Tacos Punta Cabras – Scallop Tacos

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With the grandfathered exception of The Border Grill, I never expected to find serious tacos in Santa Monica. Out for a walk on Santa Monica Boulevard, though, I had a feeling about this small, casual spot, and decided to give it a try. It also helped that I was hungry at the time.

The menu is very specialized, in the form of an order sheet with boxes to check. Tacos are limited to fish, scallop, shrimp and tofu. There are also seafood cocktails and tostadas. And that’s kind of it. They give special consideration to gluten and nut allergies.

I went for a fish taco and a scallop taco. There were no surprises when they arrived, basically baja style tacos with fried fish and scallops, shredded cabbage and a dash of crema on soft tortillas. The surprise came when I took my first bite. Perfectly cooked, beautifully balanced flavors and wonderful textures, these aren’t the quick comfort food we’ve come to expect of tacos…

This is serious food!

Here’s the address: 2311 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404
Phone: (310) 917-2244

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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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Tortilla Soup

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The first time I ever heard of Tortilla Soup, I was in Guadalajara in 1992. I thought it was a joke, so I ordered it as a novelty. What I got was a rich, beautiful soup with big chunks of chicken, avocado and dried chiles, generously supported with toasted tortilla strips. It was absolutely delicious. The Belair Hotel in Los Angeles is justifiably famous for its Tortilla Soup, but it’s something I rarely see on a menu.

It seemed appropriate to have Tortilla Soup on my recent trip to Guadalajara, 21 years after I had it for the first time… It was still great.

Guisados – Boyle Heights, Los Angeles – Seafood Tacos

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I was at Guisados’ Echo Park restaurant just last week, but when my friend Tom and I came across the original location during a walk across Cesar Chavez Boulevard, I couldn’t resist another visit.

This time I went for a shrimp taco and a fish taco. The shrimp was served with a beautifully rich seafood stock sauce and slivered green and red peppers and onions. The fish taco came with the traditional sliced cabbage and salsa, and featured a generously large piece of perfectly grilled fish. Both were served on Guisados perfectly soft hand-made tortillas.

The staff couldn’t have been more pleasant and friendly, and we even met the owner, Armando, who showed us some of the backroom secrets that make Guisadsos such a high quality favorite spot.

2100 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90033 (323) 264-7201

Origins of the Burrito

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Years ago, I heard an NPR report on some researchers who were tracing the history of the burrito. Because it has a flour tortilla wrapping, they reasoned, it must come from either Northern Mexico or the U.S. Their conclusion was that it originated somewhere near San Francisco in the 1930s.

About 3 years ago, I got into a discussion on Facebook with a Mexican friend on the same subject, and of course, there was no particular conclusion. The crazy coincidence was that I stepped away from the computer that evening and picked up a novel I was reading, and the main character went to the library to research the origins of the burrito.

Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Cuisine preceding the development of the modern taco, burrito, and enchilada was created by Mesoamerican peoples of Mexico, who used tortillas to wrap foods, with fillings of chili peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, squash, and avocados. The Pueblo people of the Southwestern United States also made tortillas with beans and meat sauce fillings prepared much like the modern burrito we know today.

The precise origin of the modern burrito is not known. It may have originated with vaqueros in northern Mexico in the nineteenth century; farmworkers in the fields of California’s Central Valley, in Fresno and Stockton; or with northern Sonoran miners of the 19th century. In the 1895 Diccionario de Mexicanismos, the burrito was identified as a regional item from Guanajuato and defined as “Tortilla arrollada, con carne u otra cosa dentro, que en Yucatán llamancoçito, y en Cuernavaca y en Mexico, taco” (A rolled tortilla with meat or other ingredients inside, called ‘coçito’ in Yucatán and ‘taco’ in the city of Cuernavaca and in Mexico City).

An often-repeated folk history is that of a man named Juan Méndez who sold tacos in a street stand in the Bella Vista neighborhood of Ciudad Juárez, using a donkey as a transport for himself and the food, during the Mexican Revolution period (1910–1921). To keep the food warm, Méndez wrapped it in large homemade flour tortillas underneath a small tablecloth. As the “food of the burrito” (i.e., “food of the little donkey”) grew in popularity, “burrito” was eventually adopted as the name for these large tacos
Another creation story comes from 1940s Ciudad Juárez, where a street food vendor created the tortilla-wrapped food to sell to poor children at a state-run middle school. The vendor would call the children his burritos, as burro is a colloquial term for dunce or dullard. Eventually, the derogatory or endearing term for the children was transferred to the food they ate.

In 1923, Alejandro Borquez opened the Sonora cafe in Los Angeles, which later changed its name to the El Cholo Spanish Cafe. Burritos first appeared on American restaurant menus at the El Cholo Spanish Cafe during the 1930s.] Burritos were mentioned in the U.S. media for the first time in 1934,] appearing in the Mexican Cookbook, a collection of regional recipes from New Mexico authored by historian Erna Fergusson.