Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Weekend Guide to Mexicali, B.C-100% Puro Cachanilla

Mexicali, the capitol of Baja California, is an important center of industrial production in the automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, metallurgical, and health services as well as manufacturing and exporting products to various countries. While it has all the sensibilities of nearby border cities like Tecate and Tijuana, it has more of a cross border feel--just about any American tourist should feel right at home here.

It's home to the happy-go-lucky cachanillas(Mexicali natives); a laid back people who know how to enjoy life, and always have time for a cold beer with friends and family. This hasn't stopped them from having one of the highest standards of living in Mexico.

Mexicali is the birthplace of the Clamato(created at the Hotel Lucerna), home to one of Mexico's best craft beers: Cucapa, and has the largest Chinese immigrant population in all of Mexico. This is a place of carne asada, chabelas(beer cocktails with Clamato juice), and a local style of Cantonese-Mexican cuisine that is famous throughout Mexico.

Whether in town for business, crossing the border for the day, or planning a longer stay; Mexicali has plenty of attractions for the tourist.


Enjoy a 5-star experience at Hotel Araiza and dine at the adjoining restaurant La Fonda de Mexicali, known for it's fine breakfast and grill buffets.

Once you're checked in it's time to indulge in a taste of Mexico.


Don't miss a Mexicali tradition of lamb barbacoa and beef head tacos at Tacos Ferrocarriles--a row of stalls that have been serving up delicious tacos since 1976.

At 11-year-old Tacos de Guisado Panduro, you'll find northern stew tacos engineered for the breakfast crowd. Try chilorio(chilied pork), machaca (beef jerky), picadillo(ground beef with vegetables), or albañil(brick layers stew).

La Plazita, owned by Omar Dipp Nuñez, is the place to go for classic Mexican breakfast dishes in a casual setting. The menu features regional egg dishes like huevos divorciados(divorced eggs), huevos ahogados(drowned eggs), huevos morelianos(morelian eggs), and the house specialty: huevos en cazuela( eggs in an earthen casserole). Chef Juanito from Torreon takes special care in pleasing his customers, even tailoring the spice to fit their condition, and the front of house--Luz Maria--always greets each guest with a smile. This place is eggzactly the way to start your morning. If you can't find a seat, walk around the corner to Las Campañas de La Plazita--same owner and a similar menu.


When Cachanillas aren't eating tacos they eat Chinese food--6 out of 10 seats in Mexicali restaurants are for Chinese restaurants. Around 1 PM these restaurants will be packed with locals feasting on their own brand of Cantonese-Mexican cuisine. The most well-known and beloved of these 250+ restaurants are Rincon de Panchito--owned and operated for the last 28 years by Panchito from Canton--and nearby Dragon restaurant.

Mexicali's Chinese cuisine is different than our own Americanized Cantonese. It's where unconventional plates are washed down with Mexican beers, and chiles güeros are dusted with star anise instead of chili powder. Give it a try, and remember to put some ketchup in your soy sauce--it's the Cachanilla way.

There plenty of seafood options in town, but Laguna Azul is the pearl of this ocean of delights.

Laguna Azul makes some of the best seafood cocktails around. The campechana, or mixed seafood can be ordered for an individual or for the whole table.


And there are tacos. Mexicali has a ton of excellent carne asada asaderos, or roasters, as well as seafood taquerias. There are also outposts of famed taquerias from nearby states such as Sonora, where much of the Mexicali tradition gets its inspiration.

A great place to partake in the Mexicali style of carne asada tacos is at El Tecolote Mocorito.

Mexicali has many fine dining options for dinner aside from the popular tacos. Go to Chef Guillermo Barretto's Trattorria La Piazza for Baja-Italian cuisine, or check out Mediterraneo.

At the Crowne Plaza Hotel restaurant Colorado you'll find one of the best tastes of Mexicali: borrego de vuelta y vuelta(rotisserie lamb). In addition to the superb lamb dish we recommend the Sonoran style steaks at this contemporary grill.


When it comes to beer and chabelas, Mexicali has a little something for everyone. Be sure to cool off with the local stars: Cucapa and Mexicali beer.

Even better, call and arrange a tour at the Cucapa brewery, where master brewer Jose Melaquiades will guide through Cucapa's beers from the standard brews to their signature line of craft flavors: Lowrider IPA, Runaway, La Migra Imperial Stout, and Green Card. There's even a 10% alcohol barley wine that's barrel aged.

Spend a weekend in Mexicali and catch the flavors of northern Mexico, the warmth of the Sonoran desert and Mexicali people, and quench your thirst like a true Cachanilla in Baja California's industrious capitol. This is Mexicali!

