Sometimes you need a bit of soul food. Soul food seems to be different to everybody. For some, the idea of soul food is inevitably linked to the classic movie that, while promoting family values, also seems to promote heart failure. That’s just one definition of soul food. Here over 50% of the county is Hispanic – we need to find a different definition.
If there is one common link between all types of soul food, regardless of ethnic group, it has to be one thing: Slow cooking. Braising and stewing meats for hours. Slowly cooking vegetables or beans in crock pots.
Guisados seems to be as much of a Mexican soul food place as it gets. Located on the corner of Cesar Chaves and St. Louis, this East LA spot has been open for only a year. East LA might be the epicenter of Mexican food in the country, but to millions of Angelenos, you can’t find more authentic heart-warming-stick-to-your-ribs food. This is a competitive market though. Cinco Puntos, El Tepeyac, and the original La Sereneta di Garibaldi are all less than a few miles away and all are excellent. But Armando De La Torre and Ricardo Diaz both wanted to be right next to these classic staples of Los Angeles cooking.
Turns out they are right at home.
Everything here is somehow hearty. It must be the handmade tortillas, as you can see in all the photos. Made fresh for each order, the corn bursts in each bite and doesn’t feel cumbersome or clumsy to hold. The tortillas need to be thick. A guisado means stew in Spanish so to put a stew on a taco… well you gotta be able to hold the thing, right? To eat stew without getting too messy is one thing. But to hold a stew in your hand, held into place by a light coat of black beans, feels effortless with these fantastic tortillas.
Maybe I’m a bit biased. Soul food to me has always been chile verde, my grandmother’s guisado, or chile rellenos. Guisados has an overwhelming amount of classic Mexican slow cooked staples from all regions of Mexico. The cochinita pibil, or roasted suckling pig in citrus, is an absolute knock out taco. Its spice will knock you out as well. Drenched in a watery, unassuming habanero sauce, the natural marinade of the pig swallows the habanero heat and put this reviewer in the horchata penalty box for a good five minutes. But if you want to get clotheslined by some chiles – like Andrew Bynum did to JJ Barea – try the taco torreados. If you can eat one, I’ll give you a high five and a gold star. And maybe let you clothesline me.
But spice is just one part of the experience here considering the variety in flavors available. There is always a mole poblano / poblano style taco available and truly encapsulates the beauty of mole, a dish that consistently hops the border of savory and sweet. Ordering anything with the word chuletas in it will be good. Pork cutlets will be slowly braised until they fall off the bone and thrown into a tortilla. Even the vegetarian options here are fantastic. As you can see above, vegetarian options are not only possible but encouraged. Calabacitas, generally sauteed squash, are drizzled in a light salsa with some queso fresco to top it off.
Somehow Guisados manages to bring a wide variety of Mexican cooking and unifies them as one nation under a taco. And you know its got soul.