Tacolandia (2014)

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Obviously, I ate for free

Tacolandia 2014 @ El Pueblo de Los Angeles
6/28/14 – 3-7pm
125 Paseo De La Plz
Los Angeles, CA 90012
http://microapp.laweekly.com/tacolandia/2014/

I think it’s safe to say that last year’s inaugural Tacolandia was proclaimed a success. For a first-time event that focused on just one dish, albeit one that is synonymous with the city’s culture and identity, things ran very smoothly. Lines (both getting in and per vendor) were manageable, most vendors had plenty to serve from a wide variety of tacos, and the event itself was downright highway robbery for its attendees at $20/person.

This year, prices skyrocketed to the tune of…$25/person. Let’s just say that the even remains a STRONG BUY (although that can be somewhat argued for the premium tickets at $45 a pop in comparison – see The Offalo’s report on the issues regarding that). The event was moved from the parking lot of the Hollywood Paladium to a blocked off section of Olvera Street to accommodate a bigger crowd – no easy feat, as regulations were up the ass left and right (which partially contributed to the drinks issue everyone had). Bill Esparza, one who needs no introduction, told us there were approximately 1000 more attendees this year. No room for walk-up purchases, that’s for sure.

At least with the bigger venue to accommodate more attendees meant more vendors – I believe there were around 40 just for food (which meant that there was no realistic shot of me sampling every taco/tostada this year, though not for a lack of trying). I originally had a gameplan to survey the playing field first via scout run (a la my buffet strategy), but standing in line for 40 minutes to get in, plus the initial shock of seeing the lines at each vendor, had me on tilt.

But after 36 tacos of 30 varieties, I have no more regrets in life. After the event last year, I mentioned that I was 5 pounds heavier and had a hard time breathing. Well, for those who were there to witness, I could barely stand by the end of the day. To be perfectly honest, I should’ve just brought a wheelbarrow, and just had someone push my fat ass around throughout the day. Below are the 25 varieties of tacos/tostada I managed to take a quick photo of before devouring:

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Amor y Tacos – braised short rib taco

The restaurant from Cerritos executed a braised short rib taco w/ caramelized onions, cotija cheese, pickled radishes, and a raspberry salsa that actually worked pretty well. However, the handmade tortilla really fell short – it was thick and undercooked, resulting in a too-chewy texture. Still, this won’t deter me from trying the restaurant someday.

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Bistro LQ x C-V-CHE – guinea fowl teriyaki leg taco

A collaboration between a French and Peruvian chef that produced a taco that was neither French or Peruvian, this one had fusion written all over it. Solid taco, but could’ve actually used more seasoning IMO.

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Carnitas El Momo – sortido taco

I’ve tried an incomplete version of this taco, with carnitas and buche. But the official sortido taco from Carnitas El Momo contains the right amounts of juicy carnitas and fatty pig skin, and by the right amounts I mean plenty of each. Hands down, the current undisputed carnitas champ in town.

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Chef Katsuji Tanabe – fried clam taco

The chef of MexiKosher offered a definitely-not-kosher taco consisting of fried clams, after running out of fried smelt (surprisingly, more than one restaurant served a fried smelt taco). From what I can tell, the preparations for this fried clam taco was the same as the initial smelt one, and it was…kind of weird. The beets were a bit overwhelming, and the sprinkles were…just weird. Pass. Also, can smelt be kosher?

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Chef Timothy Hollingsworth – “Cochinita Pibil”

The former Chef de Cuisine of 3-star Michelin restaurant The French Laundry was definitely the most acclaimed chef at the event. He has relocated to LA, and plans to open a more casual concept in Downtown, one that’ll feature more of the Mexican flavors he has fallen in love with. If this taco was a precursor, then the chef is on the right track. This “cochinita pibil” was by far the most delicate version I’ve seen/eaten. Subtle flavor profiles and combinations of texture, and elegant “plating” (w/ tweezers, because of course).

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Chichen Itza – cochinita pibil

The Yucatan specialist stuck to its guns, and served their trademark cochinita pibil. As excellent as ever. Sorry for the poor(er) photo here.

