Friday, December 18, 2009

A Taste of Yucatan To Go (and Home of the Giant Tamal Pie) - La Flor De Yucatan

There's something endearing about the humble Tamal (Steamed Masa usually with some type of filling). Peeling back the Banana Leaf (or Corn Husk) exterior and digging into the fresh steamed Corn Dough with a bit of meat is the definition of simple comfort food. :) I ran across La Flor De Yucatan in my search for great Tamales around So Cal: I still remember Dommy recommending the Yucatecan Tamales there, and then Hershey Bomar and Dommy's discussion on their "Giant Tamales" (Mukbil-Pollo) pushed my curiosity over the edge. :) Over the past year, I've come to enjoy many of La Flor De Yucatan's offerings; a good, inexpensive place to stop by and pick up some Yucatecan dishes to go.

Situated near the 10 Freeway and Hoover, La Flor De Yucatan is primarily a bakery, offering up a nice selection of various breads and pastries throughout the day. But in addition to the baked goods, they offer up a selection of classic dishes from Yucatan, Mexico. Being a bakery they don't really have a dine-in area, but they do offer 2 picnic tables in the back for anyone wanting to eat on site.

Currently helmed by Chef Marc Burgos, La Flor De Yucatan originally started in the 1960's by Marc's father, Antonio Burgos and his wife Rosy. Learning from his father and various relatives in the Yucatan, Marc Burgos has developed a solid, savory Yucatecan menu, with most items being offered on the weekends or for catering events (they still offer about half the menu during weekdays).

Since my first visit - about a year ago - La Flor De Yucatan has just finished putting their final touches on a remodeling of their storefront, just in time for their 35th Anniversary come January. The new outdoor sign and interior adjustments have made the quaint, warm bakery a bit more modern, but still as inviting as before.

During my first visit, we order a variety of items starting with their Panucho (Fried, Crispy Hand-made Tortilla filled with Black Beans, topped with Lettuce, Shredded, Charbroiled Turkey, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Avocado and Pickled Red Onions).

The Shredded, Charbroiled Turkey is fresh, albeit a bit too dry, but it's the combination of their Turkey with the earthy Hand-made Tortilla stuffed with Black Beans, and the Pickled Onions that helps bring this dish together.

Probably the most famous dish from Yucatan is Cochinita Pibil (Pork marinated in Achiote and Sour Orange Juice, wrapped and baked in Banana Leaves), and La Flor De Yucatan's version is the best I've tried in L.A. so far.

Chef Burgos uses Suckling Pig for his version, and the tenderness of the Pork is immediately apparent (even over the polished version at Chichen Itza). It's juicy with a slight tang from the citrus juice, and when eaten with a bit of their Pickled Onions, and their Frijoles (Pureed Black Beans) and Hand-made Tortillas, it's one of the highlights of their menu. :)

La Flor De Yucatan offers up 2 types of Yucatecan Tamales (every day of the week): A Vaporcito and Colado.

Their Vaporcito is an Achiote Tamal made with a mix of Pork, Chicken and Achiote, wrapped in a Banana Leaf and Steamed.

Tamales come in many varieties, and for those that enjoy a more solid, denser Masa mixture, the Vaporcito is for you. The flavors of the Pork, Chicken and Achiote are clear and focused, but the Masa is a bit too packed for my tastes. But to their credit, the 3 different times I've ordered the Vaporcito, it's been consistent in its delivery.

But it's their Colado (Moist, Soft Tamal made with Pork, Chicken and Achiote Sauce, wrapped in a Banana Leaf and Aluminum Foil, then Steamed) that's really worth stopping by for.

While the description sounds very similar to the Vaporcito Tamal, the difference is that Marc Burgos cooks the Masa with Water and then strains it, using only the finest remaining portion of the Masa to make their Colado. The result is a wonderfully delicate, moist, supple Tamal that's light and delicious. :) It's been generally consistent, although once during the 3rd visit (with Man Bites World), the Colado came out a touch underseasoned, but on my 4th visit, it was back to being just spot-on delightful. :)

I'm a huge fan of Guava, so when I was peeking over the bakery racks and noticed "Pastelito de Guayaba" I immediately ordered one, thinking it would be a simple Pastry with Guava filling.

