>> Gish Bac | Eat the World Los Angeles

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Gish Bac

MÉXICO 🇲🇽
(OAXACA)
Washington Blvd. facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The interior dining room is back open at full capacity, and they are still using the large tent in the back lot as well. At the time of writing, masks were required for customers when not at the table.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Part of the "Los Angeles Classics" series.

It seems like much longer than just over a decade since this Arlington Heights institution opened and immediately starting attracting Oaxacan communities and general food lovers alike. While it may be slipping off listicles and year-end round-ups that need to infuse freshness and fad, it consistently makes some of the best Oaxacan food in the city and that will probably never change.

For that reason you are likely to hear Zapotec or Mixtec from the adults at neighboring tables, and in the next sentence their children speaking English in response. It may be sleepy for a weekday lunch, but there is always a table or two filled with a couple or men working nearby. Come on a Sunday after one of the Spanish-language masses ends across the street at St. Paul's and it may take a while to get a table.

Chips, mole negro, and a tlayuda are served

In Zapotec, "gish bac" translates roughly to what people from Tlacolula call their city, a name that itself is Nahuatl for "place of abundance." This abundance is probably best seen on a Sunday in the city's famous market, where barbacoa vendors will probably yawn if you tell them you did not know barbacoa was a thing in Oaxaca. There in the state's second largest city, it is most certainly more than a thing.

The other specialties of Oaxaca are all done with a skilled set of hands in the kitchen here, which seemingly never has an off day when it comes to quality. For many diners this starts with the large tlayudas you can see stacked in the kitchen. Like any Oaxacan restaurant worth its salt, these are imported from a trusted source in that state, and because they contain so little water can survive the journey and come back to life when needed.

Tlayuda with cecina and tasajo

To do this, a base layer of asiento is laid down first, followed by a thin streak of beans and stringy cheese before going on the griddle and the rest of the colorful toppings and fresh vegetables are added. You can mix and match up to three meats on your tlayudas, the usuals of cecina, tesajo, and chorizo. A two meat tlayuda (above) costs $16.75 and is already a ton of food.

Note that cecina in Oaxaca is a thinly sliced adobo-rubbed pork loin and tesajo is salt-cured beef. The two pair together wonderfully.

Mole negro

The skill of the kitchen is maybe even more apparent with orders of any of their three moles. Mole negro ($15.85, above) is dark like an oil spill, its gloss reflecting the fluorescent lights overhead. And just like an oil slick, if you look closer you will see different colors within, a hint of the many flavors about to hit your tongue.

Dried chilhaucle negro chiles give the mole its namesake color, but the first flavors to hit your mouth are hoja santa and star anise. Throw in ground nuts, dozens of other herbs, spices, and chiles, and you could spend the entire meal just trying to figure out the ingredients of such a complex and wonderful flavor. Better yet, do not think about it at all and just enjoy bites with some of their big handmade corn tortillas or rice.

Mole coloradito

More on the sweet side (but not overly) and also dark and full of deep reds like the name would suggest, the mole coloradito ($15.85, above) is just as full or somehow maybe even fuller of flavors. Once again, one ingredient does not dominate the others, while the color this time is created by dried ancho chiles.

Both of these moles are presented with chicken and can be enjoyed with dark meat or breast for $2 extra for some reason. The restaurant also makes a mole amarillo that can be eaten with beef or chicken.

Tacos de barbacoa enchilada with consomé

As you may have guessed from the mention earlier, barbacoa plays an important roll at Gish Bac. On weekends you can try the style the chef used to cook in Tlacolula's market; barbacoa blanca named not for the finished product's color but rather the fact that the lamb is not rubbed with adobo or other colorful marinades and uses salt and a simple garlic and oregano paste.

On weekends and any other day you can enjoy the barbacoa enchilada, goat marinaded with chile guajillo. This can be as a full plate or two tacos de barbacoa ($15.45, above) which also comes with a bowl of consomé. If you come on Tuesdays, the price for the two tacos is reduced to $10. The large corn tortillas are full of barbacoa, wrapped like burritos, and much more filling than they might appear in a photo. Squeeze in plenty of lime juice to cut the richness and splash in some of their tasty green salsa that comes with the pre-meal chips if that suits you.

Costillas de puerco en salsa verde

There are a couple dishes that might be seen on the menus of more "general" Mexican restaurants, like costillas de puerco en salsa verde ($14.45, above). If you are in the mood for one of these, it is with great confidence that you know the kitchen will knock it out of the park with their supreme skill.

They have a few nice homemade aguas frescas for $4, but go for the horchata oaxaqueña ($5, below), an upgrade that tops the drink with walnuts, canteloupe, and nieve de tuna. This last ingredient is a wildly popular ice sorbet made with cactus pear. Agua de chilacayota is also available when that gourd is in season.

Horchata Oaxaqueña

📍 4163 W. Washington Blvd., Arlington Heights, Central Los Angeles

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