B.S. Taqueria – Downtown Los Angeles

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The taco has traditionally been a humble food, originally created to make small amounts of meat go a long way. In the past couple of years, however, this has been changing, at least in Los Angeles, where serious chefs have been designing seriously delicious upscale tacos to a well-heeled clientele. One of the newer entries if B.S. Taqueria on 7th Street downtown.

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I thought it would be a good idea to start with an old standard that you can get in any taquería – Carnitas – and it was a wonderful surprise. Served on a blue corn tortilla and a base of guacamole, the perfectly braised pork was brought to life by a lime-heavy salsa verde and finely chopped onion and cilantro… Not your father’s carnitas!

The taco that really caught my interest was the Chorizo and Papas, sausage and potato. It came on the same blue corn tortilla, but this time topped with a crust of grilled cheese. The chorizo, finely ground, was mixed with a rich red sauce, and the smashed potato was soft and comforting. A dash of crumbled cotija cheese put it over the top.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never spent $20 on tacos before, even in my crazy over-indulgences at El Huequito in Mexico City, but this is serious food in an upscale location (site of the sadly missed Mo-Chica) and it’s high time that tacos stood up to be counted as the truly great food that they can be.

Here’s the website: http://www.bstaqueria.com/about/

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3 Old School Los Angeles Mexican Restaurants

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As a Canadian who moved to Los Angeles many years ago, I was delighted to discover Mexican food, and I tried most of the established restaurants around the city. These were the places that introduced generations of Americans to this unique and fascinating cuisine. In recent years, however, I’ve been exploring some of the exciting regional cuisines of Mexico, as specialty restaurants have come on stream to serve a largely Mexican clientele.

It occurred to me that I needed to revisit some of the fine, enduring places where I learned about Mexican food in the first place.

El Coyote Cafe

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My friend Sid recently invited me to lunch at his long-standing favorite restaurant, El Coyote. Sid is not a young man, but he has been coming here since he was a kid. The waiters know him by name, and he has the menu memorized. El Coyote first opened in 1931, and is going strong.

I know I should have ordered something more elaborate, but the “Torta Mexican Style Sandwich” caught my eye. I have favorite tortas all over Los Angeles, and thought this would be a good test for El Coyote. What I got was a nice fresh roll, generously stuffed with grilled steak, red and green peppers, onion and melted white cheese. Sort of a Mexican Hoagie, the ingredients reminded me strongly of a dish called Alambre that I recently had in Mexico City… Definitely a success. Sid had the fajitas salad. Not strictly Mexican, perhaps, but it was large, and looked delicious.

El Cholo Spanish Cafe

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Everyone I know has a memory of El Cholo. “I used to go there with my grandparents” is a common memory. Others go misty-eyed thinking about the green corn tamales. I’ve had the green corn tamales, and I get it. Founded in 1922, El Cholo has been around almost forever.

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I went to El Cholo (the original location on Western Avenue) for lunch a couple of weeks ago with my friend Leili. She ordered the Carnitas, a dish that first appeared on the menu in 1989, and it was a huge plate of beautifully cooked pork, served with pickled onions and sliced orange. I had the Chile Con Carne (introduced in 1923) which was a rich, dark beef stew. It was delicious, but I had the distinct feeling the chef was holding back on the spices for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with Mexican flavors.

Don Antonio’s

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Don Antonio’s is a youngster compared with the other 2 restaurants, opening in 1981, but the founders’ history goes back a lot further with other restaurants around L.A. I went with a woman friend who observed that the last time she ate here was the night when her husband moved out of the house, some years ago. She ordered the Chicken Enchiladas, and declared that they are still the best comfort food she could possibly imagine. I had the Chile Verde, a dish I haven’t had in perhaps 25 years. The flavors were rich and meaty, and the portions generous.

The main attraction at Don Antonio’s seemed to be the Fajitas. The room gradually became hazy from the smoke generated by the sizzling dishes coming out of the kitchen every few minutes. Maybe next time.

Conclusion?

These were 3 very good restaurants, serving Mexican food to Americans the same way they have for many years. They do what they do extremely well, and deserve their long run of success.

Here are the websites:

El Coyote Cafe   http://elcoyotecafe.com/

El Cholo Spanish Cafe   http://elcholo.com/menus

Don Antonio’s   http://www.donantoniosla.com/restaurant

Los 5 Puntos – East LA – Tacos de Carnitas

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Drive by Los 5 Puntos on Cesar Chavez Avenue in East L.A., and you may see me outside, singing its praises.

I’ve been in this legendary grocery store, tortilleria and pork specialty store many times, but never when I was hungry… until today. There was every imaginable cut of pork available, from pork stomach and kidneys to ribs, but I was conservative, and just ordered a couple of Tacos de Carnitas. What I got was a generous helping of beautifully moist and flavorful chunks of pork, served on some of the thickest and richest hand-made tortillas I’ve ever had. Some spicy red salsa, guacamole and chopped cilantro and onion made for a perfect balance of textures and flavors.

I know I’ll be planning my next trip to East L.A. around lunch at Los 5 Puntos.

Here’s the website: http://www.los5puntos.com/Los5puntos.com/Home.html

Carnitas Uruapan – Santa Ana – Conchitas

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Carnitas Uruapan is famous for its meats, and especially its carnitas. That’s why I was surprised when I visited their location at the East LA Meets Napa event last week. Every participating restaurant chose a signature dish to serve, and Carnitas Uruapan chose… baked goods.

I had been eating enthusiastically all evening, so I just asked to try the coconut cookie, and I couldn’t resist the heart-shaped peanut butter cookie. Both were delicious, with the natural coconut and rich peanut butter flavors highlighted by just enough sweetness, and perfectly executed textures.

My little surprise, though, was the Conchita that had been slipped into my bag. No great expert on Mexican baked goods, I tend to think of a concha as being a bit bigger, kind of dry, and served at breakfast in the hotels I visit. But this was something very different – absolutely the best version I have ever eaten. It was light and sweet, more like a beignet, even dusted with sugar in the same way.

Thank you to Carnitas Uruapan for this nice experience.

Here’s the website: http://www.carnitasuruapan.com

Lotería Grill – Santa Monica – Carnitas en Salsa Morita

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I was disappointed some time ago when the Gaucho Grill closed on the Santa Monica Promenade, but I instantly forgave them when it was replaced by Lotería Grill. I used to go to their original location when I lived near the Farmers Market on Third Street, but this is a much more inviting restaurant, and the food is every bit a good as it always was.

A long-time favorite has been the carnitas burrito with salsa morita, but this was the first time I had the entire “platillo.” Morita chiles are smoked, red-ripe jalapeño peppers, like chipotle peppers, except they are smoked for a shorter time. Interestingly, Lotería’s salsa packs more of a punch than I would have expected from a jalapeño. The rich, almost fruity flavor goes beautifully with the perfectly cooked pork, and the sides of rice and black beans provide a nice balance.

Here’s the website: http://loteriagrill.com/about-us