Thursday, July 26, 2007
C Stands for Corn Mold:
Testing my Limits at La Morenita Oaxaquena
Here in LA, the Health Department gives restaurants letter grades that must be displayed on the premises: A, B or C. Though the Department describes a C as "generally acceptable" in food handling and many a Chowhound consider it a badge of honor to eat at C-level restaurants, the bright red letter (A's are blue, B's are green) makes me nervous. Until yesterday, I'd never knowingly eaten at a C--and you know what? I survived.
A few weeks ago, the LA Times gushed over La Morenita Oaxaquena, a cozy Oaxacan spot near Koreatown. Close to my old office, it was a convenient spot to meet with my friend and ex-coworker Axel, a Mexican food expert who has explained to me the real way to make cochinita pibil and generously cooked me his grandmother's delicious chocolately black mole.
As I walked up to this strip mall restaurant, I immediately noticed the bright C in the window, but the call of mole overcame my worries, plus the LA Times writer hadn't mentioned it, right? I like to eat out with Axel because he encourages me to try new things--yesterday it was huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on ears of corn. The Aztec name translates to "raven's excrement" and in Mexico the smoky black mold is prized. We ordered the huitlacoche empanada (looked like a quesadilla to me). The mold mingled with chewy queso, and Axel pronounced it good but canned (canned mold?!?) because of the saltiness.
Axel's barbacoa (goat) soup was rich and red, full of fork tender chunks of goat. My emoladas (tortillas drowned in black mole and queso) had bite and I nearly cleared my plate. The Times article highlights the red and green mole here, but I'm a sucker for black. They also serve tlayudas, crispy tortillas topped with all sorts of goodies--a Oaxacan pizza if you will.
Prices are reasonable but not ridiculously cheap--most main courses were in the $8-9 range. If I was still working in the area, I'd work La Morenita into my lunch rotation---and cross my fingers that they get that B soon!
La Morenita Oaxaquena
550 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA
10 AM-1o PM, and they take credit cards