Take The Leap - Today I had beef noodle soup and scallion pancakes with someone I used to love dearly. The details, of course, will remain vague and unpublished but I will...
Sunday, September 25, 2011
If carne asada is your thing, Mexicali is the place to be. There are so many great taquerias serving the Mexicali style of carne asada. You will be directed to this stand and that stand by opinionated cachanillas(people from Mexicali), who will not only direct you to their favorite, but will completely dismiss the taqueria you were turned on to by the last Mexicali native you spoke with.
What's the solution? Try 'em all! There's no shortage of top notch carne asada in this border town. Let your instincts and your hunger guide your choices when it come to street food.
Steak is part of the 3 food groups of the cachanilla diet: tacos, Chinese food, and carne asada. It's a religion here.
Gran Ocotlan is one of the local heavyweights. Hell, even a chain like Asadero Las Brasas will blow away anything we have north of the border.But the long and steady line of customers at Asadero Tecolote Mocorito said it all. This place is a local favorite, and the original Tecolote has been drawing a huge crowd for the last 20 years.The branch I visited, El Tecolote Mocorito operated by brothers J. Antonio and Norbeto Lopez located on Rio Mocorito is only 4 years old.
Late at night the line is constant, and the tables are full. No where to sit? That's OK, just grab a foot of counter space somewhere. The only requirement for enjoying excellent tacos is that they be consumed immediately.
El Tecolote has a full team of taqueros, separate guys for al pastor and asada; other taqueros to assemble other style of tacos. It's a traditional and professional taqueria setup.
Molcajetes loaded with colorful salsas are lined up on the counter in front of the kitchen: roasted salsas, dry chili salsas, fresh chili salsas, and even a mango salsa. Baja California's signature creamy guacamole is a must on all your tacos.
Barbeque chicken tacos sound straight out of Spago's, but this is a Mexicali exclusive. I had maintained that chicken tacos didn't exist in Mexico as a grilled meat option until I took a look at the kitchen. There are rotisserie chickens and barbeque chickens that are served with tortillas all over Mexico,but not chicken tacos. I always wondered why the boys at Mexicali Taco Co. served chicken. It's common in LA for flat top grilled chicken to be served at Mexican-American taco trucks, but those are terrible.
The chicken at El Tecolote is moist with a tangy skin. Give these a try; they're tasty and true Mexicali originals. Practically all carne asada haunts have barbequed chicken in Mexicali.
Cachanillas love them some vampiros, too. Vampiros(vampire tacos) are a style of taco coming from the numerous Sinaloan taqueros in Baja California. The largest group of Mexican migrants in Baja are from Sinaloa. That means great tacos and beautiful women.
A tortilla is warmed on the grill until it dries and hardens into a tostada. Melted cheese and carne asada are set atop the tortilla, and the finishing condiments are applied to satisfy your own personal taste.
The carne asada taco gets its flavor and texture from a blend of three cuts of steak: loin, tri-tip, and top sirloin.
The Mexicali taqueros cut their meat in larger cubes than in Tijuana. El Tecolote Mocorito is a perfect place to get to know carne asada the Mexicali way.
I'm not sure why they have an owl as their mascot, but I think perhaps because the eternal question in Mexicali is, "Whooo wants to go get some carne asada tonight?" The answer is always yes. Cachanillas will never tire of one of their favorite pastimes--eating carne asada tacos--and it's so good, neither will you.
Asadero Tecolote Mocorito
Rio Mocorito No. 800 at Rep. de Ecuador
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Begun in 1976 with a few stands on the side of a Mexicali train station, Los Tacos de Borrego Ferrocarril(train station lamb barbacoa) has remained an institution long after the railroad station closed in '95.
It was a woman from the state of Aguascalientes, Juana Wong, who brought the recipes for lamb barbacoa and beef head tacos to one of the original Stands. Today 12 red canopies give some protection to a row of taco carts from the oppressive Mexicali heat along H. Ferrocarriles between Lopez Mateos and De la Industria.
All of the stands have the same pair of stewed cabeza de res(beef head), and lamb barbacoa. I don't think you could get two cachanillas(people from Mexicali)to agree on the best stand, but you might want to start with the 3 originals: #1, #5, and #6.
The mornings and afternoons are the prime hours for this delicious assembly of vendors. Some of them come later in the day and a couple even work the graveyard shift for the after hours crowd.
Taquero Martin Avila has the honor of working one of the originals--cart no. 5. The lamb is cooked with an adobo(marinade)using only lamb neck and rib meat, stewed not pit-roasted.This cart has been around for 28 years.
What once fed hungry travelers coming and going, Los Tacos Ferrocarril now nourishes cachanillas in on their way to work,play, and drink.
Simple and delicious lamb barbacoa tacos from cart #5.
The cabeza de res tacos are soupy, fatty bites that melt in your mouth. I grabbed these one night from cart #2, a perfect way to cap the night in Mexicali.
This is one of those taco gatherings you fantasize about when traveling to Mexico. It's the mother load, the jackpot. Don't miss the famous train station tacos in Mexicali's Grand Taco Station--All Aboard!
Tacos de Borrego Ferrocarril
Ferrocarril between Lopez Mateos and De la Industria
mornings, afternoons, 'til around 3AM
Mexicali, Baja California
Friday, September 9, 2011
Like like good friend and partner in the reconquista de comida, Gustavo Arellano, I was skeptical about Soho Taco. I received an e-mail from one of the partners, Rico, to arrange a visit to the OC or to do a tasting up here in LA for myself and a small group of people. Soho is a catering company, and doesn't have a regular location.
