Parking at Plaza Mexico for a Sunday morning brunch requires the eagle eyes of a sniper and the maneuvering skills of an F-16 pilot. It’s an all out war to park at this place, and the Salt Hyundai was outgunned and overpowered by all the SUV’s rolling on 20′s.
The frustrating circuit around the too small parking lot revealed several chowish points of light, however. An outpost of El Gallo Giro sits near the main entrance. It’s a Los Angeles taqueria chain that grinds outstanding house made nixtamal into a moist mass of masa, and with it, turns out some of our city’s best tortillas with a subtle, corncob sweetness.
Further maneuvering around the lot reveals a sandwichboard sign outside the Cafe Canela with promises of cafe de olla and churros rellenos. Things are looking up. We finally spy a space in the far rear of the plaza, and shoehorn the Hyundai into a tiny spot that an SUV can’t fit in. Take that, ya overgrown minivans!
The front of the Plaza Mexico compound recreates features of traditional Spanish architecture as found in the zócalo (central plaza) of Mexico City and its National Palace. While the facade recalls the Disneyfied ambiance of a Mexican pueblo and alludes to the diverse heritage of Mexican architecture, it does so in a scale model, Vegas style simulacrum of the real thing when viewed from the front.
Problem was, after entering the plaza from the rear of the compound, what we saw was a shoddily subdivided open plan bazaar with a flea market atmosphere. Baby ducks and chickens are sold at the pet store. You can buy your gangbanger attire, your pimp suits and your streetwalker garb all in one convenient location. I’m painfully aware of how old and out of touch I am with what the kids wear these days, but frankly, I couldn’t wait to walk through this section of the plaza and arrive at our glorious food destination: La Huasteca.
This restaurant delivers the promise of neoclassical Mexican culture that the Plaza Mexico’s facade merely hints at. The menu offers a sampling of food from six different Mexican states collectively called La Huasteca. Part of the host’s introduction to the restaurant includes a printed history of this region’s lore, in Spanish, for the benefit of Mexican clientele unfamiliar with the traditions from this part of the nation. The English language website summarizes it as specializing in “the cuisine of Mexico that dates back to the colonial and even pre-colonial tradition.”
We did not try their version of chiles en nogada, the national dish of meat and fruit filled green chile poblano, sauced with a red pomegranate and white walnut sauce whose three colors represent the Mexican flag. Nor can I speak to the Medallones Quetzal, a beef filet dish with huitlacoche sauce. These signature dishes with will have to wait for a future visit. On this day, our group of ten ravenously sampled the brunch buffet.
The carving station with prime rib and roasted salmon and an omelet bar sit next to the chafing dishes of breakfast items as scrambled eggs, bacon, and the like. Gurlfren bit into a pretty large eggshell in her scramble, which started the meal off on a bad note. Prep cooks: pay attention!
The forecast picked up on the cold line: smoked salmon with orange zest and capers; a salad of crunchy sticks of jicama, orange segments and pumpkin seeds; two pasta salads, baby spinach salad, and a remarkably good salad of mulitcolored tomatoes considering it’s December.
The photos of the hot line didn’t come out well, nor did I take careful notes. At some point, the mostly delicous brunch offerings became too numerous, and I stopped caring about the specifics of the brunch. Bad reporting, I admit, but for once, I was paying more attention to my friends than to the food. The overall forecast for the rest of the meal was sunny, clear skies and good times.
An oversimplified, midwestern American way to describe chilaquiles is to call them a breakfast nachos casserole. It’s a way to use up leftover chips, clear out the fridge, and feed the family in one fell swoop. Chilaquiles therefore morph into variations of the central theme of chips, a cooked salsa (as opposed to raw salsa fresca), cheese, meat, and sometimes scrambled eggs. Here, a simple version with salsa verde and a more carb-heavy version with bean and meat were served, and I enjoyed them both.
There was also a bread pudding studded with fruit, and soaked with sweetened condensed milk, that was to die for. Several desserts were featured, including a flan I particularly liked.
Gay mariachi. How often do you hear those words together?A really terrific band came around to liven our spirits. Your run of the mill mariachis in Mexico come to the table and play badly until you pay them to go away. Here, the band rocked and entertained us all. The campy band leader flamed his way around the restaurant and pretended to be all hot for Pedro, one of the young guys in the band. Most amusing, for everyone except Pedro. Pobresito.
La Huasteca delivers on its promise of an authentic Mexican dining experience, in an attractive room adorned with colorful folk art. The atypically attractive room reinforces the deep historical roots of Mexican cuisine, which draws from highly localized precolumbian native traditions as well as Spanish and French colonial influences.
Leaving the lovely restaurant behind, I suddenly remembered we were not in Mexico DF, but in the middle of Lynwood. My family, with screaming child in tow, worked through the other thousand families whose parents may have been just as relieved to leave the mob scene behind and merge onto to the mob scene called the 105 freeway. Such is life in Los Angeles. Perhaps next time, I’ll forgo the weekend brunch and go during the week for lunch or dinner. La Huasteca is definitely unique and worth a visit. Pasadena residents will be glad to hear of a new location opening in the near future. Lucky pups!
3150 East Imperial Hwy, Suite 100
Lynwood, California 90262