Burrito gratification in my neighorhood
3806 W. Sunset Blvd.
Phone: 323-664-2848 | map
Tacos Delta is hardly more than a stand held up by its own graffiti, its parking lot in a constant shuffle of customers' cars and delivery trucks from the adjacent cleaners. A tiny counter window surrounds itself with color photos of massive dishes and soups.
There are always about three to eight people of any conceivable ethnicity waiting for their order. They'll either take it elsewhere or slink into the covered, cozy yet haphazard, eating-area-cum-storage-unit in the back. Someone brings your food out to you. Little birds hop and dart, hoping for crumbs.
It's inexpensive enough to make one foolishly order far too much food. The bulky fish taco is fried dark and likely needs a bit of fork work before you can pick up the tortillas, which are firm and not at all oily. The quesadillas are happily burnt, mortared by sheets of highly tasty white cheese.
The burritos, though, are what make me sluggish for hours afterward. My favorite is the chili verde, a big drippy knapsack of a burrito with green, savory chunks of slightly pink pork, offset by cool splinters of lettuce and onion.
Everything is acentuated by much splashing from a squeeze bottle of Tacos Delta's seedy red salsa, not hot at all but heavy with character.
This is a very local joint, so isn't concerned much with parking. It's Sunset Blvd., so it's going to be busy, but try to find a spot along the hills without too much condemning signage.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
This is another of our Olvera Street getaways, with brick arches and black iron chairs. Find a table inside the cavernous old room that used to be a winery*, or do as we do, and sit outside on the patio. Gaze out onto the middle lane of Olvera Street, listening to trios of old men with guitars, vihuelas and maracas stepping between the tables, wailing plaintive rancheras. Little birds sweep past under the low ceiling.
The tortillas are house-made on the large white tortilla dome inside; the chips are dry but warm, and the soft corn tortillas are wonderful things, thick and slightly scratchy. The salsa is a spicy red.
The plates are very home-kitchen style, comfortable heaps of variety. The cheese is welded to the unashamedly lard-heavy beans, the hard-shell tacos and enchiladas exactly as desired. The carne asada, seasoned with a subtle touch, is done heavier than you ordered, so go medium rare. The veggie burrito is a bulky exercise in gardening, with no shortage of veggies; broccoli, cauliflower and carrot number among the expected bell peppers and onions.
El Paseo does them very well, but Bianca and I shake our heads at those who order sizzling iron plates of fajitas, or Lady of Guadalupe forbid, U.S. American food. (Bianca: people who order burgers and fries at Mexican restaurants should go home.)
They have a few drinks available, such as sipping tequilas and a few named classics. The Latin Lover is amaretto-flavored coffee, Kahlua and tequila topped with whipped cream, sultry and hot, slightly heavy on the Kahlua. The El Paseo Margarita is automatically on the rocks but in a massive glass, with Don Julio, Grand Marnier and sweet & sour; it's smooth and confident.
El Paseo Inn is owned by Camacho's, and I'm all right with that.
* That is, before 1953. Before that, the E-11 location was Café Caliente. Before that, it was the Padre Vineyard Company. Before that, it was the Cucamonga Winery. Before that, in 1871, it was the Pelanconi Winery. Isn't L.A. history grand?
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, East Side/Downtown )
The locations in West Hollywood and Encino are closed, so we can concentrate on the original, shaking its tailfeathers on the dingy corner of Virgil and Melrose. Every square inch is saucily colored; one wall is on fire, another draped with faux cannabis leaves. Virgin Mary altars and prayer candles gaze serenely over the diners. It's a party place steeped in its own invented traditions.
We tend to get the tapas-style dishes that end up stuffing the hell out of us. The Ceviche Guadalupe is a rich, seafoody salsa, all swordfish, salmon, and shrimp all swimming together in a samba spa, and other insane alliteration I can't avoid when dipping my chips into this stuff.
The Black Bean Tamales are smoooooth, the cornmeal infused with the unique scent and taste of black bean and golden caviar.
The Jerk Pork is a tenderloin powerhouse on a crisped tortilla, drenched in a dark spicy sauce bent on revenge. It's not especially Jamaican--it's more like a mole sauce that's spent some time in prison--but it commands attention.
Some aren't our favorites but are worth trying, and go well with particular drinks. The Guava and Goat Cheese Quesadilla is almost like a stuffed pita, and the guacamole is necessary to ease off on the goat cheese tang. The Crispy Shrimp Cakes are like a mutant crab cake fought a box of Rice Krispies, except a lot better than that particular simile sounds; the shrimp is subdued and not overly battery. The tartar sauce helps.
Their tropical punch is grapefruity rather than a saccharine red, and if I retained hold of the menu I could tell you what was in Bianca's "Voodoo Spiced Cocktail."
Parking is a five-buck valet investment, but street parking is a little nervous.
There's a pair of Cha Cha Chas in San Francisco (on Haight and on Mission) that are highly acclaimed, and I'm unsure if they're related.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Brazilian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Jamaican )
Pay no attention to the merrily sombrero'd man behind the curtain
One West California Blvd. #211 (in Pasadena)
Phone: 626-795-9291 | map
504 W. Las Tunas Dr. (in San Gabriel)
Phone: 626-293-8995 | map
While expanding our conquests into Pasadenian* territory, I'm always pleased to find a place that tastes better than its decor suggests. Los Tacos is in the brick square at California and Fair Oaks, right smack next to Porta Via. The friendly design scheme is of a kind to make purists sneer: cleanly tropical, Mexican-ish village paintings, just enough not to scare away the sunburnt vacationers.
