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What: Thanks to the city’s huge Mexican population, L.A. doesn’t just have great Mexican food: It has great Oaxacan, Pueblan, and Yucatecan food; authentic Jalisco-style barbacoa; plentiful masa-based antojitos à la Mexico City; and delicious Baja-style fish tacos—to name a few—from restaurants that pay special tribute to the gastronomy of a particular region in Mexico, rather than try to do a little bit of everything (or revert to too much cheese and oil, the American way). The result in L.A. is a more accurate, nuanced representation of “real” Mexican food in all its wondrous glory.
Where: There are many options from a good handful of Mexican states, but since we have a soft spot for Oaxaca, we chose Guelaguetza (two locations including 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., map), a locally trusted purveyor of auténtica comida Oaxaqueña. Instead of chips and salsa, here you get delicious mole coloradito for a dipping sauce. And as a bonus, the restaurant recently opened The Mezcaleria, an in-house bar that opens after 5pm showcasing about 50 curated mezcals.
When: Mon-Thurs, 9am-10pm; Fri, 9am-11pm; Sat, 8am-11pm; Sun, 8am-10pm
Order: Pictured is the legitimate mole rojo con pechuga—a perfectly moist chicken breast (pierna, or leg, is also available) and scoop of rice in a pool of a rich, subtly spicy dark-red mole sauce ($15.45)—and behind it, a classic, salty memela con asiento: a thick, handmade corn tortilla spread with asiento (pork lard), refried beans, and crumbly white cheese ($7.95) that looked nearly identical to the ones we’ve eaten in Oaxaca’s markets. Other very Oaxacan dishes here include the clayudas (a.k.a. tlayudas), tamal Oaxaqueño, chile relleno de picadillo, tasajo, pan de yema con chocolate, and the very sweet, pink horchata con tuna y nuez. (For more details on all of those dishes, please see Oaxaca: What to Eat.)
Good to know: Do not—repeat, do not—leave Guelaguetza without picking up some mole paste to go. It keeps well in the refrigerator for a few months, and all you have to do is add water or stock.
Alternatively: As far as Oaxacan food goes, other well-regarded spots include Monte Alban (11927 Santa Monica Blvd., map) in West L.A. and Moles La Tia (4619 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., map) in East L.A., the latter of which does both traditional and nontraditional moles (such as those made with tequila and lime). For Mayan-inflected Yucatecan food—such as sopa de lima, crispy panuchos, and cochinita pibil (slow-cooked marinated pork)—consider Chichen Itza Restaurant (3655 S. Grand Ave., #C6, map) downtown, La Flor de Yucatan Bakery (1800 S. Hoover St., map) downtown, and Yuca’s (2056 Hillhurst Ave., map) in Los Feliz, the latter specifically for cochinita pibil burritos. For comida Poblano, try the chile en nogada and mole poblano at La Casita Mexicana (4030 E. Gage Ave., map) in Bell; for fish tacos à la Baja, there’s Tacos Baja Ensenada (323-887-1980; 5385 Whittier Blvd., map) in East L.A.
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