Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taco Task Force:Best Carnitas in LA!

With all of the Jaliscans, Capitalanos, and Michoacanans here in Los Angeles you'd think we'd have some better carnitas. Carnitas are various pork parts fried in pork lard; while it's done all over Mexico, the predominant styles are from Michoacan, Jalisco, Mexico City,San Francisco de los Romo in Aguascalientes, and in the Bajio(eastern half of Michoacan, and all of Queretaro and Guanajuato)region of Mexico.Outside of these regions, carnitas are usually prepared by artisans from Mexico City, Michoacan, and Jalisco.

A carnitas Taco Task Force run was looking hopeless last year; there just weren't enough solid locations to even make the minimum 5 stops, and nothing outstanding besides Metro Balderas. We all love carnitas, and you can usually do pretty good even with the carnitas found around LA using the cheater method;this consists of boiling the pork in water and frying them up before serving. This cooking style is like the kind you get at Olvera St. or just about any Mexican-American restaurant around town. The texture is stringy, but the flavor can be passable, often times more attractive than having dry carne asada.

Taco Task Force Mission: We are here to rate tacos without prejudice,and give this culinary treasure its proper due.We are the antidote to amateurish taco blogs, we are a tacoligarchy.

For this mission we expanded the Taco Task Force from the original cast:Josh "el guapo" Lurie,Matt "el chico paletero"Kang, Cathy "la risa" Danh, Javier "el flaco" Cabral, and I "el jefe", to include new TTF draftees:Eddie Lin, Zach Brooks, Valentina Silva,Jo Stougaard, and David Lieberman.

On January 22,2011, the TTF members reporting for duty were Josh Lurie(JL), Matt Kang(MK), Zach Brooks(ZB), Valentina Silva(VS), Dave Lieberman(DL) and his wife Linnea(LL), and I(BE). Our control of the day was the taco surtido, a mixed carnitas taco consisting of either all the available parts of that taquero or the taquero's personal preference. This typically includes muscle tissue like shoulder or rib, combined with skin, and various offal.

We scored each taco on a 1 to 5 scale, 5 being the highest score in the categories of Grade of Key Ingredient, Condiment/Tortilla, Overall Flavor, and Cooking.All scores were averaged to reach the Overall Score.

We made 5 stops that day representing the popular, established, and new restaurants/stands/trucks that have a specialty in carnitas.Who has the best carnitas in Los Angeles?

Coming in at #5 on our list is Carnitas Michoacan #3

Carnitas Michoacan is a well-known chain with over 30 years experience here in Los Angeles; famous throughout the talk forums for their Michoacan-style carnitas.

They claim to have over 5 zillion sold, for this accomplishment, they should be charged with senseless mass porkicide.

These are hardly Michoacan-style; more Elks Lodge banquet hall style, employing the cheater method of boiling then frying prior to serving. They only have shoulder, no other parts available.

The texture is bad enough, but combined with a strange-tasting, dry pork, my interest died after the first bite.

It wasn't a surprise that these were so bad, but its popularity made Carnitas Michoacan a necessary stop, one of the many hazards of TTF duty. This is a "don't go" place.

Carnitas Michoacan #3
741 S Soto St
Los Angeles, CA 90023
(323) 266-7188

Grade of Key Ingredient: MK 1.5 DL 2 LL 2.5 BE 1 ZB 2 VS 1.5 JL 1 AVERAGE 1.643/5
Condiment/Tortilla: MK 1.5 DL 1.5 LL 2.5 BE 1.5 ZB 2 VS 2.5 JL 2 AVERAGE 1.929/5
Overall Flavor: MK 2 DL 3.5 LL 3 BE 0.5 ZB 2 VS 1.5 JL 1.5 AVERAGE 2/5
Cooking: MK 1.5 DL 1 LL 2 BE 1 ZB 2 VS 1.5 JL 1.5 AVERAGE 1.5/5


At #4, Carnitas El Tio, a new discovery for the TTF

Carnitas El Tio looked promising with its lil' piggy logo and cool a-frame building down in Compton, but it proved to be just ok. Despite the fact that they've been around since '94, they've curiously remained more of a local joint.

