Saturday, January 25, 2014

Huarache Azteca

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This week's adventure took us to Highland Park to check out Huarache Azteca, a restaurant specializing in Mexican street food. On a busy strip of York near an alarming number of auto body shops and a handful of other cute restaurants, Huarache Azteca dishes out its namesake munchies to a pretty devoted fanbase. The huarache is a fried plank of masa topped with anything from carne asada to huitlacoche, as described in this article from LA Weekly. The place is hard to miss, with a small crowd of anticipatory customers awaiting tables and a fresh huarache griddle outside.


We went with a friend for a late lunch (Linner? Lunner?) and the restaurant was packed with gringos. We had no idea how to get seated or order, but thankfully a server found us wandering around and led us to a table. When menus failed to appear I swiped some from an empty table. Everything was ridiculously cheap and there were plenty of vegetarian options for our friend. We ordered:

Huarache Mojada con Carne Asada

I lived in Mexico for awhile, but I've never had a huarache, so I was super psyched. Unfortunately, I did not remain psyched. As you can see in the picture, I got both red and green salsa on my huarache mojada (that means "wet"). Both sauces tasted like they came straight from the cans you find in the latin aisle at the supermarket. The red one is like watery ketchup. Blech. The meat wasn't gross or anything, but it wasn't very good either. I like my carne asada spiced and sliced real thin. This...was the opposite. The huarache itself was nice, with a pleasant crispiness to the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. Too bad it got kind of soggy. 

Huarache Vegetariano con Frijoles y Queso

As our friend said, nothing with that much iceberg lettuce is going to turn out well. The tomatoes were mealy and flavorless, and, as you can probably tell from the picture, she didn't receive any queso on her huarache con frijoles y queso. She also never got silverware, nor could we find a server to bring her some. She ate her lunch genteelly with her hands. The beans were acceptable, and she agreed that the huarache was pretty good, though not as good as at the farmer's market.

Torta Milanesa

The torta is Mexico's answer to the sandwich, and it is a beautiful thing. Served on a griddle-fried loaf of homemade-tasting bread, ours came loaded with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and refried beans. Milanesa means meat (beef in this case) pounded very thin, breaded, and fried. It's like country-fried steak but more tender. This was an awesomely satisfying lunch food. It's a bit heavy (what with the fried meat on fried bread aspect) but you buy the ticket and you take the ride. I would've just served it doused in hot sauce but there is a self-serve toppings and sauce station for these things. Julie, who loves tortas milanesas, wasn't a huge fan. Not gross, but not great, mostly because the meat was a little mushy.

Agua Fresca de Sandia

Two words: watermelon juice. It's every bit as refreshing as that sounds and the "large" is just that. Pulpy and fresh, it's a perfect accompaniment to the weightier foods that dominate the menu. Bits of pulp like to get stuck in the straw, but it's a small price to pay for delicious.

Flavor: 2/5
We definitely felt let down in the flavor department. The torta was a solid performance and there's nothing bad to say about watermelon juice. But the place is named Huarache Azteca, and that was a poor choice. The veggie one was joke, not to mention the lack of promised cheese. The carne asada was certainly better, but it's a pretty low bar. The masa patty base is on point but the toppings we tried failed to deliver in just about every way.

Service: 2/5
Our server was very nice when she was there, but was largely unavailable. She didn't bring us important things, like menus, forks, or cheese. Plenty of other servers were working, but none of them were flag-able either.

Atmosphere: 4/5
It's a cute restaurant. It was decorated in pretty colors, it had a darling outside seating area, and the griddle was neat. It wasn't too loud even during the Saturday lunch rush. A totally pleasant place to have a quick yet relaxed lunch.

Approachability: 3/5
Culturally there were no difficulties to speak of. Practically though, it was tough to figure out the ordering system. We walked in off the street and there were no indicators about seating yourself vs. waiting for a server. There's a counter where it appeared that people were ordering as well. Once we got seated it was smooth sailing but there was definitely a barrier to entry.

Vegetarian/etc. friendly: 3/5
There were lots of vegetarian options, and some of them could potentially be good. The one we tried was not good at all, and I suspect that theoretically unfuckupable foods, like chilequiles, are smothered in the gross red and green salsas.

Jonathan Gold and the denizens of Yelp! love Huarache Azteca, but we're not sure why.  If the restaurant was open at 2 a.m. we would totally get it. The food is fatty and seriously cheap (a vegetarian huarache costs less than $3), and the aguas frescas are delicious. However, it closes at 10 p.m. and doesn't serve beer. They're missing out on some serious drunk o'clock customers.

Huarache Azteca
5225 York Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90042
Mon-Sun 8am-10pm

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