Rocío’s Mexican Kitchen

For some time. I’ve been a follower of Rocío Camacho, the Mexican chef known all over Southern California particularly for her excitingly creative mole sauces. She has worked at a number of Los Angeles area restaurants, bringing her distinctive style to each, but has never opened her own place… until now.

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Over the weekend, I was invited to AltaMed’s annual fundraiser, East LA Meets Napa, and was pleased to see that Rocío’s Moles de los Dióses was serving beautiful tacos featuring 3 of her signature moles. This is a restaurant in the Valley in which she is a partner. I love her Mole Poblano, Manchamanteles and Red Pipián, and went back several times before I had had enough.

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My surprising discovery at the East LA Meets Napa event was that Rocío Camacho was represented by another restaurant, Rocío’s Mexican Kitchen. When I tried her wild and daring combination of a classic Spanish Paella and a Mole Poblano, I knew I had to make a trip to Bell Gardens to see what she had on the menu.

The location was a surprise. It looks like an old-school burger stand, with a take-out window, and a small seating area. We forgot all about our surroundings when we saw the sophisticated Mexican menu, and made our difficult choices.

First up was a beautiful Aguachile, basically a ceviche dish, of fresh raw shrimps served with cucumber slices, avocado, pickled onion and a thick, earthy chile sauce. Spicy, oceany and refreshing. I ordered the pork ribs in a cheerfully sticky mango and habañero sauce. They were meaty ribs, and were served, another surprise, with Espagueti, a nicely cooked pasta in a green sauce.

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The star of the show was the Chile Relleno, normally a common comfort food, but brought vividly to life with a truly unique Mole Poblano. Of all the standard moles, it seems to me that Poblano can have the widest interpretation, and this was probably the most unusual one I’ve ever had. There was the expected smoky, earthy complexity of course, but there was a strong fruity component that made it truly special.

A lovely Flan for dessert, and a very pleasant staff made this an especially nice experience. I’ll be back soon.

Here’s the contact info. There doesn’t seem to be a website yet: Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen, 7891 Garfield Ave., Bell Gardens, 562-659-7800

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Favorite Foods … State by State

I saw a wonderful article in Buzzfeed, listing a typical dish for each of the 31 Mexican states… 32 after counting Mexico City, which is a separate federal district. I know many of the dishes, and have written about some on this website, but I clearly still have a lot to discover. The photos are from the Buzzfeed article.

Here are some examples:

Mexico City – Tacos al Pastor

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One of my favorite foods in the world. Marinated pork sliced from a vertical grill onto hot tortillas, served with a splash of guacamole, cilantro and onion. I especially love to have this at El Gordo in Tijuana and El Huequito in Mexico City.

Oaxaca – Mole Oaxaqueño

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Made with chile and chocolate, and up to 50 other ingredients, this is one of the richest, complex sauces anywhere. La Huasteca in Los Angeles is one of my go-to places for great moles.

Sonora – Chimichanga

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I was a bit surprised to learn that a chinchanga is a real thing. Basically a deep-fried burrito, I have only seen them in very Americanized restaurants in Arizona and California. I look forward to trying the rea thing next time I’m in Sonora.

Veracruz – Chilpachole de Jaiba

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This is a seafood stew that I have not had. I adore Jaibas, the small crabs that are such a delicacy in Veracruz, and I’ve had some of the best seafood of my life there, as well… I’m tempted to make a special trip just to try this wonderful dish.

Here is the link to the whole Buzzfeed article:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/bibibarud/32-estados-32-platillos?bffb&utm_term=4ldqpgp#.xcqmwYmdD

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/

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/

East LA Meets Napa – July 19

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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:

http://lahuasteca.com/

http://loteriagrill.com/

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:

http://www.altamed.org/eastlameetsnapa

A Delicious Lesson in Moles – La Huasteca, Lynwood. Los Angeles

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They went out of their way to be sure I had a memorable meal at La Huasteca. I was having such a great time eating my pork chops with mole mancha manteles (appropriately named “tablecloth stainer”) that manager Irma Vera brought me samples of the other moles available on the menu. Clockwise from the upper left:

Mole de los dioses (mole of the gods) is made from the highly prized delicacy huitlacoche. Only because I knew what it was, a fungus that grows on the corn plant, I was able to identify flavors of both mushrooms and corn, but the taste is absolutely unique and wonderful.

Mole de tamarindo, which they serve with duck, had layer upon layer of flavor that transformed from sweet to chile to smoky hot… Beautiful.

Mole poblano, possibly the most famous mole, can be a bit sweet for my taste in some places, but this one tasted like smooth chocolaty smoke, with a hot, spicy finish. A welcome variation.

Red pipián and green pipián. I think the world is divided 50/50 on the subject, but I think the red sauce better suits the toasty flavor of the pumpkin seeds. Both were beautifully executed.

Meanwhile, the mole mancha manteles that was on my plate, and not in this picture, surprised me with a vague resemblance to some of the very best barbecue sauces in Kansas City. Rich and spicy, with a reddish brown color, it outdid anything from the midwest in complexity and layers of flavor, while not overpowering the pork chops. It did, however, have the same satisfying comfort that we find in the best barbecue.

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