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Colonia Taco Lounge – beef cheek taco

By now, every taco enthusiast should be familiar with Ricardo Diaz’s name. He was the chef and co-owner of Guisados, before striking it out on his own with Bizarra Capital (which was part of the festival last year), and now Colonia Taco Lounge. This was a solid taco, but I wished we could’ve seen them flex some muscles here.

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Coni’Seafood – marlin taco

Same as last year, as good as last year. I really need to try this place.

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Corazon y Miel – fried smelt taco

I’m a big fan of Corazon y Miel, a restaurant I consider one of the most underrated in LA. The restaurant served a fried smelt taco that had avocado, corn, heirloom tomatoes, and a nice hint of poblano. SOLID.

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Eggslut – braised/fried Nueske’s bacon taco

My boy Johnny and the Eggslut crew served a taco that was fitting of both the festival and what the restaurant’s all about, and that is breakfast and eggs on the regs. The fried quail egg was a nice touch. Can’t wait see what they do next year.

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FIG – braised lengua taco

Perfectly-cooked tongue, from a chef that knows his way around meat. This was an elevated version of the tongue taco Guerrilla Tacos served last year, and that one was quite good.

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Finca Altozano – D#ickhead taco (beef cheek, tongue, pizzle)

I was unfortunately unable to try Chef Javier Plascencia’s offaly-bizarre taco last year, but he managed to shock and awe once again with what they called the “D#ickhead” taco. It was beef cheek, tongue, and pizzle (bull penis) cooked birria-style. The penis tasted like beef tendon – very interesting. And yes, I fully admit to wanting the D that day.

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Flor del Rio – goat birria taco

Birria specialist Flor del Rio brought back the goat birria taco again this year. As good as last year’s.

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George’s at the Cove – Los 3 Cochinitas taco (pig tail, crispy ear, cueritos)

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George’s at the Cove – El Pescado taco (achiote-cured red snapper)

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George’s at the Cove – La Piña tostada (pineapple, espuma de mezcal)

George’s at the Cove ain’t nothing to fuck with. Sorry for the profanity and the lame Wu-Tang reference, but they came rollin’ deep with their A-Team (including Chef Trey, CdC Jon, and Pastry Chef Lori), and managed to not only serve 3 offerings simultaneously(!!!) that were all highlights of the event, but to serve them up until the very end. Mad respect to the team from the La Jolla restaurant, one that was responsible for the single best meal of my year to date (post still in the works).

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Guerrilla Tacos – wild porcini mushroom tostada

As fans of Guerrilla Tacos know (and I know there are plenty of you, because all of you are in my way), Chef Wes has a way with vegetables. This porcini-truffle collabo seemed like a can’t-miss, and was indeed good, but I just wanted…a little more. The problem with having set such a high standard for me, I suppose.

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La Guerrerense – seafood tostada (bacalao, octopus, scallop, sea urchin)

I’ve only tried La Guerrerense twice, both times at Tacolandia, but I can safely say that I LOVE LA GUERRERENSE. I would be willing to be a drug mule for the Mexican cartels in exchange for a regular supply of LG’s food. And crazy thing is, I know that what they serve usually is even better and more expansive than what they offered at the events. Sra. Sabina, te amo.

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Loteria Grill – fried grasshopper tostada

A surprising offering from the local mini-chain. I thought this were pretty good actually. A few ladies had the look of disgust while I was eating this, but I’m not sure if that’s because I was eating grasshoppers, or because of my face.

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Mexicali Taco & Co. – lomo al carbon taco

The Mexicali guys always try to mix things up at events, and Tacolandia was no different. I remember Dommy (a Chowhound veteran and Mexican culinary scholar) telling me how legit they were last year with their offering, right down to the wood they were using for the grill. This year’s definitely had the look and taste of a churrasco prep – very good.

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Petty Cash Taqueria – pork belly carnitas taco

Despite it being a pork belly carnitas taco (pork courtesy of Cook Pigs Ranch), the flavors were very clean. A pleasant surprise.

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Revolutionario LA Food – chicken tagine taco

I believe Chef Zadi actually had to go all McGyver with chicken from fellow chefs at the event, because he said that he had ran out. I tried Revolutionario LA Food during their pop-up last month, and it was a very playful take on the taco incorporating North African flavors and ingredients. Looking forward to seeing what Chef has up his sleeve in the future.

