Badiraguato. When executed properly, -machaca, a sort of red-brown heap of fried beef jerky, is one of the great dried-beef dishes of the world, an intense distillation of the flavors of the Mexican West, all salt and smoke and heat. Real machaca, a specialty of Sinaloa, is grilled, smashed into powder with a stone pestle, and fried to a frizzle with bits of onion and sweet peppers until the beef releases its chewy, animal essence. At Badiraguato, a converted hamburger stand on the main drag of South Gate, the -machaca may be hidden on the breakfast menu next to the cumin-laced stew chilorio and the spicy Sinaloan version of chilaquiles called picoso, but it is a primal, fundamental version, with a specific gravity approaching that of lead. 3070 Firestone Blvd., South Gate; (323) 563-3450. Open daily 9 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. JG ¢
Chichén Itzá. Chichén Itzá is probably the most serious Yucatecan restaurant in town at the moment, its menu a living thesaurus of the panuchos and codzitos, poc chuc and papadzules, banana-leaf tamales and shark casseroles that make up one of Mexico’s most thrilling cuisines. From the delicious turkey tostadas called -salbutes to the cinnamon-scented bread pudding called caballeros pobres, Chichén Itzá, named for the vast temple complex near Mérida, is indisputably the real thing. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Sun.–Wed. 8 a.m.–6:30 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 8 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Food for two: $12–$22. Yucatecan. JG ¢
* El Parian. El Parian’s sweet, mild goat meat has crispy parts and stewy parts, just like carnitas. It clings to the tiny goat ribs, which you suck, then spit back into the bowl. The broth, basically amplified pan drippings, is rich essence of goat and the single best Mexican dish I’ve eaten in Los Angeles — it is the soul of Guadalajara. There’s a thicket of cilantro to flavor the broth, a heap of chopped onion, limes to squeeze and a fat radish to sweeten your breath. The thick tortillas are warm and smell of fresh corn. The beer is very cold. Birria is supposed to be somewhat aphrodisiac — and a palliative for hangovers too, which is a special bonus on a Sunday morning. 1528 W. Pico Blvd., (213) 386-7361. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $7–$12. Beer. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢
Mi Ranchito. When émigrés to the East Coast miss Mexican food, Mi Ranchito is what they think they’re nostalgic for. And though the place has everything you’ve ever wanted in a neighborhood Mexican restaurant — wonderful chiles rellenos, decent No. 3 Combination Dinners — it really specializes in such regional Veracruz seafood dishes as mixed-seafood parrillada and the intricately spiced fish soup chilpachole. 12223 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 398-6106. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Lot parking. Takeout. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $4.95–$7.95. Mexican. JG ¢
* Ostioneria Colima. This is a perfect spot to kill a hot Saturday afternoon, slurping fresh oysters and drinking cold cans of Tecate from the supermarket next door. Chase your beer with tostadas de ceviche, thick, fried corn tortillas spread with a chopped salad of marinated raw fish, onion and shredded carrot, sharp with the tang of vinegar, mellow with toasted corn, sweetly fishy in an extremely pleasant way, dusted with fresh cilantro — it goes with Tecate the way Roquefort goes with Sauternes. Then order camarones rancheros, and you’ll get a dozen meaty shrimp sautéed with crisp green peppers, swimming in a light, buttery tomato sauce touched with garlic — the minimalist kind of thing Angeli’s Evan Kleiman might scour fishing villages for if she specialized in Mexico instead of Italy. 1465 W. Third St., (213) 482-4152. Open seven days, 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $6–$20. Lot parking. No alcohol. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢
Tacos Baja Ensenada. Entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound than the Ensenada fish taco. In most of Mexico, the words estilo Ensenada signify just one thing: fish tacos, specifically the fried-fish tacos served at stalls in the fish market down by the docks. In East L.A., you will come no closer to the ideal than these crunchy, sizzlingly hot strips of batter-fried halibut, folded into warm corn tortillas with salsa, shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime, sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs and finished with a squirt of thick, cultured cream. 5385 Whittier Blvd., East L.A., (323) 887-1980. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢
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