Vampiros – Mazatlán



How could I possibly resist a dish called Vampiros?

It was a busy taco stand – actually a large restaurant in a row of those metal-roof, garage-like spaces – and I chose it because it was the busiest place along the strip of road leading to the beach. I got to chatting with a cab driver, who told me I had chosen the best place, because it’s where the drivers go… I suppose they have special culinary sensibilities.

With great expectations, I waited for my Vampiros, but was a bit disappointed when they turned out to be Tacos al Pastor. I’m not sure what distinguishes Vampiros from tacos, but they were absolutely delicious. My favorite tacos are in Tijuana and Mexico City, but these ran a close third. Richly spiced marinated pork, cut directly from the vertical grill, served with a wider-than-usual selection of accompaniments, I was thrilled.

Maybe taxi drivers know what they’re eating after all.

East LA Meets Napa – July 19



I’m really looking forward to this event on Friday – at Union Station, of all places! A long list of great Mexican restaurants and Latino-owned wineries will be there, and I’ll have the opportunity to try all their wonderful specialties.

The photos are a selection of Moles from La Huasteca, and quesadillas from Lotería Grill. Both restaurants will be represented on Friday. Here are their websites:

Here’s the website for the event, with the list of restaurants and wineries, with a description of Alta Med, the beneficiary of the fund-raising:

Corn and Green Chile Tamales – A Recipe


Tamales have been around for some 10,000 years. The Mayas and Aztecs ate tamales, as did the civilizations that came before them. Here’s a recipe that’s easy to follow, and certain to be delicious:

Flavorful tamales stuffed with sweet corn, cheese and tangy green chile sauce.
Yield: 30-40 tamales


16 oz corn kernels
3 oz. can diced green chiles
4 oz cream cheese (1/2 a standard package)
1/2 cup sour cream or crema
16 oz queso fresco or jack cheese (shredded or crumbled)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
40 Corn Husks
Tamale Dough (Recipe Below)

Prepare the filling
Add the corn and the diced chiles to a large bowl and add in the cream cheese, queso fresco, cumin, chile powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Use a large spoon to smash the cream cheese into the mixture to begin mixing it. I like to just use my hands to squish it all together. Once the filling is made, set it aside. (Note: You can make the filling the day before and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.)
Preparing the Corn Husks
Go through the corn husks removing any debris. Separate the larger usable pieces from the smaller bits and pieces. Save the smaller pieces for later. Go through the corn husks removing any debris. Separate the larger usable pieces from the smaller bits and pieces. Save the smaller pieces for later. Place the husks into a large bowl. Cover husks with warm water. Set a heavy item (like a heavy bowl or mug) on top of the husks to keep them submerged. Remove the husks from the water and pat dry. Place into a covered dish or a large plastic bag to prevent from drying out. Use only the larger and medium sized husks for the tamales. The smaller ones can be used later for ties or patches. When looking at the husk, notice the shape. They have a narrow end, a broad end, and two long sides.

Masa Harina Tamale Dough
6 cups masa harina
5 cups warm water or low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups lard
3 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoon cumin
3 tablespoon chile powder
2 teaspoons salt

In a mixing bowl combine masa and warm water or broth until combined. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes or so to let the masa soften. Then mix it on low speed until a dough forms. After the Masa Harina is prepared, gradually add in the salt, cumin and onion powder by sprinkling them over the dough as you mix it. In a separate bowl, whip lard or shortening about three minutes or until fluffy. Add the lard to the dough a little at a time while mixing until well combined. The mixture should be about the consistency of peanut butter. If not, add more masa harina, water or broth as necessary.
Assembling the Tamales
Lay a husk on a flat surface. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of dough onto the husk, depending on the size of the husk. Use the back of a metal spoon to spread the dough onto the husk. When spreading the dough, leave a space of about 4 inches from the narrow end of the husk and about 2 inches from the other end. Spread the dough to the edge of one of the long sides and 2 inches away from the other long side. Try to keep the dough approximately 1/4 inch thick. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of filling down the center of the dough, leaving at least one inch of dough around the sides. Locate the long side with a 2 inch space with no masa. Fold that over, slightly overlapping the other side so the edges of the dough meet. Wrap the extra husk around the back. Then fold the broad end over the top and then the longer narrow end over the broad end. Create strips of husk by cutting or tearing 1/4 inch lengths off of some of the smaller or unusable husks. Use these to tie across the middle of the tamale to hold the flaps down. Set tamales upright in a steamer. You can buy large steamers made just for this purpose. You may have something else you can use to create the same effect. The key is to have a small amount of boiling water on the bottom of the pot and a colander or mesh of some sort to keep the tamales away from the water. Steam for about 90 minutes and let them cool before serving.

Making Tamales is easy once you get the hang of it. It may take you a little longer to make the first few, but after you learn the ropes, you’ll have a whole batch ready in no time.

Here’s the website:

Lotería Grill – Santa Monica – Carnitas en Salsa Morita


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:

Churros Calientes – Food Truck, West Los Angeles – Churros


Nearly 3 years ago, I was thrilled to see that a restaurant called Churros Calientes was coming to Santa Monica Boulevard, near Federal Avenue right around the corner from home. Before it opened, though, I had to move out of town for a while, and always regretted missing out. Sadly, since returning to LA, I haven’t had an opportunity to try it. Last week, though, I posted a picture of the great churros I had at the Barrio Cafe in Phoenix, and the urge for churros became rather intense.

Leaving the gym yesterday, I saw among the usual food trucks at the Santa Monica office park a new truck… Churros Calientes… and I was able to satisfy my craving. delicious, hot (yes, caliente) pastry, fresh from the fryer, tossed in the perfect mix of sugar and cinnamon, with a thick dulce de leche sauce. I could have chosen different sizes and shapes, and there were chocolate, strawberry and guava sauces available. I’ll try those eventually, but probably not until I’ve had this perfect combination a few more times.

Here’s the website:

Chicken Enchiladas – Cincola, Westchester, Los Angeles


I tease my friend Robert because he will only ever order chicken enchiladas in a Mexican restaurant. Some day I’ll fool him by taking him to a place that doesn’t serve enchiladas. Meanwhile, the enchiladas he ordered at Cincola ( or is it Cinco L.A.? ) were absolutely great! Nice moist pieces of chicken rolled in firm tortillas, and topped with a delicious green sauce, rich and complex, with an interesting slightly sour edge. An attractive minimalist bar with a suitably loud young crowd, this isn’t a place I would have expected to find a serious Mexican kitchen. I’ll tell you about the chicken in black mole later.

Here’s the website:

Shrimp Tostada – La Playita. Venice, Los Angeles


It’s just a little stand on Lincoln Boulevard just north of the Whole Foods store, but I have become a regular customer for their fresh, simple seafood dishes. The shrimp tostada couldn’t have bee fresher or simpler – steamed shrimp, cilantro and avocado slices on a toasted tortilla. A spritz of lime juice and a dash of Tapatío, and I was smiling all afternoon.

Aguachile – Coni’Seafood, Inglewood. Los Angeles


The aguachile at Coni’Seafood is the most exciting thing I’ve put in my mouth recently. I made an odd noise when I saw the presentation – something combination of a gasp and a “wow!” Basically a ceviche, it is fresh raw shrimp marinated in lemon juice, topped with a fruity/spicy jalapeño puré. I recently visited the wonderful Peruvian restaurant Mo-Chica downtown, where ceviche has been raised to an art-form, but for a blast of pure fresh flavor, nothing can beat this aguachile. A serving was a dozen shrimp (for a surprisingly good price), so I was completely satisfied before moving on to a wonderful main course.