for August, 2010
My dad invited me to this year’s Taste of East LA, and I’m glad I went. The event is organized by the East LA chamber of commerce to bring attention to local businesses. While it’s true that there are some obvious absences from this collection of the “best restaurants in East LA” and some strange inclusions (i.e. Coffee Bean and Juan Pollo), there were some great bites to be had while taking in good music and art. To be honest, I actually had more stress-free fun here than at the recent LA Street Food Fest, where each tasting was separated by a 20-minute wait in line. Maybe it wasn’t the foodie event of the century, but vibe at the Taste of East LA was less competitive and the price was only $20 for a one shot at every booth, which garnered enough tasty food for two people. Plus, I even got to meet Lalo Alcaraz (see his “Tacos Sin Carne” print after the jump) of La Cucaracha fame.
Here’s what I ate and saw:
Fish Taco from Fish Taco Express Pork Mole Sope from Moles La Tia
In a neighborhood known for its meat-centric cuisine, Highland Park’s Cinnamon definitely stands out. The vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant offers a large menu of Mexican favorites, including their much-celebrated “chicken” mole, burritos, pozole, sopes and homemade tamales. They also serve a bevy of salads, sandwiches and even a “shrimp” cocktail—all soy-, wheat-, or vegetable-based and completely meat free.
I’ve been a fan of this friendly little place for a while, and more often than is respectable, I find myself craving their delicious vegan pies. On my first visit, they gave me a sliver each of all four flavors: blueberry, keylime, chocolate and pumpkin. They knew what they were doing because ever since, I’ve been hopelessly addicted to these unbelievably creamy desserts.
Made in-house daily by Cinnamon’s chef Esperanza Cano (she runs the restaurant with her brother), these impeccable pies are sweet, but not too sweet, with a crumbly crust. The flavors are so authentic, without a hint of artificial flavor that plagues so many of even the most famous pies in town. I recommend taking a friend and sharing a slice of the rich, chocolate pie along with any of the others because the contrast is pretty spectacular.
All pies are $3.50 a slice or $25-30 for an entire pie (order a day in advance). A little pricey, but so worth it.
5511 N. Figueroa St
Sunset Junction just kind of happened to me this year. I almost never go for all the complainy reasons you can imagine, but this year, a friend gave us some free passes. That seemed like a good deal, so we hopped on the train to see what was doing in Silverlake.
We did go into the fest for a while and even watched a band. However, most of our time was spent recoiling from the sun (I was really getting used to this “no summer” scam we had going) indoors and in the company of good food and drinks, an action for which we have no regrets! In fact, I think this was the best Sunset Junction ever.
The Red Line stops at Sunset and Vermont, just a short walk to where the festival starts. The best part of the trek is that it put El Chavo in our path. We had to stop in. Their bar, in all its 1970s Mexican restaurant decor glory, is one of the best places to have a drink in LA, especially on a Sunday afternoon when the crowds are non-existent. The margaritas were strong, the salsa was hot and the somberos florescent. It’s just what we needed before stepping into the fest.
After about an hour of walking around, taking in some live music, and wondering who in their right mind would risk their lives on those rickety rides, we headed over to Cafe Stella for some (more) restoration. The French bistro fare offered at this smallish restaurant is always solid, and the atmosphere, which is low-key in the evening and lively at night, is usually what I’m in the mood for.
I’m a big fan of Tes at Home , a super-inspiring food blog that focuses on (mostly) Thai home cooking. Almost every day, the lovely Tes teaches her dedicated readers (like me!) how to cook impressive-looking dishes, making every curry, rice dish, fritter and dessert look like a cinch.
Her recent post on coconut ice cream caught my attention because a.) it looked delicious and b.) she did it without an ice cream maker—I’m telling you, she’s a genius. I decided to try the technique, which required only a freezer, a blender, Tupperware, a whisk and a few easy-to-find ingredients.
