Squid Ink Food Fight: The Chile Relleno, An Adventure in Ubiquity
The chile relleno is another one of those dishes, along with tacos, burritos, quesadillas and nachos, that has managed to become a universally expected offering on Mexican menus across the country. It also holds the distinction, thankfully, of being the only one of those items that has not yet been made available at Taco Bell. It is, in most cases, a large green chile (typically poblano), stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg batter and fried. But when Westsiders crave this Mexican comfort food, there are two places most often mentioned, and we take a look at both of them today.
Chile relleno from The Talpa
The Talpa, like Don Antonio's, Gilbert's or La Cabaña, seems to have existed forever on the Westside, and has its own collection of firmly committed local supporters. It's a relaxed and calming place, a beacon of earlier times. Their relleno is a pleasant sight, its top fried to a dark brown, smothered with onions and tomato, the chile's stem protruding proudly from the back, cheese and orange oil oozing from the side.
By simply applying some pressure with the side of your fork, the textural balance is immediately discernible. First you feel a fluffy, eggy batter; then the chile, not overcooked so as to maintain bite and structural integrity; and then the molten, decadent interior. There is a lot of cheese, and it will treat your meal as the opportunity for its prison break, taking to ground within the surrounding beans. Yet while texturally the relleno is quite nice, the flavor comes out a bit muted for our taste, and topping it with their single-note salsa doesn't do much to rectify the situation. But it does, despite those flaws, make for a satisfying lunch.
Chile relleno from El Abajeño
El Abajeño, sitting next to the lovely Carniceria Sanchez, is a somewhat different place. Known for their enormous burrito, and operating in something of a cafeteria style, it's a place for large portions, work clothes and very relaxed posture. Yet while we do enjoy a number of things there, the chile relleno, sadly, is not one of them. The flavor is actually quite nice, and somewhat better than at The Talpa.
But the texture is something of a disaster. Perhaps this was a rare off day, a possibility considering the love it has generated from others, and we certainly hope that this was case. But the breading appeared as if steamed rather than fried, which would not necessarily be terrible were it not for the supremely thin sauce that took to the relleno like a a piece of bread left overnight in a bowl of water. The addition of a fork caused the breading to collapse, resulting in an escaped chile, drowning in a sea of soggy orange water. In light of such events, The Talpa, as you can clearly assume, has no choice but to be crowned today's winner. Next time we'll just go with the taquitos.
The Talpa, 11751 West Pico Boulevard, West L.A., (310) 478-335., El Abajeño, 4513 Inglewood Blvd, Culver City, (310) 390-0755.
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