It’s finally cold in a city too health conscious to put on some winter fat. Having spent winters in Chicago and the Finger Lakes, an unconscious desire for the classic American Winter spirit has emerged in me. But I doubt I can find a cookie with 2 sticks of butter in the ingredients, an ambrosia salad, and an expert hot toddie maker in time for this weekend. And I won’t drive for any snow. What am I supposed to do this Winter?
Instead I’ll go back to the favorites. The classics of Los Angeles that do little more than reinforce the cultural blessings of the city. That doesn’t mean you’ll find me at Pinks Hot Dogs on Christmas Day (but to be fair, you can find me at Tommy’s). The end of 2012 is more of a reason to remind yourself “why?” Los Angeles. Those places that consistently beat expectations. Where flavor and fulfillment are one and the same.
In that regard, Guelaguetza can be considered a 21st century favorite. The first of the family run restaurants came into fruition over 17 years ago as the Lopez family slowly expanded into three locations, with various offshoots along the way. The location on Olympic has always been iconic and a bit bewildering; the exterior resembles something from the Far East, not from south of the border. But once inside the olfactory senses kick into overdrive. You are unmistakably not in Los Angeles but in a community with roots all the way past the Yucatan peninsula. And you’re gonna like it.
Considered the essential Oaxacan restaurant of the city (which, by sheer numbers, makes it the essential in the country), Guelaguetza is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is a place to take where the culinary-crazed sit alongside the Mexican family having a dinner for 20. It would be foolish to ignore the wide variety of Oaxacan mole and their applications. Mole might have been created created almost 2500 years ago by the Mayans, which somehow feels more relevant than just saying chocolate is Mexican. The sweeter, lightly colored mole coloradito covers the chips, ignoring the convention for a simple salsa. But mole negro has an unmistakable feel. That this is really it, that mole you dreamed about and possibly wanted to bathe yourself in. Covering the tamal oaxaqueño, the smoky, fruity, chocolaty sauce overwhelms the thick tamal with little effort. And when you are bored of that color, only the timid, least adventuresome people would avoid the essential and easy to enjoy mole rojo or coloradito.
But if mole is too much, well, there’s a whole restaurant to order from. Tlayudas, for example, are large tortillas that might as well be the Mexican equivalent of a pizza. With a spiced paste and long strands of stringy oaxacan cheese as a base, each one is as varied as ordering pizza from Two Boots. And should be split appropriately. The standard mariscos of Mexico are there, showing off the triumvirate of shrimp, octopus, and abalone for the cocteles and capechana. And if you do bring your family, platters of antojitos, oaxacan specialties, or mole tastings are all great and viable options.
While we can thank Bricia Lopez for really bringing mezcal to the Los Angeles mixology community, her selection of mezcal and tequilas at Guelaguetza are overwhelming. As my friend mentioned to her once, this is the best place to drink great alcohol in the city. And lots of it The mezcal and tequila list rival some of the best whiskey bars in both breadth and depth. But if that’s too intimidating, the cocktail list offers some delicious cop-outs. The Flor de Piña puts mezcal’s smokey flavor next to pineapples and coconuts, the margaritas and palomas are sterling examples of classic cocktails. And if you can’t handle another shot or drink, the best michelada in the city is waiting for you to order it. Or bring it home, I guess.
So if the world if the world hasn’t ended yet (or ever will), make a break for the mole so good an entire calendar is based on it. The Mayans would be proud that you’re eating their food on the day to end all days.