Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Crawling Lennoxico with the Pleasure Palate

Birds afire at Lennox Pollo

Lengua ranchera at Don Rogelio's

Aguachile Sinaloa style, Mariscos Chente

Camarones a la pimienta at Mariscos Chente

Trocitos en salsa roja and mole verde at Angelica's Restaurant, Lennox,CA

On Labor Day I was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon and early evening with Abby's Pleasure Palate for a restaurant crawl through the city of Lennox, a place I have affectionately called Lennoxico for it's strong Mexican-American and Central-American presence. We made it to four restaurants for a feast of regional Mexican food with a Mexican-American cuisine thrown in as well. Pleasure Palate always brings out a fantastic group of diners and epicurean adventurers, and last night was no exception.Nine of us met up to embark on a tour of an under the radar restaurant mecca full of surprizes.

Lennox Pollo

Our first mission was to hit Lennox Pollo to sample the rottiserie chicken specialty from Mexico. As a PP member pointed out, Lennox Pollo is pretty easy to spot with its mural of floating rotisserie chickens painted on its bright yellow exterior wall.Inside, the hard working duo of Tonio and Angel prepped, ran the rotisserie monitoring with vigilance, and handled the business of pollo commerce. Lennox is not accustomed to outsiders, people in line asked us what we were doing taking pictures.When I asked Angel if it was OK to shoot he referred me to Tonio, with incredulity. They didn't know why we wanted pictures and couldn't think of a good enough reason why not, so they acquiesced. When told of the huge internet stardom (yeah, right) forthcoming they smiled and let us have the run of the place.

Lennox Pollo's sabor comes from the state of Guerrero in Mexico. We got the special for $9.99, two whole birds with tortillas and salsa. You can also purchase sides of rice, beans, or macaroni salad from this little homey shack of chicken paradise.There's just enough room in the place for the line of clients, and you may sweat from the heat of the rotisseries.

Don Rogelio's was kind enough to let us eat the chicken in their outdoor dining area while we awaited our Tex-Mex feast, so we were off. The flavor of the tender birds was transendant, and as good or better than my best pollos rostizados experiences in Mexico.No salsa or tortillas needed, but you can't argue with such a delectable tradition.

Don Rogelio's

For our Tex-Mex tasting, the accomodating staff at Don Rogelio's brought us their best offerings. Cocido, lengua, barbacoa, carnitas in mole, and chile verde.Rice, beans, homemade tortillas, and some real homemade guacamole joined the cast of delicious entrees. I was already an enthusiast of DR's cocido, so no surprize that I love it; my other favorites were the lengua and the chile verde. Tex-Mex cuisine is all about the sauces. The lengua was cooked in a ranchera sauce, so tender it could be cut with a fork and the sauce was superb. The chile verde resonated with the natural flavors of tomatillo and braised then stewed pork, no canned green chile sauce here. I enjoyed everything else except for the carnitas in mole, which just didn't work. The barbacoa had a mild sweetness that while simplistic, was enjoyable. All that with a little Tex-Mex hospitality thrown in.It was not a bad start to our crawl.

Mariscos Chente

We opted for Mariscos Chente for our third stop since belts were becoming tight and some of us were about to hit the wall, and we didn't want to miss this opportunity to have some Mexican seafood. Our 4th destination would be saved for the optional encounter. Chef Sergio, his wife Angie, and owner Magdalena(Angie's mother who recently divorced Chente Cosio and opened her own branch of her husband's family business) are wonderful people. Magdalena, from Nayarit, gets her shrimp directly from Mazatlan, and Angie makes a great hostess/waitress. Sergio is from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, and learned Nayarit-style seafood working for with father-in-law, owner of Mariscos Chente's (now Coni'Seafood) in Inglewood.The seafood cuisines of southern Sinaloa, and northern Nayarit share dishes many, cooking techniques, and traditions, but with their own subtle regional differences. Nayarit borders Sinaloa to the south, but as Angie says, "one minute you are in Sinaloa and the next Nayarit."

I had to have our group try the iconic aguachile and the Sinaloan dish, camarones Culichi, but I left the rest up to Angie. Our tasting included the aguachile, camarones Culichi, camarones a la pimienta, chicharron de pescado, and camarones checos. I will do Mariscos Chente proper in separate post, but here's my first bite, and it was all amazing. We were wowed by this mouthwatering  wealth of culinary dishes from the state of Nayarit. I am a partisan when it comes to Mexican seafood--especially the state of Sinaloa, andnot easily impressed, but Mariscos Chente has swept me off of my feet. We even enjoyed the coastal rice that accompanied the cooked seafood dishes.


Not sure if we would make this one, I didn't give the lone employee Gabby much time to prepare for our visit. We lost one of the original nine here, as our menu discussion unraveled his composure."OK, I'm out" he said, as he surged from the prone position and walked out. This was quite a lot of chow even for us diehards. Luckily for Gabby, we would only order a mole verde from Puebla, and trocitos en salsa roja(beef in red sauce) with some homemade tortillas. Angelica's is a D.F. style comida economica which also serves El Salvadorean antojitos to oblige the Salvadorenos of Lennox, so one of our remaining eight tried their first pupusas. Gabby deftly made pupusas, and tortillas(excellent)made to order while preparing the mole verde and trocitos.She apologized for taking so long as all eight of were served within about 15 minutes? I think Gabby could show Rachel Ray what can really be done in 30 minutes or less. The mole verde was excellent and a first for me.I've only had mole verde from Oaxaca and mole poblano from Puebla before. The trocitos en salsa roja tasted just like your Mexican grandmother makes.I know, I have a Mexican grandmother.Angelica's is home cooking featuring guisados, sopes, pambazos(forgot we tried these too), meats stewed in complex salsas, and other platos tipicos. The mole verde is the find here, though, as well as Gabby.

End notes
We spotted the Taco Dollar truck parked next to a throng of locals as we were leaving Angelica's for those that had mentioned the taco trucks. We wanted to try them but just couldn't eat another bite-- it smelled great, had a huge, festive crowd. There were teenage boys showing off for the girls, familes perusing the pirate DVD aisles for the latest, and tacos being gobbled down to the sounds of Los Tucanes de Tijuana. All afternoon and evening we were stared at with wonder. A group of people walking in our neighborhood speaking english?Are they tourists, here in Lennox? We were asked if we were from out of town at one point. Besides that, it was a relaxing evening walking and eating like kings in a very family friendly neighborhood, a Latino neighborhood, and a place worthy of being a new food destination.

I would like to thank Abby for putting this together, and can't wait for her write up. Cecilia, Lisa, Dao, Mike, Jeff, Tom and Barb--thanks so much for your daring enthusiam, excellent palates, and jovial company on this Lennoxico trip. I really enjoyed our dining together. So, was I exagerrating about the low flying planes?

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