Vegan menudo, WHAT?!! Now that Mas Malo has officially opened on the hottest street (7th) in LA’s hottest ‘hood (Downtown), it was time to check out this long-awaited outpost of the Silver Lake original.
As its name not so modestly declares, this Mexican eatery housed-in-an-historic-1920s-building (it used to be the old Clifton’s Cafeteria as well as a jewelry store) is indeed badder ass. The space is grand (and shares space with Seven Grand), with original wall paintings and domed ceiling frescoes in tact, a vault-turned-backroom-tequila-bar, an upstairs mezzanine perfect for parties, and a subterranean lounge that conjures up 70s chic a la Jonathan Adler. (It’s the best room in the whole place.)
And then there’s the menu, which has some things you won’t find on the o.g. menu. Like the aforementioned vegan menudo. Yes, as in vegan menudo.
Naturally, I was skeptical about how in the world they could pull off this traditional Mexican stew of hominy, cow tripe and pig feet with nary a trace of animal byproduct. But to my disbelief, chef Robert Luna (Malo’s prodigal jefe who’s back after an eight-year hiatus) did it. And not only has he done it, he’s done it deliciously well. It tasted like home. It was nostalgic. Reminded me of family. It’s what I’ve been waiting for since I turned 18 and gave up red meat. Who needs tripe and boiled pork hoof when you’ve got tempeh and tofu done like this? Chef Luna said “People either hate it or love it. If you eat meat, you’ll hate it. If you’re vegetarian, you’ll love it.” I don’t believe him. How could anyone not love it? I didn’t even need the usual accouterments of lemon, oregano, salt and pepper. And that never happens.
Other newbies on the menu: the cannily named Boyle Heights Picnic (quarter roast chicken simmered in mole poblano with a Mexican potato salad [i.e. Luna's take on his mom's "leftover mashed potatoes thrown together with some mayonnaise and black olives"), Ensenada Shrimp drenched in an addictively spicy chipotle cream sauce, and a huge, towering lobster tail.
Thankfully, Malo’s classics can still be found. Those chewy chips and habanero crema salsa? Oh yes. (Quick back story: Luna created those in homage to his childhood when there was not enough cooking oil in the house to make crispy chips, thus creating a chewy version.) The ground beef (or faux-beef) and pickle hard-shell tacos? Si. Carnitas marinated in Coca-Cola and orange juice? Por supuesto. That perfectly spicy chicken pozole that’s even better than the menudo? Thank God.
As Luna simply puts it, Malo is all about bringing “barrio food” to the masses. It’s what third-generation “American Mexicans” call comfort food. Count me in.
More info: www.malorestaurant.com