For such a tiny, bitter thing, cocoa has done remarkably well. It has been cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years, and today exists, in some form, on just about every dessert menu in the Western world. Dating back to its earliest history, chocolate was consumed as a beverage, developing deep roots in Mexico, and Oaxaca in particular. While in its most traditional past, chocolate beverages were made with water, milk can do wonders when paired with it. So in honor of both chocolate and milk, we stopped into two popular Oaxacan restaurants on Santa Monica Boulevard to see how their hot chocolate con leche stacked up.
Our first cup came from Monte Alban, which is looking great and running smoothly after its fire back in August of last year. Their hot chocolate comes in a big, wide mug, piping hot and with a familiar aroma that quickly brings a sense of calm and comfort. It is a mellow beverage with lots of milk, yet also contains a complex chocolate flavor very different from, say, one made from a squeeze bottle of Hershey's syrup. There is an almost fruity background, reminiscent of what you'll find on the finish of a Oaxacan horchata as well. It is not aggressively sweet, nor is it overly chocolaty for that matter. It is charmingly balanced drink, frothy, soothing and ultimately quite satisfying.
At Juquila, a small restaurant greatly appreciated by its loyal, local patrons, the hot chocolate is surprisingly different. It is a smaller cup, and while also frothy and served extremely hot, it is darker, and much more deeply infused with chocolate. The flavors are more pronounced and powerful, exuding an aura of confident homeyness. The bits of chocolate are less incorporated than the one at Monte Alban, with dark brown specks swirling through the creamy liquid.
As is often the case at the end of these food and drink fights, it is a question of refinement or rusticity; complexity or aggression. In this instance, Monte Alban's depth, its motherly warmth, and its layering of flavors wins out over the masculine robustness of Juquila's.
Monte Alban: 11927 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A., (310) 444-7736., Juquila: 11619 Santa Monica Boulevard, West L.A., (310) 312-1079.