CHOW Tour
Two CHOW editors on a caloric extravaganza exploring innovation, novelty, and deliciousness. rss
See Where We've Eaten!

Hittin’ a Chowhound Haunt for Lunch

One of our first stops in LA was the Chowhound-recommended Mo-Chica, a "contemporary" Peruvian restaurant inside the Mercado La Paloma near USC. The Mercado itself is an interesting, community-oriented project: The ground floor is a vibrant Latin marketplace with shops and restaurants; the second floor holds local nonprofits that work for health and social service access for low-income families.

Mo-Chica is a walk-up counter where you order, pay, and are given a number. (Take a look at our video.) The staff is very friendly and delivers the food as it comes out. We took Chowhound Nicole's advice and ordered the wild mushroom quinotto, a quinoa-based risotto, which was a new preparation of the grain to us. It arrived on a flat wooden tray with a side of potato soup and a little salad. The quinotto was pure mushroom earthiness, and creamy in texture without tasting like all the flavor and richness came from dumping a ton of butter and cream into it.

We also tried the ceviche, which had a little bed of seaweed under the fresh chunks of Santa Barbara sea bass, popped corn, plus giant hominy-type corn kernels. It wasn't anything we hadn't seen before, but it was executed spot-on, with fish that did not have a hint of fishiness. In an LA Weekly review a while back, Jonathan Gold pointed out that the chef, Ricardo Zarate, has a ton of experience working in high-end Japanese restaurants, so it wasn't surprising that his fish-prepping skills were excellent.

Also of note: The drinks weren't stuff you see every day. A barley iced tea was gingery and malty, and a purple corn iced tea tasted floral and earthy, with an almost chocolaty flavor.

Mo-Chica is definitely worth a visit, but the only problem is it's surrounded by so many other delicious-looking food counters that it's hard to not go for a second and third lunch. (And then impulse-buy some pretty Mexican blouses.) We nabbed a bright green chunk of candied something—at first we thought it was watermelon because it had black seeds in it, but we are pretty sure it was pumpkin or squash—and ate it outside on a bench.