Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chichen Itza Restaurant


Los Angeles, CA.  On a non-descript street, on the fringes of downtown Los Angeles, is a colorful adobe building.  The building looks new and vaguely professional, like a hip architectural firm might be housed inside.  But you open the set of double glass doors and are greeted by the music of a live mariachi band, and you know you’re at the right place: Mercado La Paloma.

Mercado La Paloma is a modern-day, Californicized version of a Latin American marketplace, ringed with food and gift stalls.  The vibe is mostly Mexican – more than a few taco joints in here, and there is, of course, that band – but there’s also a Thai restaurant and a juice counter, and more than one place to get a hamburger.  But that is not why you are here.
Order at the counter, take it to your table
You are here for Chichen Itza, one of the only and probably the BEST purveyor of food from the Yucatan… the historic dishes of the Mayan people.  My parents live on the Yucatan peninsula, so I’ve had Mayan food – excellent Mayan food – and know what it should taste like. Chichen Itza hits it out of the park, and is so reasonably priced you could wade through most of the menu with a few friends and not break the bank. There are no nachos here, and only one dish on the menu – mini taquitos – comes with cheese. This is Mexican cuisine like you’ve probably never tasted, Mexican cuisine that actually feels healthy and will introduce flavors and cooking methods you may have never before experienced.

To start, order the Panuchos – the Yucatecan version of a tostada – stuffed with spicy black beans and topped with shredded turkey and pickled onions.   They’re a little unwieldy but each layer of flavor pops – and I spent more than a few minutes wondering how they were able to get that bean paste within the tortilla.  There’s also a bright ceviche here… and two soups made of turkey broth – the preferred poultry of the Yucatan.

We also ordered the Papadzules (on the main course menu) to split – soft corn tortillas with the consistency of masa, rolled around hard boiled egg and ground roasted pumpkin seeds, topped with epazote sauce and a thin tomato sauce.  These were doughy and delicious and had they arrived first, I would have eaten far too many.

The famous Cochinita Pibil
Among the entrees they have tacos, tamales, and tortas, but the fillings of each are available as main courses, served generally with rice, beans and tortillas. Spend the extra two dollars and get the main course – in every case a heaping serving of meat, enough for leftovers.  If you’ve never eaten Mayan food, the Cochinita Pibil is a MUST – the classic dish of the Yucatan.  Pork marinated with sour oranges, achiote, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted… the achiote lends a heat, the orange a sweetness… the meat carmelizes in the heat and would put any American-style pulled pork to shame.

The other star is the Tikin-Xic (please note, the "X" in Mayan is pronounced like "Sh")… two filets of fish marinated in achiote and lime juice, served with a citrus salad and rice.  The fish was perfectly cooked, at the sweet spot between moist and firm.  You can finish all of it and still feel virtuous.

Just go already. They cater too. Now THAT’s a party I’d like to attend.

Chichen Itza
3655 South Grand Ave. (Inside Mercado la Paloma)
Los Angeles, CA 90007

One Response so far.

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