So… What did you eat in Mexico City?

My friends know I’m always on the lookout for great food, so one of their first questions when I return from a trip is “What did you eat?” Here are some highlights from my recent Mexico City trip.

Chiles en Nogada – Cafe Tacuba, Centro

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Hotcakes – Sobrinos, Colonia Roma

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Pozole – Casa de Toño, Zona Rosa

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Tacos al Pastor “Especial” – El Huequito, Centro

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Grilled Octopus – Los Danzantes, Coyoacán

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Fideo Seco – Bowie, Colonia Roma

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Barbacoa – El Hidalguense, Colomia Roma

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Birria Jalisqueña – Tacos Frontera, Colonia Roma

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La Casita Mexicana – Pescado Veracruzano

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Whenever I see a list of the 10 best Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles, La Casita Mexicana is always included. I remembered a nice meal I had there with friends a few years ago, but I was way overdue for a return visit. Located in the town of Bell, basically south of East L.A., I had to set the GPS to find it, but it was easier to find than I expected. The restaurant has doubled in size since the last time I was there, and is now a comfortable, colorful and bright room. Having seen many restaurants fail when they take over the space next door, I was delighted to see that it was filled with happy diners.

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The menu is large and wonderfully varied, and I had seafood in mind. After a conversation with my friendly, helpful waiter, I settled on the Pescado Veracruzano – fish Veracruz style. When I visited Veracruz a few years ago, I had the best seafood of my life. It didn’t seem to matter where I went – the seafood was magnificent. One dish that stood out, of course, was the Pescado Veracruzano. It’s usually a nice piece of soft-flesh fish steamed in foil with a combination of tomato, green olives, capers, chiles and some ingredients still mysterious to me. La Casita Mexicana’s version arrives without the foil wrap, but beautifully presented on a rectangular plate. It had all the rich and complex flavors I was hoping for, and the generously portioned fish was perfectly cooked. I could not have been happier.

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The fish was the star of the show, but they also got the other details right. As I looked at the menu, I was served chips with both mole poblano and red pipián sauce. (The mole poblano is a good enough reason in itself to make the trip) The sopa de rajas was an unexpected starter treat, and I was delighted with the lemonade sprinkled with chia seeds – a first-time experience for me.

Mary, the manager, went out of her way to make me feel at home, and I was already making plans to return, as I was walking out the door.

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

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

Mr. Lobster – Mazatlán – Fish Ceviche

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Mr. Lobster is a bright, cheerful place in an upscale area just a few blocks north of the Malecón.

As you may have gathered by now, I do enjoy ceviche. There was a choice of ceviches, and I went for the fish. I’ve never seen it served this way, minced with tomato, cucumber, carrots and onion, and it was a refreshing treat on a hot afternoon. Several bites in, I realized I was violating an important traveler’s rule by eating the unpeeled tomato, but I figured it was to late to change my mind, and went ahead and ate it with great pleasure. There was no problem in this case, but I still try to be careful.

Definitely a nice choice for authentic Sinaloa style seafood.

Looking For Seafood in Mexico

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I took a long taxi ride to the beach in Tijuana to try a restaurant that Anthony Bourdain featured on his show. Guess what? Terraza Vallarta isn’t there any more. $22 in cab rides later, at least I had a nice conversation with the cab driver… It was one of the less expensive little white cabs, so I probably made his night.

On Saturday night in Hermosillo, I took another long cab ride – not as long this time – to a Sinaloa style seafood restaurant called El Charco. Before the taxi could leave, a lovely young woman raced out to tell me that they closed at 7:00 pm. I’ve come across this with other seafood places in Mexico.I ended up at La Cobacha, a huge place with an extensive menu. I had a mixture of shrimp, scallops and avocado in a sweetish red sauce called Manjar de Neptuno… Finally got my seafood fix.