Goats are only now entering the consciousness of a lot of Angelenos, thanks to opening of establishments like The Surly Goat, but in Guadalajara, goats have been a way of life, not only on the plate with birria, but also in the stands of their local futbol stadium. Back in the 1948-49 season, the city’s downtrodden squad was derisively called “chivas brinconas,” or jumping goats. However, the team eventually won championships and “Chivas” was embraced as the team’s nickname. You’ll find a number of Guadalajara-style restaurants in L.A., and one of my favorites is La Chiva Loca – which Julio Gonzalez opened six years ago in Downey, and since spread to South Gate and East L.A.
The Downey original only has enough room for six tables. Orange walls are decorated with memorabilia from Chivas, including plush goat dolls, a signed jersey and a banner. You’ll also find images of Pancho Villa and a compact menu. With only two people, it was possible to order more than half the dishes.
My favorite dish was Carne en su Jugo ($6.99), a beef soup with a surprisingly delicate broth loaded with tender chopped steak, strips of bacon and pinto beans. The earthy soup was topped with a thatch of raw diced onion for texture’s sake, plus a pile of cilantro leaves and stems.
Torta Ahogada ($5.55) is apparently ubiquitous in Guadalajara, and there are plenty of ahogada vendors around L.A. County. We were given the option of loading our chile-washed sandwich with carne asada or carnitas. Clearly, the correct choice is pork leg cooked in its own fat. The shredded hog meat was infused with the chile de arbol broth, and the bread didn’t hold together for long due to the intensity of the soak. No wonder they served the sandwich with a spoon. Tangy pickled onions topped the sandwich, which helped to balance the richness of the meat and the tingle of the spice, which was far from overpowering.
Since the food was all so reasonably priced, we tacked on a couple tacos. Taco Blando de Panela ($1.50) featured slabs of firm white cheese and a mound of crunchy cabbage. This was seriously mild compared to the carne en su jugo or torta ahogada. Still, it wasn’t exactly a risk considering the cost.
I much preferred the Taco Dorado Requeson ($0.99), a crispy, fresh-fried corn tortilla filled with a creamy, lumpy cheese similar to cottage. It was topped with crunchy shredded cabbage and more pickled onions. Would the taco have tasted even better with meat? Probably, but at this stage, a meatless option was a welcome relief.
This meal didn’t leave us with much more territory to explore at La Chiva Loca, and it’s hard to imagine driving so far just to for a pork skin tostada or taste of asada. Then again, when combined with another bowl of carne en su jugo, maybe it is.
UPDATE: Now located at 8157 Firestone Blvd, Downey, CA 90241.