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Entries in Tacos (12)

Sunday
May272012

Tacos de Lengua (Beef Tongue Tacos)

*Post by Angela.

I’m in love with my new pressure-cooker, which I got from my awesome brother for my birthday (he’s like my kitchen genie!). I have all sorts of plans for it, but the very first thing I wanted to make was tongue tacos.

 

 

Now, I’ve made tongue tacos before, and it’s not very difficult. Just throw everything in a pot and let it simmer until the muscled protein breaks down into tenderness. It is awfully time-consuming, though - 8 hours+ in a slow-cooker, 3 hours+ on the stove – meaning that cooking beef tongue was strictly a weekend activity. Adapting this recipe from Gourmet, though, I had beef tongue on the table and tortilla ready in about an hour and a half.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (2 3/4- to 3-lb) beef tongue
  • 5 cups beef broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 large white onion
  • 8 large garlic cloves
  • 2 habañeros
  • 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
  • 3 tsp dried oregano, divided
  • Salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 24 soft corn tortillas
  • sliced radishes (optional)
  • lime wedges (optional)

First, I chopped up the onion, peeled and smashed up the garlic cloves, and stemmed and deseeded the habañeros. Obviously you can use jalepeños, as called for in the original. But honestly, the end result here was that the meat got just a little kick, even from 2 habañeros, so I worry that jalepeños wouldn’t even register.

 

 

After scrubbing down the tongue, I placed it in the pressure cooker with the broth, water, onion, garlic, habañeros, bay leaf, 1 tsp of the oregano and 2 tsp salt and brought everything to a boil, uncovered. I snapped on the pressure cooker lid, turned the heat down just slightly, and let it cook for about an hour. Pressure cookers, although fantastic, are kind of scary and intense – the whole time, I kept expecting the thing to explode in a burst of deliciously dangerous meat and broth. It did not. Once the hour was up, I removed the cooker from the burner, running it under cold water until the pressure-thing dropped down (if you have a pressure cooker, you know what I’m saying, right?), and removed the meat to a cutting board to cool. Then I cut it up into cubes.

 

 

I strained and reserved about 1 ½ cups of the broth, then heated the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in my high-sided cast-iron skillet. I added the tongue with the cumin, remaining 2 tsp oregano and some salt to taste, and fried about 2 minutes, then added the reserved broth and simmered, covered, for 15 more minutes.

 

 

And then it was (taco) party time! I was shocked, SHOCKED, at how well this turned out. The meat was wonderfully seasoned and perfectly tender. It was so good that I actually contemplated buying another tongue to repeat this recipe a couple of days later. But I’m excited to try out more pressure-cooker recipes (I think tripe is next on my list). If you have any favorite pressure-cooker recipes, I beg you, leave them in the comments!!!

 

Wednesday
Mar142012

Mexicali Taco & Co.

*Post by Angela.

It’s hard to imagine that there’s a place out there serving food that I’d want to eat all the time. Which is why it perplexed me to see Mexicali Taco pop up on several LA foodies’ foursquare accounts again and again. And again. I was curious, but not that curious back when the only way to sample the fare was to drive downtown after 8:30 pm Wednesday through Saturday.

Luckily for us (and for the rest of Los Angeles), proprietors Javier Fregoso and Esdras Ochoa have now relocated to a brick-and-mortar establishment with regular hours (11 am to 10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am to 12 am, Friday and Saturday) in Chinatown. On a recent Saturday, we went to investigate why Mexicali has such a loyal following.

 

 

 

Mexicali may have gone stationary, but the new place still gives off a food truck vibe –- it’s a no-frills, order-at-the-counter kind of place, and long, bright red picnic tables and benches constitute the only seating. With an atmosphere this low-key, it’s almost as if they believe the food will speak for itself, huh?

 

 

Yup. That’s about right. The food doesn’t just speak, it screams, “I AM DELICIOUS AND YOU WILL DREAM ABOUT ME TONIGHT WHEN YOU GO TO BED!” At least, that’s what our cachetada (classic tostada) with carne asada and savory aioli chipotle sauce (below, right) expressed. This is by far the best carne asada we’ve tasted in the city, wonderfully chewy and flavorful without any of the dryness so typical of the cut. And that sauce...we'd happily shell out mucho dinero for jars of that sauce to slather on all manner of proteins at home. It washed down well with some cebada (below, left) an ice-cold, light and sweet barley horchata.

