Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tortas Wash Mobile,Tijuana,BC: A Torta Like No Otha

Tortas Wash Mobile comes with a 100% stamped seal of approval from all walks in Tijuana. When you ask around,"What's good to eat here in Tijuana?",you'll get different answers from different classes and generations, but one thing everyone can agree on is the torta at Tortas Wash Mobile.

They've been around since 1964 serving one kind of torta. The shack is named after the car wash that used to be by the iconic sandwich spot, but long after the car wash had faded from memory , the torta has remained.

The torta epicenter of Mexico is in Mexico City, where stands serve all kinds of meats, cheeses, and toppings. The sandwich is often named after famous models and actresses. In Mexican male culture, the torta is often likened to a sexy and voluptuous woman, plump and tasty.

Other famed members of the family of Mexico's sandwiches are the cemita(Puebla), torta ahogada(Jalisco), and the pambazo(Mexico City) to name a few.

But, perhaps the torta of carne asada known in Tijuana as the torta Wash Mobile is truly without peer.While other sandwiches compete in their respective categories, the torta Wash Mobile has no rivals. It is simply perfection for no motivation other than the pride of its founders.

Just ask Tijuana's movers and shakers Patty San Roman, or the Food Network's chef Marcela Valladolid, who is serving tortas Wash Mobile at her upcoming birthday party. Could there be anything greater than this torta?

The little shack on a quite street just a little ways off the frenetic Bl. Agua Caliente pulls no punches. The meat is grilled over mesquite.

The cut of steak is mariposa, or butterfly cut.

The taquero cuts the tender steak on a traditional cutting board, and then deposits

the mouth-watering bits to rest in their own juices while the sandwich is being constructed.

In place of the telera roll is a slender house made roll that resembles ciabatta bread. They call it a telera, too, and it is made at their commisary. Why? The torta at this temple of Tijuanan individualism breaks all the rules, and the result is other wordly.

The bread also is warmed on the grill then a thin layer of mayonnaise is applied to the buns.

A seasoned tomato and purple onion vinaigrette adds an acidity and a brilliant tang to this minimalist torta.

The last element is a dreamy guacamole. Carne asada, topped with a tomato and purple onion vinaigrette, guacamole, stuffed between a ciabatta like roll.This is the torta perfected.

Even more confounding is that this torta is a morning to early afternoon sandwich, not the usual afternoon meal as it is in DF. But, this torta is much lighter than its chilango (from DF) cousin, so you won't be ruined for the afternoon comida, Mexico's most important meal of the day.

Tortas Wash Mobile has a newer branch that is modeled after an American chain style of strip mall eatery, but most any Tijuana resident will tell you that the original is the place to go. This is the best torta in Tijuana, simple, delicious, and perhaps the greatest sandwich in Mexico.

Tortas Wash Mobile
Jalisco just south of Bl. Agua Caliente
past the Pemex station.
mornings 'til about 2pm.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tacos Marco Antonio, Ensenada, BC: The Pride of Ensenada's Cannery Row

Ensenada has the greatest street food distraction in the fish taco. The fish taco is one of those required eating foods when in town. Most never make it past the barkers of the Black Market fondas, and those who venture out may find the hand full of fish taco shrines dotting the streets behind the tourist drag.

But there are other kinds of tacos to have in Ensenada, the typical northen meats represented in Baja:asada, adobada, tripas,and beef birria. There are also tacos of guisado usually called tacos varios in Baja. These are home stews ladeled onto tacos, with rice serving as a binding agent, keeping the wholesome sauces from dripping off the tortilla.

With the bounty of Baja seafood nearby, it would be logical that a regional style of guisados(stews) would be flourishing. Well....it isn't. There are a handful of stands and Taquerias in Baja that are so inventive that they discourage imitation.

Marco Antonio, the cook and owner of Tacos Marco Antonio has been serving his original brand of seafood tacos of guisado for the past 5 years.

He serves his 17+ different kinds of seafood tacos as his residence in Ensenada. Marco Antonio opens at 8AM,and in the tradition of most specialty taco operations in Mexico, he sells until he runs out, usually by 1PM or 2PM most of the best items will be sold out.

At the end of his driveway lies the cannery he inherited from his father. At one time they had a major production, but these days a small crew cans just a handful of products. Overfishing and the economy had slow Marcos Antonio down and 5 years ago he did something about it and reinvented himself.

