Mexican cuisine is hotter than ever with top chefs across the country, both Mexican and non-Mexican, trying to elevate the food and seek out exotic dishes and flavors. For chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo, both serious teachers and students of Mexican cuisine, it has always been about educating the customer–not patronizing them with obscure menu items bearing exotic-sounding names but serving up traditional, approachable dishes. After all, Mexico has 31 regional cuisines, plus the gastronomy of Mexico City. That leaves plenty of options in terms of tried and true plates.
As it turns out, Baldwin Hills has been starving for some good Mexican cuisine; Arvizu and Martin del Campo’s new Flautas dominates the action at the bustling Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall’s food court. Mexicano, the chefs’ 105-seat restaurant adjacent to the food court, has only been officially open for about a week and already is busy with a heavily local crowd, which is what the two Top Chef Estrellas judges love—they’re all about community. The menu has a little bit of Arvizu and Martin del Campo’s La Casita Mexicana—their famous moles and pipianes, plus a serious mole verde, are offered at Mexicano along with new dishes like filling tamales with regional flavors, made to order, and pollo a la valentina.
Pollo a la valentina is a classic dish from Guadalajara, the capital of the chefs’ home state of Jalisco. The dish is chicken in a rich tomato sauce with just enough heat and tartness from pickled jalapeños served with fried potatoes. Pollo a la valentina has a lot of history—it was a favorite of Francisco “Pancho” Villa, Henry Ford, and Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas in the early 1900s, and is still popular today at fondas and comedores, or market stalls in Guadalajara.
To many who eat at Mexicano, though, it’s just a delicious plate of chicken that teases the curious diners. Never had a Mexican dish like this before?—Arvizu and Martin del Campo would love to tell you about it. It’s a more sane revolution than U.S. celebrity chefs opening their first Mexican restaurant and introducing “green chorizo” that is neither green nor well-made. Now, if I could just get Mexicano to put their chicharrones on the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15 menu. That would be enough to make me switch movie theaters.