The boil then fry method is again employed here to mediocre ends.

The flavor was good at first, then just vanished, and there was some dryness in this taco.There was also a funny aftertaste that I couldn't quite place...these carnitas are just OK, but I don't see coming back here again, local it shall remain.

Carnitas El Tio
1903 N. Long Beach Blvd.
Compton, CA 90221

Grade of Key Ingredient: MK 2.5 DL 4.5 LL 2.5 BE 3 ZB 3 VS 3 JL 2.5 AVERAGE 3/5
Condiment/Tortilla: MK 3 DL 2.5 LL 2.5 BE 2.5 ZB 3 VS 2 JL 2 AVERAGE 2.5/5
Overall Flavor: MK 3 DL 4.5 LL 2.5 BE 3 ZB 3 VS 3.5 JL 3 AVERAGE 3.214/5
Cooking: MK 3 DL 2.5 LL 2.5 BE 3.5 ZB 3 VS 3 JL 2.5 AVERAGE 2.857/5


Coming in at #3, Los Cinco Puntos still kicks it Old School

Los Cinco Puntos in Boyle Heights is an institution where carnitas are cooked in traditional cazos(large metal pots), and are fried in lard.

There's always a line here for their East LA style thick-corn tortillas, tamales, roasted lamb heads, and carnitas. They've even got a damn good moronga, blood sausage.

The taco surtido contained ribs, and hog's maw, a good combination that was more dominated by the hog's maw, not a bad idea since the rib was a little chewy. Los Cinco Puntos also has tripe, tongue, shout, and skin available for carnitas. Here I would stick with the offal and skin tacos. They have a great jalapeno salsa,too, and drop nopales come standard on your taco. After all these years, Los Cinco Puntos still delivers.This is a solid carnitas taco

Los Cinco Puntos
3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90063
(323) 261-4084

Grade of Key Ingredient: MK 3 DL 3 LL 4 BE 2.5 ZB 4 VS 4 JL 2 AVERAGE 3.214/5
Condiment/Tortilla: MK 3.5 DL 4.5 LL 4 BE 3.5 ZB 5 VS 4 JL 4 AVERAGE 4.071/5
Overall Flavor: MK 3 DL 3.5 LL 4.5 BE 3 ZB 4 VS 4 JL 3.5 AVERAGE 3.642/5
Cooking: MK 3 DL 2.5 LL 3.5 BE 2 ZB 4 VS 4 JL 2 AVERAGE 3/5


Our carnitas runner-up, at #2, Metro Balderas

Metro Balderas has 10 years in the carnitas game; their original branch still stands in Northridge. We stopped at their better known Highland Park location to sample their Mexico City style carnitas.

Mexico City is all about the offal, here you can even get a pig uterus taco. The surtida had uterus, hog's maw, snout, rib, shoulder, and ear.

These tacos are strong in their saltiness and pork flavors, and they have a pleasing texture from traditional cooking in a cazo. It doesn't hurt that they have amazing salsa, the best of the day for the TTF.

Metro Balderas is a sure bet if you're in the mood for top-notch carnitas in LA.

Metro Balderas
5305 N Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 478-8383

Grade of Key Ingredient: MK 3.5 DL 3.5 LL 2.5 BE 4 ZB 4 VS 4.5 JL 4 AVERAGE 3.857/5
Condiment/Tortilla: MK 3 DL 3.5 LL 3 BE 4.5 ZB 4 VS 4 JL 3.5 AVERAGE 3.643/5
Overall Flavor: MK 3.5 DL 2 LL 3 BE 3 ZB 5 VS 3.5 JL 3.5 AVERAGE 3.357/5
Cooking: MK 3.5 DL 3.5 LL 4 BE 4 ZB 4 VS 4 JL 4 AVERAGE 3.857/5


And, introducing the #1 carnitas in Los Angeles, Tacos Los Güichos!