He had grown up around seafood, they used to can everything.The used cans of his family label, Marco Antonio, serve as napkin holders for his taco stand.

When I arrived with friends Jon and Vinny from Animal restaurant, and Brian, the place was in full swing.

To order, you just walk up and call out your tacos, they are served on warm tortillas, and you head over to dress with stylish condiment.

The condiment station has the watermark of excellence that only the best street food stands display. Original salsas customized for the cooks tacos, and a variety of other tailored toppings.

There are three types of onions to put on your tacos. Onions with black olives, pickled red onion, and lime and worcestershire sauce marinated onions to give you a broader palate.

Sea snail tacos were available as a special on this visit, always a favorite of mine.

Tacos of tuna machaca and caguatun tuna prepared in the caguamanta style, which is a local manta ray preparation that had replaced the endangered Baja tortoise.

Both tacos are great, and I was having fun combining various salsas and vegetable on each taco. The tuna machaca is a fine addition to the world of machaca, usually dried beef, but machaca can be made with any protein. Local yellow tail tuna adds a firmer texture and deeper flavor than manta ray.

The shrimp in chipotle is a real crowd pleaser, all of us liked this one. Chipotle can be such a "cop out", but the use of the popular spice was subtle, and ultimately delicious.

The fried fish skin and crab tacos were up next. The fish skin is breaded making it simple, but very accessible to all. The crab is fantastic, fresh and full bodied with a superb balance of sweetness with savory sauce.

The tuna loin taco was good, but not quite as good as it sounded. The tuna itself had plenty of flavor, but it just was a tad dry, and somewhat ordinary.

The salmon looked great, and had we not many more stops to make I would have indulged. They were out of the salmon belly too, that I wouldn't have passed up!Next time.

Other tacos include:shrimp stuffed chile,breaded fish,ranch style tuna, adoboed tuna,breaded crab, to name a few, and also empanadas of tuna machaca.

Marco Antonio is like your tio that always seems to have great advice,actually looks cool in a Hawaiian shirt, and and has an undiying spirit. When he saw the canning business slip, he simply started one of the most amazing taco stands in Baja.

He is well known among the locals, but located just about a mile from the main tourist drag, he might as well be in another universe.This is another one of Ensenada's best kept secrets.

Save room for a fish taco, but you only need ONE good one, okay two.But, be sure and park yourself at Tacos Marco Antonio with a crew, and dig into some Baja bliss.

Whay aren't more stands doing this? Who cares, all you need is right here.

Tacos Marco Antonio
Av. Rayon(between 3rd and 4th)
Ensenada, BC
8AM 'til around 2PM, or when the tacos run out.

Mariscos Becerra, Playas de Tijuana,BC:A Taste of Baja Home Cooking

I can recall a dozen or so reasons why I haven't been down to Playas de Tijuana in all my trips to Tijuana, but my recent visit to the Tijuana Fish and Seafood Festival and the discovery of Mariscos Becerra has rendered them all just sad excuses.

Mariscos Becerra has been around for a little over five years, founded by Jaime Ochoa Becerra, who had pursued culinary studies in San Diego, but ended up in a non-food related business. That didn't last too long and Jaime opened Mariscos Becerra opened this beach restaurant to pursue his true passion, cooking.

As soon as you park in front of the restaurant, you're greeted by a sign advertising the trio of house specialties:chile tacos, shrimp pozole, and smoked clams.

The everyday cooking at Mariscos Becerra is handled by Enriqueta and Alicia. The style of cooking is a fonda, the matriarcal kitchens of Mexico that open have gourmet cooks.Their tacos come plated and are not the typical street shack type. This kitchen would be most recognizable to the people that have grown up in Baja, and ate most of their seafood tacos and dishes in their homes.

Here Alicia prepares fish tacos and the restaurant's own chile tacos.

It's a further testament to these women's cooking in that they use only a standard kitchen with pots and pans, no fancy devices nor professional equipment here.

Tecate beer is served on draft, which I must say tasted so much better than the canned or bottled versions. I was able to enjoy this without the usual lime and salt chasers.

The restaurant serves its own version of Baja seafood. The tostada especial comes with octopus, shrimp and avocado. It's lightly doused with lime and seasonings, a more pure form of ceviche. All of the ingredients at Mariscos Becerra are high quality and they use the freshest catch.

