Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sabor de Boyle Heights, I Mean Food and Wine's Taste of Beverly Hills, LA's very own Polanco For a Day

What's wrong with this picture? Well, if you ask me....nothing at ALL. Yes we have a supermodel eating a vampiro from a street cart, and maybe here in Beverly Hills, or the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, that might seem odd. Let me first apologize to any gorgeous uptown babes who've eaten street food before here in LA, but it's likely that it happened when you were with me.

In Mexico, all social classes eat at street stands, carts, and taquerias. In Condesa, a high rent neighborhood in Mexico City, there are taquerias that have valet parking, and are filled with men in suits, the blue dress shirts favored by Mexican business men, with multiple cell phones clipped to their belts .

And, what about this? Looks like your typical night in Boyle Heights, East LA, or South Gate, except there aren't any latinos in this line,just a couple of Stella girls, a westside mom with her young son and more Beverly Hills residents hankering for some tacos.

In the areas of Silver Lake, Hollywood, and other non-latino 'hoods, it is common to see a mixed crowd of taco truck diners, but they are mostly generic Mexican-American tacos vendors serving burritos, and the usual menu of tired,cheap meats cooked on a flat grill by amateurs.

But, on Labor Day weekend, this past September, on the last day of Food and Wine Magazine's Taste of Beverly Hills, four vendors representing Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, and Inglewood injected excitement and the energy of the street right in the heart of Beverly Hills.

My dear friend, Evan Kleiman of Angeli Caffe, and KCRW's Good Food, who was there to host KCRW's pie contest among other duties, had asked me to curate a a group of traditional taco stands to be at the event.

The Pie Contest was great, the place was empty when I arrived, but a huge flock of pie fiends filled festival up within minutes.

I was busy during this time making sure all the vendors knew where to go, and most importantly, were on their way! As much as folks in Beverly Hills don't make there way out to Boyle Heights, the opposite was the case for the tacos stand vendors. I still did manage to get a taste of some amazing pies, don't know if they were winners, but I hope to have time to really check this out next year, so many talented pie makers.

The majority of real street vendors and traditional Mexican restaurants are not on twitter, Facebook, in many case don't have a computer, or if they do, they don't regularly check e-mail nor do they spend too much time on the computer. It's a challenge when so much about these events involves e-mail correspondence and being online. In other words, don't try this at home.

With all technical challenges behind us, four of LA's top Mexican taqueros(tacoers) were up and running. An early buzz was created when Malter Manzke came by to sample each booth. He was at the event preparing some killer Asian spiced ribs for Simplehuman, while awaiting the opening of his next project. After he sampled, went back to cook some more, and finished off the four tacos he walked over and said to me, "these tacos.....the best shit I've tasted all weekend." "I'm going to tell the other guys they gotta get over here." In waves, before the event started, the chefs and staff of Taste of Beverly Hills made their way over.

At first, it was a small group in the know that came over to try tacos, various members of LA's food lover community. Then, Evan made an announcement that taco stands were here representing four regions of Mexico, the lines were packed 'til the event went dark.

From Boyle Heights, Antojito's Carmen, a summa cum laude graduate from the streets of Boyle Heights, for more than 20 years, and one of the stars of the Breed Street food fair that at one point numbered more than 40 vendors was representing Mexico City.

Antojito's Carmen brought a traditional taco de guisado from the streets of Mexico City. Their taco de alambre is a fry of steak, Oaxacan cheese, peppers, onions, bacon, and ham. This type of taco can be found from taco de guisado vendors in Mexico City who serves various stews that are for tacos like chicken in mole, chicharrones in red or green sauce, or just rice with hard-boiled eggs. An alambre is one of the common guisados.

Earlier this year, Antojito's Carmen moved into a brick and mortar establishment in Boyle Heights where you can experience the street food and home cooking from Mexico City.

From Inglewood, representing the states of Sinaloa and Nayarit, Mexico, Sergio Penuelas from Mariscos Chente's, just named the number one Mexican restaurant in LA by Los Angeles Magazine's Patric Kuh, was working the grill.

