E.K. Valley is more like a home than a restaurant. This new Oaxacan place in Culver City has only seven tables in a small room simply decorated with Oaxacan fabrics, painted gourds and other artesanías.
Epy García, the owner, greets you, brings the menu and serves the food. E.K. stands for Epy's Kitchen, and García does the cooking too, along with his wife, Tobías. They're both from San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca.
The menu is as simple as the room: basic tacos and taquitos, carne asada, grilled chicken and enchiladas, but also the Oaxacan tlayuda, black beans, a choice of meats, cabbage, tomatoes, avocado and the stringy cheese called quesillo spread on a thin tortilla base as wide as the brim of a sombrero.
The tlayuda bases come from Oaxaca, but big, soft blandita tortillas are made here. One of these is the wrapper for a Oaxacan barbacoa taco, which is more like a burrito than a taco, because it is rolled up, with beef, beans and cabbage inside.
You can have Oaxacan red mole as the sauce for enchiladas or as a main dish with meat. It's technically red, meaning made from red chiles, but the color is a deep, rich brown.
Beef barbacoa, chunks of beef in a dark sauce, comes with pinto beans, like most California Mexican food, but also with grilled eggplant and green pepper, which is much better than carbo-loading the plate with rice.
The Oaxacan meats tasajo (salted beef) and cecina (pork) have their own plates. There's no wine or beer, but you can have the Oaxacan drink chilacoyota, made from a large squash.
The restaurant is a step up for García from running a lunch truck. You can't miss it as you pass by. With its bright orange walls, yellow door and multicolored papel picado hanging across the front, it looks like a fiesta in progress.
Read more from Barbara Hansen at www.eatmx.com, www.tableconversation.com, @foodandwinegal and Facebook.