La Cerveceria Union – Puerto Vallarta – Huachinango

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The sunset was beautiful, and everyone was out for a stroll on the Malecón. There are hundreds of restaurant choices in Puerto Vallarta, ranging from wildly elaborate theme restaurants to thinly-disguised discos to American chains like Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company. I didn’t find the internet very useful on this trip, so I was left to make my best guess for dinner. Something about the casual atmosphere, upscale clientele and interesting menu of La Cerveceria Union gave me a good feeling… not to mention the oyster bar.

It’s a lovely big room, with an open patio perfect for watching the sun set. I ordered the huachinango – red snapper – and was delighted with the way it was presented. It was a perfectly grilled fish with only the slightest spice rub, served on a wooden carving board, and smothered with fresh cilantro and red onion.

Service was quick and friendly, the people-watching was fun, and manager David Monjaraz made me feel right at home.

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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/

Chichén Itzá – Los Angeles – Mesquite Grilled Shrimp

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Several years ago, when I learned that Chichén Itzá served Yucatán style venison tacos, I dropped everything and went to try them. They don’t seem to be on the menu any more, but they were absolutely delicious. Since then, I have been back many times to their South Grand Avenue restaurant, as well as to the short-lived MacArthur Park location. I’ve had perfectly executed red and green pipiáns, Yucatán specialty poc chuc and many other wonderful dishes. There’s always a feeling of anticipation while driving there, because, out of character for me, I haven’t settled on a single favorite dish.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Gilberto and Gilberto (yes, two Gilbertos) at the East LA Meets Napa fund-raising event for AltaMed. Each of the participating restaurants presented a specialty dish for the sophisticated crowd of over 1,000 people, and Chichén Itzá’s mesquite grilled shrimp with a habanero cream sauce was a stand-out success. Served on a bed of julienne zucchini, the distinctive flavors of the shrimp and mesquite were beautifully balanced by a flavorful cream sauce with just enough habanero heat to add a whole new layer to the experience.

A consistently good restaurant, run by really nice people… what more can we ask for?

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