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Restaurants & Bars 3

Lunch at La Huasteca in Pasadena

JudyBird | Mar 26, 200608:01 PM

My husband and I decided to try the new La Huasteca in Pasadena for lunch today. We’d been to the gym earlier, and figured we could handle a larger-than-usual lunch.

The place looks great – obviously a lot of money has been spent on gutting and remodeling the site. They had some problems with their air conditioning, though; we felt very warm when we came in, and our server agreed and asked the manager to up the air conditioning. Just about the time we started feeling comfortable, apparently some other customers complained about being too cold, and we saw one couple change tables to get out of the draft.

We were offered a small basket of crispy tortillas (nothing original here) coated with their mole sauce. A really small cup of fresh -- and tasty -- green salsa accompanied the tortillas. The problem was the mole made the tortillas soggy after a few minutes; it also interfered with the taste of the delicious salsa.

We started by splitting a Caesar salad – after all, it was invented in Tijuana, right? It wasn't really a Caesar – two wedges of romaine lettuce in an exceedingly heavy, creamy dressing (that was boring). The lettuce was covered with lots grated Parmesan and they stuck a Parmesan wafer on top. At $6.50, it was expensive, too, (I just read the menu on their web site, and it does say that the Caesar is “hearts of romaine” – our bad for not paying attention to the menu.)

For main courses, I ordered the Puerco en Pipian Verde (described as "Pork tenderloin with the traditional green Pipian, served with rice and vegetable") and he had a Chile en Nogada.

I had barely finished my salad, and he was still eating his, when the dishes arrived. The runner hadn’t a clue that there was a problem, just blithely offered to move his salad plate over for him. Normally, we’d have sent the dishes back, but I guess we both kind of felt that we wanted to give a new place a break so we kept them.

My lunch was delicious. It was several small slices of pork tenderloin, perfectly cooked, in an amazing sauce, mild but richly flavorful. It was served on rice and shredded vegetables, and accompanied by homemade corn tortillas – delicious!

My husband's meal was a different story. He ordered Chile en Nogada (described as a "Chile Poblano filled with ground beef, apples, pears and dried fruit, served with rice, and vegetables, garnished with walnut sauce and pomegranate"). What the description failed to include was the sweetness of the sauce -- so sweet it could easily have served as dessert. ("It tastes like ice cream, I swear," he said.) He tried to scrape it off and soldier on, but the batter in which the chile was fried was too much like a corn dog for his taste, something not mentioned on the menu.

The server cheerfully took it back, and he decided to have the same thing I was having. Our server was a delight – we saw her standing near the food station, waiting to bring his lunch at the exact second it was ready, so he wouldn’t have to wait too long. She even insisted on bringing fresh, hot corn tortillas.

My husband also had lunch at La Huasteca a couple of days earlier. He had Pollo en Pipian Rojo (Chicken in red Pipian, served with rice and vegetables). He said the sauce was amazing -- sort of a red mole, rich, with subtle, unidentifiable spices, and quietly spicy enough to cause a few beads of perspiration to collect on his forehead. The chicken breast, in the other hand, was bland and uninteresting, and might have been better had it been shredded. He said he could have made a meal from the Pipian sauce and a handful of tortillas.

I don’t know if we’ll go back. The good dish was very good, but the others were very disappointing. At $55 for lunch for two with one beer, including an 18 percent tip, it just wasn’t worth either the cost -- or, more important, the calories. Incidentally, I went to their web site to make sure I was spelling the names of the dishes correctly, and noticed that it shows several dishes for under $10. Maybe this is true for the Lynwood restaurant, but that sure wasn’t the case in Pasadena – most entrees were $12 and up.

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