I immediately looked them up and say things that are,well....red flags for a guy like me. Heirloom tomato pico de gallo? Chicken and mahi mahi? Mango salsa? Their set up looked good on their website, but I still needed to poke around a bit. I saw that Gustavo had praised them not once but twice in the OC Weekly's Stick a Fork in It. It was enough to accept the offer, but I was still worried I might find myself caught in a taco quagmire. It was too close to La Salsa.
They advertise a Mexican taco tradition with a gourmet edge, but I see them as more of a California style, or Mexican-American flavor. This has been improving lately with the likes of Cook's Tortas, Guisados, and other new Mexican-American restaurants serving a local style of food using quality ingredients. I'm excited about the new Mexican-American businesses moving away from combo plates and the bad tacos of the Mexican owned taqueria chains and trucks-- they're forging a local identity for Mexican cuisine.
Soho Taco is a very professional taco stand, with managing partners, a chef, Gabriel Zambrano, and an heirloom pico de gallo. In a way, they were beginning to resemble a business model I see often in Mexico, of a taco cart with an owner, and hired guns as taqueros.
The first thing I look for in a taco cart,taqueria, or stand is a well kept condiment area with interesting choices. There doesn't have to be a lot, but what's there should be meaningful. In Mexico, condiments tell a story--it tells me where I am and what I should expect. The vegetables should be fresh, the condiment area kept clean. At first glance Soho Tacos look ready for prime time:immaculate.
It's amusing that this would be called gourmet because in Mexico it's very common to have a fancy condiment display, but compared to what you usually see here in LA on traditional trucks, Soho is a step above.
The excellent heirloom pico de gallo and mango salsas reflect a California spirit. This is what California taco chains have tried to do, but not with this much care.
The other salsas and creams are emulsified with vegetable oil, following the lead of Tijuana based taqueria, Tacos Salceados. Salceados uses egg whites for its magical condiments, but Soho's luscious salsas are vegan friendly.
The unique luxury item on hand is the strips of queso añejo, aged cheese from Guerrero, Mexico--this is an unusual garnish. I believe it reflects a personal styling of the chef. I cheated a little and had some by itself. It's great on the carne asada, too.
Certainly, the Soho guys have put the fun back in the consumer experience at a taco stand, in finishing their individualized tacos with these fine condiments.
The guys ended up making two trips to serve lunch to my group. Both times, Steve Livigni and La Descarga hooked us up with a venue.
On the first visit I enjoyed the tacos but couldn't understand why they used store bought tortillas. Although they played it off as they left, I believe someone may have sweated profusely over this misstep, and perhaps lost a little sleep over this. I soon received an e-mail asking for another shot with fresh tortillas.The guys felt they hadn't put their best foot forward and wanted to correct the situation. I'm telling you, these guys are all in.
At the second tasting there was a nice woman making tortillas to order--I believe this is optional, but these guys should ONLY use fresh tortillas or tortillas from a quality tortilleria. It makes all the difference. Make sure to request fresh tortillas when you book Soho; it's worth the extra charge.
I still think don't think steak should be called carne asada unless it's fire roasted, but these steak tacos have a good flavor. Perfect for a bit of that tasty queso añejo.
The grilled and seasoned mixed vegetables is also very nice version of a California-style taco.
I had to get over the vision of Sharkey's I had in my mind with the mahi mahi taco, which was intensified by my choice of the mango salsa, but I acquiesced to a pleasurable end. The quality of the guacamole, fish , and salsa all refreshing--it's a new way to appreciate the California taste of Mexico. Why shouldn't California have its own style, it was once part of Mexico?
On our second visit, Chef Gabe introduced us to his homemade cecina, a salt-cured beef very popular in southern Mexico. This is the best taco on Soho's menu, and one that I would even call their signature taco. I ended up going back for a second taco de cecina. It has that classic smooth texture, and a full-flavored beef taste that is outstanding.
Soho Taco is a destination for shrimp tacos,too. Shrimp tacos are everywhere at the gabacherias(non-Latino owned taquerias), but they usually have cheap shrimp that are overcooked. Soho Taco use quality, flavorful shrimp that are ready for any condiment combinations your heart desires. Ours came with melted cheese and a squirt of chipotle sour. The shrimp taco was delicious no matter which salsas and vegetables I used.
Soho Taco have filled a missing link in the local taco scene. They are professional and organized and plugged in to the 21st century. You can e-mail them for your event--no need to chase down a street taquero, or lonchera and then call his pre-paid phone repeatedly until he recharges his account so he's able to respond. It's great tacos con customer service.
On the other hand, these guys are far superior to the non-Latino run luxe loncheros that are professional in every aspect except for the job of making good tacos.
The tacos they make are good for all crowds, from hardcore Mexicanos to those Brentwood types that wouldn't be caught dead eating a street taco.
I'm glad to know there's a reliable, and satisfying taco option for private events. It's a Mexican run taco cart from the OC, serving the best Cali style tacos around. Santa Ana..Uh! Long Beach,Hollywood where you at? Beverlywood, Beverlywood always up to no good. California Taco Luuuuuuuv!
Gourmet Taco Catering
902 West McFadden Ave
Santa Ana, CA 92707