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Tacos Kokopelli – Polvora tostada (smoked salmon, chiltepin, chilmole)

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Tacos Kokopelli – Kraken taco

Tacos Kokopelli came with a trio of offerings this year, two of which focused around smoked salmon, and the other being their famous kraken taco which they served last year.  The kraken one was better than last year’s – don’t think anything changed, but was just executed better this time. And the smoked salmon preparations were even better IMO. Sidenote: are they opening a Chicago branch? If so, why not LA?

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Tortas Ahogadas Ameca – ahogada taco

A sweet and wonderful family operation, serving a taco version of their famed torta ahogada. Arguably the heartiest taco of the day, and held its own against the sexier, chef-driven ones.

Not Pictured:

– Aqui es Texcoco
– La Flor de Yucatan
– Mariscos Jalisco
– Tacos Kokopelli (Summer Dash tostada)
– Tamales Elena

So yeah, that sums up all the tacos I ate at Tacolandia, sans the ones without photos. I missed out on a few big names, like Taco Maria and Picca, but there’s only so much Chris to go around. That just means I have to go in with a more strict game plan next year. Not counting repeats, below were the six that served my favorites of the day, a true accomplishment given how many good ones I ate throughout the event.

Chris Hei’s All-Tacolandia 1st Team:

FIG
Finca Altozano
George’s at the Cove (2x All-Tacolandia) – MVT
La Guerrerense (2x All-Tacolandia)
Tacos Kokopelli
Chef Timothy Hollingsworth

Thanks again to Bill, LA Weekly, and especially to all the chefs and vendors that made this event possible and a success. Looking forward to next year’s, and many more to come!

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Night + Market Song

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Night + Market Song
3322 W Sunset Blvd
Los AngelesCA 90026
(323) 
849-0223
www.nightmarketsong.com

The 2nd location of Night + Market just opened in late March, and I was there shortly after. While I haven’t been back since (due to work and taking the bus to said work on most days), the fairly close proximity and the ease of parking in Hipster Central are both pluses in my book, as well as what I perceive as bigger portions for a couple of the dishes. The minus? Besides having to be around hipsters, the restaurant is still in a soft-open phase of sorts. That means: no reservations, less seating, slightly smaller menu, no alcohol (not even BYOB), and possible seizures from the psychedelic interior paint job.

But Kris is there every night, and he continues to bring it. Food is as good as ever, and it feels like you’re eating it out of Kris’ apartment. That level of comfort is more than welcome, almost as warm as the heat from that nam kao tod. “Night + Market Song” might mean Night + Market 2, but Night + Market’s song will forever be:

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Pork Toro ($7)

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Luu Suk ($10) – pork blood & MSG dipping soup w/ pork crackling, crispy noodles, chile, herbs

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Larb Lanna – Chiang Rai-Style Pork Larb ($11)

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Moo Sadoong – Startled Pig ($9)

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Nam Kao Tod – Crispy Rice Salad ($9)

Grade: normally it’d be too early to determine, but food is as good as ever – so A- holds
Cuisine: Thai
Neighborhood: Silver Lake
Price: $$

Night + Market Song on Urbanspoon

Q Sushi

Q Sushi
521 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 225-6285
qsushila.com

Sushi is so hot right now in LA. Not that it wasn’t before, but nowadays diners have evolved from the mere specialty rolls to the elegant tastings known as omakase, where chefs dazzle with an array of appetizers and nigiri that can easily run bills into triple digits. While this movement has been for the better, it has also dumbed-down the definition and experience of the meaning and value of an omakase in general. Restaurants have been trying to “outdo” one another with excess and gluttony with regards to their “omakase,” not taking into consideration the delicacy and skill involved in preparing and progressing the extended experience without losing a step.

With all of that being said, LA as a city is fortunate to have so many quality high-end sushi options. There’s Kiriko, who can dish out nigiri both classic and modern as well as anyone, all while more than happy to appease the diner next to you who has ordered a California roll. There’s Mori, who walks down a more traditional path and has gotten the rice part of the sushi down to an exact science. There’s Shunji, who now has the most impressive array of quality fishes that can finally hang with Shunji-san’s world-class cooking. And if you’re making seven figures and going to Urasawa on a regular basis, more power to you.

