I’ve been into Oaxacan Mexican food lately, so when I was invited to dinner at Guelaguetza with owner Bricia Lopez, who also owns the uber-tasty Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron, I jumped at the chance. I had been to Guelaguetza once before, and mostly what I remembered was the awesome band that played that night in the restaurant. So I was glad to have someone who knew her way around the menu to guide me through dinner.
Oaxacan-style Mexican food is different from the kind of Mexican food most people are used to, i.e., tacos and burritos served with salsa and refried beans. Oaxacan food is all about the mole, that thick sauce made from chilis, bread, chocolate and all kinds of other good stuff, and Guelaguetza serves all kinds. My favorite was a lighter one made with almonds (sorry, didn’t catch the name).
There are three locations of the restaurant, the original on 8th Street in Koreatown, one on Olympic Boulevard also in K-Town and one in Lynwood. We ate at the one on Olympic, which is a large space complete with larder area up front, a fountain in the middle and two areas for live music. Your meals here start with an appetizer of tortilla chips topped with mole and queso fresco.
Bricia ordered us all kinds of sampler platters, which even with five people (Bricia, myself, Esther of e*starLA, Caroline of Caroline on Crack and Lindsay of LAist) we couldn’t finish. One platter consisted of shredded chicken with four kinds of mole, rice, black beans and tortilla. This is where I discovered the almond-heavy mole I liked so much. Next up was a platter of mostly meats, including chorizo (one of my favorites), grilled pork and beef, fried pork ribs, as well as grilled cactus (another favorite), chile relleno (excellent, though very spicy) and Oaxacan string cheese.
Then there was a platter of all kinds of fried delights, including some ridiculously good taquitos, chalupas (small fried thick corn tortillas topped with seasoned vegetables), fried quesadillas, molotes (fried corn dough rolls filled with potatoes and chorizo) and pork feet marinated in vinegar (which I admit I didn’t taste).
Bricia also made sure we were well hydrated with various cocktails. The one that I thought was brilliant is an alcoholic frozen blended version of horchata made with rum and cactus fruit puree topped with cantaloupe and nuts. Since I like the regular version, which is also served at the restaurant and at Pal Cabron, I appreciated the alcoholic version, though it’s really more like a dessert drink. It could also use some more rum, which I think we all agreed on.
The other drink I liked was a spicy margarita with a mezcal worm-salt rim. I like spice in my cocktails, and it came in a huge as-big-as-my-head glass. And with no cocktail topping $7.95, you can’t really go wrong.