99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Mo-Chica

photo by Anne Fishbein

Many Angelenos miss chef Ricardo Zarate’s original Mo-Chica, which was not much more than a stall in a South Central food court. Discovering Zarate’s dazzling Peruvian cuisine in such a location felt like stumbling upon a treasure. There’s a little less of that notion in the downtown iteration of Mo-Chica, which is nearly 2 years old. In fact, where the original felt like elevated cooking in a street-food setting, the graffiti-blasted walls and high-designed street-food theme can feel a little forced here. Still, the food is as compelling as ever. Zarate’s large menu spans bright ceviches, hearty stews and original creations, such as a quinoa risotto that’s rich with mushrooms and savory with deep green parsley oil. Hard-to-find Peruvian specialties, like paiche (a huge Amazonian fish) and alpaca, are used to great effect here, the alpaca coming as a warming stew topped with a fried organic egg. Like any downtown hot spot worth its salt, Mo-Chica has a killer cocktail list, which matches the brightness of the cooking. We may long for the original, but the new version is a lively and incredibly fun beast all its own.

-- Besha Rodell