Tacos Los Guicho's weekend carnitas were a recent discovery of mine.

Here the truth in cooking is revealed to all, slow cooked pork in a bubbling bath tub of lard.

The surtida had ears, lips, hog's maw, shoulder, and rib. The cooking here is careful, and this is the only place that excels in all parts, from offal to muscle tissue. Los Güichos is another Mexico City-style carnitas location, superior in a balanced pork taste, and with great condiments to finish your tacoing in style.

Tacos Los Güichos
carnitas on the weekends only from 8am 'til they run out
regular menu 7 days a week
southwest corner of Slauson and Avalon
Los Angeles, CA

Grade of Key Ingredient: MK 4 DL 4.5 LL 3.5 BE 4 ZB 5 VS 4.5 JL 4.5 AVERAGE 4.286/5
Condiment/Tortilla: MK 4 DL 3.5 LL 2 BE 4 ZB 4 VS 3.5 JL 3.5 AVERAGE 3.5/5
Overall Flavor: MK 4.5 DL 4.5 LL 4 BE 4.5 ZB 5 VS 4 JL 4.5 AVERAGE 3.857/5
Cooking: MK 4.5 DL 4 LL 4 BE 4.5 ZB 5 VS 5 JL 4.5 AVERAGE 4.5/5


Stay tuned for more Taco Task Force missions, to bring you the best in tacos here in LA and beyond.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

No-Name Parrilla at the San Telmo Market,Buenos Aires: Wining and Dining Away the Hours in Buenos Aires

Dadio and Fredi, just a couple a regular guys and a grill.San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

By day San Telmo, the oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, is an attraction to antique hounds,the youth hostel sort, and locals found strolling its timeworn cobblestone streets. At night, the sounds of the bandoneón stirs the blood of the milongueros.

Just like any 'hood in Buenos Aires, there's no end to the parrillas, the Argentine tradition of fire roasted meats. You'll never get an accord from one person to the next, the more you ask, the more answers you shall have."Where is the best parrilla?", pronounced pa-reesha in Argentine dialect.Everyone thinks theirs is the best. The exasperated guide books and forums will lead you to La Cabrera or Don Julio, which will no doubt be a good meal, but Buenos Aires has more parrillas than LA has burger joints,so why limit yourself to the tourist trap?

A no-name parrilla exists on the Carlos Calvo side of the San Telmo Market with a short menu of Argentine grilled meats. The Parrilla Mercado San Telmo has been around for about a decade, run by good friends Fredi and Dadio who entertain a group of regulars each day with cheap wine,soccer matches broadcast on an old TV , and economic conversation.Here the sun seems to wait for the local dawdle of lives spent in sleepy bliss.

The walls are littered with posted notes from fans all over the world, mostly love letters to Fredi and Dadio's choripan, their stellar rendition of the Argentine chorizo sandwich.

Most of them written on those thin, waxy, unproductive South-American napkins that merely spread grease and substance around your hands.

The smallish grill and cramped dining area makes this one of the more humble parrillas around Buenos Aires. There's handmade chorizo, morcilla(blood sausage), chinchulin(intestine), vacío(flank steak),chicken, and bondiola(pork).

The house wine is $1.25 for a full glass. Is it a malbec, a bonardo? No,...it's $1.25! When Fredi, who is at times distracted by his friends and the soccer match on TV got around to pouring my wine,my eyes caught a glimpse of the used water bottle. Just an emptied out water bottle to refrigerate an unknown house wine, a stash of local hooch. I think I fell in love with this place at that very moment. The pace here is slow because it's meant to be enjoyed; good friends, some wine, and fine parrilla.

The guys seemed to have forgotten my order, but all of a sudden, it was coming right up. Me? No problem, a drunken woman sitting next to me in the tight space kept busting Fredi's balls about waiting on me."Fredi!" "Ay" "Fredi, ayudale!"

