Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tijuana's Sonoran Steakhouses:Asadero Baja Sonora,Asadero Kino, and Sonora Mia

Sonora is the carne asada capital of Mexico. Tijuana's second largest migrant group is from Sonora and thankfully they've brought their meat,Sonoran Angus,cooking traditions, and local flair.

Most of the Sonorans are from the capital, Hermosillo, the gastronomical center of the Sonoran carne asada restaurants scene where steakhouses Xochimilco, Mariachissimo, El Dorado,La Siesta, El Lenador,Sonora Steak, and the famous taqueria Tacos Jass are located.

Tijuana has at least a couple dozen steakhouses, roasters(asaderos), and taquerias either run by folks from Hermosillo, Sonora or inspired by Sonoran style service.Asadero Puro Sonora, Sonora Mia, Asadero Kino, Asadero Baja Sonora,Asadero Sonora,are the Sonoran true and true, then El Novillo, La Lena, Rodeo, and Rodeo Otay Mesa, among others.Many of the upscale restaurants in Tijuana also list Sonoran beef on their menus.

You can't go wrong at any of these restaurants, but these three favorites cover the range of Hermosillo style establishments, and Sonoran regional foods.

Asadero Baja Sonora is a small taqueria located in the Zona Rio i in walking distance of the hotel El Camino Real, with a taco menu modeled after the iconic taqueria from Hermosillo, Tacos Jass. And, they have full Sonoran style parrilladas that are amazing, out front in the evenings is a gourmet Sonoran hot dog stand.

The marinated arrachera taco is a good place to start, more tender and flavorful than a skirt or flank steak.The arrachera is the ultimate northern steak cut, its greatest expression from Sonoran Angus.

Sonora is known for its ample salsa bars with many roasted salsas and varities made with the chiltepin.Baja Sonora has excellent salsas to dress your tacos and have with your parrillada.

This humble taqueria serves full on parrilladas, usually a brazier is brought to your table with a variety of grilled meats, but here it's plated taqueria style.This combo was the parrillada Hermosillo with sirloin, and tripas de leche(milk ducts).Queso fundido, grilled onions, and frijoles charros(cowboy beans) are brought to your table.In Sonora the parrilladas are called paquetes(packets) that come with various meat combinations and all the sides.

There are several other parrilladas at Asadero Baja Sonora, the Nortena(sirloin and ribs),Sonora(chicken, sirloin, and chorizo),and the Arrachera(pure arrachera).

If that weren't enough in this small taqueria, they've added a gourmet Sonoran hotdog stand run by a CIA graduate,Chef Mariano Esparza.No relation.He also worked at Rincon San Roman under celebrity chef Martin San Roman.

Mariano is doing a haute cuisine version of the popular Sonoran dogs. He imports the buns from Sonora, made from local wheat.

The toppings are creative, a variety of local mushrooms including mushrooms in sour cream.The hot dogs are all beef. For lovers and devotees of the Sonoran Dog, an evening stop at Baja Sonora is Mecca.

Sonoran dogs are formidable, more like the heavily condimented hot dogs of South America than the typical dogs of Mexico.But the stars here are the bun, for which Mariano says there is no substitute, and the beef frank.

Modeled after Hermosillo's El Dorado, Asadero Kino is a specialist in cabreria(rib eye), Sonoran style.

The dining area resembles a convention center food court with a high ceiling, but this is a good family restaurant in a quiet corner of the Zona Rio, away from the bustle of the gastronomic zone.

What do you get at a house of rib eye? Well.....the rib eye. You get a nice entrance of delicious foods to start like this quesadilla witha made to order corn tortilla.

Salsas and rough cut carrots and jicama provide ample ruffage before this meat intensive meal.

A soup of chicharron(pork skin) and nopales(cactus)is an amusement park of crunchy and chewy textures.

Consome is a welcome addition containing chunks of steak to tease the palate.

The indoor mezquite grill gives Asadero Kino the familiarity of a family picnic. The steaks are all brought in from neighboring Sonora and cooked with northern tradition.

The resulting ribeye is something so simple yet unattainable for us in Southern California. A peferctly grilled quality cut of steak that is fork tender, with a charred rib on the side.The joys of a fine Mexican steak are innumerable. Grass fed beef packed with flavor.Grab some tortillas and salsas and make yourself some royal tacos of carne asada.

