Cook’s Tortas

2/12/12

After a basketball game a few Sundays ago in Covina, a few of us decided to eat at Cook’s Tortas for a late lunch, since it was kind of on the way back, and it’s one of Kevin’s favorite places. Like the name states, they serve tortas, or Mexican sandwiches. But instead of your traditional street food ones, the tortas here are a bit more classy, and not limited to traditional ingredients. Also, instead of using a bolillo or telera bread (the standard for tortas), Cook’s uses a bread that is more along the lines of a baguette and ciabatta, with a sourdough taste. I thought that the chew on the bread made it a nice vessel for the various combination of ingredients.

I ordered the ahogada, which was a wet sandwich that had carnitas and pickled onions, with the bread soaking up a spicy gravy and more of said gravy poured over the completed sandwich. The pork was cooked nicely and the sandwich tasted very good, although I didn’t really get any heat. And I thought that the flavors could’ve been a bit bolder. I had a bite of Daniel’s portobello mushroom sandwich, which was pretty good but a bit on the dry side. It looks like they rotate most of the sandwiches on a regular basis, which is cool. I really want to come back and try some of the other variations. Also, the agua frescas were very good. I tried the jamaica (hibiscus) and melon ones; both were very refreshing. And each sandwich comes with one side. I got the potato salad, which was okay. Will choose the sweet potato fries instead next time.

Photo

Ahogada

Ahogada #10 – slow cooked pork, spicy double dip, extra napkins, onion pickles

Photo

Photo

Chris Hei grade: B

Cook’s Tortas
1944 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(323) 278-3536

Cook's Tortas on Urbanspoon

Tacos Baja Ensenada

1/29/12

I was driving home from a basketball game a couple of Sundays ago, contemplating what to eat for dinner that night. For some reason (most likely laziness), I decided to check the lists I made on Foursquare to see if there’s anything simple I can pick up on my way home. And boom – Tacos Baja Ensenada was just a mile off the 60W. I’ve always heard that Tacos Baja Ensenada and Ricky’s Fish Tacos were the two places to go for legit fish tacos. And until that day, the best fish tacos I had were from Rubio’s in UCLA’s Ackerman Union. Sad huh? Guess it was finally time to step it up.

There was a fairly long line when I got there, but it moved really quickly. I was the only one there who wasn’t Latino – a good sign in my opinion. I decided to order two fish tacos and a shrimp one. Three tacos for under $6! I decided to eat the tacos soon after I got home, because I didn’t want my judgment tarnished by soggy breading. Luckily, the fried fish and shrimp stayed fairly crispy. Both the fish and the shrimp tacos were prepared the same way, with cabbage, lime, salsa, and the ever-so-important crema. And both variations were delicious, though I obviously preferred the fish version.

A lot of people tell me that Tacos Baja Ensenada has lost a step, and that Ricky’s is the king in town for fish tacos. Well, if they really did lose a step, how good must they have been before? Because these fish tacos were the best I’ve ever had. Too bad the breading was just a bit soggy and the tortilla was a little weighed down from soaking everything on the ride home. That’s my fault, really. In the end, simple and clean flavors sometimes work best, especially for street food like this. Next time I’ll eat them fresh on the spot – and work on my fading espaƱol.

Taco de Camaron, Taco de Pescado x2

Chris Hei grade: B+

Tacos Baja Ensenada
5385 Whittier Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90022
(323) 887-1980

Tacos Baja Ensenada on Urbanspoon

Monte Alban

1/25/12

I like mole. But I don’t love mole. It’s just not something I seek out when choosing where to eat. As a result, I don’t really go to Oaxacan restaurants all that often. But on my continuing quest to try new places, I saw a few people on Chowhound mention Monte Alban as a good cheap eats place. And it’s like a few blocks from my apartment. Sold.

Of course, I get the specialty: the mole negro. They have a boneless chicken version as well, but c’mon I know how to cut chicken. Must be for the white people. Ben ordered the clayuda, which is like basically a tostada (they even call it a “pizza” on the menu). The mole was a good mole, sweet, chocolaty, nutty, all the flavors you’d expect from one that’s well-done. But still not to crazy about it. Just solid. But I did like it more than the clayuda, which was a bit bland.

If you like mole, definitely go to Monte Alban. I think theirs is probably the best I’ve had. And the rice that comes on the side is in the shape of a pyramid (probably in reference to El Castillo in Chichen Itza) – pretty neat. Otherwise, it’s just solid Oaxacan food.