Her and I clinked glasses, and I sat back and watched the show. A pile of pan arabe, the local bread used for the various sandwiches and three bright, and fresh chimichurris flashed the universal codes of street food assurance. This is going to be good.

The star attraction of the two guys parrilla, spicy Argentine chorizo, is known to travelers all over the world, mostly from Latin-America by all the hand-written praise papered all over the walls of the restaurant, in spanish. Choripan is the more famous Argentine sandwich, but it was all looking good, and I had tried a great choripan the day before,how about some steak?

The vacío can be ordered in a sandwich or by itself; it's the greatest indulgence here at $5, you get a full cut for $7. The whole flank steak is slow cooked, then sliced to order. Dadio grilled the meat a little after tearing some ample strips off the attractive parcel of meat. This cut of steak is one of the definitive cuts in Argentina, and is cooked with an insulating layer of fat and tissue on the grill.

A bit of one of the house chimichurris(parsley and olive oil marinade) and you're good to go. The steak is tender, grassy, and with a touch of that lardy exterior that has been charring on the grate. It's the perfect piece of parrilla, a benchmark for all of your fancy sit-down parrillas to come.

The first day I stopped here I ordered the morcipan, a blood sausage sandwich. For those of us who love such things, the morcilla is a sight to behold. Its casing is thick, pliant, and silky smooth. Inside it's pure heaven.

Just a mild splash of a spicy chimichurri made with local chiles on this clean,smoky blood sausage.

With a glass of the amusing house wine, the bill comes to $3.25, unbelievable. It seems most just bring their own bottles, hang out, get a choripan and stare at each other, only taking time to crack a joke here and there, or to laugh at something that may have happened earlier in the day.

This is an excellent parrilla, and anything after this mellow grill of note shall be measured by this standard. Argentina is one of the greatest meat shows on Earth; you need neither a uniformed waiter nor a prop horse for cheesy, mounted photos to find the best Argentina has to offer.

If I could live near this place I'd be a regular too.....maybe I'd bring a better bottle of wine, but then again.....maybe not.

No-Name Parrilla, or the Two Guys in San Telmo
Carlos Calvo, near Bolivar on the side of the San Telmo Market
San Telmo
Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
open for lunch

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ray and Stark's Bar: Paint the Mid-Town Red

Ray's and Stark Bar, located adjacent to the new Resnick Pavillion at the LACMA, features an urbane outdoor patio design by famed architect Renzo Piano. The new bar and Mediterranean farm-to-table menu based on seasonal, local ingredients is named after the late film producer, Ray Stark, known for Steel Magnolias and Funny Girl.

Executive chef Kris Morningstar, fresh from executive chef positions at District and Mercantile, has put together several menus, from bar bites to dinner. The cocktail menu has been developed by Michel Dozois.

The food is solid, and the libations are too; an extra attention was given the scotch list. The well-rounded bar represents a little something for everyone, from cocktails, to spirits, to craft beers.

But the most attractive element of Ray's and Stark Bar is the setting. The moment I arrived I felt as though I were arriving at some gala event. This is going to be a hot spot in the summer, and I don’t know if you could really find a better place to be on a warm and flirtatious Los Angeles night.

(Special thanks for the invitation for this event to Wagstaff Worldwide)

Stark Bar

Ray's Mediterranean farm-to-table dining

Ray's and Stark Bar
Ray’s (restaurant)
Lunch 12-3PM (11:30AM on weekends)
Dinner 5-10PM
Closed Wednesdays

Stark Bar
Closed Wednesdays
Call 323-857-6180

Monday, March 21, 2011

Parrilla Los Hermanitos, Buenos Aires: Choripan,Bondiola, Paty, and Churrasquito on the Costanera Sur- Street Food in Buenos Aires

The Club de Pescadores marks the beginning of your riverside grill adventure.