Unfortunately (my own fault for not asking first), the Pastelito de Guayaba turns out to be using Guava Jam, and not fresh Guava. The Pastry itself is slightly doughy and soft, and the Guava Jam is primarily sugary with almost no hint of actual Guava fruit.

On another visit, La Flor De Yucatan is offering up Lomitos de Valladolid (Pork Tenderloin and Pork Leg with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic, Blond Peppers and Achiote) as their daily special.

The Lomitos is lightly spicy, surprisingly sweet and a bit too straightforward. I enjoy the slowly stewed Pork, but the flavors seem to fall a bit short, with it tasting heavily of the Fire-Roasted Tomatoes and little else.

According to our friendly server, one of the most popular bakery items is their Hojaldra ("Traditional Yucatan Bread" - Pastry stuffed with Ham & Cheese, covered with a flaky, sugary crust).

Taking a bite, the Hojaldra's dough tastes a little undercooked, with it tasting literally like the sum of its parts: A sweet doughy pastry with some Ham and Cheese flavors mixed with Sugar. It's a little odd for my palate, but after taking the Hojaldra home and baking it for ~10 minutes, the remaining undercooked dough taste I had sensed earlier is gone, and the Hojaldra turns into a happy, toasty, pastry with the cheese slightly melting and combining nicely with the crisped crust.

Their Polcanes (Corn Dough Patty stuffed with Lima Beans, Crushed Chilies and Pumpkin Seeds) is a delicious vegetarian offering that I've enjoyed more than most of their meat dishes.

The thick Corn Dough Patty is hearty and nutty with the Lima Beans and Pumpkin Seeds stuffing, and when mixed with the Crushed Chilies, Cilantro, Pickled Onions, Cabbage and Tomato Sauce, there's a great combination of flavors that results from it all.

Served on weekends, their Relleno Negro (Boneless Turkey with Pork Meatballs simmered in Chirmole (Dark Roasted Pepper Sauce), seasoned with Epazote, Bell Peppers and Tomato) is a delight, and shows off Marc Burgos' cooking.

They offer the Relleno Negro as a full Plate, or in Taco form, with both ways complementing the juicy, deep funk of long-stewed Turkey in the obsidian Chirmole Sauce. There's a heady slow burn that accompanies every bite of this enjoyable dish.

But out of their weekend offerings, I'd have to say that their Morcilla (Traditional Old World Pork Blood Sausage, with Mint and Mayan Spices) is my favorite.

Growing up, I was never a fan of Black Pudding / Boudin Noir (or any congealed Blood foods), but the homemade version at La Flor De Yucatan is a real treat: Spicy, floral, savory with a touch of sweetness, it features none of the heavy liver/organ-like taste you might be expecting. Surprisingly wonderful. :)

Another weekend offering is their Escabeche (Roasted Garlic Turkey sauteed with Onions and Banana Peppers).

The Escabeche is a mild, juicy Turkey dish: Sauteed Onions, Garlic and Turkey come to the forefront, with a very light burn from the Banana Peppers. It's enjoyable, but it's not something I find myself craving.

Their Kibbeh (Fried Meatballs with Cracked Wheat, Mint and Spices, topped with Pickled Red Onions) is another standout item.

As much as I enjoy most of Chichen Itza's offerings, La Flor De Yucatan's Kibbeh is more refined and balanced. The flavor of the Ground Beef with Cracked Wheat is fragrant and the texture and frying technique come across better here. However, it might be better to ask for the Pickled Onions on the side, as you need only a tiny bit of them with each bite before it completely overpowers the dish. By itself, the Kibbeh is wonderful. :)

As a point of comparison to their Relleno Negro, I decide to try their Relleno Blanco / Alcaparrado (Boneless Roasted Garlic Turkey with Pork Meatballs simmered in White Sauce, Seasoned Blond Peppers, Onions, Tomatoes, Capers, Green Olives and Raisins).

There are 2 pieces of Turkey Bone accidentally left in my portion, but besides that hiccup, their Relleno Blanco is much more mild and tame than their Relleno Negro. With the long list of ingredients, it comes out a touch disappointing, with the flavors mainly being that of the slow-cooked Turkey, Pork Meatball and Onions and Blond Peppers than anything else.

