Showing posts with label street food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label street food. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park - $3 Echo Park Happy Meal

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

I was driving back home on my normal route through Echo Park into Silver Lake, and my taco radar went off. My eyes dilated the way they did in Requiem For A Dream, which by the way, is one of the most depressing movies ever. Through my peripheral vision, I spotted the Home Depot clamp lamps that I've grown all too familiar with. Home Depot clamp lamps = good street food. I parked and to my surprise, they had quite a small setup, not the usual 1-2 griddle tables, but rather a large pot and a steaming lid. I looked closely at the sign... barbacoa. Even better. What a relief it was to find someone selling something other than the usual suspect tacos.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

I asked the taquero to lift the lid and it big mushroom steam cloud of 'lamb bomb' hit all of us.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Along with your taco is an offering of a consome, also known as consomme in French, or simply... broth. Like Asian cooking, bones are not discarded after the meat has been removed. They are reserved to provide further sustenance, usually in soup form. Depending on the state in Mexico, they may offer different types of broth. I've had it at Highland Park's My Taco and East LA's Breed Street, which offer consome de chivo, a goat broth which is even better than the taste of lamb in my opinion. But Barbacoa Hidalgo does a consome de borrego... so you've got a lamb soup to go with your lamb taco. Which I'm calling the $3 Echo Park happy meal. Sorry no toy included.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Taco de Borrego (Lamb Taco)
For $1.50, it seems like I got 2-3 tacos worth. They piled the meat high and with a smile. The meat was moist and pretty tasty. The hot sauce offered was quite spicy. Never worry, there's always a bucket of Mexican sodas or water.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Consome de Borrego (Lamb Broth)
For $1.50, you also get this. A lamb broth with onions and chickpeas. I always pile in a ton of onions, cilantro and 1-2 squeezes of lime. No need for hot sauce, this has a nice kick already. The soup was a bit on the salty side but it's important to note that some people will eat this almost like a French Dip. They'll dip their taco in the broth for a flavor kick, and it's tasty.

Barbacoa Hidalgo sets up shop every night from 7-11 pm in Echo Park off Sunset/Echo Park Avenue. Thanks for reading.

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 Ricky's Fish Tacos - The One Man Stand

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

***UPDATE: Ricky's Fish Tacos has moved to 4100 N. Virgil in the Virgil Village area, just south of Hollywood/Blvd. Wed - Fri 11:30 - 4:30 and Saturdays & Sundays 11:30 - 6 pm . Check his twitter updates as his scheduling does change.

In Los Angeles, a whole vending truck craze started going around, ever since the debut of Kogi BBQ. Not only are there copycat Korean BBQ trucks, Indian food from the Dosa Truck, a Vietnamese banh mi truck in Westwood (Nom Nom), a sushi truck called Fishlips, and a Japanese snack truck called Marked 5, just to name a few. But, for me I prefer the wheels of a stand versus the wheels of a truck. And it's nice to know that some people are still keeping it real, like this gentleman, Ricky.

After having some friends tell me about this one-man-fish-taco-stand, Jeni and I drove over on a breezy Saturday afternoon to hopefully eat Ensenada-style food. We were told that Ricky showed up sporadically on Sunset, in front of a laundromat, just across from Intelligentsia. The only way to know if he's there is to look for a sign, or more specifically, a rainbow parasol. My brain has learned that rainbow parasols are often linked to delicious street food together after a visit to the wonderful Breed Street food fair in East LA.

We were fast approaching Ricky's location but there was traffic, so we couldn't see anything in front of the laundromat. But good things happen if it was meant to be... there it was, the rainbow parasol. Fish tacos... on the street... on a sunny Saturday...

Like a one-man band armed with his bass drum, harmonica, knee cymbals and trombone, Ricky had his own arsenal of utilities. A deep-fry cart, tongs, his condiments, a griddle underneath the fryer, an Igloo for keeping tortillas warm, a fish cooler and of course, the rainbow umbrella. We walked up to the 'store' after Ricky served his customers, he smiled and asked us, "fish taco?" Most definitely. And this is how you make an Ensenada-style fish taco. The way Ricky does out of a small cart on Sunset Blvd. "Two please."

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

We watched as he reached into a small cooler. He pulled out a small ziplock bag of fresh fish and took out a few pieces. Ricky, like Joseph of Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, also uses basa, a Vietnamese catfish from the Mekong river delta. With tongs, he carefully dipped each piece of fish in his special batter. Right before frying, he made sure that any excess batter was shaken off. I've had too many fish tacos that were nearly 50/50 batter and fish – gross. I remembered someone on Chowhound saying that the fish tacos at Tacos Baja Ensenada in East LA, are good, but pack on way too much batter. I couldn't agree more as I ate the fish tacos. There was so much batter that the fish had broken off from the batter itself. If there was ever an audition for a salt shaker position in a Latin band, I might actually have a chance with those babies. TBE, without a doubt though, is still one of LA's best.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

