One of the many benefits of living in Los Angeles is the abundance of good Oaxacan restaurants. On Chowhound, and elsewhere, Guelaguetza gets most of the attention. Tlapazola perhaps comes in a distant second. But theres also El Sason, El Texate, El Danzante, Monte Alban, Christys Restaurant, Valle de Oaxaca, Zapoteca, and Las 7 Regiones de Oaxaca, not to mention the many good Oaxacan panaderias and the markets that sell food to go, like Tortilleria y Antojitos Expresion Oaxaquena.
I happened to be driving along Santa Monica Blvd. in West Los Angeles last Saturday afternoon on an empty stomach when I spotted a Oaxacan restaurant named Juquila. I hadnt eaten there before, so felt compelled to check it out. The salsa served with the tortilla chips was first ratea promising sign. I ordered the mole negro as a standard against which I could compare the mole negro served at other Oaxacan restaurants. It was wonderfully complex and rich, right up there with the best. I supplemented the mole negro with a tamale that also scored high points. With my enthusiasm soaring, I decided to finish off the meal with some flan. I happen to like a creamy, dense style of flan that, in Mexican restaurants, is usually made with condensed and evaporated milk. The flan served at Birrieria Tepechi in Wilmington is a classic example of this style. The flan at Juquila is a lighter style that, I assume, is made with fresh milk heavily accented with cinnamon. It was my only disappointment of the meal, and not because it was badly preparedjust not my preferred style. (My current favorite, for the record, is the flan made by Carolin Messier de Jimenez at The Harvest Vine in Seattle. She achieves the creamy texture with fresh heavy cream and lots of egg yolksdefinitely not for the eat light crowd. Her current version is flavored with whispers of rosewater and bitter orange. Extraordinary!)
The big negative at Juquila was the service. There was only one waitress for the entire restaurant. When I arrived, the place was almost empty, and my order was taken promptly. But then the place filled up, and it took forever to get the waitresss attention for extra salsa, or to refill my water, or to order the flan. Worst of all, it took 15 minutes after I asked for my check at the end of the meal for her to get the check to me, which resulted in my getting a parking ticket that made the total cost of the lunch about the same as if Id eaten at Melisse. (I had even worse service at El Danzante. There, the one and only waiter actually left the restaurant to go shopping at a store across the street.) Despite the poor service, however, the food was good enough at Juquila that Id happily go back again. Next time Ill make allowances and put more money in the meter.
Heres a quiz for those so inclined: What are the seven classic moles of Oaxaca? For the answer, click on the link below.
11619 Santa Monica Blvd. (between Federal and Barry)
West Los Angeles, CA 90025