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Monte Alban ~ West Los Angeles

12:55 AM PDT on June 16, 2006

Monte Alban

11927 Santa Monica Blvd. West Los Angeles, CA 90025

With Juquila, Pili's, Las Farias, La Flama and the great Paladar Oaxanero taco truck among other great Oaxacan eateries in West Los Angeles, one can have a field day choosing their moles and central southern Mexican specialties such as clayudas, chorizo, cecinas and tazajos. Some might even feature "chapulines"-spiced grasshoppers-on a given day.

The most elegant and possibly the most flavorful local dinner is found at Monte Alban, a handsomely appointed restaurant that shares its strip-mall parking lot with a chiropractor, Thai Chile, Thai Massage and Mama Voula's Greek restuarant.

I come back to Monte Alban time and time again for their deeply cooked moles which come in practically all colors of the rainbow and the Molcajete-grilled mix of pork, cactus and beef, as well as for the devastatingly gorgeous waitress they once employed.

Although this vision of heaven didn't seem to be around on Taco's last visit, the food was still up-to-par. Named after the Zapotecan cultural, civic and sacrificial center of Oaxaca, West L.A.'s Monte Alban might stand today as a center of excellence in the region's cuisine. Speciaties abound from goat meat tacos (barbacoa de chivo); goat meat in a bowl of broth with avocado leaves and spices; thick molotes; salsa de chicharron (fried pork skin with spicy tomato); banana leaf tamales; and queso fundido with chorizo. If you think you've had it all at a Mexican restaurant, it will still seem that everything Monte Alban has is somehow being discovered for the first time.

During Taco's recent visit, I revisit the Relleno Picadillo, a large green chile stuffed with a mix of shredded chicken, raisins, tomato, garlic and almonds. My Irish-Catholic and Phillie-allegiant companion chose the enchilada with pork and black mole, sprinkled in cotija cheese. Typical chips and a fiery-red, thin salsa greet the table before orders are placed.
Relleno de Picadillo

After spending our downtime over a sweet horchata with mango cubes floating atop, the dishes arrived. If Monte Alban has one flaw, it's that the rice tastes straight from an Uncle Ben's box, but that's all made up for by the entrees themselves. The relleno is almost pure liquid, its delicate skin bursting with the pure flavor of sweet, tomatoey picadillo. The raisin adds a honeyed flavor, while the almonds mix in a subtler sweet taste to the soft chicken, both influencing the tomato-based sauce and bordering chile. Given thickly made tortillas-"memelas"- to accompany the dish, it really stands best alone, a juicy-beyond-belief relleno of complex flavor... (Continued Below)
HorchataEnchilada Mole de PolloMonte MenuMonte Alban DoorMonte alban RoomCandy Monte AlbanMonte Alban FruitPan Monte AlbanMonte Alban Display

The enchilada itself is a little dry and lackluster, but serves as the base for an amazing mole. The supported pork is fatty and soft, sliding off its skin into savory sheets of flavorful juice. The mole is thick and dark with the foretaste of bitter chocolate and an aftertaste with a spicy kick. Its richness almost reminds one of a great stout beer or red wine, with all the hints of spice and chile in a fine balance.

Also boasting a display full of fresh-baked dessert breads and a table full of chicle and sweets, Monte Alban is your best bet for a formal sit-down in West Los Angeles for Mex-cellent food. Its moody decor, varied menu of specialties and consistent quality makes for a gratifying and adventurous meal.

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