But the one thing that has caught my eye since the first time is their Pib dish. Officially called Mukbil-Pollo (Pib), it's a Baked, Pie-like Tamal, filled with Creamy Red Sauce, Vegetables, Pork and Chicken, it's offered by 5-day advanced order only, due to the preparation time.

I remembered the early discussion between Hershey Bomar and Dommy about this "giant tamal" but I had no idea it'd be as gigantic as it turned out to be. :) Thankfully we had enough people to share it, but suffice to say it can easily serve ~10 - 12+ people.

La Flor De Yucatan offers up this dish Baked or Unbaked (if you want to cook it at home at a later date), and we opted for them to cook it for us. I'm not sure what the final outer crust is supposed to taste like (in terms of doneness), but it tasted overcooked, with the bottom and side edges being really hard and nearly inedible. The Masa (Cornmeal Dough), being slow baked for hours, formed into a very dense outer edge.

But thankfully the majority of it (~90% of the inside and top crust) was moist and savory. The majority of the filling was a marinated Pork and Chicken mixture in Achiote, Masa and a thick Red Sauce (made from Garlic, Epazote, Pepper, Tomatoes). The Espalon (Black-eyed Peas) and Bell Peppers added a nice textural contrast. I remember Dommy describing the one she had as having Eggs in it, and when I called back La Flor De Yucatan, they mentioned that they could make their Pib with whatever ingredients the customer wanted (including Eggs), but their standard offering didn't include Eggs. Overall, everyone generally enjoyed it, but their standard offering of simple Pork, Chicken and Masa, made it taste like a giant baked "Tamal" more than anything. If we order this next time, I'd want to get suggestions on additional ingredients to layer in to add more depth to it.

Being a simple (literal) corner bakery, La Flor De Yucatan's service has been just fine: You walk up to the bakery counter and place your order and pay for it at the same time. You can also phone ahead so that they'll have your order ready for you when you arrive, if time is short. And while their normal menu is enjoyable, there are some absolutely delicious-looking dishes on their Catering Menu that is unfortunately not offered in individual portions - items like Dzotobichay (Chaya Tamal filled with Roasted Ground Pumpkin Seeds and Chopped Hard Boiled Eggs, Zesty Tomato Sauce and wrapped in Banana Leaves), Pierna de Puerco (A Whole Slow-Roasted Leg of Pork that serves 50-60 people(!)), etc. - (our server mentioned that they would love to offer all the Catering Menu dishes regularly, but they don't generate enough foot traffic to make it worthwhile).

Prices range from $1.50 - $5 for most items, with the Catering Menu items being more. Their Mukbil-Pollo (Pib) is $30.

With the sad closing of Chichen Itza's sit down restaurant on 6th Street, there are fewer places to enjoy Yucatecan cuisine around downtown L.A. But thanks to the efforts of places like La Flor De Yucatan, one can still enjoy some of the traditional delights from Yucatan like the juicy, long-stewed Cochinita Pibil Pork, or the silky, smooth Colados Tamales. While it's currently primarily a Take-Out Only location, I'm hoping they get enough foot traffic to start offering all of their Catering Menu items on a full-time basis in a restaurant setting. :)

Rating: 7.9 (out of 10.0)

La Flor De Yucatan
1800 S. Hoover Street
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Tel: (213) 748-6090

Hours: Mon - Fri, 7:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Sat - Sun, 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.


weezermonkey said...

Yum yum yum. And so close to me! Whee!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi weezermonkey,

Nice! :) Hope you enjoy the visit. :)

Noah said...

Great report, as always! Thanks for turning me onto this place. I was craving this the other day while I was out and about and forgot both the name and the location! May have to make an appearance this week...

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Noah,

Thanks. :) Glad you enjoyed it. Let me know if you find anything else you enjoy there (make sure to try their Morcilla (on weekends only)). :)

burumun said...

Oh nice, I love tamales and the Colado sounds worth trying, as do the Relleno Negro & Morcilla. Good find!

Have you tried the Chac Mool mayan take out? Just wondering if the two are related - has a cute sign :P

Exile Kiss said...

Hi burumun,

Thanks. :) Definitely give those items a try - love them. :)

Chac Mool is actually the God of Water (^_~). It's just part of their Signage, so the whole sign is for "La Flor De Yucatan." :)

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