Q Sushi opened to much fanfare last November. Probably not to the general public, but sushi connoisseurs had been keeping a very close eye on the restaurant, and the B-list food media (i.e. Tasting Table, Thrillist) and some bloggers were quick to jump on the bandwagon. Q’s selling point was that it brought over a chef from Japan whose specialty was intimate, carefully-prepared sushi, and that they would be strictly focusing on Edomae-style sushi, at least in the sense that everything would be done the old-fashioned way. That means, among various things, more marinated and cured fishes, because that was how they were kept fresh back in the day. Also, the sushi rice doesn’t contain any sugar, and is served at slightly above room temperature.

Not that I don’t appreciate taking it back old-school, but I do think that the scope of sushi has evolved to a point where we don’t have to be restricted by such confines that were mainly established due to the limitations of the time period. If I were to approach any of the quality sushi restaurants I mentioned above to serve me an omakase where it was kept strictly Edomae, I bet it can be done with ease, because that’s basically Sushi 101 for these masters. So it wasn’t as if Q was bringing something new to the table, because Edomae sushi exists everywhere. And for these very reasons, I wasn’t ready to sip the Q Kool-Aid just yet, especially at a starting price that is pretty much the second most-expensive in town (tied with Mori, and behind Urasawa).

I finally pulled the trigger on dining at Q for two reasons: 1) I recently started working at a new job that is within walking distance of the restaurant (albeit at a firm that rivals the restaurant’s namesake – I’ll leave it at just that), and 2) J. Gold wrote a positive review of the place a few weeks ago, and if I ever wanted to try the place I’d have to do it soon. So there I was recently, dining solo amongst an intimate group of ten at the sushi bar, looking up at all the decorations and wood that showed off the $2 million dollars’ worth of construction and interior design, and eating what was repeatedly said to me was LA’s first true Edomae experience.

If you read up to this far, it does appear that I went into the dinner with some preconceptions of the restaurant, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t true. However, I did keep an open mind, and was, for the most part, rewarded in doing so. There was a tranquil aspect of dining at Q, from the meditation-inducing interior design, to the calm appearance of the sushi bar, to the cool and collected sushi chefs, down to the server speaking in a hushed tone. And while I was never truly off-my-seat thrilled at any point during my dinner, I did appreciate the cohesiveness and pacing of it. In the BBC version of LA’s sushi scene, you can say that Q isn’t Doctor Who or Sherlock, but rather, Downton Abbey.

My 20-course omakase comprised of six appetizers and fourteen pieces of nigiri, to which I added a couple of extras. The chefs were quick and detailed in their description of each course, down to where the seafood was from, an encouraging sign. It’s easy to love true wild bluefin tuna (however controversial it may be) and hard to mess up, but the flight of nigiri I had of it was excellent, and even moreso the seared otoro that was served with a unrefined miso/sansho pepper/chili oil concoction that was like crack (picture a Japanese XO sauce of sorts). And yes, there were various fishes served in kobujime form (kelp-cured, one of the main aspects of Edomae sushi), but the three-day cure was just right, as was the wonderfully-pickled kohada (gizzard shad), proving Q was true to its word in executing the Edomae aspect of the meal with perfection.

Among other highlights, the Saikyo miso (from Kyoto) of the marinated Santa Barbara uni (which I added as a supplement) really brought out the sweetness of both components. And the sake-braised octopus was tender and flavorful, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of the way it was cut. Overall, the pristine seafood was just that, of excellent quality, but the roster of fishes wasn’t anything a seasoned veteran of sushi would be truly impressed or surprised by (it can be said that the roster was kept fairly close to Edomae availability, but not the restaurant’s true intention in my opinion). So while a piece of engawa nigiri isn’t going to blow my mind, I definitely acknowledged the quality of the halibut fin served. And I’m not saying this from a price perspective; my favorite piece of nigiri is iwashi, which is sardine. Despite it being a rather cheap cut, not many places in town serve it, because it really takes a lot of skill and work in preparation.