 

 

A miscommunication at the counter resulted in another cachetada, this time with chorizo. While not quite as good as the carne, it's still a crave-worthy dish. We also sampled the basic Mexicali pollo tacos.

 

 

Another trip to the counter resulted in our finally getting to try Mexicali’s signature item, the vampiro: a crispy "quesadilla"" filled with more of that phenomenal carne asada and topped off with an awesomely pungent creamy garlic sauce. As if it wasn’t enough to serve some of the best street food in Los Angeles, Mexicali really steps up its game by offering the option to add a fried egg on anything and everything (by ordering your food “Ranchero” style) for just $.75. Obviously, we took this option, and obviously, it was amazing, as the runny yolk combines with the garlic sauce in the most delightful of ways.

 

 

Consider us converts. While it’s a little far from us to rack up enough visits to compete for the foursquare mayorship, the food is good enough for us to be constantly thinking up excuses for heading in Mexicali’s direction. Again and again. And again.

Mexicali Taco & Co on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Feb282012

Pig Uterus Tacos (and other delicacies) at Metro Balderas - Highland Park

*Post by Angela.

When The Minty tweeted about going to Metro Balderas to eat pig uterus, it was like a siren's song, luring us into potentially dangerous waters. We just couldn't resist.

Yes, okay, part of the point of heading to Metro Balderas is the glamour of the story. “Oh, yes, we eat pig uterus all the time, it is delightful!” But it’s a small part. We actually legitimately love the taste and texture of almost all offal. Furthermore, we had yet to have any carnitas (traditional Mexican slow-roasted/braised pork) in Los Angeles that had really wowed us – many of the basic cuts we had sampled around town were either a little dry or bland, or both. We were hoping that the use of different cuts of the pig would avoid the same result.

 

 

Metro Balderas is a relative newcomer to Highland Park, having opened less than four years ago, but the no-frills storefront fits right into the neighborhood. Based on what we saw, the tiny colorful restaurant does gangbusters with take-out orders, but there are six or seven tables available for in-house gorging.

For such a small place, Metro Balderas sports an overwhelmingly huge menu, which includes chilaquiles, gorditas, tortas, and huaraches, among other things. But we were there specifically for the snout-to-tail carnitas menu, only available on Saturday and Sunday. We didn’t spot any readily available translations, but that’s what food blogs are for, yo. Here’s our way of paying it forward (at least, this was how it was described to us by the guy working the counter):

Oreja = ear
Trompa = nose/snout
Buche =  stomach
Nana = uterus
Costillas = ribs
Cuerito = skin
Maciza = shoulder

Surtida = a little of each of the above, except the uterus

Each taco is $2.10 and the meat comes couched in two corn tortillas to guard against breakage.

 

 

Us being us, we ordered one of each, along with an almost ridiculously generous basket of tortilla chips (I think they were $1.25). We prepped the table for the impending gluttony by peppering it with each of the salsas and garnishes from the salsa bar. Chopped onion and cilantro are also available on request (note, we asked for ours on the side).

 

 

The first plate held the trompa (nose/snout, in the foreground below) and the oreja (ear, in the background) tacos. The trompa gets a general thumbs up, although the glistening cubes of fatty tissue are probably best consumed in small quantitites. The oreja shares the unctuousness of the trompa, with an added textural component – the cartilage from the ear may be off-putting to some. But both are really nicely seasoned, and dryness? Not a problem here.

 

 

The next plate offered more traditional cuts: (foreground and background, below) maciza (shoulder) and costillas (ribs), with a cuerito (skin) taco nestled in the middle. For those wanting more lean cuts of pig flesh, the shoulder and ribs are the way to go, although both are still really flavorful and juicy. The cuerito taco, filled with thin slices of skin, is a return to the meltingly fatty.

 

 

Finally we moved on to the nana (uterus, in the foreground,left), the buche (stomach, in the background, left), and the surtida (combination, right). The uterus is chewy with just a touch of iron-y depth, while the stomach is more tender, less elastic in texture. If any one single texture squicks you out, you may want to try the surtida, which combines all the cuts except the nana to great effect.

 

 

The tacos are generally good, though the novelty of ordering from a range of pig parts may trump the taste. For us, we can now cross pig uterus off our list of porcine products to try. How about you? What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?  

Metro Balderas on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Feb162012

Ricky's Fish Tacos - Silverlake

*Post by Angela.

