Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yxta Cocina Mexicana: Ingredient-Driven Mexican In Downtown Los Angeles

I finally got a chance to try out Yxta Cocina Mexicana this last Friday. Leave it to a personal invitation from humble owner Jesse Gomez to get me to commit to going at long last.

I noticed the place since the first time I passed by it while aboard the "Commerce Center" 720 Rapid Bus...that was nearly two years ago!

Yxta On A Friday Night
Yxta On A Friday Night: Crackin'

The unassuming facade is right on the corner of 6th and Central. As if this mattered, this part of town is also negatively recognized as "skid row". I dropped by on the later end of the dinner service and the place was still fairly cracking. The patrons ranged from the young locals residing in the revamped barker block nearby to young latino professionals just out for a good taco.

Arte Zacatecano
La Ofrenda: By Zacatecano Artist Rafael Coronel

Walls were adorned with contemporary Mexican art and on the ceilings hung low rising, swank chandeliers. In the middle of the dining room stood an inviting communal table, "Its the only table we don't move...ever" says Jesse Gomez as we sat down. Jesse Angel Gomez was born into the Mexican restaurant way of life. His grandparents opened up the Highland Park Mexican family restaurant, El Arco Iris in 1964. And as a result, Yxta is in its very own class of Mexican restaurants, a rare style that takes its roots from nostalgic Americanized "combination" platter set ups but evolve into high quality reinterpreted favorites. The menu is mostly masa antojitos but it gathers from his favorite regions of Mexico for its execution.

Tacos At Yxta
Uno De Al Pastor Y Uno De Asada: Salmon Creek Farms Pork

The pork for the Al Pastor is cut off a rotating spit and it is sourced from Salmon Creek Farms, a notable purveyor of awesome swine. And it is bomb, with charred juicy tidbits of both quality swine and grilled pineapple. Layered atop a soft handmade corn tortilla, this taco is my favorite Al Pastor taco in L.A at the moment.

Albondigas De Pescado
Albondigas De Pescado (Cod): Fridays Only

Since I first opened up their online menu, this soup was the first thing that caught my attention. Albondigas is basically a meatball soup, the consomme is a rustic one based on tomatoes, garlic, onion and cilantro. My mom only makes beef or chicken versions, so I was intrigued these were made from fish instead. And they were just like my mom's actually, down to eerie similarities of the al dente squash/carrots and thick body of the broth. The balls were tender and moist, unlike overcooked and snappy shrimp albondigas I've had at other Mexican places in town.

Tostada De Tuna
Tostada De Atun: Sashimi Grade Ahi Tuna, Fried Onions, Chipotle Lime Cream

Another favorite of the night was Yxta's take on the typical seafood topped Tostada. Here, he fried his own tortilla to a puffy thick disk, topped it with ruby red Sashimi grade Ahi Tuna, some battered onion rings and a rich but zesty chipotle-lime cream. Together this bite was a complex one that covered all bases in the textural contrast game.

Enchiladas: Could Hold Their Own Against The Mole Monopolies In Town

The chicken for his Enchiladas de Mole comes from Shelton Farms but I enjoyed his smooth black Mole better. It is superior than other places in town, thick, good portion, and not too sweet. Although, my favorite sauced down concoction was the Enchilada De Verduras, tortillas filled with fresh corn, spinach and mushrooms then sauced down with his very own Mole Amarillo that he makes on premise (just like the mole negro). The yellow Mole shines through with an ethereal balance of chiles gueros, yellow tomatoes, yellow squash, nutmeg, cinnamon and just a little that ubiquitous pepper known as the Habanero.

Rajitas At Yxta
Rajas: Mexican Guilty Pleasure Equivalent Of Fettuccine Alfredo

Jesse insisted on a order of his famed Rajas, julienne strips of Poblano pepper cooked with cream and corn. Ayy Guey, he was right! His rendition was light, al dente and spicy.

Nopalitos: My Bread And Butter

The only thing I myself insisted on trying that night were his Nopalitos, the famed strips of cactus that make every kid from central Mexico big and strong. I grew up on the stuff and it is how I measure any Mexican restaurant. If your Nopales is good, the Glutster is all yours. Here it kept up with the rest of the bad ass onslaught, reminiscent of my mom's, they are cooked in red chile sauce and braised until tender, not slimy or sour. Jesse told me the recipe is actually from a cook he had a while back, the family was "from Chiapas" he said.

Fish Of The Day
Fish Of The Day: Mahi-Mahi

We settled on trying at least one main course. I had heard about his daily fish of the day specials. Today it happened to be a fat piece of fresh Mahi-Mahi. The cut looked beautiful with pristine criss-cross grill marks. It tasted even prettier. A simple rub of cajun spices was all it had but it was enough, nothing to veer attention away from the moist and fresh medium flakes of flesh. Shaven spears of grilled Mexican calabacita (squash) were its pedestal, spaced like the hands of a clock and charred under high heat. The sides were not to be fucked with neither, including his own burnished onion-spiked rendition of the classic grilled corn snack dish, esquite and a refreshing heap of warm lime cilantro rice.

Capirotada With Canela Ice Crem
Capirotada: Mexican Bread Pudding A La Moda!

I was happy to see Capirotada on the menu. The seasonal, sticky-toffee like Mexican bread pudding is usually eaten only during lent but I was known to freeze my mom's capirotada to eat it year round. I no longer have to do that since they have it on the regular dessert menu here everyday. The version here is made with the sturdy torta-standard-issue Telera bread roll and again...tastes just like my moms! Packed with raisins and spices, the version here is made a la moda with a generous scoop of the frozen heaven known as Cinnamon Fosselman's Ice Cream. More like frozen butter with fresh ground cinnamon on it to be precise, the frozen spicy scoop tastes like licking the innards of cinnamon roll (I went to High School just a couple blocks away from Fosselmans so I am no novice to its decadent icy gospel).

All in all, Yxta is an invaluable addition to the few, the proud...the Los Angeles Quality-Ingredient-Driven Mexican Restaurant scene. Places where you can go eat and be ok the rest of the day. The best thing of all is that this place comes served as is, unpretentious, family run and drama free.


Yxta Cocina Mexicana
601 S. Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Tel: 213-596-5579

Restaurant Hours
Monday-Wednesday: 11:30am-9pm
Thursday-Friday: 11:30am-10pm
Saturday: 5pm-10pm
Sunday: closed


Anonymous said...

Hmm. Personal invites and media dinners seem to be the order of the day. I suspect that will cloud your judgment, even if you think otherwise.

Beware of the temptress in free clothing.

Dave Lieberman said...

I went a while back. I really liked it but it looks like he has concentrated even more on the menu ingredients: I don't see very much on the menu that I recognise. Do they still have the excellent squash blossoms?

Also, it was Yxta's bar that introduced me to the combination of jamaica and tequila.

glutster said...

Dave: Yeah dude. Such an underestimated little place. He does the squash blossoms but only when he gets them, don't think he had any when I went.

Thank you for your concern, feel free to personally fund my blog and its expenses. But until then, thank you for enjoying it all without free of charge :)

I really would like to formally hear from you if you went to Yxta and tasted the exact same dishes that I got.


eastside food bites said...

I'm glad you covered Yxta. I've loved this place for so long, and I don't get why it doesn't get more buzz. Possibly the locale scares people, but that's dumb because the food is solid. Nicely done, Javier.

glutster said...

Eastside Food Bites: gracias! :) but I know, huh? (haha). Jesse is doing some pretty awesome stuff right in the heart of skid row, wish he would get recognized for it too.