CALL ME SWEET POTATO PRINCESS - I was having dinner with my friend Hunter White the other day, explaining my family tree and he very seriously looked at me and said: “Oh. Yes. I know what...
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Mariscos El Teto's,Sun Valley, CA-Baja Cuisine Beyond the Fish Taco
For the past year, one of the most audacious food trucks has been parked 7 days a week near the northern tip of Lankershim Bl. in Sun Valley. This desolate strip of Boulevard proudly hails from the well-heeled Weddington Park neighborhood south of Ventura Bl. to its northern bitter end of no-tell motels near the Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, where Lankershim diverts into San Fernando.
There are some good street food options to be found in this industrial patch, but today that turned into a brilliant flash of Baja cuisine unprecedented in Los Angeles.
Teto is from Ensenada, but there are two women who run his truck, or trailer. The menu has seafood, and also meat options. These cooks have originality combined with many traditional foods found from the taquerias and stands from Tijuana to Ensenada.
A table sits on the curb with the necessary hot sauces and tostadas for your marisco needs. There are no sodas here, pure aguas frescas:jamaica, pineapple, horchata, and lemonade. As the warmer weather is upon us, I think many an afternoon shall be spent at this table. A day at the beach in Sun Valley awaits.
A salsa concierge keeps delightful salsas and extras cool on ice in the radiated, asphalt plains of the San Fernando Valley.
Roasted jalapenos, pickled onions, lemons, and wafer thin-sliced radishes awaken your inner taquero. Hmmm, what to do with all these goodies?
A stinging salsa habanero,chunky jalapeno salsa, pickled jalapenos, and a cool nopales salad give this trailer true Ensenada street cred.
Cahuamanta, a traditional soup from Sonora and Sinaloa, brought to Baja by these two migrant groups, where it has become a staple at seafood restaurants, stands, and the odd truck in Baja, more so in Tijuana. The soup used to be made from tortoise(Caguama), which is currently on the endangered species list, so someone started preparing the soup with manta ray(Mantarraya).Hence the name, caguamanta, the tortoise soup made with manta ray.
This truck has its own take on these foods. The caguamanta comes with baby octopus, black olives, cilantro, and onions. It was not as good as the incredible versions I've had in about a dozen places in Tijuana,and in the state of Sonora, but it's still a solid offering. Manta ray has a strong fish flavor if you've never tried it, making it a treat for those who love their seafood to taste like seafood.
What struck me at the core of my pleasure centers when I first walked up to the window to order was the smell of an Ensenada fish taco stand. Hot lard, crema, and fried fish.
The Ensenada fish taco here comes fully assembled. In the throes of my fish taco fervor I missed the salsa cart and just grabbed one of the hot sauces from the table and dove into this fine specimen. Guess I'll have to go back correct my foolhardiness. This is a top 2 fish taco in LA. It think it's the only true contender for Ricky's Fish Tacos.The tortillas are handmade, and the soulful taco is an afternoon stroll on Avenida Gastellum. These are made with basa, the genetic equivalent of a catfish that is imported from Vietnam.
The manta ray finds its stride here in the taco, prepared with black olives, bell peppers,tomotoes, and garnished with cilantro and onions. This is about one of the best taco experiences you'll have in LA; a stewy, tangy delight.
Conchas(shells)preparadas are seafood prepared in a shell. The most alluring of these is the sea snail(caracol). This is a rare appearance of real sea snail at a mariscos stand in the Southland, matter-of-fact. it's the ONLY Mexican seafood stand, or restaurant in LA that carries this bonne bouche . Here they prepare it on the grill, jacked up by the low grade umami of a volcanized Kraft single. Sea snail has a cheese, tinged flavor that is amplified by this party crasher, but the kind of unexpected guest that sets the party off. The Kraft single with the sea snail is like that obnoxious guy that starts the conga line. You shake your head in disgust and wonder "what the hell is this guy doing here" only moments before you take your place at the tail end, kicking it harder than all those in front of you.
This is a dynamic appetizer. It's costs in the neighborhood of $8 for one of these, but it's real sea snail you are paying for.
If the Kraft cheese is an irreconcilable ingredient, just ask for some Monterey Jack, which they used in my shrimp mulita. The mulita is a Mexican pizza made with two tortillas. The protein, cheese, tomato, cilantro, and onions are stuffed in between. They also have mulitas of chicken, steak, pork, as well as seafood. Carne asada is always a good call.
Mulita de camaron, the real Mexican pizza
But, the best way to experience this rarity, sea snail, is in a ceviche tostada. I ordered the mixed ceviche with cooked shrimp, octopus, and the sea snail. The sea snail has a firm texture but such a delicate flavor, earthy and somewhat like a salty cheese.The tostada is a heaping pile of oceanic goodness and plenty enough for two people. If you want to live large, order the sea snail, but it will drive up the cost of this plate. I think it was around $16 with the snail, but split among two or three as a starter it's not much of an indulgence. If you go full on sea snail that will of course run you a little more. Fish is also available besides the aforementioned seafood options.
Toritos are a street food item in Baja, usually a bacon wrapped chile guero(blonde), but here they use the neon green anaheim pepper. The bacon is loosely wrapped and stuffed with sautéed shrimp, well-seasoned, and the gooey Kraft single. This is not a choice of economics, but one of flavor. The torito is outrageously delicious.
Bacon fat gives the chile a vibrancy only matched by its medley of savory components. This dish has been engineered for addiction.
There are also cocktails, clamatos(street cocktail prepared with Clamato juice), mulitas, burritos, and meat tacos. They have chuleta(beef chop) on the menu. This is the very prized meat of the Baja carne asada taco, and one of the few times a carne asada taco in LA has a distinctive cut. There is still so much more to try here.
At Mariscos El Teto you can get a real taste of Ensenada style seafood, which used to mean just fish tacos here in Los Angeles. It's about time. You also might be dining at the best food truck in Los Angeles.
Mariscos El Teto
8854 Lankershim Bl.
Sun Valley, CA
7 days a week
10AM-6PM, or later if you're still buying.
12PM-6PM on Thursdays due to street cleaning