With all of that being said, I think there’s a certain aspect of Q that should be highlighted – it’s an excellent place for novices of high-end sushi and omakase dining. For those who are trying to get into the game, a meal at Q can be life-changing and educational even. Like I previously mentioned, the chefs are extremely informative and courteous in pointing out the nuances of your dinner, as was my server. Although attending an opera before a rock concert isn’t a prerequisite, going to Q is a great way of easing into high-end sushi before you’re unwillingly exposed to all the weird stuff I’ve come to love, all while taking a walk down memory lane.

I actually don’t have anything truly negative to say about Q, but I will say that the sushi rice wasn’t really my cup of tea, so to speak. The restaurant keeps to tradition in the sense that only red vinegar was used, and the rice was served slightly above room temperature. By now, most in town have actually had experience to warmer sushi rice (due to the Nozawa family of restaurants and their offspring), so that’s not really a shocking thing anymore. And I myself do like my rice along the temperature Q has it, but I did find it on the…dry side. There was a certain “al dente” toothsome texture to it, which kind of highlighted that slight dryness. But it wasn’t bad – just not my thing.

In the end, my preconceptions of Q turned out to be true, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Take away the glitz and glamour of the media hype and the price of admission, Q is a great sushi restaurant for beginners of high-end sushi and omakase dining. It’s not the next great sushi bar that will further LA’s claim to the domestic throne of the cuisine, but it’s a good restaurant that doesn’t look out of place in a city full of contenders. I still encourage sushi connoisseurs to take this university course on Edomae sushi, but it’s purely an elective – there are still five or so required sushi courses before Q.

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Seared Hirame

Kampachi w/ Onion Soy

Kumamoto Oyster w/ Bonito Dashi

Seared Otoro w/ Miso-Sansho-Chili Oil Topping

Okoze w/ Ponzu

Miso Soup w/ Grated Carrots, Sansho & Sake Lees

Suzuki Kobujime

Kurodai

Engawa

Sumi Ika

Akami Zuke

Chutoro

Otoro

Kohada

Shima Aji

Sake

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Tako

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Shiro Ebi

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Anago

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Tamago

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Uni Saikyo

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Aoyagi

Grade: B+
Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi
Neighborhood: Downtown
Price: $$$$+ (~20-course omakase is $165, but there’s a $75 10-course lunch on weekdays)

Q Sushi on Urbanspoon

East Borough (Culver City)

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East Borough
9810 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 596-8266
culvercity.east-borough.com

East Borough, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s the partnership of a Costa Mesa restaurant of the same name and the team behind Pitfire Pizza/Superba Snack Bar, opened in Downtown Culver City a little over a month ago to much fanfare. Patrons raved about their lunch offerings of elevated versions of banh mi, bun, com, and other casual traditional Vietnamese dishes, as well as about their dinner offerings of a modern take on the cuisine with creative small plates and progressive large format dishes.

My coworkers and I went for lunch during their first week of opening, and were quite impressed. I ordered the pho baguette, which is basically a bowl of pho in banh mi form.  They don’t serve pho, but this proved to capture all the flavors and ingredients of what you’d find in the soup noodle: beef brisket w/ basil, bean sprouts, and chili (all the contents of a regular bowl of pho), topped w/ a clever sriracha hoison aioli, and served with an even more clever bowl of concentrated pho broth to be used as a dip for the sandwich – think banh mi French dip. A fairly straightforward translation, yes, but it does accurately capture the essence of pho. My coworkers seemed to enjoy their pork belly & egg rice bowl and tofu vermicelli noodles, respectively.

There is one issue most people will have with the restaurant (besides the difficulty of finding parking in Downtown Culver City): the prices. The appetizers are $6-8 (2 pieces of spring roll are $6) and entrees are $12-15 (including the banh mi – the pho baguette was $13). So yeah, not cheap at all. They do use high-quality ingredients, and portions are on the larger side, but that won’t make the prices easier to swallow for most. Some people, including coworker Han, refuse to pay this much for a sandwich that costs $2 in SGV/Little Saigon. It also doesn’t help that their Costa Mesa location, however more fast-casual, has basically the same menu at $3 less per dish. Dinner, which I have yet to try, is also on the higher side ($$$ price range), but at least the direction of the menu reflects that.

For now, East Borough is a great lunch option that isn’t necessarily priced as such. I definitely will be back (I’m especially looking forward to dinner), but during work hours it might have to be on someone else’s dime. Still, it’s by far the best of the Vietnamese offerings on the west side of town (over Nong La and Phorage), and certainly the most progressive-thinking. And they certainly know that they’re hot shit – rightfully so.