Of all the great Sonoran steak restaurants in Tijuana, Sonora Mia is the best, with a full menu of regional specialties in addition to fine parrilladas.

The decor and theme of this restaurant would be a real hit in LA.A quaint desert, gastro saloon for family get togethers.

The Munoz family, another Hermosillo transplant, has been in this spot for more than a decade.

The menu features several regional soups, while this might not pique the interest of the uninitiated, northern soups are divine.

The cazuela is made with the iconic Sonoran beef machaca(beef jerky)surrounded by peppers and potatoes. These are natural flavored soups, simple, yet profound in flavor.

Where the cazuela is done in many northern states, gallina pinta is a home grown invention.Despite the name, this a beef tail and rib soup given substance by pinto beans and hominy. The interplay of flavors make the gallina pinta a real crowd pleaser.

Regional tacos like you will find in the street stands of Hermosillo and Cd. Obregon are found here at Sonora Mia. The requisite nod to Tacos Jass with the Hass taco of roasted chile California, cheese, and steak is standard for all Tijuana Sonoran restaurants. You can have a campechano(mixed)taco like the taco of chorizo and steak.All the tacos and antojitos(little whims)are excellent here, and there are other Sonoran favorites like the Lorenza(tostada of corn, beans, cheese,and meat)and the caramelo(a quesadilla with meat).

Machaca is another great Sonoran gift to Mexico, and a burro of machaca is the most known rendition. It's even served at the airport restaurants in Hermosillo.Machaca is difficult to cook properly but Sonora Mia has it down.A perfect northern burrito of pure machaca.

Anyone who ever discounted flour tortillas has not experienced the tortillas de agua(water tortillas) from Sonora. Ultra thin for your pleasure,these tortillas made from Sonoran wheat possess stand alone flavor, but are born to be paired with steak.

Sonora Mia's salsa bar has all the right stuff, as you frantically snatch up salsas like an Iron Chef running for the theme ingredient in anticipation your steak's arrival.

Truly, as much food as you will be eating, no steak experience is complete without queso fundido, melted cheese fprtified by chorizo, chile strips, or mushrooms.

Frijoles charros(cowboy beans), soupy and accented by bacon and vegetables are one way to go.This would be the time to have beans, in a Sonoran restaurant.

Frijoles maneados are the exponentially flavored refried beans of Mexico. Refried beans infused with pork chorizo, two types of cheeses, and a spicy element make for an undeniable dish.These are the beans you will long for from here on.

The arrachera cut can be ordered by weight as a singular cut.This is a Mexican butchered steak that is superior to flank or ranchera.It is tender, succulent, and arguably the truest Mexican steak expression.All steaks at Sonora Mia come from Ranch 17 in Hermosillo, a purveyor of fine grass fed Angus, supplier to many a restaurant in Baja.

With fellow Baja bloggers in tow, we ordered a customized parrillada, which is the way to go when in a group.Ours consisted of chicken, arrachera, tripas de leche(milk ducts), charred ribs and cabreria(rib eye).Don't pass judgement on the inclusion of chicken as it is no afterthought. Sonorans demand and are accustomed to world class grilling.We all made sure to get our share of all the cuts packing them inot the Sonoran tortillas with various salsas and a bit of melted cheese or refried beans.

Whether it be parrilladas, regional appetizers and soups, or tacos, Sonora Mia is the place for Sonoran cuisine.

Thes places will introduce you to the true northern steak traditions from the carne asada capital of Mexico, Sonora.We have no known equivalents in the US, so Tijuana is the nearest taste of Sonora.

Asadero Baja Sonora
Bl. Paseo de Los Heroes,10027
Tijuana, BC

Asadero Kino
Av. Padre Kino,4307
Tijuana, BC

Sonora Mia
Cuahtemoc Sur Poniente, 2133
Tijuana, BC

Monday, October 19, 2009

La Palmera:Sinaloa's Pescado Zarandeado and Shellfish Frontier in Tijuana

Sinaloan seafood seems to be best under a big thatched roof joint by the beach,in rustic stands on the sides of dusty roads in Sinaloa, street carts, or shacks. You can find nice sit down places in Los Mochis, or Culiacan, but this style of cooking needs no pomp and circumstance.Just a great grill man, expert cocktailers, and some Sinaloan style sauciers to handle the cooked seafoods.

Tijuana has some great sit down restaurants like Don Pepe's, La Costa, of El Farrallon de Mazatlan featuring Sinaloan style seafood, but they seem to lose a little edge in their four-walls-and-a-roof approach.

La Palmera is more like what you'd expect in Sinaloa.More or less plywood nailed to two by fours held up by posts, with a grilling area as you walk in and an open feel all around. It's the kind of place you can hose down when the day is done, and they have the cement floor with the grate style drain to prove it.It was opened three years ago by Eliazar Diaz, from Guamuchil, Sinaloa.

They're strategically located in Tijuana's fish market district just a short walk from Avenida Revolucion.The availability and variety of fish and shellfish is what really separates a place like La Palmera from its north of the border Sinaloan restaurants.

The menu consists of raw shellfish, seafood snacks, pescado zarandeado with 7 different fish to choose from,seafood cocktails, soups,and traditional seafood plates.A bucket of beers is a good way to start.

From the cocktailer's station, located in a little shack acroos the parking lot come the bounty of the Pacific. Pata de Mula(mule's foot), or mangrove cockles, are firm and strong tasting shellfish. They are naturally messy and prepared only with a dash of Maggi seasoning.If you can handle its pungent taste, you will come to love this as a regular selection.

There are reina(queen clams), pismo, and chocolata here, so named for ther chocolate colored shells.

The chocolata is prized among Mexican seafood aficionados.Their flavor is meaty and they are so beautiful when fresh. They have red, white, and brown flesh.Her I ordered them au natural along with some pismo clams prepared with vegetables and hot sauce.

Reina clams have a much milder flavor and are recommended with vegetables and Sinaloan sauces, or cooked.

The Sinaloan raw seafood mirepoix of cucumber, purple onion, and tomato are the standard flavorings in prepared shells.

Aguachiles, the Sinaloan delicacy of raw shrimp flash cooked in lime juice is even more tempting served in a well-seasoned molcajete. The chiltepin, a firey-hot little ball of dried chile favored in Sinaloa and Sonora, is the catalyst in this version.The molcajetes give aguachiles heightened flavors of volcanic rock.Fresh shrimp from Sinaloa doesn't hurt either.

Two have a great great callo de hacha,raw scallops, one has to cross the border, and Palmera is the northern outpost of this royal serving of "Mexican sashimi."

Dried chile chiltepin, salt, and pepper season the scallops beautifully topped with red jalapeno and purple onion.The dish is given a quick bath of lime and Maggi sauce prior to serving.

Callo de hacha can be ordered on a tostada. Sinaloans make wonderful tostadas with a variety of seafood combinations.They're wet and wild with Sinaloan essence.

Towards the entrance lies the grill. This type of grate grill that is flipped by two grill men is the preferred set-up at the beach restaurants in Sinaloa.Mesquite imaparts its character to the pescado zarandeado, a Sinaloan regional dish of grilled butterflied fish with a marinade of fat(mayo, olive oil, or butter),lime, soy or Maggi sauce,and seasonings.But, there are as many marinades in Sinaloa as there are fish in the Pacific.

In addition to the common zarandeado choices, snook and sea bream, Palmera also does sea bass(cabrilla), red snapper(huachinango),salmon,stripped mullet(liza),and corvina.The menu lists all the choices, but Palmera only carries what is fresh and in season. On this day during a trip with friends Javier, Pat, Josh,Brian, and Abby we ordered the corvina.It was tender, deftly grilled, and had a sensational flavor, very different than the snook and sea bream I'm more familiar with.

On weekends, Palmera sells seafood and has the cocktail station across the parking lot in full swing.

This is the place in Tijuana to get pescado zarandeado and shellfish. There are excellent raw seafood carts all over Tijuana, mostly run by Sinaloans and some Nayaritans, and some fine sit down restaurants that are solid, but Palmera is a day on the beach at Playa Maviri, Sinaloa.

La Palmera
Calle 6ta,#8737
Zona Este

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rincon Duranguense, Tijuana:Public Safety and Home Cooking from Durango

Comida corrida is a great way to dine in Mexico.The comida is the big meal of the day that takes place in the afternoon, multi-course dining of home cooking that is inexpensive. The comida corrida consists of a soup, and dry soup such as rice or spaghetti, and main course of traditional or regional specialty, followed by a dessert. A drink is often included, at least water, or an agua fresca such as jamaica.

