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

Guisados – Echo Park, Los Angeles – Chile Verde Tacos

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Guisados, as its name suggests, specializes in tacos made from rich, traditional stews. The chile verde was especially tasty.

Here’s the website: http://www.guisados.co/

Guisados is one of the participants in tonight’s event East LA Meets Napa, a fundraiser for AltaMed at Union Station. The event features Mexican restaurants from all over Los Angeles, as well as Latino-owned wineries.

Here’s the website: http://www.altamed.org/eastlameetsnapa

El Parián – Birria – Los Angeles

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Walking into this Jalisco style restaurant, you would swear you were in Mexico. The smells, decorations, customers and staff all add to the image. The food is wonderful, and everyone is very friendly. My friend is a vegetarian, and they even brought him a beautiful bean and cheese burrito for $3.95… And it’s the best birria I’ve had anywhere. I’m now a regular customer, despite the slightly awkward location.

Aguachile – Coni’Seafood, Inglewood. Los Angeles

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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.