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Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Vietnamese Culver City $$$ N/A

East Borough on Urbanspoon

#HeiKingTacoCrawl (2/8/14)

During this past weekend, food enthusiast friend Andy came down to LA  from NorCal for another weekend of gastronomic expeditions. For our Saturday lunch meetup, his one request was simple: tacos. We all know that tacos suck up north (I didn’t stutter, NorCal people – come at me bros), so this was a request that was forthcoming on one of Andy’s visits to LA. At first, I was a little perplexed – which one place should we go to in order to showcase the best of what our city has to offer, in a city full of amazing taco options. But then it hit me: we don’t have to go to just ONE place – WE CAN CONQUER THEM ALL!!!

My original itinerary began with some of my favorites, and a couple of consensus favorites I have yet to try. After some deliberation, I ended up with six taco joints fairly close in proximity to one another to hit up (in alphabetical order): Guerrilla Tacos, Guisados,  Los Cinco Puntos, Mariscos Jalisco, Mexicali Taco & Co, and Ricky’s Fish Tacos (while I came up with this list independently, I definitely glanced at Midtown Lunch’s post afterwards on how to attack this taco crawl). Okay, so that wasn’t going to work obviously (I just had a 14-course dinner the night before, one where I had so much food I had to run stairs between dessert courses – details to follow, and Andy had gone through a similar experience elsewhere), but we had such high hopes. Oh young Chris…

With my visions of grandeur all but assuredly dashed, we decided to focus on the three Boyle Heights places (Guisados, Los Cinco Puntos, Mariscos Jalisco) and Ricky’s Fish Tacos. We began the #HeiKingTacoCrawl at what has quickly become one of Boyle Heights’ institutions: Mariscos Jalisco.

Mariscos Jalisco
3040 E Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90023
(323) 528-6701
twitter.com/MariscosJalisco

While Mariscos Jalisco focuses on ceviches y cocteles from San Juan de Los Lagos in Jalisco, Mexico, the one thing they’re known for isn’t necessarily something true of the region, but rather something that developed into the food truck’s own identity: the fried shrimp taco known as the taco dorado de camaron. Not too big in size at $1.75 per taco, we each ordered one of these – corn tortillas stuffed with a spiced shrimp filling of sorts, then the taco is folded and deep-fried whole, and topped with a slice of avocado and unique salsa roja. Just genius. There are now multiple imitators of this taco, including a competing truck parked on the very same block (and with maybe 4x the number of patrons), but nothing compares to this one. To this day, the shrimp taco is still the only thing I’ve tried at Mariscos Jalisco, and there is much to be discovered here. But we were on a mission, and the next stop awaited…

Tacos de camarones @mariscosjalisco #mariscosjalisco #HeiKingTacoCrawl

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Los Cinco Puntos
3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90063
(323) 261-4084

The next stop might be the most surprising to the casual taco fan. It’s just a plain-old Mexican mom-and-pop deli/market of sorts, frequently by the local families of Boyle Heights. But insiders know that they have some damn good carnitas, and an impressive variety of different beef and pork offal parts. Not a word of ingles was spoken inside of the place until it was our turn at the counter. At first, the friendly tia that served us was caught off guard by the sight of an Asian guy and white guy ordering individual tacos (the vast majority of their orders are of their meats and tortilla sold in bulk), but once I busted out my ordering-level espanol (my Spanish comprehension is actually better than my Mandarin), she smiled and proceeded to stuff our tacos with carnitas, buche (pig stomach), guacamole, salsa, and their amazing nopales. We stood outside of the market, hovered over a counter barely a foot deep and a trash can underneath, and savored all the porky goodness in between the fluffy, almost pita-like tortillas hot off the press.

