The best food here revolves around the extraordinary mole sauce: sharp, thick, sweetly complex, with top notes of smoke, clove and citrus, lashed with dried-chile heat, black enough to darken the brightest Pepsodent smile. (It takes two days to make, a million steps, and has something like 20 ingredients.) Dobladitas are corn tortillas folded around melted cheese and moistened with mole. There is also chicken mole, and sometimes a Oaxacan-style special of chicken, pork and plantains cooked in mole. And you can get a side of mole sauce to put on your burrito. 3510 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 913-1422. Open Mon.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. till 11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $20–$25. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
The menu here, vaguely Mexico City–cosmopolitan, is loaded with things such as entomatadas and mole, which turn out — here, at least — to be basically chicken enchiladas and a slightly spicy beef soup, respectively, but which sound ineffably chefly and exotic. The tacos, created with freshly made corn tortillas, are stuffed with sweetly spiced beef picadillo studded with almonds and raisins; with dryish fried pork; with chopped beef and melted cheese. They’re terrific. Terrific too is the musky, complex green mole, alive with a dozen unfamiliar pounded barks and seeds; a soothing chicken soup; delicious, long-cooked pork chops smothered soul-food style in a smoky pasilla gravy; roasted poblano chiles stuffed with a sweet, intricately spiced chicken forcemeat. Somebody has obviously thought about this stuff. 3447 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale; (818) 957-2711. Open Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $12–$15. Beer and wine. Takeout. AE, D, MC, V.
Of the classic five moles of Oaxaca — dark, complex sauces flavored with seeds, nuts, herbs, chiles of every description — Guelaguetza has quite a few: the coloradito, brick-red, elusively spicy, with a slightly tangy sweetness; the amarillo; sometimes even the dusky chichilo. But most extraordinary is the black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, undertones of toasted chile and wave upon wave of textured spice — so much better than other moles locally available, it‘s like seeing a Diego Rivera mural up close for the first time after years of seeing nothing but reproductions. 3337 12 W. Eighth St.; (213) 427-0601. Open daily 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9–$12. No alcohol. AE, MC, V.
Paseo Chapin’s pepian is a forceful version of this Mayan stew: ground, spiced squash seeds, fortified with burnt bread and toasted chiles and thinned out with broth, overwhelming the boiled chicken that floats in it, but also giving the rather ordinary bird substance. Pollo con crema is a revelation here, a Latin American standard given life with an elegant, thin cream sauce, as tart as citrus, made from bell peppers and tart Guatemalan sour cream. And once in your life, you should try a real Guatemalan mole de platano, tart slices of fried plantain in a thick, dangerous sauce of the bitterest chocolate, flavored with cinnamon and dusted with seeds, intricate as a Guatemalan weaving. 2220 W. Seventh St.; (213) 385-7420. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$19. Beer and wine. Validated lot parking. Cash only.
El Sazon Oaxaqueño
Where many of the other Oaxacan places on the Westside interpret mole as a mandate to serve fairly incidental segments of reheated chicken wallowing in great, sopping plates of sauce, the chicken at El Sazon Oaxaqueño is fresh, full of juice, tending toward old-bird chewiness rather than dissolving into mush under your fork. The restaurant‘s Oaxacan mole negro is impeccable, but it is the extravagantly hot coloradito de pollo that is El Sazon’s greatest dish, a red sauce that almost sings with roasted chiles, with sauteed spices, with ground, charred bread. Glorious. 12131 Washington Place, Mar Vista; (310) 391-4721. Open daily 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $15–$20. No alcohol. Takeout. Cash only.
When you ask for mole at El Texate, the waitress patiently waits until you specify which kind of mole you‘d like: the mole negro, tar-black, sweet-bitter, with a specific gravity that lies somewhere near that of plutonium; the oddly herbed verde de pollo; the mole called amarillo, especially mild, with a clear chile flavor, a strong top note of cumin and the slightly oily texture of gravy in a chicken-dinner restaurant; or the mole coloradito, brick-red, sharply spicy, a little smoky, with the roundness of toasted grain, more pungent than the negro, everything you’re looking for when you order mole. 316 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 399-1115. Open daily 8:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $11–$20. Full bar. Lot parking in rear. AE, CB, DC, MC, V.
Quesadillas stuffed with spinach and roasted garlic, fresh-tasting chiles rellenos stuffed with shrimp, salmon with a sauce of ground pumpkin seeds, crisply fried chicken flautas, enchiladas glazed with both the house‘s tart tomatillo sauce and a musky puree of mild guajillo chiles . . . but you’ll undoubtedly end up ordering Tlapazola‘s mole negro. And why shouldn’t you? It has a lingering sweetness that seems to exist as an afterimage on the tongue, the way that you can sometimes see something green floating in the air if you‘ve been staring at a red shape for too long. Murky, viscous, odoriferous, heaving levels of mephitic complexity from its chocolate-smeared depths, Tlapazola’s mole is pure evil on a plate, and just the thing with a cold one on a lazy Saturday afternoon. 11676 Gateway Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 477-1577. Open Tues.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$30. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.