A while back, a reader named Adrian tipped me off to “the best damn salsa and guac” he’d ever had. Naturally, I was intrigued and excited that such a find was available minutes from my house at Figueroa Produce in Highland Park.
Figueroa Produce is a great little market located in a strip mall at the corner of N. Figueroa and York. Dedicated to offering high-quality food at discounted prices to the local community, they carry harder-to-find international food brands, dairy products, and snacks. Plus, their meat and deli sections include grass fed, organic and free-range options—I’ve heard amazing things about their carne asada.
Disclaimer: This picture is awful, but it looks much more appetizing in person.
You might as well know right now, I didn’t get a huarache. Yes, I know, this place is called the El Huarachito, but I was craving Mexican breakfast, and the other diners were all eating delicious looking egg dishes. I would have been too jealous, even if the huarache was spectacular. And I’m sure it would have been, judging by what I did eat.
I went for the Chilaquiles Rojos con huevos, over easy. I’m not opposed to saucy chilaquiles, but I prefer them to be a bit dry and dark, so that you know the sauce has been thoroughly absorbed into the tortillas. This really allows all the flavors to be distinct, instead of everything just blending together in a big mushy mess. El Huarachito’s are pretty near perfect and the rest of the plate followed suit, including beans were too delicious not to have been refried in lard and potatoes that tasted like meat.
In a good way.
Italian Sub from Fidel’s Pizza in Highland Park.
- Denny’s goes too far with their horrifying Mozzarella Stick Melt, and Squid Ink calls ‘em out.
- In happier fried food news, the Gastronomer has located the “World’s Best Corndog.” .
- Echo Park Now has the scoop on Mooi’s new breed of vegan pizzas.
- Tes at Home shows us how to make Thai style corn fritters. Tes is the best!
- Food, She Thought gives us a look at opening night at Villains Tavern.
Eat well, and have a great weekend!
We had to wait in line for an hour. It was worth it.
This summer we took a low-key vacation, visiting family in the Midwest. Our first stop was Chicago, which is such a great food city and one the few places with good Mexican in this part of the country. Okay, it’s the only place.
My main Chicago food goal was to try one of Rick Bayless’ restaurants. So focused, we were, that we pretty much stepped off the plane and into the around-the-block line at XOCO, Bayless’ ode to Mexican street food.
Until you actually get your food, the XOCO experience is torturous, with the line situated so that you’re forced to gape at the sidewalk diners already relishing crusty tortas, meaty caldos (soups), “bean-to-cup” chocolate and churros that you want to reach out and grab. I did my best to focus on the menu, but trust me, narrowing it down was no simple task.
With the Breed Street food vendors now dispersed, you really have to drive around Boyle Heights to find the best stuff. My tactic is to search out the stands with a bit of a crowd, the thinking being that most people won’t stand in line for bad food.
That’s not a foolproof theory, but it proved accurate when I spotted Balbina on a recent Friday night. On a corner, just off E. First St (email me for exact location), Balbina serves up a a full menu–which includes flautas,pambazos, huaraches, sopes and quesadillas, to a steady stream of regulars and newbies like me. The promise of thick, hearty tortillas handmade on the spot are a big part of the allure.
I’d only been to Desert Rose once before, and just for drinks, so I was excited when I got an invitation to try it out for lunch. I’d heard good things about their Mediterranean menu and remembered their big patio, a nice refuge from the bustling Hillhurst Ave., feeling very vacation-y.
We started with the Blue Crab Cakes. Crisply fried and super crabby (down with bready filler!), they were served with an addictive citrusy dressing and had a delicious hint of curry. The grapefruit chunks were a nice touch. We paired the appetizer with the Lucid Whiskey Sour, a Maker’s Mark/Cointreau cocktail served in an absinthe-rinsed glass.
I have a major burger compulsion, so I was extra happy when I heard they were serving a Lamb Burger. The patty was very juicy and perfectly pink inside with a healthy slab of feta cheese. I love a brioche bun, and this one had a flaky texture that put the focus on the meat and cheese, which is how I like it.