Based on our recently established weekend tradition, you might think that Oaxacan food was a post-hike requirement for us. A couple of weeks ago, our small band of bloggers/amateur hikers (me, Mark, Nick of TreasureLA and Aaron from Savory Hunter) headed to Monte Alban, located in a strip mall in West LA not too far from the 405 on Santa Monica Boulevard. While the signage and exterior didn't promise much, we were still excited to see if the Westside could offer anything to rival the Oaxacan meals we've been shoveling into our guts for the past couple of months.
The interior instilled slightly more confidence. Colorful murals decorate the festive interior, and while the decor is a little over-the-top, it's not off-putting.
Both Nick and Mark opted for micheladas. These Mexican Bloody Marys (made with cerveza instead of vodka) are surprisingly good, but I don't know that I could ever drink more than one.
We whetted our appetites for mole with the tamale de mole, a chicken-filled tamale smothered in sweet and smoky black mole (below). Monte Alban's mole negro doesn't quite live up to the reigning champ at Gish Bac, but it is very solid, and with each mouthful, you can really taste many of the 30 different spices seeds, herbs chocolate, and 5 different toasted chiles.
The menudo featured slippery slices of tender tripe swimming in an unctuous, almost greasy broth - no chewiness here. A very tripe-y dish that I enjoyed very much, but that my fellow dining companions avoided.
Mark was intrigued by the memela - a thick corn cake topped with (even more!) black mole and queso fresco. While the corn masa was great, the dish as a whole was a little unmemorable.
Then came the rainbow of moles accompanied by decorative pyramids of rice: in addition to the mole negro from our appetizers, we also sampled the Coloradito (a red mole similar to the mole negro, but slightly less complex and sans chocolate), Amarillo De Res O Pollo (a yellow mole flavored with Yerba Santa leaf, pepper, cumin, dried chiles and about 10 Spices), and Verde De Puerco (a green mole made with epazote leaf, mejorana, oregano, tomatillo, green tomatoes and cumin).
The table was pretty evenly split preference-wise, with Nick and Mark leaning toward the richer, thicker and sweeter mole negro and Coloradito. Aaron and I were more than happy taking lead in finishing off the spicier and herb-y green mole. And while it wasn't a favorite for anyone, the lighter and more liquid-y yellow mole was still really tasty.
So, Monte Alban is certainly a destination for good mole on the Westside. But that designation doesn't quite do it justice. For us, Monte Alban serves up Oaxacan fare comparable to nearly any other place in Los Angeles, Eastside or Westside.