Caliente competition

La Choza gives Cascabel’s huaraches a run for their money

Hearty huaraches from La Choza
Hearty huaraches from La Choza
Release Date: 2008-08-13

We have often depended on the kindness of strangers — at least when it comes to sleuthing out and suggesting out-of-the-way restaurants. Such was the case with La Choza. (The name’s primary meaning in English is cabin, but in local slang it also refers to the long arm of the law.) Its location in a small strip mall near Blossom Athletic Center isn’t on any of my normal beats — and even if it were, the likelihood of my stopping there would have been slim at best. Life’s just too short. But a reader claimed that their huaraches, a kind of elongated sope not common to many Mexican menus around town, were even better than those at Cascabel on South St. Mary’s. A gauntlet had been tossed.

Now, it doesn’t really matter that I disagree. In my recollection, at least, Cascabel’s huaraches are more nuanced. But La Choza’s combination of moist masa, good refrieds, sliced steak, and shaved white cheese made for a good foil to the cabin’s red and green table sauces and served to get me back. Which was the point, after all.

The decision to return meant that I had to discount a taco al pastor that, while flavorful, seemed dry. In a perfect world, the pork meat would be sliced to order from a layered lobe rotating on a vertical rotisserie, then tucked into small, corn tortillas with cilantro, onion, and maybe even a little bit of grilled pineapple. It’s quintessential street food and perhaps best eaten that way, anointed with the salsa of your choice.

Sopes seem like street food, too, needing only a griddle and asbestos fingers to carry off. (A fat disc of masa is toasted on one side and turned over so that its edges might be pinched up into a rim meant to contain the eventual filling.) But restaurants often do a creditable job of turning them out, and La Choza’s version is among the best. The toasted masa isn’t at all dry, there’s a good base of refrieds supporting shredded chicken, and as with the huaraches to which they’re kin, the sopes are topped with shaved white cheese with the bonus of a drizzle of cremita. We switched back and forth between a punchy green sauce and a very toasty red without being able to arrive at a clear favorite — a pleasant dilemma to face.

Neither street nor cabin characterizes La Choza’s interior; somebody with an eye for contemporary color has put together a sophisticated scheme featuring limey avocado tempered by grayed blues and timeless taupes. But the cuisine remains nonetheless homey. The cook may be from Mexico City, but a locally classic bowl of sopa de fideos is served with each lunch and dinner plate, and though the delicate, broken noodles don’t look fried, there is a toasty flavor to the thin, tomato-based broth. I wouldn’t go there for the soup, but I was happy to have it as a warm-up to the enchiladas verdes and the molcajete plate.

La Choza’s enchiladas are a little different from many served in town in that the tortillas are simply folded over the filling of pollo deshebrado. The sauce bathing the chicken and corn tortillas is mild, a pale-green rendition of the often-electric topping we’re used to. Shredded queso fresco again tops the dish, along with chopped white onion. For both color and a little extra flavor boost we added the table’s salsa verde to the plate and pronounced ourselves pleased: subtle, satisfying, a little spark … sensacional.

More immediate and upfront was the sliced steak topped with a toasty salsa roja that makes up the molcajete plate. The modestly spicy and almost immodestly earthy sauce would be good on anything, I suspect, but the pieces of tender steak came along for the ride willingly, and the combination was irresistible. The soupy frijoles a la charra also had an herbal punch (maybe a little epazote) that lifted them above the norm without resorting to the blatant bacon-bomb ploy. (Don’t get me wrong, however; bacony frijoles are higher in my culinary pantheon than you might imagine.)

The arroz casero is of the pea-and-carrot-studded variety and perfectly fine; the house’s corn tortillas are merely acceptable and much improved by lashings of whichever sauce you prefer. Another time I think I’d try the “deliciosa carne de puerco en salsa de chile pasilla,” or maybe the chicharron en salsa verde with “a succulent homemade sauce.” I honestly like stewed pork skins — but this time I’ll leave it to you to try.

You’re on your own with breakfast, too, but know that, in addition to tacos, there are huevos several ways, including divorciados, their competing red and green sauces separated by a buffer of cheese. There are both chilaquiles (no egg) and migas two ways. Feedback, literally, is appreciated as are suggestions for other places likely to escape scrutiny in the mass exodus to 1604 and beyond.

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