Araiza Hotel
Bl. Benito Juarez, #2220
Fracc. Jardines del Valle
Mexicali, B.C.
namager: Victor Martinez
686-564-1100,ext. 715
cel 686-569-3176
USA 877-727-2492

Fonda de Mexicali (attached to Hotel Araiza)
Breakfast 6AM-12PM
Grill Buffet 12PM-11PM
Room Service 6AM-12:45AM, ex. 722

Asadero Tecolote Mocorito
Rio Mocorito No. 800, corner of Rep. de Ecuador
Col. Cuauhtemoc Nte.
Mexicali, B.C.
686-561-1691/cell 044-686-188-2886

Bar La Conga
Av. de la Reforma,#603
Zona Turistica
Mexicali, B.C

Cervezaria Cucapa
Bl. Lopez Mateos,#2301
Mexicali, B.C.
686-592-6652, ex.211

Colorado at the Crowne Plaza Hotel
Bl. Lopez Mateos y Av. De Los Heroes,#201
Centro Civico
Mexicali, B.C.

Bl. Benito Juarez, #1830 S/N
Col. Plaza Centro
Mexicali, B.C

Kilos and Beer
Bl. Benito Juarez, #1799
Plaza Juarez
Mexicali, B.C.
cel 686-213-4277

Laguna Azul
Calz. Independencia, #823
Col. Independencia
Mexicali, B.C.

La Plazita
Justo Sierra y Honduras, #377
Mexicali, B.C.
Lic. Omar Dipp Nunez
Nextel 152*131916*4

Las Campañas de La Plazita
right around the corner from La Plazita; same ownership

El Merendero Manuet
Av. Pino Suarez y calle "L"
Mexicali, B.C.

Plaza Lienzo
Calz. Gomez Morin y Calz. Cetys
Mexicali, B.C.

Rincon de Panchito
Bl. Benito Juárez,#1990
Jardines del Valle
Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico
686 567 7718

El Sume
Bl. Justo Sierra, #845
Mexicali, B.C.686-588-4465
Mon-Sat 4PM-1AM

Tacos de Guisado Panduro
Mariano Arista Esq. H 1600
Col. Nueva
Mexicali B.C.
Tel. 686-554-6179

Tacos Ferrocarriles
Ferrocarril between Lopez Mateos and De la Industria
mornings, afternoons, 'til around 3AM
Mexicali, B.C.

Trattoria La Piazza
Guillermo Prieto y Ortiz Rubio, #1B
Col. Nueva
Mexicali, B.C.

This media trip was courtesy of Mexicali Tourism with input from Street Gourmet LA.

For more information about Mexicali please contact Mexicali Tourism here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

24 Hours in Mexico: Guadalajara, Jalisco to Sahuayo, Michoacan

24 hours can be a lifetime. The routine of the gig becomes either a tedious act, or an inspired journey of growth. One way or the other, musicians jam it into their veins: airports,hotel check-in, sound check, grooming, green room, show,rock n roll glory, ass, addictions, lobby call, airports, and back to zero. The crescendo is a dynamic blur of narcotizing highs and lows.

It's in between those moments when I restlessly explore the environs. I'm exhausted but can't bare to miss a thing. Maybe there will be a stretch of barren highway so I can nod for 30 fucking minutes.

The drive from Jalisco to Michoacan round Lake Chapala via Guadalajara is short. Would I get that Michoacan that I encountered this summer? There was plenty to see on the two-lane death ride--our driver mostly drove in between the two lanes while trucks and cars made for the shoulder so we could squeeze through. The road was flanked by birrieros(birria cooks) and torteros(sandwich makers) in Jalisco, then abruptly turned to carnitas and artisans at the state line. I finally saw Mexico's largest fresh water lake: Lake Chapala.

On the Guadalajara-Chapala highway there is a truck stop for northern burritos that every driver we've ever had instinctively goes when the band is hungry. Los Burritos de Moyahua has been around for 22 years; open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

It big enough to handle bus loads--simple and hearty guisados are wrapped in fresh flour tortillas fast and delicious. I never have a problem going here.

There's always at least one banda tour bus, and bunch of big-rigs parked outside this vast property that boasts two large indoor dining areas and a huge covered patio.

Around 2PM is when the local families show up.

Pollo guisado, bistec ranchero, mole, papas con rajas, machaca con huevo, chicharron en salsa verde, and many more entice and deliver northern comfort. Burritos are tacos with rolled flour tortillas--it's a taco de guisado. Well, at least these thin burritos are still tacos.

I thought there should be something different among the known guisados served, and there it was: mole amoxóchitl. This is a lightly sweet mole from Amoxóchitl, Zacatecas with hints of apple, dried fruits, tropical fruit, and a medium mid-throat tingle of heat.

