The most common story about the origin of the huarache, the masa-based dish that is reminiscent of a sandal (in shape, not taste), is that it was invented in Mexico City in the 1930s. But a few food historians argue, rather compellingly, that the dish is actually from the countryside to the north of the city. It makes good sense: The dish is shaped like and named after a piece of footwear that was more common in rural areas than cities, and the sturdy construction of it supports the idea that it was meant to be made ahead of time and eaten midday. You know, in an area without restaurants.
But wherever it was first made, it has found a home in Highland Park, where El Huarache Azteca serves a small menu, with huaraches as the focal point. Though the rest of the menu can't be ignored. There is always a collection of brightly colored aguas frescas on the counter next to the register, apparently all homemade, which helps to explain their popularity.
Everyone should order the guacamole too, a generous rendition that's heavy on the garlic and even heavier on the lime.
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There are tacos and other dishes to choose from, but you'll want to, at the very least, order a "super huarache" to share. The thick masa tortilla cousin (which occasionally comes mixed with beans — it seems to depend on who's in the kitchen) comes topped with meat, vegetables, crema and a choice of salsa. The dish is relatively hard to find in L.A., making it worth the journey to round out your culinary education. Plus, it tastes very good.
5225 York Blvd., Highland Park. (323) 478-9572, elhuaracheazteca.com.