Pambazos, cemitas and (of course) huaraches at Don Huarache for CityBeat:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
It’s a dusty world out on Don Huarache’s solitary stretch of Burbank Boulevard, a dry drag where cracked concrete abuts only the occasional nursery or upholsterer. Drop off onto the side streets and the North Hollywood neighborhood fades into rows of apartments and ramblers; the restaurant is one of the block’s few shining storefronts. But even as removed as it is from the so-called NoHo Arts District, you can’t help but think that’s for the best: the restaurant’s excellent Mexico City-style cuisine deserves undivided attention.
Though it still wears a golden Grand Opening banner from its fall debut, Don Huarache has grown up, graduating from a series of handwritten menus taped above the register to laminated lists that detail the restaurant’s options with appropriate diligence. There are burritos and enchiladas, tacos and tortas, but those are formalities, residual recipes of an American existence. Look past those plates to find Don Huarache’s true (if not obvious) specialty: huaraches.
Dedicated fans of the huarache revere places like Highland Park’s El Huarache Azteca for their renditions of the oblong oddity. It’s a shoe-shaped staple of fried masa with a name literally meaning “sandal,” but Don Huarache’s version is more precise. While some diners waste space with lettuce and the like, Don Huarache tops its masa with only the essentials: crumbles of creamy cheese, a protein of your choice, and grilled onions and nopales – these latter, strips of de-prickled prickly pear cactus. The huaraches here are also outrageously oversized, overtaking every inch of their platters.
Entry-level eaters should consider easing into the experience with the steak huarache, which adds a lean, pounded-flat hunk of meat to the masa. Those seeking exotic flavors, however, should go straight to the chicharrón prensado, shards of pigskin pressed through something like a sieve with other pork pieces until it all recombines in a tomato-soaked sauce.
Besides that namesake plate, Don Huarache’s quesadillas also make a mark. They’re hefty things, made from uneven mounds of masa, instead of the all-too-usual pre-packaged tortillas. It’ll take only a few bites for you to realize this is the dish precisely as it’s intended, heavy with a handmade taste that’s tough to replicate.
The sopes are similarly organic. Though just one sope is suitable as a makeshift side, Don Huarache often ends up serving its sopes in pairs, little discs of masa piled high with shredded lettuce, cheese and either chorizo, chipotle-bathed chicken or beef or classic carne asada. If you can’t shake the urge to order a couple of tacos, take solace in sopes instead – they’re roughly the same three-bite size.
For those hungry for handheld options, Don Huarache is also a sandwich specialist. There’s the cemita poblana, for example, a lesser-known sesame-seeded sandwich born in the city of Puebla; order a cemita milanesa for great breaded beef. Or pick up a pambazo, a sandwich stuffed with potato and chorizo that, like its meaty analog the torta ahogada, is drenched in a crimson chile sauce; think of it as a southerly relative to our own French dip.
Don Huarache isn’t much of a dinner destination, but it’ll draw you out during off-hours. Maybe you’ll end up scheduling an early-morning breakfast for an honest plate of huevos rancheros. Or maybe you’ll start spending Saturdays with fellow weekenders waiting for two-day specials like menudo and barbacoa. However it happens, you’ll be back: Don Huarache will consume as much of you as you will of it.
Don Huarache, 10719 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 766-8307. Open Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Street parking. Cash only. Food for two $10-20.