Showing posts with label tacos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tacos. 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 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.

Eat Drink Style Chicago, 2008 - The Tasty, Windy City Part One

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Passionate Eater of San Francisco, and for a short while of New Orleans, recently went to Chicago on an exhaustive hunt for Chicago's favorite foods: hot dogs, deep dish pizza and Italian beef dip sandwiches. I recommended a few places to her that I had tried out myself. She reminded me that I was long overdue on my posting as well – one year ago! During that time, I was overwhelmed with work and how I was going to propose to my then-girlfriend-now-wife, Jeni, and just never got around to it. And I also owe the tasty experience to a Chicago-based eating-machine from the future named Erik M. – he runs a site called LTH Forum.

So in May, after scouring the streets of New York for good food within two days, I was on my way to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. With nothing more than a laptop, duffle bag and a well-endowed list of Chicago's finest eateries, I headed in town with freshly cracked knuckles and an empty stomach. I was in Chicago for a shoot and had a few hours to spare before meeting up with my colleagues. 3 hours... hmm. I think I can do 3 places. I headed out by foot towards some places that Erik had listed near my hotel on the North Side of town.

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As I walked around, the first thing I thought of was how clean and quiet Chicago was. Streets were swept and even the buildings looked like they just had their Brazilian waxings. It was 11 am and the people had to be tucked into their cubicles. I barely saw any taxis go by! I couldn't complain though because just one week before, it was an offspring-terminating 40 something degrees. According to the people at the hotel, it was a blessing to wear cargo shorts and be oot and aboot.

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First on the list was one of three favorite eats of Chicago – pizza. New York pizza vs. Chicago pizza... a constant feud that will go on till the day we die. To be honest with you, the thought of a deep dish pizza PADDED with god knows how many ounces of cheese stops me in my tracks. But it's Chicago, I HAD to try it. Since it was in the area, I went to try Lou Malnati's, a family-owned chain restaurant. I walked in to find quite a few people on their lunch break – most of them at the bar putting down beers. I didn't know what to get so I had the bartender suggest a pizza. Sausage pizza it is! Twenty minutes later, I was still drinking my beer and I didn't have any food. 10 minutes later, I ordered another beer still with no food. Man, this thing better be delicious! I felt like I could run some errands and the pizza would STILL not be ready.

Finally, after 50 minutes, I received my first Chicago-style deep dish pizza. The bartender brought out a steaming black pan with some tongs and set it down. I was taken aback - dough rising on the sides with a chunky, molten-lava tomato sauce. But where was the sausage? Where was the cheese? There seemed to be some hide & seek going on because I didn't see any sausage or cheese. Like a surgeon, I took my knife and started to cut my own slice when I finally saw a piece of sausage. But the weird thing was that it wasn't just a lump, I noticed that it was a LAYER OF SAUSAGE. Whoa. I proceeded with the operation and unveiled cheese underneath the meat. I had no idea that the layers were completely rearranged. I think the best way to describe deep dish pizza is a confused pizza that sort of confused me. I really didn't get it because it was just too much of everything. Too much sauce, too much cheese, too much sausage, too much time. Everything tasted fine and all, but I just couldn't handle more than one slice. Give me chapulines and huitlacoche from Oaxaca, horse sashimi from Japan or snake alcohol from Taiwan instead. I looked over at a man and woman on their third slice and asked for the check. I'm glad I tried it though.

Next, it was time for the second Chicago-favorite, Italian Beef Dip sandwiches. If you're a pedestrian in another city, I suggest reducing the amount of Mapquesting you do because you're bound to attract attention. No one was there to tell me that, as I befriended a young man. Not by choice. I was headed to Mr. Beef for some sandwiches and he decided to join me without an Evite.

