"We should get some lunch somewhere," said the colleague.
"Yep," I said, as I steered the car from the 710 north onto the 105 west. "We'll find someplace on the Wests... WHY is there traffic at 11:30 in the morning?"
"I dunno. But I'm hungry."
Now, many of our "interior" freeways are pretty thin on immediately-accessible Chow. The 105 at Long Beach Boulevard, however, has Plaza Mexico, which is worth a visit just for the wandering around in the Lost City of Tehuantepec, North.
"Lynwood, thank you. And yes. You wait until you taste this food."
We parked and walked through the plaza to La Huasteca on the south side of the building (closest to the freeway), which is in most Chowhounds' Top Five list for Mexican food in Los Angeles. La Huasteca provides a somewhat "alta cocina" alternative to your typical Mexican places -- combo-glop plates need not apply here, sort of.
First of all, the decor. If you've been to Babita, this is almost exactly unlike Babita. Babita feels like you're sitting in someone's slightly-overcrowded living room. La Huasteca is much, much larger, open, with tile floors and twenty-foot (at least) ceilings, and wrought-iron furniture. It's dark, even in the daylight, and a bit cavernous -- like you're eating in a mysteriously-air-conditioned outside plaza.
We were sat behind the tequila cabinet (it's forty feet long) and ordered (non-alcoholic) drinks. Chips were set down, and the busser who brought them asked if we wanted something besides the salsa. "Pipian rojo," I said, "and maybe some mole negro." In short order, the drinks returned with a small bowl each of each sauce, for dipping the sauce. You can also ask them to pour sauce (esp. the mole) over the chips.
The last time I'd gone I'd got a black mole chicken dish and ceviche (both excellent), so this time I ordered a panucho (a flat corn masa object on which are reposed Yucatan-style cochinita pibil and pickled red onions) and a chile en nogada, even though it's not pomegranate season. My colleague ordered enchiladas La Huasteca.
The panucho was tasty, but not as good as the chicken version at Babita. I would have preferred a little more of the pickled onion. The chile, however, besides being absolutely enormous (and studded with pimento instead of pomegranate), was perfectly done. My only beef is that it was a little too sweet. I would have liked a little more chile heat in the chile itself to balance the fruit in the filling. It seems counterintuitive to add salsa to a dish like that, but I did.
I had a bite of the enchiladas and they were delicious -- excellent green salsa and queso Oaxaca on top. They came with rice and beans, for an effect like a $12 combo-glop plate, except not gloppy at all.
There are so many other things I want to try -- the moles, including an intriguing-looking "white mole", and anything in that absolutely scrumptious (and mercifully understated) pipian rojo... their desserts. We were far too full for dessert, but they looked very, very tempting.
I'll be bringing Mrs Ubergeek there as soon as I can find a reasonable excuse for the drive to Lynwood. I think she'll like it better than Babita -- the dishes are more her style. I like the menu at Babita better (those beef cheeks -- my GOD) but there are more dishes I want to try at La Huasteca. Also, you're not exactly going to wander San Gabriel after dinner, whereas at La Huasteca there is tons to be seen.
Service was excellent -- the restaurant was only half-full but fully staffed, so we never lacked for someone nearby to respond to a cocked eyebrow or an understated gesture.
Prices, incidentally, are expensive compared to, say, a taqueria, but they should be. Most of the entrees are in the $10-$20 range. Desserts are, I think, $6. There is a full bar, which is something Babita sorely (SORELY) lacks. There's a mariachi nightly, according to signs in the restaurant.
I really enjoyed it and am hoping for more excuses to end up in traffic on the 105 so I can explore more of the menu.
3150 E Imperial Hwy, Lynwood, CA 90262