Mole Negro

Clayuda Mix

Chris Hei grade: B-

Monte Alban Restaurante
11927 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 444-7736

Monte Alban on Urbanspoon

CaCao Mexicatessen

1/21/12

With my somewhat-quarterly-trips to Forest Lawn during the past year (to make up for being a negligent grandson all these years), I decided to give myself a goal to scope out a new restaurant to try near the Hollywood Hills area, somewhere I normally wouldn’t drive to due to distance. The first place I tried under the new initiative was Jinya in Studio City, and that proved to be successful. This time around, I headed east to Eagle Rock, since I never go to Eagle Rock.

After looking at my lists of to-dine places (not only do I have an actual list, I have multiples), it was basically down to CaCao and Larkin’s. But once I started researching the former and the words “duck carnitas” appeared, it was game over. I kept reading about CaCao during the days leading up to my visit, and was mesmerized by their wide selections of authentic and unique Mexican dishes, in particular their tacos. Duck confit (the “duck carnitas”) and duck skin? Drool and drool – I mean, drool^2.

It was cold and wet at 11am that Saturday morning (it rained that weekend two weeks ago here in L.A.), but once you step in, it became warm and cozy. The interior looked like a cool Mexican Starbucks of sorts, and you order at the counter that is in right in front of you went you enter (FYI: there are two doors – enter the right one. Left one is a flower shop). There’s even a deli counter of sorts where you can buy various stuff like sauces, etc. If I was a hipster Mexican and lived in Eagle Rock, this would definitely be my hangout place.

Having read up on the place before arriving, I had an idea of what I wanted to order. They do, however, have a chalkboard of daily specials, one of them being sea urchin tacos. Uni tacos? Drool^2 x2. I was also tempted by many other things on the menu, including the breakfast items that I saw on some tables. But I was determined to try their tacos. I decided to order three tacos – the duck confit, the duck skin, and the cochinita pibil. Since it was a cold day, I also ordered a hot cacao (chocolate). Then I grabbed my number and took the last available table inside.

Photo

While waiting for my tacos (food can take some time here apparently, but *spoiler* worth the wait), I took my time with the hot chocolate. I really liked it. Not too sweet, and a bit nutty and spicy. Really nice on a cold day. Then the tacos came, all on one plate. Working my way from right to left, I attacked the duck confit first. This was something that was on Jonathan Gold’s 10 Best Dishes of 2010 list, so obviously expectations were high. And all of those expectations were met. So good! Then I proceeded on to the duck skin and cochinita ones. Really good! But I should’ve went left-to-right…

I expected the duck confit to be fattier, because of the preparation. But it really did live up to the name of duck carnitas, as it had a pulled pork consistency, but was able to maintain that duck fatty flavor I love so much. Why can’t more tacquerias serve duck tacos? The duck skin was obviously a slight letdown after the duck confit, but was still good. Wish there was more of the skin though. And I knew I would like the cochinita pibil, since I do love pulled pork in general, and this one was good. But it was basically a poor man’s version of the duck confit…

Because I loved it so much, I ordered another duck taco to-go (I was possessed by fatty Hei, but managed to fight him off and save this for dinner that night), as well as the wild boar one (which the nice guy at the counter recommended, along with the oxtail one – trying that next time). The wild boar one wasn’t gamey at all, but had a bit of a rough consistency with it being grounded. Still good though. I like how most of the tacos (and I’m sure this extends to their sopes and burritos as well) have some variety ingredient-wise from option-to-option. They beg to be tried.

They are a bit more expensive than normal tacos, but the quality and taste more than makes up for it. Each of the corn tortillas are homemade. A bit thicker than normal ones, they were the perfect vessels for the various fillings. After my lunch, I had told a few friends that these were arguably the best tacos I’ve had in years. I can safely say that these were some of the best tacos I’ve EVER had. I will definitely be back to CaCao to try more of their extensive menu (like the chile rellenos that Jonathan Gold also raved about) – and ordering a few duck tacos to-go.

Hot Cacao

Hot Cacao ($3.95) – Oaxacan cacao with cane sugar, cinnamon, & almonds.

Taco x3

Left: Cochinita Pibil Taco ($3.25) – smoked pork in achiote, citrus, & Yucatan spices. Topped w/ sour red onions & cilantro.

Middle: Chicharron de Pato Taco ($3.25) – fried duck skin, cabbage, radish, onion, cilantro & salsa verde.

Right: Carnitas de Pato Taco ($3.79) – duck confit, avocado, vinegar onion, radishes, chile oil.

Taco x2 To-Go

Left: Wild Boar Chorizo Verde Taco ($4.49) – ground boar, Mexican spices, avocado, pico de gallo.

