Home to the most Oaxacan restaurants outside of Oaxaca, Los Angeles is the undisputed American capital of mole. Of course, there’s much more to Oaxacan food than just mole (although you’ll surely eat plenty of it). Still, you’ll have no problem tracking down other regional specialties like tlayudas, memelas, and banana leaf tamales filled with, well, more delicious mole. Today, the southern Mexican state is internationally recognized for its rich Indigenous heritage and culinary traditions that date back centuries. Luckily for us, these well-preserved recipes and pre-Hispanic practices can be found all across LA at these 17 great Oaxacan restaurants.
In the middle of Little Bangladesh sits La Morena Oaxaqueña, a brightly decorated Oaxacan restaurant that’s known for making one very good coloradito. This velvety sauce falls on the reddish side of the mole color spectrum and has a warm sweetness from its cinnamon, nuts, and array of chilis that burn just enough to keep things exciting. Their enchiladas con coloradito are three soft tortillas covered in the semi-sweet sauce, queso fresco, onions, and your choice of either meat or a pile of Oaxacan quesillo. Take the heat up a few notches with their chile morita salsa - a citrusy yet smoky condiment that’ll have you biting your tongue for downplaying the coloradito’s heat.
LA is a city known for its Mexican food and plant-based options, with there now being plenty of vegan dishes on Latin American menus across town. Nevertheless, many of us have devoured some tacos al pastor in front of a vegan friend who ordered three rounds of chips and guac instead. East Hollywood’s Tlayuda LA provides a different (and less awkward) experience by serving delicious Oaxacan classics with tons of plant-based versions to choose from. Their tlayudas are their trademark, with the vegetarian version swapping out the meat for an assortment of sautéed bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and zucchini on top of their savory bean paste. Make sure to try the warm handmade tortillas with their vegan tacos, which come filled with cooked hibiscus flowers simmered in rich mole negro for a wonderfully sweet, savory, and slightly sour bite.
photo credit: Andrea D'Agosto
Arguably the best-known Oaxacan place in town, if not anywhere outside of Mexico, Guelaguetza has made a name for itself with its sweet and savory moles. But this Koreatown institution has expanded beyond its cacao-based sauces and now has a lengthy menu of Oaxacan staples like banana-leaf tamales, black bean enfrijoladas, and soft memelas with copious amounts of stringy quesillo on top. Similar to their loaded memelas, Guelaguetza’s rich enmoladas also involve a healthy serving of cheese, mole, and your choice of Oaxacan meats like tasajo, chorizo, and adobo-stained cecina that packs some nice heat. These meat or cheese-filled enchiladas are drenched in a smokey mole negro before getting topped with cilantro, onions, and crumbled queso fresco. This dish isn’t only delicious but also, for lack of a better word, complex with the cacao’s sweetness complementing the heat from the mole’s chilies.
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Sabores Oaxaqueños was born out of Guelaguetza’s original Koreatown location, but it’s become known for serving some of LA’s finest moles and seafood dishes from Oaxaca’s Costa Chica region. From the moment you walk in, you’re greeted by a festive Oaxacan mini-mart before entering the brightly colored dining area that feels lightyears away from 8th Street outside. We love the molcajete Costa Chica, a hot mortar bowl filled with grilled white fish, shrimp, octopus, nopales, and a creamy chipotle sauce for dipping your mariscos in. These large sizzling bowls are perfect for the center of the table as you make small talk with a date or vent about your exaggerated work problems with a disinterested roommate. And then there are the excellent tacos de chivo, which come as a bowl of tender goat meat in crimson red consommé that’s seasoned with avocado leaves, a long list of herbs, and tons of dried chilies to create a pleasantly spicy stew that 100% calls for one of their excellent horchatas. It’s also best with some of their large handmade corn tortillas, which come together for the perfect morning, afternoon, or literally whenever taco.
The hand-rolled and heavily-stuffed quesadillas at Oaxacan Quesadilla Cart are a major upgrade from our usual two-ingredient late-night snack. The cart’s owner, Alejandra, has been operating her Echo Park stand for 16 years, and you’ll still find her rolling out long, oval-shaped blue tortillas on her hot griddle every Monday, Friday, and Saturday afternoon. The whole process is muscle memory for her as she stretches out fresh masa and mentally jots down your order simultaneously. Besides the essential Oaxacan quesillo, additional fillings include chicharron stew with onions and salsa roja, huitlacoche (a mushroom grown on corn) cooked with garlic, and citrusy epazote leaf, or leafy squash blossoms that really complement the oozing cheese.