Argentina isn't exactly a street food Mecca, but one taste of the country's greatests traditions, grilled meats, served at the outdoor shacks and stands found throughout the country amplifies Argentina's antiphonal meat choir in stating that meat this good requires little more. One could devote a trip to just comparing choripanes without tire.

The parrilla, pronounced pareesha in Argentine dialect,can be found in every neighborhood, and perhaps on every block, it seems. This is the fire roasted meat cooked on a grill, the national dish of Argentina.

Along the Costanera Sur, between the Rio de la Plata and the Jorge Newbury Airport, you will find a row of parrilla shacks serving typical grilled meat sandwiches. It is odd to look for grilled meats along a river, but one look at the murky waters, and you shall forget about seafood as easily as the Argentines.

All of them have choripan(chorizo on a roll), bondiola, (pork shoulder on a roll), patys or hamburguesas(beef patties on a roll), and churrasquito(steak on a roll). Many carry finer steak cuts like vacio(flank), or bife de chorizo(NY steak). There can also be matambres(thin-cut flank steak)or anything else the grill man desires.

There are an overwhelming number of parrillas in Buenos Aires, and the usual sources will steer you towards the expensive, tourist-friendly,ho-hum steak houses. Perhaps you might want to start with the street version, quality meats and sausages cooked by veteran grill men, a go from there.

Parrilla Los Hermanitos has been around for more than 20 years on the Costanera Sur in Buenos Aires. Their menu consists of the choripan, bondiola, paty, and churrasquito. Thier special cut is the vacio, a whole cut of flank, cooked slowly, then sliced to order onto the grill for a moment before a luscious steak with a sexy bit of blood and pink flesh is placed on a hard bread roll. Each item is around $3.50USD!

Fresh Argentine style pork chorizo is grilled slowly,these sausages have deep spicing and their scent dominates the river scene.

Local Benidorm mayo and mild aji chile dressings are found at all the parrilla shacks. The containers confused me at first; I thought they looked more like construction supplies, but these are condiments.

Each place prepares various salads, an essential part of the parrilla tradition;Los Hermanitos even sets up a showy display of condiment packets for those who prefer the individual dose.

"Would you like a fried egg on your bondiola?" The answer comes slower than my enthusiastic body language, and the egg is cracked on the griddle.

The marinaded pork shoulder has honey, garlic, white wine, and herbs and contains enough moistness that a hard roll is needed to keep it from sliding away. The roll used for the different panes(sandwiches) at the parrillas is the pan arabe, it's similar to a french roll.I don't know what this bondiola is like without the egg, and I probably never will.You must get one of these while in Argentina.

The choripan, Argentina's more famous street food has only been known to me in LA and Mexico based Argentine restaurants, usually with commercially purchased chorizos. The difference is striking. The chorizo is grilled,split open, then set in the bun, delivering a taste that strikes moments before your teeth pop through the zippy, pork meat and casing. Some marinated tomatoes and bright chimichurri only raise the stakes; the chorizo's presence won't be denied, so dress away.

Parrilla Los Hermanitos
Av. Rafael Obligado Costanera
beginning at the Club de Pescadores
Costanera Sur
Buenos Aires, Argentina
afternoons 'til early evenings

Monday, March 14, 2011

Super Perros,Bogota Colombia: The Colombian Hot Dog Puts the Super in Super-Sized

In Argentina the local hot dogs are called panchos, their grander offerings, super-panchos; Bolivia,Paraguay, and Uruguay also have their respective variations called panchos;Venezuela is content with just callin 'em hot hogs(with a cool spanish accent,of course=hote doeg); in Brazil, it's the ingredient packed dogão;Chile has the mayo spackled completo; but perhaps the grandest of all South-American hot dogs is the super-perro, or super-dog from Colombia.

