I know – I’m supposed to report on the new places. But while Chichen Itza, in the La Paloma complex south of downtown, is a fixture on my list of 101 Best Restaurants, I’ve been back at least half a dozen times in the last month – the clean, tart flavors of Yucatecan cooking, driven by the smack of bitter orange and fruity habañero-pepper heat, seem just about right when the weather begins to get warm. Just last week I took my friend Doc Willoughby, who has written more books on grilling than anyone else I know has even read, to taste Chichen Itza’s poc chuc. He marveled at the juiciness and the complex flavors the cooks had coaxed from the super-thin grilled pork filet.
I’ve been to Chichen Itza at least a couple dozen times since it opened, mostly for that poc chuc, the split bean-filled tortillas called panuchos, and the spicy, slow-roasted pork called cochinita pibil.
Yet it wasn’t until last week that I discovered Chichen Itza’s longaniza asada hiding under the kibi on the appetizer menu – thin, crackly pork sausages, scented with cumin, ruddy with chiles and blackened over mesquite. You take a freshly made tortilla, layer the slender chorizo with roasted tomato salsa, a slice or two of avocado, and a sliver or two of those red, marinated Yucatecan onions that seem to have spread from Chichen Itza to half the new small plates kitchens in town. If you are so inclined, you can shake on a few drops (or more than a few drops) of the restaurant’s incandescent char-flecked habañero sauce. Your eyes may bulge, your forehead may bead with sweat, but you will be happy. You immediately reach for another longaniza and do it all over again. It is the happiest, spiciest mouthful in South L.A.
The longaniza asada cries for an icy bottle of beer, but a mug of Chichen Itza’s milky-white housemade guanabana drink will have to do.
3655 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 241-1075, chichenitzarestaurant.com.