Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Monte Alban: Regional Mexican

One of K. and my favorite places to go for a casual meal out when we are too tired to cook is Monte Alban in West LA.  Monte Alban specializes in Oaxacan mexican cuisine; Oaxaca is one of the 31 states of Mexico in the south on the Pacific side, well known for its complex moles.  Monte Alban is located in a rather shabby strip mall on Santa Monica Blvd next to a Mexican grocer and a taco shop, and has a warm, albeit slightly kitschy decor with the most uncomfortable high-backed wooden chairs.
To start, we always order the taco barbacoa: beautifully braised and flavorful goat meat wrapped in a large tortilla, accompanied by a nice and piquant green salsa, smooth and creamy black bean paste and a lime wedge.  Since we had a larger group, we also ordered the empanada de flor de calabaza, which was basically a quesadilla with squash blossoms, oaxacan cheese, molcajete salsa, and mushrooms.  It's a simple, flavorful and tasty quesadilla.
Taco de barbacoa on the left, empanada on the right
For our mains, we usually order the house specialty, chicken in black mole.  The mole is incredibly complex, made with over 30 spices, dry chilies, seeds, herbs and chocolate.  It has a smoky, sweet and savory flavor that is really unique and is delicious with the chicken over rice and also wrapped in fresh warm tortillas.
I also like to order the Clayuda mix, a toasted hand-made corn tortilla topped with black beans paste, lettuce, tomato, avocado, salsa, cabbage, cilantro, cheese with beef, pork and strip cheese.  It's like a very crisp pizza or flatbread, and the fresh vegetables are a nice balance with salty meat and cheese.
Since my parents were also with us, we also got to try the spicy verde (green) mole with pork and spicy amarillo (yellow) mole flavored with dry chiles, pepper and cumin with beef.  Both were good, not very spicy, and more soup-like; a little more subtle than the black mole, but interesting to try.  I think we'll be still sticking with our regular menu items, but it's always great to try more things with more people.
Amarillo Mole with Beef
Verde mole with pork
To drink, we had the horchata con nieve, a rice drink with cactus sorbet, and the agua de tuna o limon, a lemon cactus drink, as well as some Dos Equis and Negro Modelo served in a glass rimmed with lime chili salt.  The non-alcoholic drinks weren't anything special and a little too sweet for us; we'll be sticking with beer in the future.
Horchata con nieve
We both like Monte Alban so much more than Red O; the food is tastier, the service more prompt, plus it's much more inexpensive and lacks the obnoxious Hollywood attitude.

Monte Alban
11927 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA  90025
(310) 444-7736

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