First Bite: New Location, Same Old Pal Cabron
The original Pal Cabron was one of those pop-culture miracles we have come to expect in Los Angeles, a Huntington Park sandwich shop specializing in overstuffed versions of Puebla's beloved cemitas, run by a young Oaxacan woman, Bricia Lopez, and splashed with murals, mostly featuring the restaurant's potbellied lothario, on every square inch of the walls. The titular pal cabron, the Mexican equivalent of a regular on Jersey Shore, had one arm wrapped around a chica and the other around a cemita, and he didn't seem to care much one way or another.
The new Pal Cabron, transplanted from its now-closed Huntington Park location to what was until recently the Koreatown home of the Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza (which is now on Olympic), is an airy, high-ceilinged place, still dominated by Guelaguetza's arches. Although a giant portrait of Pal Cabron covers a wall, the shop seems less dedicated than the original to the idea of becoming the Sistine Chapel of macho-pig kitsch. So far, at least, you will find neither extravagantly busty women, nor parsings of racy slang painted on the wall; you can bring both your mother-in-law and your young children here without cringing.
The food? Pretty much the same: huge cemitas stuffed with thin, crisp filets of fried chicken or beef, lamb barbacoa, or cold cuts, garnished with a tangle of the Oaxacan string cheese quesillo if you want it, and kitted out with chipotle peppers, lettuce, tomato and a sprinkling of the strong Poblano herb called papalo. You'll find tacos Arabe now, spicy meat wrapped in the Poblano equivalent of hot pita bread, and chalupas that come out looking suspiciously like Oaxacan memelas. There are tlayudas too, bean-smeared Oaxacan pizzas mounted on special tortillas imported from the motherland, and sometimes it seems as if half the customers are ordering them in white pizza boxes to go.
I kind of miss the Huntington Park restaurant -- it was less than half a block to both La Monarca, one of the better Mexican bakeries in town, and to the awesome paleta joint Los Alpes -- but an order window at the far end of Pal Cabron's dining room connects to Natura, Fernando Lopez's juice and ice cream bar. Do you want a glass of fresh-squeezed jicama juice with your tlayuda? A scoop of smoked-milk ice cream for dessert? Why not?
Pal Cabron: 3337½ W. 8th St., Los Angeles.
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