Category: Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park
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 )
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 )
The thin wedge of a property that used to be Eastside Mercantile might have faded from memory over the months since Local has blossomed. Old library bookshelves and steel desks morphed into dark wood tables and an enclosed patio. A salad bar stands at attention along one wall. The people behind the counter are youthful and friendly.
You and a number wait at your table with your drinks. The Iced Americano is fairly subtle, and you sweeten and lighten it yourself with sugar syrup from the side table. Sparkling water comes in a carafe, from a soda-jerk style fountain rather than a bottle.
The food is, satisfyingly enough, local, organic, and inspired. The Vegan Tofu "Egg Salad" Sandwich has sort of a cottage cheese consistency but is far better than that sounds, holding itself together on thick whole wheat bread, wild like a mad professor's hair with large sprouts. Bianca: "The tentacle sandwich is really good."
The Slo-Roasted Pork Sloppy Joe, more of a pulled pork chili with tiny cubes of queso melting on top, hardly needs the sweet BBQ sauce that comes with it. Instead I use the BBQ for the spicy fries: finger-darkening, seasoned and moist, medium-cut with the skin, with a nice throat burn.
Bianca, as a plate of macaroni and cheese goes by: "That looks like good mac n' cheese! If it comes out with a crust, it can't be bad."
Parking is where you can find it on Sunset.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American )
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 )
Ecuadorian and Italian by the freeway
401 Silver Lake Blvd. (just above the 101)
Phone: 213-273-8945 | map
Restaurant Ecuatoriano El Caserio
309 N. Virgil Ave. (just below the 101)
Phone: 323-664-9266 | map
Having taken over some residential buildings right next to the 101-North onramp, El Caserio has planted an Ecuadorian Elysium. A magnificent front door of wood and iron faces you, heavy enough to flatten your car if it fell on it. Inside and past the bar is rippled wood flooring, paintings of Central American streets, serious furniture, and a modern but well-chosen tonal design on the booths. Outside is a stone-tiled patio. Bossa nova plays overhead (we heard Sérgio Mendes's version of "Mas Que Nada" on our first visit, which is always nice).
El Caserio is Ecuadorian with an Italian influence, or perhaps the other way around, and doesn't mind sharing itself with Brazil, Chile or Colombia. Bianca gets a glass of Casa Lapostolle, our favorite Chilean Cabernet; I sometimes get a can of Postobón manzana, which is a Colombian apple soda. You are served bread with a hot onion salsa that torments the tongue with unexpected vigor; it must be their version of aji sauce.
We can recommend the frito de calamari, too large to be the mere appetizer it says it is, squid fried into a perfect crunch without being too chewy, served with a full-bodied marinara. Don't eat it all, because you will weep when you can't finish dinner.
On that subject, the arroz de marinera is a masterful dish, basically a mixed seafood fried rice--almost a risotto--flanked by clams, mussels and firm-textured shrimp; slices of elegantly soft whitefish hide underneath, with plantains that give Bossa Nova a serious run for its reais. I am also hooked on the seco de chivo, boneless goat braised with potatoes in a red beer & herb sauce, tender and shreddable, absolutely OMG-worthy, with a cup of shiny, airy white rice and a bit of lettuce and avocado for coolness and color.
There is a restaurant parking lot, which is valet at night. The other location is on Virgil, moments away in a more dingy environment but perhaps more closely Ecuadorian in origin.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Ecuadorian )
The decor and the clientele encapsulate more of a "urbane international coffee house" appearance than rootsy Brazilian, but it has a vibe like seus amigos brasilian might accept its authenticity. Perhaps it's the TV flashing soap operas in Portuguese.
The tables are small and square and almost all provide a view of the brightly lit kitchen. Out of this kitchen comes large plates with salivation-inducing creations. Let's get to them.
The Sopa de Feijao is black bean soup, smooth like a samba, with salsa campanha hidden underneath a small white spoonful of queijo minero. Share this with whomever came with you tonight.
Tropicalia does seafood, chicken and pork equally well. The Brazipork is red and sultry in a deep iron skillet; the Salmaõ ao Molho de Mostarda is a long way to say Atlantic salmon in a creamy mustard sauce more zesty than tart, with brown rice and roasted vegetables somehow made shiny and beautiful.
If you like breaded & fried chicken without having it too breaded & fried, the Frango a Milanesa is your friend: chicken pounded and lightly pan-roasted into glistening planks, with thick black beans, a berm of white rice, and far too few slices of plantain (is Bossa Nova the only place that gives you more than two?).
The specialty is the Moqueca de Peixe, a choice of white fish, shrimp or both (of course you should get both) in dende oil and coconut milk sauce, with a few shreds of cilantro, tomatoes and onions for texture. Brazilian rice helps to keep it on the plate.
You probably won't have room for dessert, but... Brazilian Tiramisu? What's that about?
Parking is not restricted along the streets of Los Feliz, it's just unlikely. There's valet, though, if you want to hold up traffic on Hillhurst.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Brazilian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )