Mo-Chica is just one of those places you hear so much about, but never get a chance to go. Well, I finally went and now I feel like I’m part of the “The Club.” I think MC Bowtie, Hates Asian Food, and Brown Bear (who has now joined our forces) and myself were a bit put off by the set up of the place. I think it would be an understatement to say the ambience, decor, and location of Mo-Chica is underwhelming. I was in such a state of surprise when I walked into the “restaurant” that I didn’t really get a good picture that conveys the setup of the place.
I suggest you squint very hard and imagine that Peruvian flag to be replaced by an emblem of a panda encircled in red and the color scheme to be more warm, like orange and red. Yes folks, I’m trying to get you to see what I saw, a Panda Express turned into a Peruvian sit down restaurant. I was waiting for someone to ask me if I liked a sample of some orange chicken. The goddamn “restaurant” is in a food court/cafeteria! The guy at the table next to us looked like he was eating pad thai. I dunno where he got that from, but it was noodles!
I felt embarassed walking in and telling the cashier that I had a reservation for 4 people. It really felt like a grab and go place than the wildly lauded and talked about restaurant boasting delicious Peruvian cuisine.
See all the awards? This place is no joke. How a restaurant like this, located where it is, can garner so much attention is proof that all it takes is solid and affordable food to bring the masses.
Barrels of Goodness
Chicha Morada, Maracuya (left to right)
The chicha morada, described as a “purple corn juice” was probably the more unique and interesting drink of the two. I wouldn’t exactly say I tasted any corn in this drink. We all agreed there were some hints of cinnamon and/or nutmeg, reminiscent of an apple pie or something. The yellow drink was passion fruit juice. No surprises here. I was happy it wasn’t too sweet. I liked both drinks a lot.
Causa del Dia crab
Unlike Andina’s disastrous causa, which I only now describe as “disastrous” having now tried a really great causa. I just assumed all causas tasted like the one at Andina. Bland potatoes with a mish mosh of stuff on top. Oh no, Mo-Chica knows how to do causas. Everything was so flavorful and in perfect harmony with the other components. There was a creamy sauce that brought a bit of heat to the dish. As we were all politely doling ourselves portions, I kept saying “Maybe we should order another one.” One delicious causa for 4 people? Hates Asian Food kept saying “ok, ok, ok” but neither of us stepped up to the plate. I’m coming to learn that Hates Asian Food is just a bottomless pit for food, Asian or not.
Ceviche del Dia
I forget what fish this was, but I don’t think it mattered. This is the first Peruvian ceviche that tasted more than just lemon juice and raw fish. I not quite sure what they added or did to give it more flavor. I mean it still had a strong acid component, but this was rounded out by other tastes, which I appreciated very much.
I don’t think the added texture from the peruvian corn and toasted corn did the trick. In fact, I found these textural elements to be distracting. It was a point for conversation as we debated how could corn kernels be soooo big. I was excited to taste my first Peruvian corn kernel. By the size, I expected a delicious burst of sweet corn juices to explode in my mouth. Unfortunately, all I got was the disappointment of a dry but soft bean like texture All I could think was “no bueno, no me gusta.” Everything else was great though. I think there may have been some seaweed in here too?
Seco de Cordero lamb shank, canairo beans, salsa criolla, cilantoro beer sauce
I had this same dish at Andina, and again Mo-Chica wins out here. Unlike the causa, the lamb at Andina was really good. This lamb here was just really really good. It was like a great song vs. a great symphony. Yes, sometimes food just sings to me, or rather, my belly. Somehow everything came together better here. You knew you were eating lamb, which sometimes is not a good thing. But in this case, everyone enjoyed that signature lamb flavor. The sauce with the beans were wonderful. I don’t know if I really tasted any beer though.
Oxtail Risotto braised oxtail, barley huancaina risotto
We liked this dish, but we felt there was something off about it at the same time. We all agreed the oxtail was deliciously cooked, meaty, tender, saucy. But there was something sour in the risotto. We weren’t sure what it was, but we kept eating it anyway. Was it cheese? Was it cream? Was it that yellow spicy sauce? In any case, it was “oddly tasty” if you will. It was more goopy than you’re traditional risotto which I’m not sure they were trying to achieve. They also used a nontraditional rice so I’m sure that contributed to the uniqueness of the dish.
Arroz con Pollo chicken breast, spring onions, salsa madre, sauteed rice
The chicken was moist and tender chicken. The skin appeared crispy, although I did not really get any of it. And though the rice appears unassuming, do not be fooled. It was a delicious and an essential part of the dish. It was equally moist and flavorful. Those toasted nut things made their way into the dish again, which I did not care much for.
Lomo Saltado beef filet, salsa criolla, fried potatoes
So this was probably my least favorite of the night. Not to say it was bad. It was just that everything else was so good! I think I prefer my lomo the original way, an Asian-inspired, sauteed mish-mash of french fries, tomatoes, onions, and beef like at Mario’s. Chef Zarate’s version is an attempt at being different and innovative. I couldn’t really taste the Asian flavors in this version. There was some sort of herb or seasoning that made this taste different, although sadly I could not identify what it was. I will admit that the beef was super tender, and perfectly medium rare. Everything else was solid, but not special. The giant hunks of fried potates were good though.
Between myself, MC Bowtie, Hates Asian Food, and Brown Bear, we consumed a normal meals worth of food, unlike our Church & State experience. It was good not to be stuffed to the brim for a regular weekday meal. I think I have to keep reminding myself that the point of going out to eat at all these new places is not to stuff myself silly, but to sample new foods and flavors. Hates Asian Food may not agree with me as he is a glutton and he certainly could have consumed more calories that night. In fact, he brought home all the leftover white rice we didn’t finish, under the guise that it would be such a waste to throw it away. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went home and cooked up some kimchi fried rice for dessert.
Anyways, if you ever find yourself in Downtown or by USC’s main campus, you should definitely check out this place. Don’t be surprised to find restaurant quality food in a cafeteria quality establisment!
3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007