Mexicano Madness

Double up on legit Mexican cooking at Mexicano and Flautas

Some of the best meals in this town need to be hunted down. Mouth-numbing bowls of chile noodles, broth-filled dumplings that require great dexterity and stewed meats atop fresh tortillas are just some of the rewards of a long cruise down the 10 or the 710. But now, you can get a legit taste of Mexico minus the trek.

Chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu (La Casita Mexicana) are bringing their abuela-approved recipes to a pair of new restaurants in an unassuming Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall: Mexicano and Flautas.

At the more formal Mexicano, the kitchen covers the entire spectrum of Mexican cuisine, from Puebla and Oaxaca to Veracruz and Del Campo and Arvizu's hometown, Jalisco. The south-of-the-border theme is tasteful (not kitschy), thanks to tiled floors, modernist chandeliers, blue-rimmed glassware and Aztecan and Día de los Muertos memorabilia.

Chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo

But the food is familiar. Del Campo and Arvizu bring over some favorites from La Casita Mexicana, including their rustic asada steak and the famed chiles en nogada ($17)—a roasted poblano stuffed with ground pork, walnuts, candied cactus, dried fruit and topped with creamy pecan sauce and pomegranate seeds (weekends only).

Their mole is here, too, arriving over enchiladas or atop oversize tamales. Poblano is as intensely smoky and chocolaty as its dark mahogany hue, while savory pepian is served rojo with pumpkin seeds, peanut and chiles, or verde with pumpkin seeds, tomatillo, chiles and herbs. Try all three in the Tres Moles ($16) platter, served over boiled chicken and (underseasoned) white rice.

There are new creations, too, like the totopos to start the meal. Made from masa-ready nixtamal, the maize tortillas are cut and fried, then brushed with Peruvian bean purée and cotija cheese and tossed with carrot and jalapeño strips en escabeche. They appear again alongside the nearly perfect guacamole al tequila ($10), packed with chunky avocado, tequila and more of the aforementioned pickled jalapeño and carrots.

Skip the rubbery Shrimp Valentina ($16) and the supersize tamales, which mutes its accompanying mole. But do save room for the gooey dulce de leche-filled churros ($6) and/or arroz gelatin ($5), thick rice pudding laced with vanilla, cinnamon and hibiscus syrup.

If you're not in the market for a sit-down meal, stop by the mall's food court to pay a visit to Flautas, which, as its name implies, focuses on the fried tortilla "flutes," a quick meal on the cheap. Served single ($3), double ($5.50) or triple ($7.50), the tubes come stuffed with fillings like chorizo and potatoes or chicken, and topped with tangy tomatillo or rich chile de arbol sauce, cotija cheese and crema.

Consider it your one-stop shop for heartfelt Mexican cooking.