For Mexican food lovers like myself, LA can be a wonderland of late-night taquerias, food trucks, pan dulce shops, mezcal bars, and pretty much anything else from below the border that you could possibly crave. But Mexican food also happens to be extremely diverse, meaning there is always something new to try and probably obsess over for the foreseeable future. In my particular case, the current obsession is the mighty tlayuda.
This Oaxacan classic is made of a large crunchy corn tortilla that’s usually topped with a thin layer of asiento (unrefined lard), well-seasoned bean paste, Oaxacan cheese, cabbage, tomato, salsa, and an assortment of grilled meats. You’ll find it served whole, folded in half, and even sometimes broken into pieces. However, it always manages to leave me satisfied and wanting a Mexican Coke to wash it all down. Here are eight Oaxacan spots with the best tlayudas in LA.
There are two key reasons why Tlayuda LA in East Hollywood is a must-visit. The first is the woman-owned restaurant’s commitment to making everything from scratch, whether it’s their delicious moles, tortillas, frijoles, and agua frescas. You can even get a stove-top Mexican coffee for when you wander in half-asleep searching for a Oaxacan breakfast. The second reason is that it’s one of the few (if not only) Oaxacan places that offer plenty of vegan and vegetarian options for you or your non-meat-eating friends. This even applies to their tlayudas, with their vegetarian version - which nixes the asiento - showcasing an assortment of sautéed bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and zucchini, along with more of the fantastic bean paste. When I’m not in the mood for meat, but don’t feel like frying tofu for the fourth time this week, Tlayuda LA always does the job.
If you’re familiar with Mexican food in LA, you simply can’t talk about Oaxacan food, let alone utter the word mole, without talking about Guelaguetza. This 27-year-old institution’s menu spans pages of classic Oaxacan dishes, ranging from enfrijoladas to mole negro and six different tlayudas to choose from. Make sure to try some of the non-standard ones like the tlayuda de mole or tlayuda de epazote rather than the tlayuda guelaguetza, which comes with all the standard toppings but for a significantly higher price point. This family-owned restaurant in Koreatown is famous for its signature moles, and their simple tlayuda con mole topped with queso fresco and scrambled eggs is something I could unashamedly eat three times a week. The mole negro is so complex and an interesting balance between sweet, savory, and the rich earthiness of cacao. I’m used to using a warm tortilla to mop up the leftover mole on my plate, but something about the tlayuda’s satisfying crunch makes it the perfect vehicle.
Some people might recognize Sabores Oaxaqueños as the “old Guelaguetza,” but this place has developed a stellar reputation all on its own. Brothers Valentín and Germán Granja, two longtime employees of the original Guelaguetza, opened Sabores Oaxaqueños in Koreatown in 2011 after the previous restaurant moved to its current location on Olympic Blvd. The duo then successfully recruited Dominga Velasco Rodriguez Velasco, Gueleguetza’s original chef de cuisine and Valentín’s now mother-in-law, to take over their new kitchen. Besides serving various dishes from Oaxaca’s southern Costa Chica region, Sabores Oaxaqueños has excellent tlayuda tortillas that are imported from Oaxaca every week. Their tlayuda mixta is a personal favorite and comes topped with the three traditional meats: Oaxacan chorizo, cecina adobada (sweet/spicy marinated pork), and tasajo (dried and grilled beef). Dominga’s asiento provides a deep savory undertone that pairs perfectly with the creamy bean paste, and the restaurant’s spicy salsa roja offers great contrast to the tlayuda’s mild avocado and hearty meat toppings.
After being shuttered for a year, Expresión Oaxaqueña is back with a fresh new look and the same great food it’s been serving for years. They have an extensive menu of both Oaxacan and standard Mexican dishes, but we strongly suggest the Taco de La Abuela if you happen to stop by around lunchtime. This taco is actually more like a burrito and comes with generous servings of their excellent black bean puree, Oaxacan quesillo, creamy guacasalsa, cabbage, and your choice of tender meat, all wrapped up in a handmade tortilla. But the tlayudas are where things get interesting. Their standard version comes with a well-seasoned black bean paste, Oaxacan quesillo, and your choice of cecina, tasajo, or chorizo. If you happen to be wearing white and want to minimize any splattering on your shirt, feel free to order La Quebradita - a folded tlayuda that’s cut into pieces for stress-free consumption. Lastly, the Pizza Oaxaqueña. This tasty tlayuda-like dish has the essence of a typical tlayuda, but with a soft, handmade tortilla base rather than the classic crunchy one we’ve grown to know and love.
This market and restaurant located in South Central is Expresión Oaxaqueña’s sister location and offers a wide selection of Oaxacan chocolate, meats, imported cheeses, baked goods, and fresh produce. The shop’s long wall of pastry cases is usually enough to keep me transfixed for a solid 10 minutes, but their food is equally terrific. While both the tlayuda tortilla and bean paste recipe are the same as the ones found at Expresión Oaxaqueña, La Mayordomía offers the option to include chapulines (grasshoppers) or moronga as additional toppings. The latter is a delicious Oaxacan blood sausage that’s minced and cooked before generously topping a fully-loaded tlayuda. Its savory and metallic flavor pairs well with a generous spritz of lime and a dash of hot salsa roja. According to the manager, moronga is the true Oaxacan go-to order, so I suggest giving it a try if blood sausage is your thing.
Ofelia Martinez moved to the United States from her hometown of Tlacolula in 1989 with plans to eventually return home. 32 years later, she’s still here and operating West LA’s Monte Albán. The secret behind her success and delicious food can be traced back to her wildly popular asiento and bean paste recipes. In fact, it was the packed lunches she would make for her husband that eventually grabbed people’s attention. After a few hungry (and likely envious) coworkers started to place orders for Ofelia’s cooking, the couple decided to try their luck in the food business. First came a food truck that was plagued by parking tickets, followed by the restaurant, and now flash forward to today where Ofelia continues serving Oaxacan classics. The tacos enchilados with black mole are the real standout - the chicken is super tender and the black mole sauce is multilayered in flavor without being overly sweet or smoky. But Ofelia’s famed asiento and bean paste both shine brilliantly in her tlayuda mixta and create the perfect base for this hearty dish. The beans, while very decadent, come with a certain kick that pleasantly balances out the rich asiento’s chicharron.
Las 7 Regiones de Oaxaca has been in the same Pico Union location since it opened 25 years ago. Since then, this family-owned spot has drawn in crowds from the Oaxacan community and elsewhere because of its commitment to tradition. The velvety mole sauce in their mole negro con pollo coats juicy pieces of chicken and is served with a simple side of white rice. The mole’s mix of dried peppers adds a smoky punch that always leaves me searching for a warm tortilla to zamboni the leftover sauce on my plate, and pairs nicely with the complexities of dark Oaxacan chocolate. I also recommend their traditional tamales Oaxaqueños which are wrapped in banana leaves and filled with, you guessed it, glorious mole negro con pollo. Their tlayudas, either plain or topped with all the fixings, are also great. The imported tortillas are perfect for dipping and scooping while the tlayuda suprema brings the full shebang with a savory bean paste, tender cecina adobada, salty tasajo, and great Oaxacan chorizo. The magic is in the details, and this spot never misses.