Carnitas + niche taco #loscincopintos #heikingtacocrawl

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Guisados
2100 E Cesar Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 264-7201
guisados.co

After feeling the local love at Cinco Puntos, we had a change of scenery at the original/flagship location of what looks like a future local mini-chain in Guisados (just opened a location in Echo Park, and opening another one in Downtown soon). Despite the expansion, the OG location still holds up very well, albeit one with more hipsters and Asians than I recall. We had been doing one taco each at the previous two stops, but that sampler – it was calling us. Seriously, what’s a better way to try the multitude of options? And you know what? They’re improved the mini-tortillas used for the sampler-sized tacos. Before, they were small, thick discs that held the meats and veggies like a sope, but they were quite difficult to eat. But now, while the amount of masa appeared to be the same, they’ve managed to flatten out the tortillas more, enabling a better grip and bite.

Sampler @guisados #guisados

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Ricky’s Fish Tacos
1400 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 906-7290
twitter.com/RickysFishTacos

Our last stop was more out of the way, but in my opinion, Ricky’s has arguably the best taco of any variety in LA, so it behooved us to visit (luckily, we had just enough stomach room for one more stop). As more of you know, Ricky’s is back at its old spot on Virgil Ave, but now in food truck form. This was my first time trying them in their vehicular form, and I think they’re doing better than ever. Fish was as good as ever, and I think the shrimp was better than I remembered. Not sure if Ricky was inside the truck himself, but I can safely say that the operation and experience overall has also improved.

Fish & taco tacos @rickysfishtacos #heikingtacocrawl

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Four stops, four different varieties of tacos, four amazing experiences. Mariscos Jalisco, Guisados, and Ricky’s Fish Tacos all continued their excellences, and Los Cinco Puntos – what a pleasant surprise. I had high expectations for them, but they’ve met those expectations…and then some. Definitely have to get a taco of each variety next time – or I can just buy a pound of everything + packs of tortillas. Overall, I thought it was a very successful taco crawl (I hope Andy feels the same way), and I have even greater aspirations to expand and improve the crawl if another opportunity arises.

Oh, and we technically ended the crawl with dessert – at Scoops Westside, sharing ice cream and dining accounts from the weekend with Mattatouille. What a day.

Ending the #Heikingtacocrawl at @ScoopsWestside w/ @mattatouille

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Corazon y Miel

Corazon y Miel
6626 Atlantic Ave
Bell, CA 90201
(323) 560-1776
corazonymiel.com

A destination-worthy restaurant in Bell? Or more likely to be asked: where is Bell again?

For those of you who don’t venture outside of the central/west parts of LA (or SGV for the FOBs), Bell is a few minutes directly south of Downtown.  With regard to restaurants, the most (and for some, only) notable one would be La Casita Mexicana. But last year, Corazon y Miel (“heart & honey” in Spanish) opened in the area, to much critical acclaim. The restaurant labels itself as a Latin American gastropub of sorts, and Chef Eduardo Ruiz’s time at Animal gets brought up over and over again, but at the corazón of things Corazon y Miel is straight-up soulful Latino food that has been taken to the next level with refinement.

While Corazon y Miel has indeed received its share of acclaim and coverage from a critical/press perspective, I feel that the word still hasn’t truly reached the general public. Very few blogs have covered the restaurant, and mentioning its name to a casual Yelper usually elicits a “huh?” response (not sexy enough I suppose). In fact, the vast majority of patrons at the time of our dinner on a Friday night was local (later confirmed by the restaurant, who was surprised that we were from West LA and Fullerton, respectively – we actually chose the restaurant because it was kind of a midway point between us). But that just means that the rest of town is missing out…

First of all, the dishes are reasonably priced. Appetizers are all under $10, and entrees don’t go past low-$20s. Sure, some may scoff at paying $20-30/person for Latin American cuisine, but c’mon – if Corazon y Miel was located in Downtown or the westside, I can assure you that you’d be paying much more for the same food. Our party of three ate and drank plenty for a little over $30/person. And if that’s not enough food, bring a party of five and “fire the menu” – your party gets one of each dish on the menu for $175 (that’s $35/person, and you save 20+% off menu prices).

But how’s the actual food?

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Jalapeno y Tocino ($6) – bacon, jalapeno, chorizo, street corn salad

This appetizer essentially captures the essence of East LA street food. Here, a bacon-wrapped hot dog is replaced with a bacon-wrapped jalapeno that has been stuffed w/ chorizo. And an elote is a bed of mayo-y corn salad. A nice start.

