El Faisan y El Venado: Yucatán Food Beyond Cochinita Pibil in Northeast L.A.

There comes a time in every young writer’s life when you just say fuck it, and move out of your parents house with your awesome significant other and try to take over the world together, in high hopes of pursuing your dreams in the creative field and making enough for rent as a writer. For me, that time lagged it a little bit and just happened last year. We moved to a New York-sized studio, in Angelino Heights. Though, the speed of gentrification there was a little too fast, well for me at least, pushing us out since we eventually got tired of paying the stupidly overpriced rent and had enough of our inconsiderate landlord.

Though I am thankful for his inconsiderate actions, as I found my dream quarters in the hills of Highland Park, just a few blocks away from places like El Faisan y El Venado.

El Faisan y El Venado signage

The place caught my eye as soon as we drove by looking for a now-defunct, birria truck that was once favorited by J. Gold. Though, we waited until we were more settled in the neighborhood to check it out.

Ambiance at El Faisan y El Venado
Ambiance at El Faisan y El Venado

I love me some Yucatan food but haven’t really found a solid place that came close to the stuff I had when I was down there a few years ago. Except for that one time that Gustavo Arellano took me to an awesome Yucatán bakery somewhere in his hood that I forgot the name of. I know I’m supposed to love Chichen-Itza here in L.A., but as much as I respect it and the family behind it, I haven’t really ever been crazy wowed by their dishes (though their house-rendered manteca is the best in L.A.).

So, when I saw El Faisan is El Venado sporting a sign that claimed Yucatán food, I got excited. The place is tiny, with about 20 seats in total. It used to be a Mexican restaurant specializing in the food from Puebla but a Yucatán man by the name of Angel acquired it a few years ago and revamped it. It’s now a bona fide, too-cool-for-credit-cards Yucatan restaurant, widescreen television bumping heavy cumbia and everything.

Breakfast and lunch menu at El Faisan y El Venado
Breakfast and lunch menu at El Faisan y El Venado
Dinner menu at El Faisan y El Venado
Dinner menu at El Faisan y El Venado

The only employees I’ve seen working there is Angel, his wife and another line cook in the kitchen. So, one of them will probably serve you. It is apparent that this will at least be a decent Mexican restaurant as soon as you taste one of their totopo chips from the welcome basket. Thick-cut, crunchy triangles that are on the ultra browned side, with a deep corn flavor. You’ll notice the chips are flaky, flecked with shards of salt and puffed up like puff pastry, a product of a deft hand in frying no doubt but more importantly, the tortillas they use for chips are probably on the thinner, better-quality side.

Totopos fo

As we are every time we sit at a  new restaurant, we were famished beyond belief so we got a little crazy with the ordering, we sampled a few things: a taco de Cochinita Pibil, a Panucho, Escabeche Oriental, a tamal colado and a Brazo de Reina tamal. The last two being only available on the weekends. The menu is pretty small, which is usually a good sign for specialized regional places like this one.

Cochinita Pibil at El Faisan y El Venado
Cochinita Pibil at El Faisan y El Venado
A Panucho
A Panucho

The basics were decent, the cochinita pibil was oozing with its notorious citrusy, porky juices. Though, the usual LA taco paradox of crappy Guerrero-esque tortillas weighed it down. They used shredded chicken instead of the usual turkey for their Panucho, but the core puffy tortilla was light, puffy and spot-on.

Brazo de Reina at El Faisan y El VenadoBrazo de Reina at El Faisan y el Venado: Not as dense with a soft-cooked egg
The classic dense tamal Yucateco, flavored with the lightly-floral yet meaty Chaya leaf was a lot softer than other ones I’ve had in town, and for once, the egg was not overcooked to the point of powdered sulfur. Instead, still tender.

Tamal Colado at El Faisan y El Venado: Pudding-like

But the joint’s true standouts are the Tamal Colado and Escabeche Oriental. Tamal Colados had their comeback last year when they were picked up and adapted by Alex Stupak at Empellón Cocina in New York. Though, many people still don’t know about them. It’s yet another Southern Mexican treat, basically a banana leaf tamal where the masa has been strained and then boiled, which then creates this pillowy, gelatine-like cloud of earthy corn. It’s airy, fluffy and unlike any other tamal you’ve had before, here they have a pork and chicken version.

At first, I just glimpsed past the unique sounding “Escabeche Oriental” on the menu, and had actually ordered something else. A rookie move, but that’s what happens when you forget your blogging roots! Fortunately though, I have a relentless mind that rarely ceases to be be satisfied and asked about the dish a few minutes after ordering it. “Oh, es una delicia, bien rica!” Angel said, going on to describe it as turkey leg that is cooked with a bunch of charred chiles, spieces, pickled onions and seasoned vinegar. I immediately and annoyingly, asked if it too late to change my order. It probably was, but Angel didn’t care and still switched my order without a a single quibble.

Tamal Colado at El Faisan y El Venado: Turkey leg, roasted with Yucatan pickled onions
Tamal Colado at El Faisan y El Venado: Turkey leg, roasted with Yucatan pickled onions

His enthusiastic response was not exaggerating it, in the least. To think, that I almost missed out on this! The hulking traditional drumstick was served with a pile of onions, charred chiles guerros, half a ripe avocado and a bunch of tangy turkey juices enhanced with cracked black pepper and vinegar. The flavors were similar to Jamaican Jerk Chicken, but enhanced with the big ol’, bad, bold tropical flavors of El Yucatán. With a big steaming pile of tortillas, this Yucatán plate was among the best I’ve had in this city yet.

I remember I went to a Mexican food panel a long time ago and hearing someone from El Yucatán say: Someone that is from El Yucatán will always say that are Yucateco, not Mexican, because of the way different techniques and ingredients that only exists in that state of Mexico. After eating here, I understood their prideful solidarity in Mexican gastronomy.

El Faisan y El Venado
231 N Ave 50
Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 257-1770