The super-perro is a tremendous bite densely packed with all things good. Toppings vary, but there are some basics, the special pan perro bun, mozarella cheese, ketchup, mustard, garlic mayonaisse, pink ketchup to exite the eyes, relish, onions, tomatoes, and a mound of crushed potato chips.Maybe a bit of pineapple thrown in for extra sweetness? One stand I came across in Bogota even offered quail eggs!

Most of these stands are simply titled super-perros, and they can be found all over Colombia.

I came across a rather camera shy woman with her family one night in Bogota's Zona Rio, my neighborhood stay of choice; it's where the party's at. They come to Bogota from nearby Zipaquira to sell these hulking hot dogs. They are located across the street from the El Corral in the Zona Rio, it's a branch of a popular,local burger chain.

You can't have a super-perro without pan perro, or dog bread. It's a light, airy sesame-seed bun with a crust that gets browned and crisped on a flat iron.

A rainbow of condiments says Colombia: ketchup, pink ketchup, mustard, and a spicy,garlic mayonaisse are the standard quartet of criss-crossed patterns of condiment.

While the bun with its fillings are getting toasty, mozarella cheese is grilled to make a sealing layer atop the super-perro.

The finished product is a startling proposition, surely this is too much to eat at once; these are big enough to share.

This formidable bite bestows upon its owner a medley of compositions and dashes, from crunch to snap; from sweet to salt. The pan perro really sets this hot dog apart from other similar South-American style dogs, and also gives the super-perro its girth. Oh yeah, my super-perro costed $1500 Colombian pesos, under a dollar in US currency.

The Colombian hot dog is best enjoyed at a stand with an ice-cold gaseosa, a soft drink, just look for the super-perro sign or banner, super-sized for your pleasure.

Super Perros
kiosk across from the EL Corral
in the Zona Rio
Bogota, Colombia
All over Bogota, Colombia and
throughout the rest of the country
afternoons and evenings

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cantina La Mascota,Mexico City: I love You,Man

The cantina has always been a place for men to drown their sorrows, thankfully in our modern age, it's also a place for women to indulge in the same melancholia.

The floors of Cantina La Mascota in Mexico City's historic center of have been soaking up tears and wasted beers for more than a half century. It's walls still ring with laughter and song even in the emptiness of mid-day. At this hour, only the truest heart lingers.

Cantinas serve Mexican tapas, on the house with a three-drink minimum, that as long as I live, shall always be strictly enforced. Oh, I need no reminders--another round,please!

While checking out the menu of the day, on my way to meet Mexico City blogger and tour guide, Lesley Tellez, I was stopped by a man I presumed worked at La Mascota. "Are you coming in?", he said."Uh,later,I'm off to meet someone", I replied,"but thanks." "This is the best cantina, you have to have a drink--on me",he insisted.

Gabriel is a regular at La Mascota, not an employee. "What'll you have!", he said. "Bucanas con Topo Chico."(Buchanan's blended Scotch with mineral water)"Oh, Bucanas, wow, you're a high roller!"he said jokingly."No, whatever,I don't...." "Bucanas for my friend,boss!!"

Gabriel went on to tell me about his childhood, that he grew up nearby the bar, and told me of his marital woes--he spoke in a soft voice, the stared out the door while resting one hand on my shoulder at all times. I felt like Gabriel knew me all his life.

"Please,this place has the best food, you have to eat!" "Yeah, but I'm....." "Boss, a shrimp soup for my friend," he yelled. "Uh, thanks, it's very kind"

We talked about a number of things,bonding closer and closer by the minute. I looked at my phone, and was losing all possibility of arriving on time to meet Lesley.

How could I leave my friend in his time of need?Wait--I don't even know this guy."Gabriel, you'll have to excuse me, I'm late for an appointment." His face sunk, and he just stared at me for a moment."I understand," he shrugged, trying to regain his composure.He then said goodbye to me in an inextricable embrace, squeezing more and more, like a python strangles its victim in between futile breaths.