Friend: "Hey man, where you going?"
Me: "Mr. Beef."
Friend: "Oh yeah, you should try Portillo's, it's better."
Me: "Okay, I'll do that next."
Friend: "I'll take you there. I'm going that way too."
Me: "Uh okay, sure."
Friend: "Hey, you born here?"
Me: "Yes, why?"
Friend: "Your English is pretty good."
Me: "Thank you."

Normally, I'd be offended, but the ball was in this guy's court. I'm a stranger to the streets of Chicago and walking with my new 6'2" friend. So he goes on and on about how he knows Chicago and pointed out buildings to the left and to the right... blah blah blah. After about 10 minutes of walking, I started to see Mr. Beef at the end of the street. Ok, almost there. Just keep tuning him out. Right when we got to Mr. Beef, his whole demeanor changed. He was no longer the jovial tour guide of Chicago. He told me he had just gotten out of jail not too long ago and was in need of money to get a driver's license. His new threads and jewelry definitely didn't say that though. But I thought I'd help him out anyway.

Friend: "C'mon man. Just a few bucks."
Me: "I have no cash.
Friend: "How you going to eat then?"
Me: "Oh I have enough money to eat. I came here to Chicago just to eat."
Friend: "There's an ATM inside."
Me: "Nope, I can give you half of my Mr. Beef sandwich?"

You should've seen the look on his face – sheer disappointment. He turned around and started walking away. The only thing I could feel was relief but at the same time, concern. Wait a minute... does that mean Mr. Beef sucks???

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According to any Chicagoan, there's only one way you should order an IBDS... with hot & sweet peppers and a dip in the pool of au jus. I watched the cook grab a loaf of bread and pull the beef out of a steaming pan. He then carefully tossed in a few chili peppers and wrapped up my sandwich. I unraveled the hot sandwich... smell of sweet bell peppers and beef. And... it wasn't bad... just a bit dry and sparse on the meat. I asked the cook for a small cup of juice and dumped it on the sandwich liberally. There we go. Now it was tasty.

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One slice of pizza and a somewhat tasty sandwich, still some room in the oven. So I went to try the other IBDS place that was recommended, Al's #1 Italian Beef. From the outside you wouldn't think much of it but the constant in & out of customers is promising. I was greeted by a nice young man and looking at me, he knew I wasn't from here. At least he wasn't so blunt.

Al's: "You visiting from out of town?"
Me: "Yeah. Here to try what I hear is one of Chicago's best."
Al's: "Well welcome to Chicago. You're in the right place."
Me: "What do I get?"
Al's: "Beef with sweet & hot peppers, dipped."
Me: "There we go."
Al's: "You'll need some fries, too."
Me: "Sounds good."

Contrary to Mr. Beef, there was actually action here. Big sandwich, big fries and big drink – Chicago people going to town without going out of town. I watched the Chicago sandwich routine in action once more. But this time, the guy took it to the next level. After adding the meat and hot & sweet peppers, he grabbed the sandwich with a pair of tongs and baptized my very own sandwich in the holy goodness that is beef juice. It was a beautiful ritual that only a pig like me would appreciate. My sandwich was drenched. I unraveled the parchment paper and grabbed that soggy sandwich. One bite in, and I now understood why Chicagoans stood so proudly behind that juicy sandwich. I don't care much for The Hat or Philipe's and easily put Al's ahead of them all. Next time I go back, I'll definitely do a comparison like Passionate Eater, who passionately gobbled through hot dogs, IBDS and pizza. Finishing the sandwich off, I looked at my wet hands sprinkled with chili seeds and beef crumbs. The guy that took my order looked at me and didn't need to ask whether I enjoyed it or not. He knew.

I walked back and twice I did U-turns back towards Al's but changed my mind because my hotel room didn't have a fridge to store IBDS. Damn. I promised my stomach that I would treat him once more to a tasty IBDS before I left. He said 'you better'.

Thanks for reading. Part Two coming next.

Check out Passionate Eater's posting on Italian Beef Dip Sandwiches, deep dish pizzas and also an old school posting on the first time meeting her and her husband.