Showing posts with label mexican. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mexican. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Los Angeles Roadside Chicken - Delicious Pollution from Oil-Barrel BBQ Grills

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

I never knew just how much pollution there was in Los Angeles until I flew back from Portland a few months back. I've lived here all my life and have been immersed in this gray cake of smog for so long that we've all become so used to it.  It IS the norm.  Proof: there are millions of stars when you look up in a place like Santa Barbara.  But in LA, you'll see 17.  So much for making wishes.  

In addition to thousands of commuters, people that evade smog checks and freight trucks that paint our skies gray, I've recently noticed there's a new contributor to our lovely pollution, that in my opinion, isn't so bad.  But you'll have to part the nose hairs like Moses on the Red Sea to deconstruct the smog.  If you're lucky and in the right part of town, you may hit the goldmine: roadside grilled chicken.  If you read this site, you know that I love street food and wouldn't back down on this.  And I'm glad to share my food findings with you guys.

Besides the obvious preparation of the chicken, there are a few other things essential to this equation.  There's a commonality in the equipment used to produce such a succulent piece of work, that I am most interested in.  Let's cut to a random island out in the middle of nowhere.  You're in your loin cloth with one oil barrel, a soldering iron, a grill plate, matches, charcoal and a few stupid chickens clucking away.  What would YOU do to survive?  Not much probably.  But if your name was MacGuyver, things might change for the better.  How about cutting the barrel in half and soldering them on top of each other lengthwise, adding some legs and a grill plate? Voila, you've got yourself a mean-ass looking BBQ grill.  One that makes a Weber look like a puny Foreman Grill.  When J and I buy a house, I know exactly what's going in the backyard next to my Dora the Explorer jumper.  The grill itself is built to accommodate more meat but still a bad ass piece of work.

Another thing I found to be essential is the type of charcoal used: mesquite charcoal from Sonora, Mexico.  I learned that the vast majority of charcoal production happens in Sonora, Mexico and in Arizona, due to the concentration of mesquite trees.  This particular charcoal really does have a more robust, distinct smokiness that is a palate pleaser.  I've never achieved this taste because I've always used Trader Joe's charcoal mix, Kingsford briquettes and old shoes.  But now we all know how to. 

 A few things before we indulge:
(1) The chickens are usually served with rice, beans and tortillas.  Extra tortillas will cost more.

(2) Grilling takes practice, and not everyone is perfect.  So if you see pink in your chicken, ask them to grill it longer.  

(3) Never settle for the chicken that's already been grilled.  I've waited a good 25-30 mins at places like Dino's and Pollo ala Brasa for my chicken, and it's always worth it.  How do you know if that chicken's been out for an hour, slowly overcooking itself?  Aye, unacceptable.  

(4) Say no to BBQ sauce.  Latinos don't deviate too far from their common culinary rituals.  They've always got a hefty supply of red and sometimes green salsa for you to "dip your chick in."  

(5) If you want to make the most out of your meal, may I suggest this really miniscule, geeky food tip?  Because I am patient enough to wait for a chicken hot off the grill, I'm getting a really hot piece of food.  What happens though is that the food is still cooking even when you've removed it from the heating source and all the juices have not rested.  Once you get your boxed-up chicken, give it 5-7 mins before you eat and you'll find that you've basically caused a mini steam-box that allows the chicken to rest and 'sweat'. The result? A nice pool of chicken broth that tastes so good with tortillas and salsa.  Mmmmm.

