Tlayuda L.A. is on one of the denser segments of Santa Monica Boulevard, a block from Western and the 101 in each direction. Parking is almost always an issue. You’ll end up drawing jagged loops around surrounding streets for a while. The search is emblematic, in a way, of the difficulty you might have with reconciling a Mexican tlayuda, particularly if you’ve had no previous exposure.
A tlayuda, which is commonplace in Oaxaca, is often likened to a pizza. It's a tempting comparison, but a tlayuda is more of a study in contrasting textures, from raw and crunchy to crispy and cooked. A corn tortilla the size of a tricycle wheel is brushed with asiento, or lard, and topped with refried beans to withstand the forthcoming layers of hefty toppings: cords of semi-firm queso Oaxaca, cabbage (occasionally lettuce instead), salsa, maybe slices of avocado and one or several meats such as pork cecina, a loin pounded thin before being coated with chile pepper. In Los Angeles, you'll find it at Guelaguetza, E.K. Valley and Monte Alban, to name a few.
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In their made-to-order rendition, Tlayuda L.A. owners (and married couple) Laura Guerrero and Alex Tinoco took asiento off the list of usual ingredients, relying on a fine black bean purée as base. Iceberg lettuce was chosen over cabbage. Pollo a la plancha was added to cecina, tasajo and chorizo as an optional meat topping. And their tlayuda can be ordered with triple meat or without any at all.
It's not your average tlayuda, admits Guerrero, who grew up here. The restaurant name indicates as much. She and Tinoco wanted to make it healthier and accessible to a larger cross-section of customers. Guerrero says both grilled chicken and sautéed vegetables are atypical add-ons.
Since opening last July, Guerrero found that the tlayuda itself often had to be explained to customers. On the flip side, traditionalists who stopped by were wary of tlayudas without asiento or cabbage. She also says many have since become their regulars. As with parking, you won't be alone in an effort to pin down the tlayuda. But once you get there, you'll find little amiss.
5450 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 261-4667, tlayudala.com.