat without much personality.
With chorizo, however, the tortillas are loosely folded and blanketed with sweetish mole, emanating a flair of roasted pepper. The chorizo is twisted into ping-pong ball-sized spheres and laid atop, breaking open into spicy gaminess. It is a simplistic dish meant to convey complexity, the brown-draped centerpieces merely a vehicle for the mole, which is thick but uncloying, roasty and almost intoxicating.
A clayuda is a huge corn tortilla cooked on a clay disc, rendering the tortilla crisp like pappadam and imparting a dry, peppery taste. They put toppings on it and serve it on a pizza tray, like creamy black bean spread, chopped cabbage, and the everpresent snaky heap of queso fresco.
I like the Clayuda Guelaguetza, which supports a trio of meats. An elastic plank of pork rules the upper right, hammered flat and caked with spicy rub. It is not pork-intense, and is the most subdued of the three. There are several of the chorizo spheres, earthy and crumbly, requiring knife work, with the corn tortilla crackling and snapping beneath. The tasajo is salted beef pounded into a quarter-thin sheet, succulent and juicy and the strongest feature of this plate.
Next trip: Barbacoa Roja de Chivo, tender young goat in broth, and I hear they have chapulinas: grasshoppers.
The Koreatown location is the original, and has two-dollar valet. The Guelaguetza on 8th cringes and creaks down the street from Taylor's Steak House and has a better kitchen; the one in Lynwood is difficult to map.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, East Side/Downtown, Mid-City/Koreatown )
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