Chichen Itza Pulls Me Away From Mo Chica With Their Prices (And Crispy Baked Tamal)

Chicken Itza

One of the things I missed most about L.A. during my 4 year excursion was Peruvian food, so much so that within a week of moving back I didn’t bother trying to find the best Peruvian spot in L.A. (or the most Midtown Lunch’ish).  I just returned to my old standby… Mario’s (on Melrose). And when I discovered it was too expensive to qualify for a Midtown Lunch I hit up Inti a few doors down. Once my craving was satiated, I asked for some better (preferably under $10) Peruvian recs from you guys- and Lunch’er “luckyme23″ pointed me to Mo Chica, the modern Peruvian food court joint that opened last year in the Mercado La Paloma- just south of downtown.

Mo Chica is no hidden gem.  “The Guru” is  all about their ceviche, LA Taco praised their market driven menu, and Profiled Lunch’er Pat wrote that the place takes Peruvian ingredients “about as far they can go.” Only one problem… practically all of the menu is over $10!  So when I made my first trip to the Mercado La Paloma last week, I felt inexplicably drawn to Chichen Itza.

Come to think of it, it’s not inexplicable.  It’s because I’m a cheap bastard.

I fully admit that I was a Mexican food hater when I lived in NYC.  Nothing was good enough or “authentic” enough for me… you know, because “I lived in L.A. for two years.”   But now I’ve come to realize I was just uneducated. According to the Teenage Glutster it’s not that Mexican food in NYC is not authentic, or even terrible… it’s just exclusively Poblano. Who knew?!  (What’s that?  Everybody knows that here?  Oh… well I didn’t.  So back off!)  Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, I can’t believe how many regional cuisines there are in Mexican… and I seriously can’t wait to try every single one of them. Stop 1… the Yucutan.  Bring it on!

Chicken Itza
Cochinita Pibil Taco ($1.99 each)

I don’t know exactly what makes Yucutan carnitas different from the carnitas tacos in other regions of Mexico (pickled onions on top maybe?) but really, who cares! Tender and delicious. (And the perfect vehicle for their habanero salsas.)

Chicken Itza

I loved the bread they use on their tortas, but the slices of pork in the poc chuc (which comes topped with black bean dip, fire roasted pickled onions and fire roasted tomato sauce) aren’t nearly as good as the pibil. Not bad… they just can’t compete with carnitas. Either way, it’s a steal for $5.

Chicken Itza

We also ordered a panucho, and a salbute ($2.19 each). Both come topped with shredded turkey- apparently they are indigenous to this region of Mexcian (who knew, again!?)- pickled red onions, tomatoes and avocado. The main difference… the corn tortilla on the slabute is fluffy, while the panucho was stuffed with black beans and grilled crispy. Both good!

Chicken Itza

But my favorite thing on the menu (by far) was the tamal horneado ($3.50)… a chicken and egg stuffed tamal that had been baked until hard and crispy on the outside- almost like the chimichanga of tamales. (I could have sworn it was fried, it was that good!)

Chicken Itza

Like I said, clearly I’m no Mexican food expert (I dropped the word chimichanga in excitement a few sentences back) and maybe baked tamales are all over the place out here. But this is the first one I’ve ever had, and hot damn was it good!

I don’t know if Chichen Itza is the best Yucatan food in L.A. (I’m just a fat guy who just moved here) but man was this a tasty intro. If you can relate, and work Downtown, get in your car and drive the two minutes it will take you to get to Mercado La Paloma. You won’t regret it.

THE + (What people who like this place would say)

  • I love food courts (especially when they have cool independently owned options)
  • Panuchos and salbutes are not exactly being sold on every street corner (and I love turkey!)
  • How could anybody not like crispy tamales stuffed with chicken?
  • If it’s “baked” it means it’s healthy right?
  • Their habanero salsa is a spicy food lover’s dream sauce
  • Mo Chica is good… but I don’t like to spend more than $10 for lunch
  • Free parking, and plenty of seating (although on some days it gets super packed)

THE – (What people who don’t like place would say)

  • Uh… I’ve got nothing.

Chichen Itza in La Mercado la Paloma, 3655 South Grand Ave., 213-741-1075



  • This place is awesome. Interestingly the cuisine of the Yucatan has a few Syrian influences, and this place has a great kibbe (which they may spell quibe?), the national dish of Lebanon. I don’t recall if they pan arabe tacos too, since I always got cochinita pibil plate (which while pork aren’t carnitas). Oaxacan must be next!

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    Cochinita Pibil FTW!

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