Dear Mr. Gold,
My sister, who has lived for the last nearly two decades in Japan, is coming to visit L.A. for the first time in years. What do you want to do? I ask. Two-word answer: "Mexican food.'' So, I'm thinking Moles La Tia, La Casita Mexicana, Guelaguetza, Chichen Itza, Antojitos Carmen, El Huarache Azteca. What am I missing, other than a truck? We only have three days, but she's up for it.
—Jean McCoy, Pasadena
Dear Ms. McCoy:
You've covered a lot of the essentials — moles and huaraches, refined central Mexican dishes and a reformed street stall, Yucatecan cuisine and the ever-delightful snacks of Mexico's capital. But your list has no Chicano joints, the third-generation places so beloved here. I recommend Ciro's for flautas and old-school chile verde; Al & Bea's for bean-and-cheese burritos; and Los Tres Cochinitos in Wilmington for 24-hour cecina and eggs. You'd be missing out if you skipped the grilled snook and cockroach-style shrimp at Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista. L.A. would be a sadder place without the Sinaloan marlin tacos at Badiraguato in South Gate; the oddly specific carnitas at Metro Balderas in Highland Park and the epochal goat birria at places like Flor del Rio or El Parian.
But why not head to Babita in San Gabriel, order a bottle of Baja Syrah, and sit down to a white-tablecloth meal of sopes with tequila-cured salmon, chiles en nogada, beef-cheek barbacoa, or lamb mixiotes. I've never been to a Mexican restaurant in Tokyo, but I suspect Babita would rank pretty high.
BABITA: 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel. (626) 288-7265.