Tijuana has many comida corridas which feature daily menus(menu del dia) of enticing plates for around 40 pesos(around $3 USD).When it's a regional restaurant, it's even more interesting, the chance to try home cooked versions of unique dishes from all over Mexico. These are ostensibly matronly establishments.

Rinconcito Duranguense is a comida corrida that serves the hearty northern-Mexican cuisine of the state of Durango.

It was opened three years ago by a police officer of the Secretary of Public Security, Blanca Torres. Blanca cooks in the mornings and throughout the comida hours, from 1PM-5PM then heads out to her shift.I once saw a police car pick her up after she finished cooking a plate, giving instructions and relaying orders to her assistant as she ran to the unmarked unit and sped off. Now that's comida corrida!

Rinconcito Duranguense(Durangan little corner)has typical comida corrida items like bistec ranchero, chile relleno, enchiladas,milanesa,and hidago encebollado(liver and onions) all cooked with Durangan subtance.

Daily there are true regional plates from Durango like caldillo(meat stew),mole de la olla(clay pot mole),enfrijoladas(tortillas covered with beans),lengua con papas(tongue and potatoes in a Durangan stew), and others.

They have a breakfast menu of chilaquiles accompanied by mouth watering fried eggs, the kind my grandma from Aguascalientes makes, and even carne asada if you wish. People from Durango enjoy nourishing meals.

The restaurant is located on the edge of the downtown section of Tijuana in a fairly busy neighborhood,but once inside you are in Durango, with a decor and theme of familiarity.

There are the Pancho Villa pictures and posters, scorpions,Catholic symbols, a few plants, and some monthly themed displays. This month it's skull mugs, in anticipation of Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos.

It's the kind of place that most would pass off as simple, but looking around one can see the love and care in which this place was first decorated on a shoestring budget.

Ordering the enfrijolada, most commonly associated with Oaxaca, will come as a surprise to those more familiar with the the Oaxacan version. The puree of beans are pinto, not black.The tortillas are stuffed with melting cheese, covered with pinto beans blended with a bit of Durangan beef chorizo, and finished with cheese, and Mexican cream. In this case, more is more. These amped up enfrijoladas from the state of Durango are scrumptuous, sinfully good.This starter is a must order plate.

The locals that dine at Rinconcito Duranguense come for the comidas, which all start with a cool agua fresca, this day it was jamaica. These 3 courses with an agua fresca cost 40 pesos, about $3 USD.Amazing!

The soup course arrives, a satisfying caldo de res(beef), or pollo, naturally flavored from slow cooking with large pieces of vegetables and meat.

Today's guisado(stew), the name of your main course, is the Durangan version of tongue with potatoes. The sauce reflective of the Durangan palate, a simple, filling dressing to meld with splendid tongue.RIce is served with the tongue, in other comida corridas it would come on a separate plate.In general, Tijuanas comida corridas are a little less formal than ones found in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico.

Many comida corridas do breakfast as well to serve the morning crowd often seeing the same customers come in for the comida corrida.While most Tijuanenses will tell you the chilaquiles and omelettes at La Espadana are the must do breakfast, the chilaquiles at Rinconcito Duranguense are better.

Get the eggs here on the side, on your plate, but do indulge.These are the eggs made by Mexican grandmothers.Their texture is soft and wrinkly, with tender yolks three-quarters runny.I don't know how my grandmother and Blanca make these eggs taste so good, nor do I want to know. I'm content to enjoy them.

The chilaquiles verdes are excellent. A mildly spicy tomatillo using day old tortillas fried in oil, and them cooked in the salsa, still slightly crunchy.

But the star attraction here is the chilaquiles rojos. Made with guajillo chiles so densely expressed in the sauce as to be mole-esque.The chilaquiles are amply garnished with queso freso and fresh onions.You can get them in various configurations of eggs, carne asada,with rice and beans laid to the side.

Rinconcito Duranguense is a superb place to have a comida corrida experience, and enjoy rich home cooking for prices unbelievably low.Whether it be chilaquiles on a Saturday morning or a mid-week comida corrida to energize you before getting back to the office, Rinconcito Duranguense is another local gem in the Tijuana regional dining scene.