"The World's Greatest Tacos" is emblazoned across the menu, which is a hell of a brassy claim to make in Southern California, and which I shall not endorse because you just can't say something crazy like that and go without a raised eyebrow and skeptical sampling.
Are they the world's greatest tacos? No, of course not. The world's greatest tacos are probably being made by someone's mother in a village somewhere south of the Rio Pánuco. Are they the greatest tacos in California? No. The greatest in the 626 area code? Maybe.
But these are well-executed. The soft tortillas are non-gritty and flavorful, and the hard shells are pressed and softened, so have a little give before a satisfying crack-and-crunch. The Chile Verde Pork taco is small but has a refreshing heat. The machaca is tangy, although I prefer a little more grilling toward a juice-locked, toothsome darkness. The chicken and the chicken mole are not terribly interesting. The al pastor is probably the best item here, tapping the lips just a bit with seasoning.
However boastful the tacos are, I prefer the burritos. The bulky Al Pastor Burrito (Mojado style) is seasoned long and well until moody, its tortilla stained correctly orange. The accompaniments are simple and unadorned: the rice is fluffy and soft, and the refried beans mostly intact.
The salsas in the bin are not too angry; even the "extra hot" only prompts minor sniffing.
Los Tacos has another, perhaps original, location in San Gabriel, with more of a local feel.
* Pasadenan? Pasadenite? Forget it.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra )
Food As Medicine
A few of the many locations, since Tacos Mexico is a remarkably skittish little establishment and can't be easily discovered:
Beverly Blvd., Temple & Westmoreland: map
Van Nuys & Sherman Way, in Van Nuys: map
Tampa & Saticoy, in Reseda: map
Glendale Blvd. & Alvarado, in Echo Park: map
Olympic west of Atlantic, above the 5: map
Ah, now this is one of those places to refuel after stumbling out of whatever club you're regretting, for a new lubrication of cooked flesh and spice and tortilla. Placed strategically like hospitals across California (and one in Vegas, I'm told), the red and white shield stands forth against late-night debauchery and overindulgence. Some are better, and some are iffy: standing proudly on Beverly in front of the Mexican Village Restaurant*, hiding in a strip mall on Tampa and Saticoy, moldering on the corner where Alvarado collides with Glendale Blvd.
The inside is consistent; a massive jukebox bursts with rancheras and norteño, accompanied by chopping sounds from the kitchen and questioning bleeps from the battered arcade games lurching against one wall (usually Galaga, Cruis'n, Ms. Pac Man). The menu looks like it has a lot of things, but it's basically repeating the same meats (al pastor, lengua, pollo, carne asada, et al) for each item.
This used to be a cheap-taco-fix spot, but I see the tacos are a buck and a nickel, and the salsas are by request instead of waiting in the salsa bin. The tacos are piled high on top of heavily oiled tortillas, requiring much napkinnage. The burritos (with everything, por favor) are broad and packed with awesome. Everything is paper plates and tinfoil, and you don't need it to be anything more.
The al pastor doesn't leap out at you, but is spicy and good. The carnitas rate highly, chopped fine and dripping. The asada is what shines here, moister than most and really maintaining a juicy, steaky flavor instead of succumbing to grey dryness. For those in the mood for such things, Tacos Mexico does a really good plate of nachos.
* This one can't be found online. At all.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, East Side/Downtown, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, The Valley, Late Night/24 Hours )
Most common scenario:
"The movie starts at seven. Wanna hit Poquito Mas?"
I'm not selling out, honest*. I'm not usually a big fan of "baja" style, or "fresh-mex," or anything that requires pints of enchilada sauce and hot salsa poured atop to give it flavor (Baja Fresh? La Salsa? I'm looking at you. Rubio's? You can stay seated for now).
Nor am I usually inclined to give a Dining In L.A. mention to what basically amounts to a chain. Poquito Mas is not the steam-shrouded authenticity of an improvised food stand (e.g., along Fletcher and the 2 freeway after dark), nor the homely genius of a taco truck. I shan't say that Poquito Mas is the best carne asada u will eat evar!!1!!... but it's an improvement over other chains**, a little closer to honest, and you can leave there feeling (nearly) good about your cholesterol.
The mini-tacos are probably the most fun item to collect, either the steak or the chicken. P.M. doesn't bother much with onions or cilantro, so add those yourself from the salsa bar. The burritos are their staple: foiled-wrapped and broad-shouldered with flaky, burny bits on the tortilla. The steak and chicken are good, the shrimp is better, and the ahi is expensive but an order of magnitude nicer than most other places offering ahi burritos, due to not being dry and uninteresting.
There's an octet of salsa bins, ranging from a bulky red mild with a rich tomatoey personality, to a goosebump-textured orange that jumps up and down on your tongue until you make it go to bed with some deep gulps of horchata. Fresh onions, fresh cilantro, some roasted chipotle salsa, and my burrito garnishment is set.
Hmm. The Studio City location has a sign saying no photography allowed on the premises. Well, I'm not on your premises, am I! I'm standing over by Good Neighbor restaurant. Take THAT! I photo you!
* Unless it's for money. Or fame. Or validation for my desperate life of constant food-pursuit.
** Poquito Mas has about ten locations, so I don't know whether it's a chain or just "multiple locations;" I've been to nearly half of them, am only linking to the two I know best, and I'm still unsure which is the original. I figure it's either Burbank or Studio City.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, West Side/West Hollywood, The Valley, Burbank/North Hollywood )