Ivan Vasquez has been growing his empire of Oaxacan restaurants with the power of mole and mezcal. And Angelenos have responded to the high quality of the food and cocktails at his Torrance and Palms establishments, leading Vasquez to finally debut his big West Hollywood location in the former Pitfire Pizza/Gesso space with the country’s largest selection of mezcal, upwards of 400 bottles. This Madre started with a takeout-only window in July, but beginning next Monday, diners will be able to have cocktails, dinner, and brunch with on-premise outdoor dining.
Vasquez has kept the great bones of Gesso, with its huge open lighting and minimalist dining room, giving this Madre location perhaps the most impressive space of the trio. Still, there’s a Oaxacan charm to the look, including five traditional wooden masks depicting the devil from Dia de los Muertos dances, outdoor agave plants from an actual mezcal producer (Real Minero in this case), and wood countertops a local LA carpenter who grew up in Mexico City. Finally, the stunning plates in West Hollywood are next level, made by Oaxacan producer La Chicharra Ceramics.
Fans of the restaurant will have classics like mole negro, memelas, and an array of tacos, but the menu overall looks a bit sharper, more edited compared to Torrance and West LA (sadly, the phenomenal mole estofado isn’t available up north). However, Vasquez did retain the space’s old wood-fire oven, which opens up the kitchen to make barbacoa de borrego (lamb barbacoa), and pescado sarandeado — fresh red snapper with hoja santa salsa verde with Oaxacan chiles. This location also has a separate brunch menu with Oaxacan flavors imposed on favorites like a chapulines omelet, pancakes with nanche and fig marmalade, and of course, the weekend favorite of barbacoa de borrego.
The cocktails lean on Madre’s impressive mezcal selection, which eschews more known brands like Del Maguey and instead derives its excellence from Vasquez’s deep knowledge of the spirit. His bi-monthly travels to Oaxaca (pre-pandemic) gave him deeper connections to producers that rarely sourced outside of the region. Even now, Madre serves ten private selection mezcals that can only be found at the restaurants here in the U.S. Mixed drinks are a good entry into the spirit, like the Colada with mezcal espadin, strawberry brandy, coco lopez, curacao, and lime. Mezcal aficionados can also request custom flights to have on site or take home.
This location of Madre instantly becomes one of the most prominent Oaxacan restaurants in Los Angeles, from its prime placement in West Hollywood and standout design to its first-rate cocktail bar. LA already has the most impressive Oaxacan restaurant scene in the country, with dozens of eateries scattered throughout the city with regional specialties and traditional preparations.
Vasquez began his LA restaurant career at Baja Fresh, getting promoted to regional manager before taking over ownership of El Nopal in Palms, which became the first location of Madre. His Torrance restaurant opened a few years later with crowded dining rooms and a bustling bar. The pandemic stymied the quick growth, forcing Vasquez to adapt to an outdoor and takeaway focus. And it lead to an extracted opening scenario here in West Hollywood, but fans of Oaxacan food will have the chance to get a more complete experience here starting next week.