(6) I don't usually like to give 'judge's score' on food because I just like eating/talking about food, and not pretend I'm a self-appointed food critic, but because the competition is FIERCE enough to be on ESPN, and within inches of each other, I had to.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $6.50 half chicken; $12 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: A+ 
Schedule: Fridays only, 9:30 am to 3 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: B+, 3rd place

I take Adams to work every day off El Diez and spotted these guys.  I missed them twice, getting there too early and getting there too late.  Finally, after a 3-week attempt, I got to try the chicken cooked by this sweet family from Colima, Mexico.  The chicken here was fantastic. Nicely charred skin, generous spicing and strong flavor.  I think the only thing was that the chicken was a bit overcooked.  The hot sauce on the other hand is really pleasant.  The day I picked up the chicken, I bought another 1/2 portion to divvy it up amongst 4 co-workers I've slowly turned on to places I enjoy.  They all came back with me 3 hours later to get their own. Everybody was happy.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $7 half chicken; $11.50 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.  
Hot Sauce: C- 
Schedule: Everyday, 9:30 am to 11 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: C+, 4th place

Amidst all the Korean BBQ places adding to the good pollution quota, this Koreatown vendor is not ashamed to cause smoke signals off Western Avenue.  This one isn't exactly a roadside griller as it is part of a Mexican restaurant.  They just choose to help paint the sky more gray. But I do love the fact that I have basically 12 hours everyday to feed my face with tasty pollo asado and the people are super nice.   The skin was excellent, with that right amount of char. The meat was cooked pretty nicely, but overall, it was a bit light in flavor.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $6 half chicken; $11 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: B+ 
Schedule: Saturday & Sunday only, 9 am to 5 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: A-, 2nd place

Did you know that good things come to those that take the wrong fucking exit on the freeway? This is how J & I found these cool roadside grillers.  J didn't know to look for smoke signals like I did.  I could see these guys from blocks away because they were lighting up the street.  The skin was very very good – thin and more on the crispy vs. charred side.  Meat was very moist, even the breast meat was good.  I hate that part, it's boring and dry.  Zzzzzzzzzzz.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $6 half chicken; $11 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: B 
Schedule: Everyday, 9 am to 9 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: A+, 1st place

This roadside griller actually belongs to the cleverly-named Mexican market, Mercado Mexico. Of the four vendors I saw today, this would be the big formidable corporate monster of the roadside grilling industry. With an impressive 4 oil barrel length and at least 40 chickens grilling at one time, these guys will have me back here again in no time.  Skin was nice, but the meat and flavoring was the best in my opinion.  Jeni and I loved it.  It's clear they are doing well when they have that many chickens grilling and a line of 4-5 people buying only grilled chicken.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

This is also proof that the roadside grillers of Mercado Mexico have been around for some time now.  I can barely read the sign on top!

The truth is, I'll take any of these places for a meal anyday.  There's something about street food that really arrests me.  The taste of the food?  The honest authenticity?  The unibrow-raising prices.  The hardworking families doing what it takes to see the next day?  Yes, but for me, I'm all about the experience.  

Enjoy. Thanks for reading. 

Eat Drink Style The Merry-Go-Round of Meat - Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

Venice Blvd. A street filled with too many cars, sign-spinners on the corners and Affordable Portable cell phone stores all around. When I was working in this area near Culver City/Mid City, I'll admit, I wasn't very into it. It is cluttered, busy and pretty much in need of a major manicure. Walking around here, it was common to be approached by drugged up runaways or all-day bus riders – harassing me for some change. But this is Los Angeles, love it or leave it. The good thing is though, things get much better here in the cloak of darkness. After the sign spinners have spun their asses off, cell phone shops have closed and the day zombies have retreated, one thing does stand out on Venice Blvd. – the taco trucks.

I usually don't pay attention to the taco trucks for some reason. I love my taco stands and tables because I can stand there and watch. It's as close of an experience as you'll get in Mexico – it's real street food. Just visit York Blvd. in Highland Park or Pico Blvd. near Pico/Union area. When Jeni and I were in Mexico City last, there was sheer excitement and assurance. For what? For the fact that no matter which taquero we approached, we were in good hands. Tacos as low as 10 for $1. Nice.

But as usual, for the last 4-5 years, Bandini of Great Taco Hunt has scoured only the best for Angelenos. Although he doesn't favor the offals and entrails as much as I do, one thing he does love is al pastor. Especially from this particular truck on Venice Blvd. My friend, who some of you may know as the twitterific, Tricerapops, texted me one night to meet him here after he had read Bandini's posting. Yes sir! A man with triplets needs to get out and breath some smoggy LA air once in a while, right?

Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

We parked in the taco truck lot, which was also a gas station, and met up with Tricerapops. There were about 10-15 people standing around. Some ordering from a cashier who stood outside the truck, some people loading up on their condiments and some people just hanging out.
Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

Aside from the food being prepared in the truck, there were also a few people huddled around a spit. One look at the yellow object atop the spit like a star on a Christmas tree, I knew why Bandini had been so excited about this place. Al pastor con pina tacos... a Mexican favorite. Instead of the usual white onion placed on top for aroma, a pineapple is set in. From wikipedia, tacos al pastor is a dish that originates in Puebla, Mexico, by way of Lebanese immigrants. If you've had delicious shawerma, you've basically had a less spicy version of al pastor!

Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

What is different here than other taco stands that offer pineapple with their al pastor tacos is that the pineapple is kept atop the spit. I'll explain why this is critical. Al pastor con piña isn't a new thing. Plenty of stands and trucks do offer the pineapple topping, but it's not the way I like it. I've eaten some taco stands run by families from Guerrero and Jalisco. I get really stoked when I see the pineapple on the spit but the horror begins once the taquero cuts the al pastor and pineapple slices onto the griddle. Aye! From there, they chop up the meat and fruit into something similar to a bizarre stir-fry from a bad Chinese take-out place. All they need now is hot & sour soup and a fortune cookie. Ugh! The 'Mexican stir-fry' is now flavored by the grease from the previous cooked meat, which could be anywhere from buche (pig stomach lining) to lengua. Not that it's a bad thing but flavors are lost! By now, your pineapple taco has gone from Mexico to China in like 5 seconds. Just not my thing. This needs a major rewind.

Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

I stood by the taquero operating the spit. Like a cellist with his bow, he swipes the mass of meat with his sharp knife. In the other hand, a warm tortilla catches the fallen meat. The meat is moist, flavored nicely and never touches the griddle once.

Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

And with one flick of the wrist, he lobs a thin slice of pineapple into the air and catches it with the taco "mit". All of this happening in pure harmony. This is not as easy as it looks because the taquero must also watch that the meat "merry-go-round" never gets burnt. He has to know when to turn the heat on or off. Not cooked long enough, you're going to get trichinosis. It's overcooked and you're suddenly eating at Chipotle. It has to be just right.

Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

And here is the final product. The moist meat, red salsa and sweet, smoky pineapple slice marry together to become this small, flavor-packed bomb. And only $1. I do have to say that I think the salsas can use some work but as a whole this is the experience close as you'll get to Mexico City. The taqueros of Leo's are from Oaxaca, but they offer Mexico City-style (D.F.) . In all fairness, I have been here at least three times already and twice, the al pastor meat was perfect when the place was crowded. When the lines were dead, I noticed the meat was only mediocre. Just keep that in mind.

Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

I also recommend trying the al pastor con piña in quesadilla form for a take on Mexican ham and pineapple "pizza". Ask for less cheese (poco queso) so that it doesn't overpower the delicate pork slices and pineapple. This was delicious – like candy!

Leo's Tacos, Mid City Los Angeles

Thanks for reading. And thanks to the Great Taco Hunter for everything he's eaten for us.

Leo's Tacos
La Brea/Venice (76 Gas Station)
Everyday 6 pm - 2 am

Eat Drink Style Finding Figueroa - A Small Taste of Highland Park Part 1

A while back, I spent some time checking out the Highland Park food scene. And by now, it's quite obvious that I see tacos the way Pac-Man sees those yellow pellets. I was attending Art Center for some night classes and by the time I've been thru an hour and a half of traffic – I'm hungry. I didn't want to give into fa(s)t food restaurants and eventually started driving on the surface streets looking for food, since it is quite difficult to locate a restaurant from the freeway. And that's where I ended up in Glassell Park and Highland Park – two parts of the Northeast side that I feel, along with East LA and the 710 freeway area, deserve a 'taco town' nickname. But I can't eat always tacos...

