Hamburguesas Punta Cabras – Downtown Los Angeles

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When a couple of serious chefs opened a taco restaurant, the results were wonderful. Tacos Punta Cabras serves some of the best and most interesting tacos in Los Angeles from their small space in Santa Monica. When I heard they had opened a Mexican “burger joint,” I just had to head downtown to see what was going on.

What I found was just that – a hole in the wall burger joint that looks like something you might have seen in East LA in 1963. The main attraction is an old-school burger with none of the hipster frills we’ve been seeing in recent years… Well, I don’t recall having home-made thousand island, excuse me… mil islas on my burgers in 1963. The difference, though, is that it’s the best old-school burger you’ve ever had. Top quality ingredients, perfectly executed, and served in a traditional paper sleeve. And the bacon tomatillo salsa was a terrific modern touch.

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That’s where old-school ends, though. The menu also has black bean burgers and turkey burgers, which I may try on another visit. What I did try (yes, I had 2 lunches yesterday) was the shrimp burger. This is where the chefs’ creativity came in full force. A combination of ground shrimp and pork, I was having flashbacks to delicious Vietnamese meals. Served as a burger, though, they had some fun with Mexican spices and Asian flavors, including paper-thin slices of my favorite Asian pickles. I will definitely be going back for more of these.

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Hamburguesas Punta Cabras is on Spring Street near 7th.

Here’s the website: http://hamburguesaspuntacabras.com/

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Chichén Itzá – Panuchos

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About 10 years ago, I did a double-take when I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about Chichén Itzá’s tacos de venado. How could a Yucatán style restaurant be more authentic if it served deer tacos? I don’t think they’re on the menu any more (they were wonderful, by the way), but I’ve been back many times since, to explore the consistently delicious regional cooking.

This afternoon, I was invited to a preview of AltaMed’s signature fund-raising event East L.A. Meets Napa. Owner Gilberto Cetina gave us a tour of the Mercado where the restaurant is located, and presented some of the highlights of the menu, as well as some interesting stories about Yucatán cuisine. I learned, for example, that Queso de Bola is actually Edam cheese that was introduced to the region by Dutch, uh… Pirates of the Caribbean.

The highlights today were the Panuchos. Unlike many Yucatán dishes, panuchos do not date back to the Mayans, but are a more recent, although still traditional concoction. The foundation is a tortilla that has been infused with a black bean puree, then fried. The topping is shredded turkey (!), pickled onion, lettuce, avocado and tomato. My fork didn’t offer much support, so I picked up my panucho (with Gilbero’s approval), folded it like a taco, and went to town.

Was it kind of like a taco? Well, yeah.. but it was more substantial and richer than most tacos. Earthy and satisfying in every way.

The great news is that Gilberto plans to serve Panuchos at the July 18 East L.A.Meets Napa main event. I’ll be first in line.

The address is: 3655 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Telephone: (213)741-1075

Shrimp Tacos – Mariscos El Jato – East Los Angeles

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I spotted this East LA seafood restaurant on a Sunday afternoon a couple of months ago. The reason I noticed it was the large number of customers, but that was the very reason that kept me from trying it that day. They were just too busy. I was in the neighborhood today, and had much better luck.

The menu has photos of the food, and my mind was made up the moment I saw the 5 Tacos de Camarón con Ensalada. It turned out to be 5 huge tacos buried under slices of avocado and a sour cream cole slaw. The tacos were filled with grilled shrimp that seemed to be lightly breaded, and a dash of pico de gallo, fried until they were crispy. I rarely encounter a crunchy taco, but the robust combination of seafood flavor, textures and even the warm and cool temperatures delivered on the promise I had seen in the photo.

I spoke with the owner, El Jato himself, a friendly, outgoing native of San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco, near Guadalajara. He told me that he created most of the dishes on the menu, and all of the plates I saw whizzing past me looked delicious. I saw beautiful tilapia fried whole, gigantic fish tacos, and big seafood-cocktailish looking dishes called chavelas.

So there are at least three more visits in my future, before I go for a repeat on the shrimp tacos.

Here’s the address: 2936 E. 4th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033

Phone: (323) 264-6590

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

East LA Meets Napa – Los Angeles – July 19, 2013

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Here’s an event that sounds great! Restaurants from East Los Angeles joining with Latino-owned wineries for a very worthwhile fund-raiser. I really want to be there. Check the website to see all the great restaurants and wineries that will be participating. The photo is from one of the participating restaurants, but I’m not telling which one – yet!

Friday, July 19, 2013
6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Union Station
800 North Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Purchase Tickets Today!

AltaMed’s premier food and wine tasting fundraising event, East LA Meets Napa, is in its 8th year. The event takes place outdoors on a warm summer evening in a unique aesthetic venue, the Union Station & Metropolitan Water District courtyards. The perfect setting for the 1,500 guests who enjoy trekking their way past their favorite food and wine stations. Latino owners, chefs, and representatives from 30 restaurants and 30 wineries showcase their wonderful food and wines. This event includes a VIP pre-event reception, a brief program, live entertainment, dancing, all the food you can eat, all the wine you can drink, and a surprise or two! Top sponsors enjoy the comfort of their very own private VIP reception areas.

With 1,500 guests in attendance, East LA Meets Napa is AltaMed’s highest attended annual fundraising event. Invitees will include the AltaMed Senior Management Team, Host Committee co-chairs and committee members, elected officials, sponsors, and friends of AltaMed.

This year’s event, appropriately named East LA Meets Napa & Beyond, will take us on a wine tasting journey stretching from the famed Napa Valley, through various California wine regions and beyond. An exploration of California wines showcasing and honoring the roots of so many Latino vintners and families.

http://www.altamed.org/eastlameetsnapa