L.A. MEXICANO

Recipes, Peo­ple & Places

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Cooking -

Bill Es­parza, Prospect Park Books, Hard­cover $29.95 (240pp), 978-1-945551-00-0

It’s a zig-zag jour­ney with au­thor Bill Es­parza, redo­lent of chiles, cit­rus, and freshly made tor­tillas, to sam­ple the daz­zling va­ri­eties of Mex­i­can-amer­i­can cooking through sprawl­ing Los An­ge­les. Forty pro­files of cooks and ar­ti­san pro­duc­ers, food high­lights of each neigh­bor­hood, recipes, food and cul­tural his­tory anec­dotes, and color pho­tos of mar­kets, food trucks, land­marks, and street mu­rals all doc­u­ment an ex­cit­ing com­ing of age for this re­gional cui­sine. The story of Mex­i­can food in Amer­ica has been “an asym­met­ri­cal nar­ra­tive told by out­siders,” over­look­ing a food scene that was largely en­joyed only by other Lati­nos.

The book cov­ers a lot of ground, but the “Mag­el­lan of Menudo” is an ex­pert guide; he neatly clas­si­fies the food scene into its sub­species. Po­cho (once a dis­par­age­ment but now em­braced by Chi­canos) de­scribes the old-school eater­ies, like Ciro’s, fa­mous for huge por­tions of rice, beans, en­chi­ladas, and bur­ri­tos slathered in sauce, which “bind the com­mu­nity to­gether in a tapestry of melted cheese.” More au­then­ti­cally Mex­i­can, and newer on the scene, are the restau­rants and en­trepreneurs spe­cial­iz­ing in food from Mex­ico’s thirty-two di­verse re­gions.

The in­no­va­tors of the new Alta Cal­i­for­nia cooking are dis­cussed here too. There’s Wes Avila, who makes sought-af­ter street tacos with fresh com­bi­na­tions of in­gre­di­ents and fine-din­ing tech­niques, and Tommy Ortega, who rein­ter­prets Mex­i­can haute cui­sine, like his sig­na­ture Puerto Nuevo Lob­ster, blanched, grilled, and served with a smoky tomatillo sauce. Fi­nally, the book dis­cusses other baris­tas, bak­ers, brew­mas­ters, ar­ti­sanal food mak­ers, food trucks, and mar­kets that are all con­tribut­ing to this re­nais­sance.

Es­parza is knowl­edge­able, pas­sion­ate, and fiercely pro­tec­tive of the LA Mexicano food scene. He bris­tles at food writers, restau­rant own­ers, and din­ers that have not val­ued Mex­i­can restau­rant work­ers or their cui­sine. Rick Bay­less is also sin­gled out sev­eral times; Es­parza views his as­cen­dancy as Amer­ica’s best-known Mex­i­can food au­thor­ity as just another An­glo ap­pro­pri­at­ing mi­nor­ity cul­ture.

More pos­i­tively, the au­thor cham­pi­ons the mem­bers of the LA food com­mu­nity who are re­con­quer­ing their Mex­i­can Amer­i­can culi­nary in­her­i­tance and forg­ing a chef cul­ture that el­e­vates Mex­i­canamer­i­can cooking to its right­ful place in the pan­theon of great world cuisines.

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