I eventually found myself driving further east on York Blvd. until I hit Figueroa. My eyes lit up with the numerous latino restaurants – mainly Mexican and Salvadorian cuisines. I was getting hit left and right by them. Here are my thoughts on a few of the places I decided to try out.

La Estrella Highland Park, Los Angeles

La Estrella #3, the Restaurant
Yes, this is the immobile brother of the three other taco trucks in Eagle Rock (Colorado Blvd.) and Highland Park (one on York Blvd. and one on Figueroa Street).  I saw this place and stopped right away. I am a sucker for burger restaurant takeovers – the ones that are run by some guy named Jim or Tommy, and always claim they have the best burgers and fries. That can't be possible if all of them buy the same food from Sysco, right?  Anyway, I had heard that it is not the taco and burritos they are known for, but their fish taco.

La Estrella Highland Park, Los Angeles

I was surprised when the counter guy rang me up for a $3.75 fish taco – I've never paid that much for a fish taco. Ricky's Fish Tacos over in Silver Lake clocks in at $2.50 each, but if you've tried it, you'll know it's worth it.  Anyway, I then knew why La Estrella charged more for their fish taco when it was ready for pickup. It was massive, or at least, appeared to be massive. It looked like a Rose Bowl Parade float with a piece of fried fish on top with fixings.

La Estrella Highland Park, Los Angeles

Like a tribal man foraging in the bushes, I parted the lettuce and found what I was looking for. They gave two decent-sized pieces of nicely battered fish and served it with hot sauce and cream. I know some people prefer their fish tacos served as is, like at Tacos Baja Ensenada in East LA, while some others prefer dressing their own at Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada in Los Feliz. But I was completely happy with this set up. Eating this was quite messy and difficult, it's no wonder they give you a regular sized plate.  The fish was fried nicely, moist and batter was not overdone. Cream and salsa were perfect. I just felt that they could have held back on cabbage, for the sake of making it look like a Rose Bowl float. I would come back here for more.

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit Mariscos Truck
I first experienced Nayarit-style seafood when I ate at Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista. Nayarit is a Mexican state located along the Pacific Ocean, near Guadalajara and Mazatlan. There, people eat, drink and breathe seafood. I was thrilled to find a truck serving Nayarit-style food. Screeeeeech. I'm not really in a position to distinguish the delicious types of ceviche available to us, but if I see lime-soaked seafood on a tostada with hot sauce and avocado, I'll drop my silk boxers. I parked my car, and got the usual stare down from the 100% latino clientele.  I took a look at the menu and ordered the ceviche and the mixed seafood soup (caldo de mar).

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit, Highland Park

Here we have a glimpse of a part of the menu. I love the signage and photos on roach coaches - so simple and so real. Straight to the point – no Photoshop or food styling needed because what you see is what you get. Notice, the shrimp cocktail image, the food stylist decided to place the lime in a standard Chinese sauce dish.

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit, Highland Park

Caldo de Mar (Seafood Soup)
I also love when I get food in a cup. It totally makes sense if you're driving and feel the need to eat. I think beef noodle soup would be fantastic in a coffee mug. You could totally bring this into a meeting and NOT look like a ( o o ) ! Anyway, I haven't eaten enough of this to form a comparison. But for a few bucks, I was more than content with my soup. A slightly sweet broth comprised of shrimp, imitation crab (jaiva/jaiba), octopus (pulpo) and fish. I added a few drops of lime juice and hot sauce – good stuff but I know there are way better joints out there.

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit

Tostada de Ceviche
Ceviche is one of those things for me that just work. Even if it was the worst ceviche in the world, some lime juice, smoky hot sauce and avocados can make a world of difference.

There are three seafood trucks on Figueroa. This one and the truck from Mexico City (D.F.) are pretty decent. Again, I don't know much about seafood trucks – I just eat the food from them.

