There is no shortage of coffeehouses on the Eastside, and places specializing in the various Mexican forms of hot chocolate are not uncommon – we reviewed one of them, Cacao Mexicatessen, just last week. And it must be said, the new Xokolatl, a chocolate-intensive, community-owned coffeehouse in El Sereno, run for the benefit of the charter school across the street, may not be the most attractive place to drink chocolate. Attached to a credit union, Xokolatl has all the outward appeal of a Starbucks crammed into the back room of a Wells Fargo.
Yet, the chairs and couches – they're slouchy and comfortable. The groove in the late afternoon is laid-back enough to accommodate both local businessmen and shaggy Chicano hipsters. The magazines and newspapers laid out on the coffee tables are carefully curated and bilingual. The Mexican chocolate is the rustic, rough-hewn artisanal stuff instead of the industrial Ibarra and Abuelita even the best Eastside cafes tend to use.
And we've found ourselves returning to Xokolatl quite a bit in the last few weeks, sometimes for the bitter, slightly acrid chocolate brewed with water in a way Ahuizotl would have recognized – but more often for the pungent, milk-based chocolate flavored with vanilla and cinnamon and dosed with just enough chile to contribute a slow, smoldering burn. It's even better, if less authentic, with a few shots of espresso coffee tossed in.
Like so many good things, chocolate was doing just fine in Mexico before the conquest. At Xokolatl, it is easy to believe that Mexican cacao culture will thrive after the reconquista too.
Xokolatl Café: 4987 Huntington Drive, El Sereno; (323) 441-8400.
(Note: Xokolatl Café opened under the name Xocolatl Cacao, Tea and Coffeehouse; the name has very recently been changed.)