Torta Cubana – El Taurino – Los Angeles

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It seems to me that whenever a Mexican restaurant wants to make a really crazy sandwich, they blame it on the Cubans. There’s really no end to the things you can find in a Torta Cubana. A favorite place in South Omaha throws in a fried egg, and Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica includes a sliced and grilled hot dog. One thing in common, though, is that they always include breaded beef “milanesa” and marinated pork leg “pierna adobada.”

The Torta Cubana at El Taurino is relatively sane by comparison with some places. Served on a unique, tasty roll, the milanesa is fresh from the frying pan, and the pierna is moist and spicy. The avocado, tomato, onion and crema are in perfect balance, and the red sauce served on the side is spicy enough to demand your attention. One of my favorite sandwiches in Los Angeles, a city known for its great sandwiches.

Even if you’re not hungry, El Taurino is worth a trip just to see the wonderful bullfighting theme decor. The walls are lined with original bullfighting posters, photos and artworks, and a couple of losing bullfight contestants are mounted on the walls.

Always a fun, tasty experience.Try the barbacoa on weekends, and there is a truck out the back to take care of weekend crowds, and late-night hours.

1104 S Hoover St, Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 738-9197

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

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National Taco Day

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The LA Weekly magazine tells me it’s National Taco Day, and they list their 20 favorite tacos in Los Angeles. I’ve only had 7 of them – many of the establishments are trucks – but from what I can tell, these guys really know their tacos. Meanwhile, here are a few recent favorites of mine… unfortunately not in Los Angeles.

Here’s the LA Weekly link: http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/2013/10/tacos_los_angeles.php

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Tacos – The Real Thing

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Some years ago, I was telling a friend about my passion for the wonderful tacos I was discovering all over Los Angeles. When he told me he didn’t like tacos because he didn’t like the hard, toasted tortillas they came on, I was mystified. I had never heard of a taco with a hard shell. Later, I learned that some of the old-school taco places in LA serve them that way, to appeal to unsophisticated American tastes. I guess they’re tasty enough in their own right, but they are NOT the real thing.

Dave Miller recently did a piece on tacos in his great blog: Dave Miller’s Mexico. Here is his list of 5 ways you can tell if your taco isn’t really Mexican:

(The photos are from my favorite taquería in Tijuana, Tacos El Gordo… They are most definitely the real thing.)

1. If the beans on that combo plate you ordered are covered in triangles of yellow cheese or the grated four cheese blend you can get at your corner market, you won’t find it south of the border. I have never seen a Mexican variety of yellow cheese. Cheese in Mexico is usually white and if it is served on beans, tends to the crumbly queso fresco type.

2. If your tacos come with any of the following, ground beef, lettuce, tomato slices, grated cheese, yellow wax paper or even turkey, you are not in Mexico. Tacos come with onions and cilantro in Mexico. They are also made with steak and all the other parts of the cow or pig, but never have I seen a taco filled with ground beef.

3. If you can order shrimp, chicken, steak or any other type of fajitas, you won’t be finding that plate in too many taco stands or restaurants in Mexico. Sorry folks, as wonderful as fajitas can be, I’ve never seen fajitas in Mexico. I’m sure they are served somewhere in that great country, but this is a dish popularized by the Orange County restaurant chain El Torito in the 1980’s.

4. When you ask for salsa and the spiciest option you get is Amor or Tapatio bottled sauce, you certainly are not ordering your food in Guadalajara. In Mexico, we love our chiles. Habañeros, jalapeños, serranos and chiles de agua, we love them all, and expect to experience these tastes in, and on our food. Unfortunately, the American palette is not ready for this type of experience so we mostly get a tomato blend spiced up with a little bit of pepper.

5. Finally, when you walk in the door, if the first thing that greets you is a wall of sombreros or a chile in a beach chair, you can bet you’re gonna get a lot of that yellow cheese covered stuff. The derivative here is that if you see folks getting drunk wearing mariachi hats and dancing like loons, you are more likely in Papas-n-Beer or On the Border than a traditional Mexican restaurant.

Here’s a link to Dave’s blog: http://davemillersmexico.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/faux-mexican-five-ways-to-know-your-combo-plate-may-be-wonderful-but-not-available-in-mexico/

Bernardo Fernández, Bef – Cuello Blanco

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My rating: 4 1/2 stars

Andrea Mijangos is back. Sadder and wiser, but still intensely loyal to family and friends, she’s intent on revenge, but this time she has the financial resources to do something about it. In her cross-hairs is Lizzy Zubiaga, the beautiful cartel leader who revolutionized the Mexican drug trade in Bernardo Fernández Bef’s lively previous novel, Hielo Negro. Cuello Blanco is a fun mix of genres, intertwining a gumshoe private detective investigating a very ordinary crime that may or may not have taken place, with busting a massive international money-laundering scheme with the dubious help of the American FBI and DEA.