Further proof of wasted energy only talking about moles from Oaxaca and Puebla--Mexico has so much more to offer to cooks, chefs, and diners.

All I needed was this one perfect bite before heading to Sahuayo. Wonder what I'll find there?

Sahuayo is the kind of place with a population that washes into the center of town at night, draining the rest of the city of life and light, and then drifts outward like the tide during the day. Everyone comes out to hear the mariachis in the evening.

One of the signs you are in Michoacan are the fresh, toasted garbazo vendors. These take the place of street corn. A bag of scorched garbanzos topped with hot sauce is the right of every Michoacano.

After sound check there are some hours to dig around for something special, something unique, something tasty.

Wandering only leads to lonely, darkened streets, but the local market is unearthed--that'll save for tomorrow morn. There are only two competing taco stands and some scattered vendors of garbanzos in the town square, hot dogs, too. Taqueria d' Rodolfo it is: veal birria, lip, eye, brain, palate, and shank tacos. "No palate?" "Ok, veal and lip will do just fine." Very good, not great: solid.

Just about a hundred feet away is a torta and tostada stand run by these nice ladies--it seems to have most of the action on this night.

The tostada estilo Sahuayo comes with a fine head cheese, pork loin, or pig's feet. The trotters are home made, but the round of head cheese looked lovely. A thin spread of watery refried beans, pinkish head cheese, cabbage, tomato sauce, pickled jalapenos, chile de arbol salsa, and runny mustard are the components of this tostada--the same ingredients go into the torta.

This tostada is a dream. $4 into the evening and I'm completely satisfied with this result. The queso de puerco, or head cheese is tender and a dominant flavor in this substantial preparation.

This leaves a bit of time to get ready before what turns out to be a tense night on the gig in nearby Jiquilpan, Michoacan--sometimes whether or not the artist goes on stage can become a "family affair". In the end it's a good show--no need for any rough stuff--and I can now afford a 4 hour rest before checking out the local market.

I find the comedores (eateries found in all markets in Mexico) about 15 minutes prior to our departure for Guadalajara. There's menudo, birria, and lots of carnitas--after so many years of taquerias referring to their carnitas as being Sahuayo style, here I am in Sahuayo for the real thing. The busiest stand was doing tripas near the entrance of the regional food court of the Sahuayo market.

Carnitas El Indio was looking real good.

Their stunning display case of plump carnitas even mesmerized a young girl catching breakfast with her family.

I ordered a taco of cueritos(skin) and a surtido(mixed). They dress their carnitas with a spicy guacamole, and salsa; no cilantro or onions are needed. Carnitas are prepared differently all over Michoacan; there really is a noticeable difference here from those in Morelia, or Quiroga. Some of the cuts are different, and the tortillas are bigger here.

These are showstoppers, and nothing more is needed. I can go back to Guadalajara happy, and content.

It has been a little more than a day since I first showed up to LAX to catch my flight to Guadalajara--it's been another 24 hours in Mexico.

Guadalajara, Jalisco

Los Burritos de Moyahua
Carr. 23 Guadalajara-Chapala
colonia Santa Rosa, Guadalajara, Jalisco
365 days/24 hrs a day

Jiquilpan and Sahuayo, Michoacan

Tacos d' Rodolfo
Zocalo de Sahuayo
Sahuayo, Michoacan
Tostadas y Tortas puesto
Zocalo de Sahuayo
Sahuayo, Michoacan

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cabrito Al Pastor at Gran San Carlos, Monterrey,NL: No Kid Left Behind

Although there is so more to Monterrey than cabrito al pastor, or spit roasted kid, you could visit Mexico's third largest metropolitan area a thousand times and never err in ordering this local symbol of Nuevo Leon cuisine. There are an infinite number of restaurants that serve Mexico's first al pastor tradition ranging from large halls manned by teams of kid dismembering ranch-handed cooks, to more humble establishments. And of course there are the family gatherings if you'd be so lucky as to be an invitee.

Most first time visitors end up at El Rey del Cabrito, the King of Kid. It has a gaudy crown that lights up the hot, dry Regio(nickname for people from Monterrey) night's sky. There you can enjoy the devilish delights of whole kid carcasses dropped onto your table. I remember one trip where two guys from our group bailed as soon as they saw a neighboring table viciously tear into the roasted flesh of young goat. Later sissies! There's nothing quite as appetizing as a folded over kid placed in front of you--tortillas and condiments surrounding the tender, sizzling remains to form the fortunate diner's mise en place.

That place is fine, and you'll find that everyone will suggest their favorite place, but if you mention you're going to the Gran San Carlos, conversation stops and the crowd parts for you to pass. "Oh know all about it!", says a Regio while doing a double-take.

