On the Road
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Update: Check out ESFB’s Guide to Eating in Tulum.
Whatever happened to the paleta man?
Back in the 80s, in some Los Angeles neighborhoods, the guy pushing his little cart of Mexican popsicles down the street was a common sight. Both of my grandmothers—one born in Mexico and one born in East LA—were crazy for paletas, and I could always count on their hurriedly shoving money in my hand while shouting flavor requests whenever we heard the bell.
“Fresa con leche! Limon! Piña!” Sure, my Spanish was pretty limited, but I could perfectly pronounce and identify any of the flavors once the paleta man took the lid off and let me peer into his frosty icebox on wheels. You just had to wait a few seconds for the cold smoke to settle, so you could focus on the selection.
Once Autumn hits, I begin to crave Ann Arbor, Michigan. My mind automatically drifts to its quiet, tree-lined streets, brick facades and wide-open spaces. I even start to yearn for the feel of its cold, sharp winds on my Los Angeles-bred skin.
My husband Josh grew up in the über-liberal college town (often referred to as the Berkeley of the Midwest), so I’ve spent almost of decade of Thanksgivings—and a few days most summers—there. I’ve been at least a dozen times, which is why I was pretty shocked when I learned about Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger on the Ann Arbor edition of Man vs. Food.
Of all places.
“Over 2,147,483,648 burger combinations? What! Why have you never taken me there?!” I gasped, turning to Josh with what most certainly was a fevered look of betrayal.
He’d been good enough to introduce me to Zingerman’s, the deli to end all delis; perfect falafel at Jerusalem Garden; and late nights at the townie/political radical hangout that is the Fleetwood Diner. But Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burgers? Never! Instead I have to find out about it on a food show…like some common tourist.
He just laughed and promised to oblige me this Thanksgiving.
I just found out that Monday was National Taco Day, so I figured better late than never. I first heard about Tacomiendo on a The Great Taco Hunt’s top 10 Westside tacos list and was intrigued. We’re privy to some pretty outstanding tacos on this side of town, so most of my forages on the westside tend to lean toward “ladies who lunch” establishments, where I can get a fancy sandwich, an Arnold Palmer and some sort of outrageous baked good. But Tacomiendo does, indeed, make a good carne asada taco.
And by good I mean the tortillas are handmade and super fluffy, the meat has the crispy-tender thing going on, and the salsa bar leaves little to be desired. The tacos are served barebones and garnished with a green onion. I ordered a side of guacamole to dress them up and went for smoky salsa roja on one and verde on the other because that’s the way I do it.
My lunch companions ordered combo plates, which looked only so-so to me, so I think I’ll stick with Tacos Por Favor for my non-taco Mexican fast food cravings, but these tacos are a treat.
11462 Gateway Blvd (Map It)
Los Angeles, CA 90064
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.
On a recent trip to Paso Robles, we were lucky to attend a pretty magical dinner at Venteux Vineyards in nearby Templeton. It was a beautiful, warm summer night made complete by Chef Eric Cioffi’s Tuscan menu. The delicious wine didn’t hurt either, and owners Scott and Bobbi Stetzle made sure it flowed and flowed.
Cioffi took a “locavore” approach to creating the rustic Italian dishes, which were served family style to about 30 guests on the old-timey porch of the vinyard’s b&b. Ninety percent of the ingredients came from farms within 10 or so miles of the winery. “Every time I do a dinner at Venteux, I try to meet a new face, a new farmer, a new friend,” Cioffi told me.
Cioffi is a self-taught amateur chef, but there was nothing amateur about his execution. The freshness, flavor and detail of this meal rivaled some of my most memorable food experiences, even in actual Tuscany. He simply says he prefers food with “soul”. Someone give this guy a restaurant already!
The first course was a Parpadelle with Duck Ragu. So delicious. Made with cherries steeped in Zin Alley port, the ragu was a heavenly mix of sweet and savory. The fresh pasta, which was hand rolled and cut, was as much of a main attraction—the chef credited its silky texture to “lots of yolk.”
I don’t do all my chomping on the eastside. I sometimes venture out—despite the horrors of the 10 freeway—to enjoy the eats on the westside.
My latest journey was to Bite Bar & Bakery in Santa Monica. It’s on Pico Blvd., which is still such a quaint area compared to the hustle and bustle (i.e. zero parking) of more popular SM eat streets. The décor of the space is very succinct with a chalkboard menu, cookbooks and cooking utensils lining the walls. Cute.
Bite’s menu is seasonal and changes daily. When I was there, there were about 8 options, including a pulled-pork sandwich, a zucchini quiche, and a chickpea sandwich on naan (cleverly named a “naan-which”). We ordered the Toasted Crab Sandwich on sourdough with paprika aioli and watercress salad along with the Afterschool Special, a.k.a grilled cheese paired with a cup of cream of asparagus soup.
Both sandwiches were grilled Panini style. The grilled cheese included a tasty cheddar cheese blend, but the bread was a little too greasy for my sensibilities. I blame the oil from the cheese mixing with the oil (or butter) used to grease the Panini press. Still, though a little overwhelming, this sandwich fell on the side of delicious decadence.