The characters are outrageous, but at the same time well-realized. Former cop Andrea isn’t afraid to rough up a team of French flics, but also unwittingly stirs up the most basic instincts in the men she meets. “If you lived in the 1950s, you’d be a movie star” … “No, I’d be a wrestler, helping Santo fight mummies and vampires.” And Lizzy Zubiaga, while yet again revolutionizing Mexican organized crime, is into cosplay, extreme performance art and vicious murder, and has a truly frightening attitude to relations with the opposite sex.

The action is almost non-stop. There are murders – by gun, by knife, by explosion… even by sexual over-stimulation. There is a complex financial fraud, a Balkan arms deal, shocking performance art, a gang war and an explosive climax. You know, all the things you’d expect from a Bernardo Fernández, Bef novel.

A fun read!

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Óscar Salgado, dueño de la casa de bolsa Blue Chip, es secuestrado y amenazado para obtener la información financiera de Lizzy Zubiaga, la reina de las drogas sintéticas. Ella decide entrar de lleno al negocio del lavado de dinero junto con Salgado y su socio, Alberto Suárez. Su plan: crear un banco internacional para criminales de alto nivel. La única persona que puede detenerla es la ex policía Andrea Mijangos, con su nueva agencia de detectives. Mientras tanto, al otro lado de la ciudad, un misántropo dibujante de cómics aparece muerto en un cuarto cerrado por dentro, sin aparente violencia ni móvil. Son los primeros casos de Mijangos como investigadora privada, quien sigue obsesionada por ver a Lizzy tras las rejas. Ayudada por el Járcor, su ex compañero de la policía judicial, y con la ambigua amistad de Henry Dávalos, agente de la DEA, Andrea se verá cara a cara con traficantes de armas rusos, bandas de asaltabancos armenios y traficantes de tabaco albaneses en la segunda entrega de esta trepidante serie. Con el estilo único de Bef (Premio Grijalbo de Novela 2011 por Hielo negro), que combina lo mejor del género negro con elementos de la cultura pop, Cuello blanco es una novela explosiva que estallará ante los ojos del lector.

Juan’s Restaurante – Baldwin Park, California – Mole Velo de Novia

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Here’s one of the most delicious things I’ve tasted this year. Juan’s Restaurante was serving at the East LA Meets Napa fundraising event for AltaMed, and like the other participating restaurants, brought one signature dish for everyone to try. They chose Mole Velo de Novia.

Mole Velo de Novia (Bridal Veil, probably named for its color) is a lovey white color, and made from a pine nut base. At their restaurant in Baldwin Park, they serve it with sauteed shrimp, but this time, it came on tacos featuring big, juicy pieces of turkey on green tortillas. It’s hard to describe how the sweet, almost almondy flavor could be so rich, and yet fit so well with the savory flavor of the turkey. I went back for 3 servings, and insisted friends try it too… everyone was highly impressed.

Juan’s Restaurante features many Pre-Columbian menu choices, including Mole Velo de Novia. It is located in Baldwin Park, a bit far from Santa Monica, where I’m living, but I know I’ll be going there soon to try more of chef Juan Mondragon’s creations.

Here’s the website: http://www.juansrestaurante.net/

El Borrego de Oro – Tacos de Barbacoa

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There are a lot of great meat experiences in Los Angeles, ranging from Argentinian steaks to Shanghai style pork shanks, but I’ve just added a new favorite to my list.

El Borrego de Oro serves lamb barbacoa style, in which the whole lamb is steamed in an underground oven, covered with maguey cactus leaves. The result is a remarkably flavorful meat so soft that it falls off the bone. This is the style that has been perfected in the Mexican state of Hidalgo over many generations. They sell barbacoa by the pound, and will even cook an entire lamb for you by special order, but I went for the tacos… despite my good intentions, I can only eat so much.

The meat is cooked essentially without spices, to preserve the rich meaty flavor, so I was slightly surprised to receive two tortillas, each with a generously large, but unadorned piece of meat on top. Accompanied by cilantro, chopped onion and lime wedges, all I needed was a liberal splash of smoky, spicy chile sauce for a perfect experience.

With all 3 locations in East LA, I had to drive for this experience… I’m looking forward to doing it often in the future.

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

El Cholo – Los Angeles – Green Corn Tamales with Mole Poblano

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It’s been a long time since I’ve been to El Cholo, which has been a fixture in Los Angeles since 1923. I recently posted an article in which El Cholo was cited as being the first LA restaurant to serve a burrito – that’s the kind of history they bring to the table. They have branches around town, but the location I always think of is the original on Western Avenue south of Olympic.

El Cholo was a participant in the wonderful fund-raising event for AltaMed, held in the courtyard of Union Station, so I was able to reacquaint myself. Each of the restaurants that came to the event selected a featured item, and El Cholo chose to serve Green Corn Tamales with a delicious Mole Poblano. The tamales were made with a rich, soft masa, and were sweetened and textured with whole kernels of corn, and a secret (to me) ingredient that gave them a creamy, almost cheesy finish. The mole poblano, with its sweet/smoky/spicy flavor was the perfect accompaniment.

I’m sure I’ll be going to El Cholo in the near future to see what else is on the menu.

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