La Flama is the sister restaurant to the Santa Monica butcher shop with the same name, except it’s really more suitable for a casual lunch than picking up five lbs of meat. This place dishes out excellent molotes - fried masa croquettes filled with potatoes and spicy Oaxacan chorizo. They’re then topped off with black bean puree and queso fresco, giving each bite the flavors of a tlayuda minus the clumsy mess that comes with enthusiastically shoveling one into your mouth. La Flama’s memelas deserve special recognition as well for their soft masa, savory asiento, creamy bean paste, and luckily being large enough to carry three types of meat of your choosing. We consider these face-sized memelas to be a prime opportunity for sampling the butcher’s specialties, like minced Oaxacan chorizo, tasajo, and one very flavorful cecina that rivals the chorizo in smoky heat.
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Located in a West Adams strip mall, Tlacolula is a mini-mart/restaurant hybrid that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner to regulars or impromptu sit-ins who maybe walked in for some laundry detergent but stayed for tamales. You’ll also find popular Oaxacan ingredients like squash blossoms, chorizo links, and crispy tlayudas by the dozen, as well as their delicious enfrijoladas that can (and should) be enjoyed at any hour. These pan-fried tortillas are covered in a smooth black bean puree and finished off with white onion and queso fresco. The tortillas are softened from the warm sauce, making them easy to cut through with a plastic fork and smear on a fresh bolillo roll from the shop’s bakery. We also love Tlacolula’s spicy red chilaquiles for breakfast that come with thin cuts of tasajo on top, which ticks several boxes on our ideal morning criteria list, as life sometimes calls for beef and salsa at 8am.
Our meals at La Mayordomía have been known to stretch through the afternoon, but that’s totally on us and our tendency to stare aimlessly into pastry cases. This part-restaurant, part-market in South Park has a beautiful selection of fresh baked goods, imported cheese, produce, and Oaxacan chocolates that you’ll mosey through before finally arriving at your table. The food here, by the way, is also delicious, with their moronga tlayuda being our personal favorite. This Oaxacan blood sausage is finely minced and sprinkled onto a massive crisp tortilla that’s covered in well-seasoned bean paste, quesillo, and the standard tomato, cabbage, and avocado. This very filling meal gets a savory tang from the dark sausage and salsa roja, and can be paired with some fried chapulines for an extra Oaxacan combo.
From chicken shawarma tacos to Oaxacan tabbouleh salad with nopales, X’tiosu Kitchen in Boyle Heights serves Lebanese/Oaxacan fusion that’s great for when we’re put in the difficult position of choosing between a kabob or tacos for dinner. We love the Oaxacan hummus that swaps the classic chickpeas for black beans, which then get tons of air whipped into them to create the ideal creaminess we’re looking for in a dip. The chorizo kabob plate is delicious as well with the spicy Mexican sausage adding so much flavor to the plate’s fluffy rice and contrasting nicely with the fresh cucumber and tomato salad. Everything here is well balanced and equally highlights both cultures’ unique ingredients. The only mix-up is you never really know if you’re taking a friend out for tacos or kabobs, so just hope they don’t have any hard feelings about either.
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Juquila is a family-owned restaurant located off Santa Monica Blvd specializing in Oaxacan and “Oaxacalifornian” dishes that use moles for creative spins on some local staples. Their gargantuan burrito juquila comes filled with chicken and rice before it gets coated in a mole negro, shredded cheese, and popped in the oven until everything harmoniously melds together. The final result is a richer and denser wet burrito due to the mole not fully soaking through the flour tortilla. Juquila’s Oaxacan parrillada is another impressively large display that can be shared by two to four people depending on which size you get. These tabletop grills come with sizzling chorizo, tasajo, cecina, roasted jalapeños, nopales, and quesillo cheese that slowly melts in the center.
There are times in life when you can have it all, and a visit to El Valle Oaxaqueño is one of those instances. Here you can start your day with some fresh pan dulce and maybe invest in a tortilla press while you’re at it, or sit down for a hearty Mexican breakfast and sip on a strong coffee as you contemplate life’s big questions. But we mean it when we say this Pico-Union marketplace has everything, including great moles and fluffy pan de yema that’s best enjoyed with a Mexican hot chocolate. El Valle’s amarillo de pollo is wonderful and comes as tender chicken thighs and drumsticks coated in a yellow mole sauce - a bright and spicy variety that doesn’t call for sweet cacao. Along with its sides of rice and warm tortillas, the stew also includes chayote squash, carrots, onion, and lime wedges for an extra spritz of acidity.