Right: Carnitas de Pato Taco

Chris Hei grade: A-

CaCao Mexicatessen
1576 Colorado Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323) 478-2791

Cacao Mexicatessen on Urbanspoon

Poquito Mas

9/6/11My coworkers love this place. I have nothing against Poquito Mas, but I don’t think it’s a place I’d go to on a regular basis. It’s basically a better version of Baja Fresh in my opinion. But I have neglected my coworkers during lunch the last few months, so they guilt-tripped me into going here with them for lunch last Thursday.

PhotoFresh Ahi Tuna Burrito – Fresh broiled Ahi Tuna, cabbage, cilantro, onion, rice, Jack cheese, Fresh salsa, Fresh guacamole and our Roasted Red Pepper Sour Cream

Poquito Mas prides themselves on the freshness of their seafood, listing the seafood items with “market” prices. The market price for the ahi tuna burrito I ordered was around nine dollars. Unfortunately, it’s a little hard to tell the quality of the tuna itself when it was fully cooked. But the fish, and the other burrito fillings, were not bad. And the tortilla was pressed on the spot, a nice touch. Overall, it’s a pretty good burrito. But I definitely don’t share the same opinion as my coworkers about the place in general. Still, it’s a nice place to come for lunch every once in a while.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Poquito Mas
2215 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 474-1998

Poquito Mas on Urbanspoon

Dino’s

Photo credit: Food Coma 911

I wasn’t planning to write about Dino’s originally, because Will had brought up a good point re: it not meeting my criteria for reviewing since we took it to-go. However, I realized that in my craving for ink.sack (opened yesterday), it wouldn’t have been eligible for review either, since there is no area for dine-in. And furthermore, I also realized that my review for Hole in the Wall shouldn’t have counted either then, since we got there at closing and had to take it to Alex’s apartment. So I decided to alter my criteria a little, accounting for “group takeouts.”

Having recently had a very good chicken dish at A-Frame last week, I began to wonder: what chicken dishes have I had lately that were memorable? This is much harder than you think, as I don’t order chicken at restaurants often. And the only thing I could think of was the chicken from Dino’s. It’s a fiery-red, greasy mess of chicken, heavily flavored in a salty, somewhat tangy sauce, which the bed of fries soaked up rather beautifully. For a place that has the word “burgers” in its name, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard anyone ordering the namesake item. It’s all about the chicken, and rightfully so.

I used to make fun of Will, because he swore by Dino’s food (and still does, even from the Bay Area). I’ve driven by the location on Pico plenty of times before trying it finally while in college. Before that, I thought it was just some piece of shit food stand-esque place that people with horrible palates flocked to. But over time, I found myself appreciating the depth of flavors that coat the well-cooked chicken (can be a little dry at times, but never a detriment to the meal). The chili cheese fries, however, are just okay. The same fries that are served under the chicken is topped with loads of chili and cheese (the container was really heavy), which in my opinion made the fries way too soggy. But stick to the chicken, and you won’t be disappointed.

Chris Hei grade: B

Dino’s Chicken and Burgers
2575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-3554

Gloria’s

Oh Gloria’s… what more can I say about what has become my second home since I moved to my current apartment almost two years ago? Although I haven’t gone “home” much these last few months (due to my efforts to dine out less to aid in my diet/exercise), there is always a place in my heart for homey food that reminds me of my childhood (Mexican/Latin American food was second to Chinese food in terms of frequency when I was young). Too bad I didn’t get to see Gloria herself or her sons that help her run the restaurant, because they’re always so nice to me (and even know my name by now).

I went with my friends Ben, Daniel and Alex. I got the carne adobada (so predictable, Chris), which is carnitas served in Gloria’s special sauce. It’s arguably their most popular dish, and my go-to item most of the time. Ben got the chicken tortilla soup, an awesome choice as well. Daniel got the carna asada plate, and Alex got the chicken house special burrito. We all shared a couple of orders of revuelta (pork and cheese) and loroco (cheese and herb) papusas. Everything was solid, as usual. The adobada is always a satisfying choice, although I have to admit that it is on the saltier side at times (and I’m a person that loves my bold seasoning). That wasn’t the case this time. This meal made me realize how much I miss Gloria’s, and even though the food itself isn’t what I consider the best of its kind (although that probably wasn’t the case over a year ago), the close proximity of the restaurant and the “just like home” feeling I get every time I’m here will make me go back again and again. Oh, and the food is great too.

Chris Hei grade: B+


Gloria’s Cafe

10227 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 838-0963