You can see Plaza Mexico from the freeway (105-westbound); its laid out like an outlet mall and looks like a cowboy-movie set where the banditos cross the border to escape the Texas marshals. Up close, its much more charming. The colonial facades are nicely detailed, it has a little zocolo and arched colonnades. More like something youd expect to find in Santa Barbara than Lynwood (good work, Lynwood!)
Right off the zocolo is La Huasteca. I missed the LA Times review so am grateful to cvc for posting a review on the board. Its a very good find. Even in the pouring rain. We went there last night.
The room is large and has an airy feeling. The tables arent spaced too closely, the wrought-iron chairs are comfortable, and the murals of bare-breasted Yucatecas are well done. The pre-teen chowpups are sure to enjoy them. Its a noisy room, though, all the surfaces are hard and the ceiling is high and you practically have to shout into the servers ear to make your order.
The menu wasnt exactly the same as whats posted on their website which is a good sign for me. As earlier posters pointed out, La Huasteca doesnt mean to compete with El Torito, they clearly mean to best them. We ordered drinks (margarita was pretty mediocre, so I switched to Bohemia early on). Chips were drizzled with a little mole Poblano, gives you a sneak preview if you like moles. Chicken mole is something Id rather make at home because I get overwhelmed easily by the sauce. La Huastecas mole isnt too sweet or bitter. A small bowl of salsa made with chiles de arbol comes with the chips as well.
Camarones Xanith (I think this was the spelling)---an appetizer of three large shrimps atop steamed mixed squash in a creamy vanilla-flavored sauce. Tasty and very interesting; makes you wonder what else would benefit from a little vanilla flavoring. Shrimps were cooked perfectly.
Caesar salad, estillo Tijuana---yippee, there are anchovies in the dressing. Why any restaurant excludes these is beyond me. If a customer doesnt like anchovies, they should order a different salad.
Black bean soup---a bowl, empty except for some strips of fried tortillas, is placed in front of you, and the soup is poured from a pitcher. I have no idea why theyd do it that way, but the rather thin soup was mildly spiced and would be a good choice for just about anyone.
Cochinita pibil---this was my entrée. I used to live adjacent to Yucas in Los Feliz, and have craved their pibil for a dozen years. This version is more like what you used to find at Merida Restaurant in Pasadena. I like Yucas better (less citrus, more pork flavor), but La Huastecas version is true to its origin. Comes with a few slices of marinated onion (I could have used more), good, tender white rice, and frijoles that got much better with a slug of the salsa de arbol.
Medallones Quetzales---this was the S.O.s entrée. It was outstanding! Why didnt I order this? Hes a meat-and-potatoes person, and he loved this dish so much that I barely got a taste. Its two filet medallions on mashed potatoes spiced with poblano chiles, covered with a wonderful gravy the menu describes as huitlacoche sauce. Huitlacoche is corn fungus (also called corn smut) and you often hear about Oaxacan dishes with huitlacoche on this board. La Huasteca makes a quesadilla with huitlacoche, too. Ill try that next time.
Flan---were we too full for this? Heck yeah. But its a great flan, in my opinion. I like my flan very dense and rich. Its sliced in a wedge, like cheesecake, and covered with toasted coconut. The two of us barely finished one order.
At about 8:30, a troupe of mariachis filed through the door, just as we were enjoying dessert. Assembled, there were eight players---two horns, guitar, bass guitar, and four violinists (including a beautiful mariacha). Where the acoustics of the room kind of annoyed me before, it now made more sense: its the special mariachi sound system.
To my surprise, this was the finest mariachi band Ive ever heard in person. Forget those party-band mariachis you get upstairs at El Mercadito; these people must have been trained to play classical music. Even the violinists bow movements were perfectly coordinated (yeah, I see now, theres a pun there). We stayed for about half an hour longer than the meal; I thoroughly enjoyed the music.
I am delighted that La Huasteca is so close to Long Beach and will definitely go back soon. There are several other cafes and restaurants in Plaza Mexico, but the weather precluded us from wandering around to take closer looks.