The camaron enchilado, or chilied shrimp is cooked in butter, as the home version is usually done. Instead of the standard chile de arbol rub, Alicia adds pico de pajaro chiles, or bird's beak, from her own garden. The chiles are popular in Sonora and just a little bit goes a long way. The pico de pajaro raises the heat factor but adds an elegance not found in say, chipotle, which has similar heat characteristics found in this house blend.

As you tear into this hefty taco, supported by two corn tortillas as they were out of the bigger kind, a luscious soup of chiles, lime and cream starts to form. The result is pure pleasure.

The fish taco is made with local seabass, perfect batter, and tender fish, seasoned to bring out the best qualities of the of the fish.

The chile taco is a taco of a broken down torito, a seafood stuffed chile relleno. The chile guero and marlin are sauteed with vegetables and spices, then placed in a crisped homemade corn tortilla with cheese. This is one of those items you'll likely order as many times as you shall return to this restaurant,simply outstanding.

The smoked clams, almejas ahumadas are shucked clams steamed with butter, vegetables, liquid smoke, and seasonings. The clams swim in a lusty, fatty broth that will find you foraging for the last bits of clam or any excuse you can to slurp another spoonful of liquid.

Shrimp pozole is a dish I've not come across in Baja, but what a find. I love green, white, and red pozole, but this shrimp version has moved to the top of my dance card.

Guajillo chiles provide the spice, natural nixtamal, giant shrimp, and slow cooking are what make this soup come together.

Well, I don't have a Baja mother and likely, neither do you, but we have Mariscos Becerra just a short drive from the border in the delightful neighborhood of Playas de Tijuana.

Come and experience one of the great seafood fondas in Baja California.

Mariscos Becerra
Ave. del Pacifico #743, secc. Monumental
Playas de Tijuana
Tijuana BC

Tamales Elena, Watts,CA: Guerreran Tamales in the New Watts

While doing a crawl through Huntington Park, SOuth Gate, Inglewood, and Watts during Christmas of 2008 I stumbled upon Tamales Elena.Tamales Elena is part of the new Watts, a traditionally African-American neighborhood that has experienced a huge influx of Mexicans and Central Americans.

Judep, and her family have brought their Guerrero style of tamale making to Watts, and have found a home. Their clientele consists of latinos and African-Americans alike. Judep, married Bernard, a Watts resident of African descent.

The truck is parked on Wilmington Ave., just a short distance from the world famous Watt's Towers.

Everytime I've been there, I've come across a group of men sitting on some abandoned car seats, nursing 40-ounce bottles wrapped in paper bags shooting the breeze, talking about the things slightly buzzed guys talk about. Don't mind them, just say good morning, and they'll return the courtesy.

Don't worry about what you heard about Watts, come and experience it for yourself. Great people and excellent Mexican food!

People from Guerrero are known for their tamales. The beef in red sauce is tender, mildly spiced from a natural sauce of dried chiles, and a perfectly moist and well seasoned masa.

Cheese and pork tamales in green sauce are also delicious.These are simple tamales, the kinds you've had countless times around town, and if you're lucky, at your family's house during the holidays. The key to these common tamales and what separates Tamales Elena from the others you've had is the taste.

These are everything you've wished for in those many tamale encounters, a pleasing masa feel and a mouth full of flavor from stewed and steamed filling.

Chicken tamales have always been a favorite of mine. I once had a half hour argument with my dad to try and convince my grandmother to include chicken tamales in the Christmas order. It worked!

In addition to their fine chicken tamales there are chile strips with cheese and a sweet tamale.There are other dishes on the menu too, but tamales are the specialty of this trailer.

After a visit here you will find yourself telling people, "I'm going to pick up some tamales in Watts, be right back!" Never mind the strange looks, bring 'em with you and let them see for themselves that Watts a tamale destination.

Tamales Elena
Wilmington Ave. near 110th ('til 4PM daily)
Watts, CA

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Javier Plascencia to Reopen the Birthplace of the Caesar's Salad, Cesar's Restaurant on July 24 on Revolucion Ave in Downtown Tijuana

On Saturday, July 24, the first major project to revitalize the infamous Avenida Revolucion in Tijuana will open its doors. The world famous Caesar's restaurant had shuttered its doors a few years ago during the economic crisis that hit Tijuana due to much undeserved bad press, and the new passport requirements that also discouraged visitors. The restaurant had also been declining due to years of neglect and poor management.

Caesar's Restaurant is the birthplace of the legendary Caesar's salad.This salad is on the menus of restaurants throughout the world, but not many are aware that it was created in Tijuana.

