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Chichén Itzá

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Its location as a stand in the Mercado la Paloma might lead you to believe that the food at Chichen Itza is casual or ordinary…until you notice the line (all afternoon, when I was there, and mostly of Spanish-speaking people) and the beautifully composed plates of colorful, book-cover-worthy food (not by accident – the owner wrote Sabores Yucatecos: A Culinary Tour of the Yucatán). The closest comparison restaurant I can think of is Los Agaves in Santa Barbara, for style of service and quality of food and presentation, though the menu at Chichen Itza is a much shorter list of curated Yucatecan specialties. You order at the stand and receive a # for your order, and the servers run the food out to you. They also bring silverware and drinks, and the tables/chairs are big and solid, nicer than most food-court operations. Based on many recommendations, we tried the cochinita pibil (prettily mounded, long shreds of incredibly tender, juicy pork, in a tangy sauce), fish tacos (crunchy, well-seasoned, and bright), plantains (nicely fried), and panuchos (basically a shredded turkey taco, with the tortilla fried – I thought it was dry but it was my husband’s favorite dish). Our friends got the tikin-xic (fish fillets in a citrus sauce over rice – I want to add this to our order next time), pork tacos, more plantains, and chips and salsa. Almost everything was sprinkled with the pickled red onions (which I ordinarily don’t like but in this case found delightful. Thank goodness.) Except for a few bites of the rather ordinary rice and beans, we polished off everything with gusto while proclaiming it delicious. Prices are so gentle you feel as if you’re getting away with something.

The location is low key and families abound so fear not in bringing small children (though you might have a hard time finding a high chair). It’s less than a mile from USC and Exposition Park (home of the California Science Center, Rose Garden, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), so pairs perfectly with a day of exploring. I might not walk the distance, due to on-ramps under the highway and slight sketchiness of the neighborhood, plus there is a parking lot at the Mercado and some street spaces available. Really can’t recommend this place enough - I can’t wait to go back!

Map: 34.0177202,-118.2814708

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