As residents know, Koreatown is also Oaxacatown, and includes a large concentration of immigrants from that Southern Mexican state. For most people who frequent Chowhound or Yelp, Guelaguetza is the go-to place for Oaxacan, both the original storefront on 8th Street and the grander restaurant in the pagoda roofed building on Olympic. Guelaguetza, which also has a westside outlet under different ownership, is the standard by which most Angelenos judge the wonderfully complex cuisine of Oaxaca.
But there is a whole world of Oaxacan cuisine beyond the now legendary Guelaguetza, mostly made up of small, family-owned dives which serve excellent food. And that's the thing about Oaxacan cuisine...I can't say I've really had a bad meal at any of the places I've gone to. The places, which all have similar menus, uniformly put out good food with complex spicing and tasty results.
Mole is, of course, the most known of the Oaxacan specialties (and other states of Mexico have their own moles as well). In its chocolatey black form or its nutty red, it coats chickens and tortillas in various dishes. Meats tend to be heavily spiced like cecina (spice rubbed pork) and chorizo, and are served with the salty string cheese quesillo on so many botano (appetizer) plates. And then there are the Clayudas/Tlyudas, giant pizza-like amalgams of refried black beans, cheese and one or more of the aforementioned meats baked together with sliced cabbage on a crisp tortilla.
So, what is there beyond Guelaguetza?
La Morenita de Oaxaca
3550 W. 3rd St.
(3rd and New Hampshire-SW Corner)
La Morenita cooks up a spicy mole. Their red and black moles are much less sweet and thick than what you may be used to. They opt, instead, for some heat, which is a nice change of pace. But my favorite thing at La Morenita are the Tlyudas, which are the best I've had. Smaller than the behemoths available at Guelaguetza, La Morenita's Tlyudas are crisp, with wonderfully smoky/porky beans and can be ordered con todo, topped with tasajo (a dried beef), cecina, chorizo and quesillo, the Tlyuda equivalent of a Pizza Hut Supreme. The flavors meld beautifully and the final product is a good step above the typical LA Tlyuda.
Flor de Piña (Rio Cajonos)
834 S. Vermont Ave.
(South of Wilshire)
The name on the outside says Flor de Piña, but the name on the menus is Rio Cajonos. Black mole was good, though not the best, but the accompanying chorizo was fabulous. Emptied from its casing, the chorizo was crisp on the outside and had great flavor. Excellent homemade corn tortillas to accompany.
Antequera de Oaxaca
5200 Melrose Avenue
(at Wilton - SW Corner)
I've been going to Antequera de Oaxaca since it opened several years ago. This small, family run joint in a high ceilinged room which looks like they never quite converted it from whatever it used to be (furniture store? lamp shade emporium?) has never disappointed. The meats and moles rival those of the big G, but most people seem to order the botanos...combo plates of thick corn memelas topped with beans, well executed guacamole, the standard Oaxacan meats and maybe even an enchilada or two.
All in all, the state of Oaxacan cuisine in mid-City LA is good. So, enjoy the music, dance shows and mezcal at Guelaguetza, but venture out as well. You won't regret it.