Ever since moving to LA from Chicago, I've been searching for the best fix for my XOCO cravings. I'd found a lot of good Mexican meals, but nothing to rival the complex flavors of Rick Bayless' sauces and meats.
Then I read Jonathan Gold's review of Guisados in Boyle Heights and knew he was on to something. Gold called Guisados an "essential restaurant," describing a meal there as "one perfect taco of griddled shrimp with tamarind or diced pork chops in a mellow green sauce." I couldn't resist.
And neither should you. Boyle Heights is only a ten minute drive from South Pas, parking is easy, and the price is right.
When we visited (the first time) we ordered six tacos for the two of us. There was tinga, shredded chicken in a smokey chili sauce; calabacitas, zucchini, corn and peppers topped with a chipotle cream; bistek en salsa rojo, shredded beef with perfectly cooked black beans; and cochinita pibil, the citrus-infused slow-roasted pork that Guisados serves with black beans and droplets of fiery habanero oil.
But easily my two favorites were the mole poblano and the quesadilla. The mole poblano is thickened with nuts and seeds and slathered over chicken. The flavors are complex and linger on the tongue, making you want more.
The quesadilla is unlike any other I've had before. As we were ordering, a nurse who was finishing her meal told us the "not to miss" dish was a quesdilla with chorizo. "They charge extra for it," she said, "but it's worth it."
She looked like she knew what she was talking about. We took her word, and what a good decision it was.
It turns out that Guisados operates a small kitchen tucked into the corner of a mercado next door where they soak and grind corn in a huge vat. This becomes fresh masa, which in turn becomes the tortillas and tamales served in the restaurant (and in many others across LA).
When you order a quesadilla, a woman behind the counter takes a small bit of this fresh masa and forms it into a tortilla. This goes on the grill next to a strip of panela cheese. Just before the cheese melts into a greasy smear, she scoops it up and places inside the fresh, hot tortilla. The chorizo is thrown in and the whole thing gets another minute or two on the grill before she plates it and brings it to your table.
It sounds simple, but it's unlike any other quesadilla I've had. The spiciness of the chorizo was perfectly balanced by the creaminess of the cheese, and the toothsomeness of the tortilla....I'd eat one of these for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I had the chance.
And so should you. Don't miss out. Head down the 110 and get yourself some real tacos.