Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tacos Carmelita: Mexico City Rising,Tacos de Guisado Have Arrived

For the past four years, right under our very noses, a brilliant Mexico City style tacos de guisado shop has been sitting right next door to Langer's, hidden in plain sight. No, it's not some entrepreneur that has family from Mexico, or traveled to Mexico City to research tacos de guisado, but a real cook from Mexico's capitol.

Located at the Westlake Mall in MacArthur Park, Tacos Carmelita is the only food option next to lingerie, clothing,and electronics stalls. The neglected theater sign reminds that the Weslake neighborhood, now home to mostly Mexican and Central-American swap meet malls and stores,check cashing,and fake ID's pushers,was once upscale. This area still has a bit of a rep, but has really mellowed in recent years.

Wrapping up a shoot with Squid Ink's Elina Shatkin, we had decided on either the food truck row on Wilshire, or MacArthur Park. As fortune would have it, the camera man was stuck in traffic, so we headed to MacArthur Park since one by one the Wilshire trucks were pulling away.

When we got to 7th and Alvarado, I thought, wait, there's nothing here. MacArthur Park has its share of uninteresting trucks in the evenings, but mid-afternoon is a taco dead zone in the Latin-American neighborhoods of the globe. There are also some comidas corridas, and Good Salvadorean and Guatemalan, but tacos? I decided to take a walk."If I don't find anything down the street,let's just use the park."

I saw Tacos Carmelita and looked around a bit more in the Westlake Mall, and thought the taco shop would work fine until I looked at the warming trays and saw the guisados . I asked,"You have tacos de guisado?" Isabel, who has cooked there for four years smiled and nodded.

Isabel comes from the Basilica de Guadalupe neighborhood of Mexico City, just north of the Centro Historico. This is the center of worship for Mexico's beloved Virgen de Guadalupe. She's been cooking professionally for about 17 years, and even had her own restaurant at one point.

Tacos de guisado, tacos of stews, are the most prevalent form of the street taco in Mexico City, and Mexico. They are the home cooked stews of Mexican moms and grandmothers lovingly placed in a tortilla.

You can get beans and rice on your tacos, the rice is the glue that keeps the sauce on the taco, and the beans complete the meal. It's a whole meal in a taco. I take these beans on the side, they are stand alone good.

The guisados are available during the week, from 10AM-5PM, on the weekends, just like in DF, they switch to the comfort dishes.

Fideos are always on the menu, the Mexican style pasta soup in a chicken and tomato broth. These are happily greasy and slurp to the last drop good.

They had the fideos with alphabet pasta the first time I went, this will bring many a Latino back to their grandmother's kitchen.

The red pozole, only available on the weekends is done DF style, with pork trotters. This comes with quite a bit of meat. It's among the best pozoles in the city.

In addition to these killer tacos, there are tortas and quesadillas available with the various stews.

The carnitas are of the home style variety, not cooked low and slow in a copper pot, but very much like the usual carnitas you encounter in our LA restaurants. The difference, these are better, with a nice saltiness, and good texture. I really prefer carnitas from a specialist, but carnita lovers should check these out, but these are a weekend only taco.

Everything is coming up tinga this year, well, tinga has always been a standard guisado in Mexico. This simple, spicy chicken recipe is a reality check for the tinga cheerleaders around town.This is what it should taste like! Its snappy gusto is balanced by the rice and torilla, an excellent guisado.

The pipian rojo, as Isabel's other chicken guisados, comes with a drumstick. Isabel has her sauce technique together. This sauce is a made with pumpkin seeds, dry chiles and spices.

She changes the guisados daily, so there's always something new to try.

Pollo en adobo is a magnificent taco, full of dark, dried chile essence, and hints of sweetness and spice.

The chicharron verde is awesome,tangy, and luscious. It will have you moaning for more.

The albondigas enchipotladas, meatballs in chipotle come with a surprise, they're filled with hard-boiled eggs. Yes, these are for making your own tacos. The heat is sensual and shows restraint in using the charismatic chipotle.

Picadillo, comes in a plate or taco. This is seriously good.Isabel starts cooking at a commisary kitchen at 4AM, slowly cooking stews that arrive with color, depth, and substance.

On another day, cerdo en salsa verde (pork in green sauce) and pollo en crema de chipotle(chicken in cream of chipotle). The pork is tender and infused with green flavors, the cream of chipotle, subtlely heated,and finger-licking good.

All the guisados are rocking, but the bistec en pasilla(steak is pasilla chili sauce) is ablaze. A dark chile pasilla sauce with sublime flavor will have you asking for more tortillas should a drop have escaped your mouth.

This is a game changing taco stand in Los Angeles. This isn't just the presence of a tacos de guisado specialist, but a bonifide Mexico City kitchen.I haven't seen anything like it, in terms of variety and quality. Mexico City cuisine is coming up.

Tacos Carmelita
Inside the Westlake Mall
710 Alvarado St, at 7th
Los Angeles, CA
Mon-Sunday 10AM-5PM(closed Wednesday)


Daily Gluttony said...

OMG, want! I've never had tacos de guisado until last week when I went to Ricardo Diaz of Cooks Torta's new restaurant last week & I'm hooked. Thanks for posting!

Food GPS said...

Good find. The albondigas enchipotladas look especially good. How does Tacos Carmelita's tinga compare to Tinga's tinga?

streetgourmetla said...

Hey Daily Gluttony-I peeked into the window at Guisados the other night.DF is the epicenter of this stuff, so go, and let me know whatcha think.

streetgourmetla said...

FoodGPS-It's all really good. The tinga at Tinga is no tinga I've ever mingled. Get your tinga at Carmelita, Nina's, or Carmen's, screw the tinga opportunists.

Unknown said...

Uh huh huuuuh... that sounds AWESOME! I think I'm gonna go after service one day since it's only like 5-10 min away. Thx Street Gourmet LA. You're the BEST-EST!

streetgourmetla said...

Starry Kitchen-You're the best-est. Make sure you ask for the stews in a taco, that way you can try many.Let's go together and buy some fake ID's, too.

Andi? said...

Oh man. This looks amazing. Can't wait to try it.

WineGrrl said...

I've got to go here.

streetgourmetla said...

Andi and WineGrrl-get a stop in before the new year!

12345 said...

FYI - My girlfriend was craving that pozole badly, so we went last weekend and it was closed. The lady next door said they closed down.

Bill, do you have another great recommendation for pozole in LA. Thanks.