Although it is attributed to Caesar's restaurant owner Caesar Alex Cardini on July 4th 1924 during a busy weekend at the resturant which had left them with few ingredients to serve a hungry customer,Livio Santini, a chef at Caesar's restaurant claimed that he had invented the recipe, and Caesar had taken it from him.

There are other stories too, but no matter whose story you choose to believe, the Caesar's salad is a delicious classic loved worldwide.

This weekend at Tijuana's 39th Fish and Seafood Festival put on by Cotuco, the Plascencia Group was serving up the salad to promote this coming weekend's grand opening.

Baja Chef and restaurateur, Javier Plascencia took me by the restaurant to get a glimpse of the new Caesar's Restaurant. He has gone to great lengths to restore it to its original condition as it was in 1927 when it opened on Av. Revolucion.

Final touches were being added to the entrance.

And, a whole team of workers are working around the clock in preparation for this coming Saturday. As soon as I saw the bar, I envisioned what Tijuana must have been like during the years of prohibition, when Al Capone, Bing Crosby, and southern Californians crossed the border to have a drink.

During prohibition, Tijuana and Havana where the places to be.

This restaurant could tell a thousand tales.

The restaurant will feature the Caesar's salad, and other recipes from that era. Table side service will be a hallmark of Caesar's Restaurant Bar.

Come and experience Tijuana in the roaring twenties and the thirties, when service and style came with your meal.

The grand opening event will also feature live music.

Ceasar's Restaurant and Bar, Grand Opening
Av. Revolucion, between 3rd and 4th.
Tijuana, BC, Mexico

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Food GPS Walking Tour (Beverly Boulevard) Sunday, July25

Last fall, Food GPS brought you progressive dining tours of Santa Monica and Downtown, which I personally attended. On the afternoon of Sunday, July 25, Josh Lurie is continuing his in-depth exploration of L.A.’s best eating neighborhoods as Food GPS spotlights four great restaurants located on (or just off) Beverly Boulevard. Eva, BLD, MILK and The Golden State are the destinations. Each chef-owner will introduce a plate, treat or drink, and it looks like there will be some great surprises in store. Participants will also be able to learn more about the neighborhood’s history and get to know other Los Angeles food lovers. The walking tour begins at Eva at 3 PM and costs $45 per person, including tax and tip. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE TICKETS. If you have any questions, please e-mail organizer and tour guide Joshua Lurie at joshua@foodgps.com.

Josh Lurie of Food GPS is my personal favorite person to explore new restaurants, engage in food crawls, and dig into the sights and sounds of Los Angeles and beyond. He is a consummate professional, with unstoppable energy to learn and share his passion with others. I had a great time on his downtown LA food crawl discovering some new restaurants, getting personal attention from each stop, and getting to know other Los Angeles food lovers.

Josh of FoodGPS, has put together a tremendous value for the consumer, four top LA restaurants for one low price. Come join in the fun!

Food GPS Walking Tour(Beverly Blvd.)
Sunday, July 25

Friday, July 9, 2010

Praça da Republica Street Fair , São Paulo, Brasil: Saturday in the Park

Praça da Republica, or Republic Square, as it has been called since 1889, is located downtown São Paulo.It is the link between the historic center and the newer neighborhoods of the traditional Italian Bela Vista and the upscale Jardins Paulista to the southwest.

It is a frenetic part of town bombarded by buses, people entering and exiting the Republica metro station, street vendors selling pirate DVD's and designer imposter shades, and a center of culture. There are music performances, demonstrations, and on the weekends, food and crafts vendors.

While running over to catch the weekend eats in the praça, one of those Brazilian downpours tried to foil my plans, but the vendors are rain or shine. Quickly covering up with plastic, the vending carried on.

Brazil has these intense rains that beat you down for about 15 minutes and then they go away, perfect time to slide into a bar for a beer.

Ducking under umbrellas and tarped roofs, we checked out the great street food scene at the Praça da Republica.

The second largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Tokyo is in Sao Paulo, so, yakissoba is a typical street food of São Paulo. You can also find this in São Paulo's Japanese neighborhood, Libertade.

The biggest lines were for pastel, a rectangular savory pastry that you can stuff with just about anything.

At this pastel booth you can choose from about 15 to 20 different fillings including:shrimp, chicken with catupiry cheese(Brazilian cream cheese),sun-dried omato and cheese,calabreza sausage,beef, sun-dried beef, salt cod,and hearts of palm.