Suppose you’ve ever experienced a Sunday lunch with your extended family, most likely at the same aunt’s house who insists on hosting every time even though she loves to complain about it. In that case, you know exactly what an afternoon at La Asunción Restaurante feels like. The dining area at this North Hills spot includes colorful tablecloths and a mix-and-matched collection of frames hanging on the wall. The entire space has an abundance of house plants, and there’s even a flatscreen TV situated on top of a dining cabinet. If you’ve been there, you’ve been there. And the food, as expected, is delicious and wonderful. Try their hearty salsa de carne frita - fried pork ribs that get rehydrated in a spicy tomato salsa until they’re beautifully braised, extra salty, and carry a nice kick that’ll make you break a sweat. Their hearty entomatadas are also great and come as lightly fried and folded tortillas softened in a spicy tomato sauce before being topped with tasajo and plated with rice and beans. This gets even better as the sauce’s spice soaks into the tortillas and dried beef to bring it all together.
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Operating out of the same Pico Blvd location for the past 25 years, Las 7 Regiones de Oaxaca is a family-owned restaurant that’s won over generations of regulars who crave traditional Oaxacan-style cooking. And as the name implies, the menu offers somewhat of a tour through Oaxaca’s seven distinct regions. Start with the banana leaf tamales that are filled with juicy chicken and a velvety mole negro. Each bite of soft masa is the ideal mix of sweet and spicy, and the whole thing is the perfect size for you to convince yourself that you need another one. Make sure to also try their great empanadas de flor de calabaza - large handmade tortillas filled with Oaxacan quesillo and subtly sweet squash blossoms before being folded on a hot griddle. These huge quesadillas are great for a hearty lunchtime serving of masa and beautifully melted cheese, which on some days is exactly what we need on a deeply personal level.
The secret to Monte Alban’s two decades of success is owner Ofelia Martinez’s sacred recipes for two regional specialties: black bean paste and hearty asiento. You can sample both by trying any of this Santa Monica spot’s tlayudas, with the tlayuda mixta being our go-to. The crispy tortilla base first receives spoonfuls of chicharron-based asiento - the secret ingredient you can’t really see but mysteriously works its magic in the background to even make the shredded lettuce pop (no offense to shredded lettuce). The black bean paste is perfectly seasoned and thickened before being topped with grilled tasajo and spicy cecina pork strips. Mole is also plentiful on the menu and the best way to have it is on the tacos enchilados. These soft taquitos are filled with tender shredded chicken that receive a very healthy slathering of mole negro and a crumbling of salty queso fresco.
El Sazón Oaxaqueño is a Mar Vista restaurant that has a bit of everything on its menu, including a large mix of Oaxacan, classic Mexican, and American-influenced dishes for those in search of a heavyweight burrito. This classic spot also makes some especially spicy costillas en salsa verde, pork ribs gently stewed in tangy tomatillo salsa until they reach optimal tenderness for optimal satisfaction. El Sazón serves great sweet and savory chiles rellenos filled with chicken picadillo too. This shredded chicken salad comes with hints of cinnamon and raisins to create that flavor contrast Oaxacan food does so well. You also, quite literally, can’t miss the restaurant’s bakery on the way out, so grab a fluffy concha or two for the road.
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With two other locations throughout the LA area, West Hollywood’s Madre! is a more updated Oaxacan place that doubles as the Library of Congress for all things mezcal. The bar proudly offers the country’s largest agave spirit selection with over 400 bottles to choose from, which honestly leaves us dumbfounded with where to begin yet eager to try whatever the bartenders are excited about. A smokey margarita with sal de gusano goes great with their excellent egg-capped chile relleno stuffed with queso fresco and covered in a savory tomato sauce that’s worth eating by the bowlful. Madre also makes great tamales, with their tamal de mole coming as large pieces of banana leaf-wrapped masa stuffed with juicy shredded chicken. The whole thing is then coated with ladles of rich mole negro that’s sweet, nutty, and a very satisfying matte color often found on G-Wagons we can’t afford.
Gish Bac is a hometown name in LA’s Oaxacan food world, with its weekend special arguably being its biggest attraction year-round. At this popular West Adams spot, Saturdays and Sundays call for slow-roasted goat barbacoa that bubbles away for hours in a bright consommé. These bowls of red broth come with large pieces of juicy goat meat and are sometimes exactly what we need to snap back after a wild night of doing nothing. The soup has a good kick from its guajillo chilis that you can cut with fresh lime juice, but we prefer eating the tender meat with a side of fresh tortillas for some spur-of-the-moment tacos. The masa at Gish Bac is overall very good, and can also be enjoyed as a huge empanada de amarillo con pollo. Fresh masa is rolled out into a large corn tortilla, filled with shredded chicken, tangy yellow mole, and fresh cilantro, and afterward folded in half on a hot grill to seal this spicy chicken pocket.