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Ensalada de Cueritos ($8) – pig skin 2 ways, chili con limon, candied citrus zest, Ommegang Wit Taster

This was my favorite of the night. I haven’t had cueritos (pickled pigskin) many times, but I can say that I’ll be looking it more on menus from now on.  It had a very soft and gelatinous texture, reminiscent of a Korean acorn jelly, but retained a very porcine flavor. Marinated and served like a ceviche, the acidity countered the pigskin wonderfully. And the other way, the chicharron, was textbook execution. Too bad they ran out of their regular ceviche dish, because they certainly do this well.  Came w/ a beer taster BTW.

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Corazon Burger ($10) – beef, bacon, grilled panela, sweet jalapeno onion relish, fries, add fried egg ($1)

This was a very novel attempt at Latin-izing the gastropub burger, but there was just a little too much going on. The patty was meaty and well-seasoned, but combining that with the bacon, the panela cheese, and the aggressive sweet jalapeno onion relish, and everything is kind of fighting against one another for attention. Plus, wasn’t a fan of the cemita-esque bun, but again, I totally get the concept.

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Pan con Chompipe ($18) – 2-pound Salvadoran turkey leg sandwich

This thing was HUGE – imagine one of those mutant legs you eat at Disneyland in sandwich form. Definitely a knife-and-fork sandwich. Came with a turkey gravy on the side, but it was barely used, as the turkey leg was plenty flavorful and juicy (latter surprising for turkey). Plus, fried capers? Genius.

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Borrego ($20) – lamb chops en barbacoa, goat cheese gnocchi, pickled chayote

While the lamb chops were finished on the grill, it didn’t really embody a true barbacoa-style meat. A rather straight-forward dish, but the chops were cooked to a nice medium-rare, and the goat cheese gnocchi were tasty as well.

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Boca Negra ($6) – chocolate cake, chipotle custard, ancho whip

Not necessarily spicy, but definitely smoky. This was very good.

I really liked my dinner at Corazon y Miel. Great interpretation of Latin American cuisine at reasonable prices, executed with the precision and refinement you’d expect from a more modern/progressive restaurant. Yes, it’s in Bell (where again?), but that’s arguably closer for most people than say, the SGV, and there’s a lot of parking. Also, the bar program is pretty damn impressive (shoutout to Darwin). You can make reservations for their fairly long bar, where it’s happy hour 5-7pm & 9-closing (full menu served as well), and you get to interact and sample stuff, etc. If you live on the westside, and your friend lives in the OC/SGV, Corazon y Miel is a great midway point to meet up. If not…still go.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Latin American Bell $$ A-

Corazon y Miel on Urbanspoon

Orleans & York Deli

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Orleans & York Deli
4454 W Slauson Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90043
(323) 291-8800
orleansandyorkdeli.com

Once you get a hang of how things work, and used to the people who actively participate in the crowd-sourcing, Chowhound is an excellent source of unearthing new eats in town. I had some initial difficulties in finding new lunch spots near work, but after doing some research, I came across a place that was recommended in the forums and very much nearby: Orleans & York Deli. The name and the menu did worry me a little, since it seems like they’re trying to do both cajun/creole cuisine AND a variety of sandwiches they consider “New York” (hence the name of the restaurant). It also doesn’t help when there’s no restaurant in LA that truly does food from the Big Easy justice, so the place would be charting new waters.

While Orleans & York isn’t a full-scale cajun/creole restaurant, the food they serve that is within the realm of the cuisine is excellent – this po’ boy here can’t get enough of them po’ boys! The fried catfish one is very good, but it’s all about the fried shrimp po’ boy. Plump, well-seasoned and fried pieces of shrimp (they could be as large as 21/25, which is unprecedented for such a casual restaurant), fresh house-baked baguettes, and DAT HOT SAUCE – so hot. The sandwiches aren’t necessarily cheap – the po’ boys are $9-11 each, but they’re essentially footlongs, so you’re getting plenty for what you’re paying for. I haven’t tried the “New York” side of the menu, but my coworkers seem to be fairly satisfied with some of the offerings. But it’s like what my man Bubba said in Forrest Gump: “shrimp is the fruit of the sea” – and it’s plenty fruitful here.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Cajun/Creole View Park/Windsor Hills $ B+

Orleans and York Deli on Urbanspoon