Pasteis, are consumed with condiments, which can be mustard, ketchup, mayonaisse, olive oil, and malagueta chile pepper sauce which is called pimenta.

But curiously, Brazilians prefer ketchup, even on the salt cod! Sometimes you get a vinagrete, which is like a pico de gallo sauce, but don't be afraid to squirt ketchup like a Brazilian.

The pastel has a lovely flaky, wonton-like skin. It should be amply packed with its recheio, which is Portuguese for filling.

In addition to its strong Japanese presence, Brazil has a true Italian culture and gastronomy in its populace. Italian immigrants have made a huge impact on Brazilian gastronomy, only second to the Portuguese. There is better Italian food in Brazil than in Boston, Chicago, or New York in the US.

At the fogazza stand, there was a Brazilian woman whose husband was Italian, and fogazzas are an Italian derived member of Brazil's array of salgados, or savories. The fogazza is similar to a stromboli, but smaller.

She also has empadinhas(mini pies) of chicken with that dreamy catupiry cheese, to which I have no resistance.

You could spend a month in Brazil, or more just exploring the world of savories, which is such a disappointment here in LA. Most Brazilian restaurants in the US only do a few mini versions of these savories, and not very well.

This chicken and cheese pie also had green olives, so delectable and a fine crust.

There were two acaraje booths facing each other at the end of the food stalls. Acaraje, the black-eyed pea fritter from the state of Bahia, Brasil can only be cooked by a baiana, a woman from Bahia. And, I was right smack in the middle of these two ladies, both staring me down with that,"uh-uh, you better not go to that other stand!" Well, that's the way I felt. Bahia is also the home of Candomble.....voodoo.

Man, I didn't want one of these ladies making a macumba(curse) for me, so I got something from both stands.

I ordered acaraje with vatapa, a shrimp paste made with dende oil(palm oil). It was finished with dried shrimp, tomato sauce, and lots of hot sauce.

This fantastic creation is found in the streets of Salvador de Bahia's Pelourinho district, the historic colonial center, by Bahian women dressed in traditional garb.

It is the size of a softball and just screams of Afro-Brazilian flavors. I've only found one place in LA that does these, but, they are much smaller. This is acaraje.

The acaraje also comes with other traditional fillings like caruru, made with okra, shrimp, and palm oil.

Another dish I had been eager to try was cuzcuz paulista, couscous São Paulan style. No, you're right, it doesn't look like couscous at all. Its only relation to couscous is that it's made in a couscous pan. Don't try and overthink this one, just take a bite.

Cuzcuz paulista is made with a base of manioc flour,corn meal, tomatoes, and chicken stock, which is cooked in a couscous pan and set to cool. In the mold you will find sardines, hard-boiled eggs,hearts of palm,bell peppers, peas, and more.

At this stand, the baiana added fresh tomato and cooked corn. It is cool, gelatinous, and loaded with mouth-watering surprises.

There were also bolinhos de camarao, shrimp balls, at the other stand, well they both had the same menus, but I split my love between them. The shrimp balls were no slouches, even after such incredible tastes of Bahian acaraje, and one of São Paulo's exclusive dishes, cuzcuz paulista. You won't find cuzcuz paulista in Salvador da Bahia's acaraje stands, but this is one of the advantages of being in a cosmopolitan city, and the third largest city on the planet.

A little Guarana to wash down this tasty lunch, and home made hot pepper sauce was splashed on everything.

I passed up the green coconut cart, which I love, for one of the coolest bars I've ever encountered. While the fake sunglasses guys were playing hide and seek from the cops all afternoon, this guy with well cachaça and beers operates with impunity. I do love Brazil.

Velho Barreiro and 51 brands of cachaça aren't suitable for shooting.....at all. They are fine for caipirinhas, and most of my caipirinhas in Brazil are made with these brands. My wussy friend Craig didn't want to partake, but man, count me in for this.

I could open a killer wooden cart bar for downtown LA's Artwalk!

This is truly the bar of the proletariat. Cheap shots, and cold beers.

The food stalls only come out on the weekends in the Praça da Republica, where you can feel the pulse, or one of the many pulses of São Paulo, enjoy affordable home cooking, and sip yourself into a nice high, one little plastic cup at a time.

Praça da Republica
São Paulo, Brasil

Street Fair on weekends only.