I had been here before when I caught up with Aromas y Sabores in Monterrey, but decided that I couldn't leave town without having cabrito. I passed on the gala dinner after our long day in Santiago and Allende, Nuevo Leon to have a relaxing evening in one of Mexico's most important centers of commerce.

The cooking equipment at these restaurants is just an indoor barbeque with mesquite. The spectacle of milk fed kid, only 21-40 days old suspended on a metal rod over hot coals sends messages of lusty desire to your brain as you approach the restaurant.

Cabrito al pastor, Mexico's original al pastor means head-to-tail dining. Inside the roasting room skewers of tightly wound intestines cook alongside unidentifiable parts--nothing is spared, not even the blood. It's hot as hell in this den of smoke, fire, and slow-cooked cabrito that marinates every thread of clothing as well as the bodies and of the men who work here with its primal scent.

All cultures have a collection of small plates that accompany any festive grill or barbeque. In the northern Mexican cuisine of Nuevo Leon it's the burnt tortillas of the ranch--my grandfather would feel right at home here-- with salsa, beans, chiles, and the tortillas for making kid tacos.

The refried beans, called frijoles con veneno, or beans with venom, have a dark and gooey topping of a reduced asado rojo(pork braised in red chiles and spices) rested atop a porky mash of beans. These alone are worth the flight to Monterrey, and may make you reconsider all the fuss over foie gras, or or any over such indulgence. This might be what Fred Sanford meant when he said "beans and disease to you, too" in response to neighbor Julio Fuentes' "buenos dias, Mr Sanford."

In rare form; tiny grenades of fresh chile chiltepin bring explosive flavors to the meal. These little treats are hot.

Fritada(also called cabrito en su sangre, or kid cooked in it's blood) is another specialty of Nuevo Leon: lung, heart, liver, intestine, and the fatty material that protects them are cooked in a stew of kid's blood, tomatoes, spices, and chile ancho. In a time where everyone is talking about head-to-tail in the US--Nuevo Leon is light years ahead. This dish--like many offal preparations--has a taste of iron, but with more depth and complexity in flavor than your typical plate of innards. Each piece of offal paints a different color of the rich,bloody stew. It's unforgettable.

When ordering your cabrito, there are many options. The Gran San Carlos specializes in cuts rather than the whole and half-kid meals designed for groups. You can get a whole head of cabrito, cabrito en salsa, breast or leg, and there are also northern cuts of steak. But you're here for the milk-fed youngsters.

I recommend the paleta, or shoulder--the cuts appear to be mangled by the pressures of heat and rough rancher hands, but still maintain a certain comeliness. Perhaps it's the smells wafting in the air, the frijoles con veneno, and icy Victoria beers that have aroused your senses.

The shoulder is full of textures: crispy, coarse skin that's almost jerky-like, tender meat, fatty tissue, and chunks of meat attached to skin with the appearance of chicharrones.

The riñonada is an entirely different proposition. The back if the kid has thick , chewy skin that can be placed in a tortilla with a little bit of meat, or fat. There's a Cracker Jack appeal to this cut--tucked inside the fat is a prize: kidney. The bean-shaped organ awaits your plucking fingers; giving off a wet, sucking sound as you extract your prize. This is a more oleaginous piece of cabrito.

Kid is lean, musky, and has subtle flavors of goat. The al pastor style is one of the best ways to cook young goat; large sections of kid provide more than enough yield from their stingy anatomy. Lots of bones and inedible material to disregard, but the reward for your effort is delicate bites of quintessential Monterrey cuisine.

Both times I visited Gran San Carlos, I enjoyed scavenging around the bones and odd-shaped kid segments, making sure I attended all edible morsels.

The ambiance is typical of these places all throughout Mexico--it's nice but stuck in the 80's. Live music is performed by a quartet of competent singers doing everything from Luis Miguel to Vicente Fernandez to Pablo Cruise; all harmonized above cheesy keyboard patches and a percussionist playing a drum machine. Kind of like a Mexican Four Freshman. They smiled at each other after silly riffs at the beginnings of tunes while bow-tied waiters worked the room. There's a stained glass cupola in the center of the room just above a salad bar of iceberg lettuce, basic toppings and Wish Bone's greatest hits: Ranch, Thousand Islands, Blue(not Bleu) Cheese and Italian dressings. The salad is just there for the assist in digesting your meal.
But where else can you have a feast of sublime kid while listening to "Watcha Gonna Do?"

The Gran San Carlos is essential dining when in Monterrey. It's where you go for stylish cuts of cabrito al pastor rather than the folded lump of whole kid--not that there's anything wrong with that.

Gran San Carlos
Av. Ignacio Morones Prieto,No. 2803 Pte.
Colonia Loma Larga
Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
011-52(81) 8344-4114 from the US
Open for lunch and dinner