As you can see, Ricky's got all his settings right. Fresh oil, no overcrowding, no burnt bits and a new cooking technique foreign to me, can only lead to a beautiful product. When the fish is almost ready, he makes a large piercing with his tongs into the center of the battered baby, bringing in a gush of hot oil that not only makes cooking a lot faster, but a nice jolt of flavor. Healthy, by no means. Ricky then pulls out some warmed tortillas from his Igloo and lays the fish down to sleep.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Finely-chopped pico de gallo and cabbage are then added in a proportional manner. Fans of Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada might have to hold themselves back and let the chef do the work. I myself can learn a lesson or two, as I tend to overload my FT's with crema and cabbage.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

For me, one of the things that differentiated BFTIE and TBE was the cream used. BFTIE was a bit sweeter than TBE's that added a finishing touch to a solid fish taco. I asked him if he used crema mexicana, and he politely said,

"No, I use mayonnaise and milk. It's how we do it in Ensenada." This is the word of the lord.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Going in for the Kill
For $2.50, Ricky offers a well-endowed fish taco. Not an appropriate adjective to use, but it's a good size. I had to hold the taco with a wide grip above the taco, careful not to poison the cream with my own palms. When I took a bite, I felt a layer of textures:

- the creamy sauce
- the slightly cold pico de gallo and salsa
- the crispy-battered fish
- the warm tortilla

And all of it made sense. So much sense, that I had to order another one.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

We both really enjoyed the fish tacos served by the extremely nice, Ricky. What's not to love about a man earning an honest buck selling something that was passed down from his mother. At one point, Ricky stopped during our conversation. He saw the meter maid on Sunset Blvd. and told us to watch his 'store' as he fed the meter. Awesome.

Ricky offers two types of salsa but both were really delicate in spice. I think all that was needed was a spicy kick to the salsa, to really make this one fish taco to beat. A very nice customer was kind enough to set Ricky up on Twitter and you can find him on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-4 pm. As we left, I quickly texted some friends to hurry on down to try his fish tacos. They all loved it, and I'm sure you will too.

Ricky's Fish Tacos
Corner of Sunset & Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Saturdays & Sundays 12:30 - 4pm
Check his Twitter Before You Go

Eat Drink Style Saigon, Vietnam - A Morning Market

Saigon Market Morning Market

On the morning I went hunting for breakfast, I came across a morning market that was very much alive and kicking. It was now 7 am and life was going on here. People picking up breakfast, people shopping for groceries and vendors competing with their neighboring competition. A little more to eat wouldn't hurt I thought.

Saigon Street Life

Saigon Morning Market

While some locals run their businesses at a farmer's market or stall, there are vendors on wheels. Two wheels to be exact. Most of them sell fruit but I've seen something as wild as a guy riding with a hot deep fryer filled with oil on the back seat of his bicycle. I named him "Mr. Deep Fry-cycle". If the LA health inspection gets riled up over a taco truck on a street, imagine what they would say about the "deep fry-cycle". He would be sent to prison!

No matter where I am, the sounds and smells of a farmer's market are all part of the experience. Your senses are put to the test with each step that you take. In a sense, it is a bit of a sensory overload, but that of enjoyment.

Saigon Morning Market

Saigon Morning Market

Similar vendors are grouped together and although they are selling the same product and directly competing with each other, it's a friendly rivalry. I bought these freshly-fried fish cakes (ca chien) which I love almost more than anything. The fish was so tasty and full of that 'bouncey' bite that I look for in pureed/paste-like Asian products. Thai fish cakes for example, oh man.

Saigon Morning Market

Who doesn't like fried tofu. I didn't see anything that resembled Taiwanese stinky tofu, which I enjoy as well.

Saigon Morning Market

7 am, and the grill masters are out. Here's a Vietnamese version of yakitori. You've got various ground meat that are shaped into balls and chicken/pork organs. They served fish sauce dip on the side and the smell was great.

Saigon Morning Market

In addition to your standard seafood fare like fish and mollusks, you get beautiful blue-colored prawns fresh from the sea. These things were some of the largest prawns I've seen.

Saigon Morning Market

Most of the vegetables and seafood were all set outside. I then walked into a large depot that had something entirely different going on: meat. And to my surprise, there was not one single man wielding a sharp cleaver. Here in Saigon, the women are the Queens of the Kitchen and can very well chop up a pig faster than you can ever.

Saigon Morning Market

Saigon Morning Market

While most Westerners turn away upon the site of a completely butchered pig, it is actually more respectful and resourceful to use everything. I saw everything chopped up and ready for purchase. There were no putrid smells of death because everything was so fresh.

Saigon Morning Market

Saigon Morning Market

Ribs, chops, shanks, ears, offals, feet, tails and head. Nothing gone to waste. These were some of the most bad-ass women I've come across. And the irony of it at all, they still managed to look as beautiful as they could with jewelry, dyed hair, make-up and painted nails. Nothing will get in the way of good looks, even if it means dissecting a 250-lb pig on an early morning. Thanks for reading.

More postings on Saigon, Vietnam:
Saigon, Vietnam - Hello Saigon, Nice to Meet You and Eat You
Saigon, Vietnam - Banh Xeo 46A, a Taste of Vietnamese Crepes
Saigon, Vietnam - Bun Bo Hue, An Afternoon with Nguyen Thi Thanh
Saigon, Vietnam - Saigon Seafood Stalls