It’s a bold move to put an exclamation point in your restaurant’s name. It feels a bit like you’re shouting, or forcing enthusiasm upon any group chat where dinner is discussed, and seems better suited for a chain restaurant. But at Madre!, the exclamation point is appropriate, because there’s a lot to get excited about at this legitimately great South Bay spot.
You might not feel all that enthused when you first walk in. In fact, you’ll probably feel like you’ve just wandered into a rebranded Border Grill, not a fantastic Oaxacan restaurant. The two dining rooms are absolutely massive (and kind of sterile), and the menu is dizzyingly long. But once you start talking to the staff, any reservations start to fade. The servers are warm and personable, and there’s a good chance the owner will come over with a few drink recommendations - which is impressive, considering just how many people are in this place at any given time.
There are murals on the walls, but unlike the blown-up photos of margaritas at your local Tex-Mex spot, these ones actually have a deeper meaning. One’s a map of Mexico, with little agave plants indicating the locations of mezcal distilleries. Another shows a beating heart inside a blooming agave, which might seem like an overstatement of mezcal’s importance to this restaurant - but it’s far from it. Because Madre!’s mezcal collection is staggeringly large. There are almost 400 different bottles on the shelves, stretching behind the bar like volumes at the greatest public library in the universe.
The bartenders have an encyclopedic knowledge of what’s in stock. Tell them you want something sweet, or smoky, and they’ll slide their step ladder up and down the bar, grabbing mezcals you might like. There’s a good chance that they’ll pull five or six bottles, hand them over, and instruct you to open them up and smell. Chances are, you’ll only be pretending you know what to sniff for, but it’s still exciting to have a bartender handing you bottles like you’re a Laker at 1Oak.
Once you’ve settled on a couple mezcals to sip, it’s time to eat. Nearly all of our favorite things on the menu involve some sort of stewed meat - the flavors are deep and rich, and complemented well by the Oaxacan cheese and toppings that accompany most dishes, like the raw jalapeños and fresh cilantro on the excellent barbecued goat tacos. They’re wrapped in fresh-pressed tortillas that are so good you’ll likely eat them on their own - which you definitely should, considering an extra order is just $2. We particularly like to get them on the side with the braised short ribs in a spicy salsa de chile morita, which we load onto the tortillas in too-big portions.
It’s also crucial to order Madre!’s mole sampler. The Pecado De Moles lets you pick three of their housemade moles, and our favorites are the earthy Estofado, the sweet and rich Negro, and the spicy Rojo. This massive platter is ideal for splitting with a group - or when you’re just extremely excited by the possibility of having leftover mole for lunch the next day.
Either way, this is the kind of food that warrants an exclamation point or two. And while we know Madre! could speak for itself without the added punctuation, we’ll keep using it as long as they keep serving that mole.
If you’re someone who drinks alcohol, do not come here without ordering at least one mezcal. Their collection is unlike any other in LA, and your drink comes in a proper clay cup, with grapefruit and dried crickets on the side.
Sort of like deciding between Magic Kingdom or California Adventure, it’s hard to choose whether our favorite part of this chorizo-and-mushroom-filled queso is when it’s bubbly at the beginning, or when it’s crisped on to the cast-iron pan after it sits for a little while.
The slow-cooked goat tacos are good, and absolutely massive - they’re great if you’re coming in to drink mezcal alone and get hungry after a couple glasses.
Ideal for sharing, the molcajete is a huge stone pot filled with very spicy tomato salsa, loaded with all different meats like chorizo, cecina, and tasajo, then topped with string cheese. It’s good, but only order it if there are at least four of you - it’s enough food to feed a youth soccer team.
Really more of a quesadilla, this a pounded-thin, crispy tortilla with cheese and chorizo inside. It’s a bit salty, but that shouldn’t stop you from ordering it.
The sauce on these braised short ribs is made from chiles moritas - a.k.a. ripened jalapeños. It’s perfect with the meaty short ribs.
These are excellent moles - we like the Rojo best, because it has some really good spice to contrast the richness - but you really can’t go wrong.