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Papa Pollo Restaurants
This is a chicken-chain originating from Mexico. A house-turned-restaurant screaming in yellow paint with a lovable mascot cartoon, I had to try it out.  Who doesn't like rotisserie chicken?

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

When you walk into the 'patio' of the restaurant, you'll see the menu printed on large tarps. The orange reminded me of Little Caesar's growing up.  I was surprised to see potatoes and taquitos offered as a side order to the roasted chicken.  Looks like I'll be having a nap really soon.

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Roasted Chicken (Pollo Rostizado)
From the outside of the restaurant, you can definitely smell the action-packed chicken.  They have a lot going on in their spices which can be a good thing.  The chicken is very moist and the skin full of great flavor.  I've been here twice and the first time the chicken was fabulous, the second time, I found myself downing a ton of water because it was so salty.  I'm curious about my third visit.  

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Taquitos
If taquitos are your thing, then I guess this wouldn't be that bad of a side order.  But I had eaten so much chicken that when I looked at this, felt even more full.  But I tried it anyway... chicken was kinda dry inside and the tortilla was over-fried.  Definitely not the best flauta/taquito you'll have.

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

As if the taquitos weren't enough, you get roasted potatoes.  For your information, these potatoes are not fried, but rather placed directly underneath the chicken carousel.  So all the drippings fall gracefully into the cut-up starch grenades we call potatoes.  I could taste a lot of Lawry's seasoning salt and man, I was thirsty.  And very sleepy.  

I think if I eat here again, I'm ordering chicken.  Only.  Good night.

And of course, on my journeys, I snuck in a few taco stands.  I can't turn away a street vendor. Here's a brief description of the types of tacos offered by taqueros (taco vendors).

Asada (CA) - flap/flank/skirt meat. Usually grilled. Sometimes fried in oil.
Suadero (SU) - brisket. Fried in lard/roasted.
Lengua (LN) - cow tongue. Steamed/braised.
Cabeza (CZ) - head meat and cheek meat (cachete). Steamed.
Sesos (SS) - cow brain.  Steamed.
Nervio/Ojos (OJ) - cow eyes. Braised.

Carnitas (CR) - pork shoulder/picnic/butt. Fried in lard/roasted.
Al Pastor (AP) - pork shoulder/butt. Spiced and marinated over a day and roasted on a spit. Originated in Mexico City by Lebanese immigrants. An onion or pineapple is usually placed above the spit for extra flavoring. Try with pineapple!
Chorizo (CH) - pork sausage. A mushier, spicier and oilier version of its Spanish counterpart.  
Buche (BU) - pork belly/pig stomach lining/hog maw. Fried in lard. My favorite taco filling. When fried longer adds a nice texture.
Tripas (TR) - pig intestines/chitterlings. Washed, boiled and fried. People love these for the texture and 'filling'

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

CA, CZ, AP, CH, 
This guy has a great visible location, right in front of an auto repair shop.  Who knows, he probably works there during the day.  I've learned that a lot of employees of businesses will stay on the property after closing hours to sell food.  Pure diligence. I enjoyed the CZ.

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

CA, CZ, LN, AP, BU, CH, TR 
In addition to the taqueros that operate right on business property, you've got some that will sell outside their homes.  Like these two nice guys from Jalisco.  You would never find them unless you were paying attention to the Home Depot clamp lamps.  Out of the three taco stands I reviewed in this posting, they are my favorite because pretty much everything they offer tastes great.  I enjoyed the CZ, LN, AP and BU.  Ask for a crispier buche by saying "bien dorado, por favor."

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Right at the end of the York Taco Town strip is this nice couple, also from Jalisco.  I think I know which Mexican state I'll be visiting next as their is a pattern of good tacos from Guadalajra.  Anyway, they've got everything you need.  And if they like you, will give you a free deep-fried potato and offer you some boiled beans for your tacos.  I enjoyed the AP, CZ, LN and BU here.  

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

More to come from the Figueroa area of Highland Park.  Thanks for reading.