Wednesday, November 09, 2005
If Yucan't Go To Yucatan Yucan Go To Yuca's
2056 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Mon - Sat. 9-6
Click here for Google Info & Map
At this moment, Sa’s cooking dinner for me and I’m sure it’s going to be delicious. But the fact is I’m still full from my lunch today. I took her to Yuca’s Tacos & Burritos, and I had to keep ordering tacos to, you know, research this post.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the Mayan Riviera, as the stretch of white sand beaches between Cancun and Tulum is known -- or was until it was washed almost completely away by Hurricane Wilma -- the food of the Yucatan peninsula is memorable for two things: pork and hot sauce. The food itself tends to be mild, but the habañero- and jalapeño- based salsas served with it are blazingly spicy -- which as you know is just the way I like it. And both the pork and the salsa are available in quantity at Yuca's.
Here's the dish.
It's the kind of taqueria that makes my taste buds do jumping jacks of excitement. The kind that, as we drive past, I'll say to Sa, "That could be the best Mexican food in the world! What if it is, and we never know?" It's a scary little shack in the middle of Los Feliz village, in the middle of Hillhurst, in the middle of a parking lot. Okay, actually it kind of is a parking lot. A handful of rickety particle board tables teeter with legs half on sidewalk, half on asphalt. A dozen or fewer garage sale wedding auditorium chairs make up the "dining area." There's a blue plastic tarp strung up overhead for shade. That's it.
But did I mention there's parking?
The menu is disarmingly, charmingly small. Burritos of carne asada, carnitas, machaca, chile verde, and pork cochinita pibil (more on that in a moment) and bean & cheese for you (ugh) vegetarians. Tacos and tortas of the same, minus chile verde. Special pibil tamales on Saturdays only. There's also a selection of hot dogs and burgers -- what up wid dat?
You go to the window, and Socorra Herrera, the doña who runs the family operation, takes your order and name... she writes it down on the very paper plate on which your order will be served. This is apparently an excellent system, as it's ready seconds, not minutes, later.
Whatever else you get, and it's all good, you must get the Mayan classic cochinita pibil. This is the local specialty of the Yucatan: it's their gumbo, their deep-dish pizza, their nigiri sushi, their cheesesteak. It's shredded pork that's marinated in spices and steamed in banana leaves. Mmm, yes, it is good as it sounds, and the version here is terrific. What's in it? Achiote, a staple of Mayan cooking. (For info about it click here.) Cumin, definitely. Maybe a bit of cinnamon? Something citrusy, either orange or lemon; I'm thinking orange. Red onion. Mild chilies. It's like the best BBQ pulled pork you can imagine, only not nearly so sweet or spicy, subtler, more tender and juicy. It totally fuckin' rocks.
The carne asada is flavorful and toothsome. The carnitas... well, it's Yucatecan pork. Less unusual than the pibil, but just as tasty. The machaca pictured above, which can be uninteresting on a lot of taqueria menus, is delicious here. It obviously gets the same careful marinade treatment as the pibil. It's incredibly juicy and bursting with flavor. The chile verde is unusual. It's not the tomatillo stew that is my personal favorite food in the world (Sa makes the best version of it I know), but a pulled-pork concoction with tender stewed jalapeños that's addictive. The flour tortillas have that slightly gritty feel that I believe says "eat me" or simply, "lard!". So do the beans.
For two bucks, you can buy a bottle of either the red or green "El Yucateco" brand habañero ultra-hot sauce, or borrow one from the rickety tables, to jack up the heat once you've tasted a bite or two "straight" to appreciate the subtle flavors. Wash it back with a lemonade (the only drink on the menu unless you count coffee, milk or orange juice, which I don't) or your favorite beer or soda from the liquor store two steps away. You're in parking lot heaven.
But I'm sure most of you know about Yuca's already. It's right there on Hillhurst above Franklin. Surely you've already been there. Right? No? You'd better go.
It might just be "the best Mexican food in the world."