As I gently broke free and turned away, he waved, like the sadness of a brief reunion only to say goodbye for the last time. "I'll see you here again, OK." He nodded with gaurded pessimism, slowly turning back into the bar. I ran after a taxi, but still can't forget ole Gabriel. I hope things turn around for him.

Damn, that soup was good, I'll be back for sure!

Cantina La Mascota is an unforgettable place, a superb cuisine from Hidalgan and local cooks,spirited singalongs, and the alcohol soaked clientele live,laugh,cry, love, and play with abandon.

Later, the place was full, even a local cantina singer stopped in to schmooze and booze,but I save his story for another occasion.

The waiters are great here, and even when I came back months later with Josh Lurie on our first DF run, he remembered me, and even recalled where I was sitting.

A cantina for me isn't a place you go for fashionable cocktails, it's a place to have a belt. A shot of tequila with a housemade sangrita, a sweet and spicy chaser. A 30-30 works just fine.

A Buchanan's with mineral water, we say Bucanas! This maybe even more Mexican than tequila or mezcal in terms of popularity. Buchanan's is huge in Mexico, 12yrs. for the masses, and dieciocho(18yr) if you're gangster.

There are cocktails, all blended, which would spin the cocktail kids around on their stools in LA, but there are some good drinks. The Lagartija is vodka blended with two kinds of mint.

La Mascota serves a daily changing menu of regional Mexican cuisine, the chefs here hail from the great culinary state of Hidalgo. The cantina features 6-7 tapas each day, the menus are papered all over the neighborhood.

Fava bean soup is a Mexico City classic, with a bit of pork for comfort. The soup is tremendous here, this is a good sign you're in the right bar.

The tostada de pata,beef hoof,another local dish is beautiful with a bit of white cheese sprinkled atop. It's amazing, the ability of these kitchens to produce such excellence on a dime. Yes, this is free!

Don't pass up the taquitos, they may seem a throwaway, but if you look around at the other tables, it's taquitos you shall find.Simple, delicious, and just enough white cheese and crema mexicana to give it a special touch.

And, a whole pork shank of carnitas just for the price of a mild buzz? The shank is to Mexico City what Rice-a-Roni is to San Francisco;it's the Chilango treat. Great saltiness and texture, a fine home-style carnitas to devour with tortillas while you scream the lyrics to Mana's Mariposa Traicionera.

Petit gris,specially fed snails of the garden variety, are a common delicacy in the cantinas; here at La Mascota they're served in a nice mole negro.

Pulpo en su tinta, octopus cooked in its ink, cooked tender in a light sauce flavored by green peppers.

A small cut of veal in an excellent adobo sauce. The flavors here are big, memorable, and dare you to drink more, because more food will come.

The scene is always changing, an abandoned love in the afternoon, the late night dipsomaniacs, and the happy hour faithful.

This duo, played with as much heart and soul as the Rolling Stones at Wembley in '03.Everything from Mana, to Juan Gabriel, to.....Kiss. Mexico City is a Rock 'n Roll town. At the time, sitting with Josh, Lesley and her husband, I felt like this could be the greatest band ever, not for cause of drink, nor musical technique,but because the band themselves believe it--so do you. I almost got up, moved to join in on the Mana tune then got distracted by our table conversation, but the guy at the table next to me had no such inhibition when Rock 'n Roll All Night came blasting out of cheap amplification and wreckless strumming. I will never be so reserved again.

After the Blood, Sweat, and Tears have flowed, the guys relax for a well-deserved bite, yes, they chose the taquitos.

All night long a woman sang each song and lyric directly at me, always raising her glass in harmless flirtation. In the end she waved, smiled, and left. It's another night at La Mascota, and Josh,Lesley, and I passed the hours lit by cantina fire. This is the cantina.

Hey Gabriel, I love you too,man. Next time the drinks are on me.

Cantina La Mascota
Mesones, 20 at Bolivar
Centro Historico
Mexico City, Mexico
7 days a week
noon to drunk