99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Guelaguetza

photo by Danny Liao

Driving by, you can’t help but notice Guelaguetza, the Oaxacan restaurant in the midst of Koreatown. The dazzling orange paint job added last year blots out everything around it. Inside, there’s also something new, a yellow tiled open kitchen and grill, where you can watch the preparation of grilled meat platters and tlayudas, the outsized tortillas topped with black beans, Oaxacan meats such as tasajo and cecina, and the shreddy cheese quesillo. In this location since 2000, Guelaguetza is a gathering spot for the Oaxacan community, not just to eat but to listen to Oaxacan and Latin jazz. Trendy drinkers gather at Mezcalería, the mezcal bar, for tastings. If they want to eat, the bar has an appetizer menu. Apart from these innovations, Guelaguetza runs a traditional kitchen. It’s the place to eat the famous Oaxacan moles — there are six on the menu. The most festive is mole negro, or black mole, which is served as a main dish, as tamale filling or as the sauce for mole enchiladas. After eating, you can shop. The store in the restaurant sells three of the Guelaguetza moles in jars, along with chocolate from Oaxaca and the spicy beer cocktail michelada to put in the fridge at home.

-- Barbara Hansen