Sergio started out cooking in the back yard of his inlaws in Hawthorne,CA before cooking at the restaurants of various family members until recently joining his sister-in-law, Connie Cossio, at the original Mariscos Chente's on Imperial Highway in Inglewood.

Mariscos Chente's introduced the westside to Sinaloa's taco gobernador. It's a sauteed shrimp and cheese taco in a crispy, fried tortilla, dressed with pico de gallo, Mexican cream, and cabbage that was named after a governor of the state of Sinaloa.

Mariscos Jalisco, which brings an original recipe from San Juan de Los Lagos, Jalisco, recently won the best traditional street food award at the LA Street Food Fest Summer Tasting Event. Raul Ortega parks his truck on Olympic near Dakota every day, and his taco just might change your life.

The taco de camaron from Mariscos Jalisco is one of the top tacos in LA. A proprietary blend of shrimp and vegetables is fried in the tortilla, then served capeado, or topped by a sauce, with a lightly pickled tomato sauce with cabbage and cilantro, and a slice of avocado.

And Tacos Guanajuato?They brought their street stand, which turned out to be a stroke of genious. Jose Luis, from Guanajuato Mexico, stole the show that night. Besides having perhaps the best version of the taco volcan in the Americas. I haven't come across a better version of this taco in Mexico, and believe me I've tried, in the areas where it is done the best. In Sinaloa, where they call it a vampiro, or vampire, in Guanajuato and surrounding states where it is called a volcan, or volcano, or in Sonora, where it's referred to as a lorenza, no one touches our own Tacos Guanajuato.

What separates this taco from the rest is the fried cheese, which adds crunch and extreme flavor. Normally, the cheese is just melted on the taco, which is cooked on the grill 'til it hardens and dries out. A covering of meat, usually carne asada or al pastor, and then a final topping of pico de gallo.

People at the event really were drawn to the light bulbs and the cart, the street food beacons of of LA's latino neighborhoods. Tacos Guanajuato had a line all night, as Beverly Hills was introduced to the volcano taco.

It was great to see a different crowd enjoying these vendors, actors, models, studio executives, plastic surgeons, producers, and native Beverly Hills vocations.

Even the Stella Artois girls snuck away to see what all the fuss was about. Yes, I agree, a Stella and a volcan are a perfect pairing.

With things running smooth at the taco booths, I strolled around for some wine and couldn't pass up a taste of Chalone vineyards, nice sauvignon blanc from Monterrey county.

There were many great chefs, wineries, and food products at the Taste of Beverly Hills. I highly recommend attending, and not just for the tacos!

Sergio Penuelas has just finished his last taco and caught up with me in one of the main tents holding an empty glass of wine up to me. So, we went on a wine drinking run where we caught up with Joseph Mahon of Bastide.

For this one night, Beverly Hills looked more like a neighborhood in Mexico City, like Polanco, or Condesa, than East LA. Street food has come to Beverly Hills and I think they are addicted.

From many views, including Walter Manzke, the taco booths were the star of the Taste of Beverly Hills, and at the least they were the surprise taste of the weekend. Why? Street food vendors are serving regular menu items, in which they've mastered and perfected their dishes for between a dollar and a few bucks. Many of the restaurants present are trying to not lose their shirts donating food to the event and make something that will be good, but economic. Some chefs don't seem to bring much creativity, nor passion to these numerous events, almost dialing it in.

Next year, the street food stands are going to be bringing the flavor up to the next level, and Beverly Hills, the Polanco of Los Angeles, will be the center of Mexican street food in LA once again.

Taste of Beverly Hills

Antojitos Carmen
2510 E Cesar E Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033,
(323) 264-1451

Mariscos Chente's
3544 W Imperial Hwy
Inglewood, CA 90303
(310) 672-2339

Mariscos Jalisco
Olympic near Dakota
East Los Angeles, CA

Tacos Guanajuato
Savannah and 4th
Boyle Heights, CA


Anonymous said...

Thanks for visiting our food writing class---loved your stories!

streetgourmetla said...

You're so welcome, and a huge thanks. It was an honor to be there with Patric and all of you!!

Elisabeth said...

This is an amazing culinary adventure. Thanks for sharing...really loved it!