Every month, it seems as though dozens of new high-concept/fancy/$$$ restaurants open in Los Angeles. And yes, we do enjoy trying them out, although the speed at which that happens depends on the state of our bank accounts. But the fancy stuff? That’s not the main reason why we love the L.A. food scene.

Much of the beauty of this city is the sheer number of quality cheap food options. And the place that epitomizes the glory that is street food? The parking lot operation you see below.

 

 

Ricky’s Fish Tacos are bomb as hell.

Tucked away in a small lot right off Sunset Junction (around the corner from the Vista movie theater), Ricky Piña mans the double fryer to produce the most amazing fish and shrimp tacos we’ve ever had.   

 

 

The batter is a thing of beauty - light, airy, and crunchy. Both the fish and shrimp come out cooked perfectly, and when stuffed into a warmed tortilla along with shredded lettuce and your choice of any number of available salsas (don't forget the crema!), eating tacos is transformed into something almost sacred.

In addition to the usual fish and shrimp tacos, on certain days Ricky will throw some lobster in the mix for a few dollars more (watch his Twitter feed for the next offering). They are really delicious, served with a generous squirt of lobster crema, though I don't know that anything can top Ricky's basic fish taco (made with Vietnamese catfish). The meaty, flavorful variety of catfish makes for the best fish taco in LA, and anyone who says differently clearly hasn't visited Ricky's. 

 

 

If you haven't already caved to the pressure, drop what you're doing right now, hit the ATM for some cash and drive over to Ricky's (as long as it's before 4 pm, when he shuts it down). And be prepared to wait a little bit, as making tacos this good takes some time. But what's a little time in exchange for a food experience that embodies the best of what L.A. has to offer?

Ricky's Fish Tacos (Food Stand) on Urbanspoon

Friday
Jan272012

Bäco Mercat

*Post by Mark.

How do you even categorize the food at Joseph Centeno's Bäco Mercat? Are these sandwiches, gyros or tacos that we're shoving into our mouths? Are those flatbreads or pizzas coming out of the kitchen of The Lazy Ox Canteen chef's latest venture? In fact, they're bäcos and cocas, respectively, but the globe of influence behind the food is even broader and more difficult to define. While the flatbread cocas originate in Spain, their ingredients hail from as far away as Tunisia. We're touring Italy, China, France, Mediterranean and the Deep South. Peru? Why not? To eat here is to travel across multiple continents within the compass of a single bite.

 

 

 

While Mercat is Catalan for 'market', the concept of bäco is a far more personal invention of the Lazy Ox chef. A flatbread created by using unique fats and lebni (a strained yogurt), Centeno’s bäco is a hybrid of the world’s flatbreads. The words 'global' and 'taco' have been combined and truncated to brand the restaurant’s namesake dish. 

 

 

Even though the place was virtually empty when we arrived just a few minutes after opening, it was well on its way to filling up a mere 20 minutes later. Not surprising - the recent arrival of Bäco Mercat has to be a breath of fresh air for those working downtown. We found a seat at a table for two in wood-backed chairs reminiscent of a grade-school classroom. The restaurant is painted in blue and brown hues, with exposed brick and a rustic, industrial style that comes as a pre-requisite for restaurant openings these days.

 

 

A nice first impression: a small cup of fried, crispy "Bäco chips" (continuing the theme, a cross between breadsticks and chips), and an addictive sticky, smoky, spicy sauce. 

 

 

We were eager to start the meal with one of the aforementioned flatbreads. The El Cordero has a thin, crispy base blanketed with wonderful harissa-based sauce, which had some heat, and topped with flavorful bits of merguez (lamb sausage), as well as handfuls of arugula with hints of mint. Thankfully the word 'pizza' is nowhere on the menu, because this coca, with its cracker-like crust, is far from it. 

 

 

Next to arrive was a gorgeously refreshing beet salad fattoush with endive, red onion, grapefruit, parsley, baby radish, burrata. In place of the traditional bread, this fattoush comes with thick leaves of endive - the perfect delivery system to insure the lightly dressed beets, cheese and flavorful accompaniments make it to your mouth.

 

 

The "Original" bäco is the real reason we're here. And it doesn't disappoint in the least. Filled with pork belly, beef carnitas, cherry tomatoes, pickled red onion, mixed greens including mint, and a flavorful salbitxada (Catalan salsa), this dish completely wins us over to the bäco concept. The highlight of the original is the crispy-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside carnitas

 

 

We liked our first bäco so much we went for another. The beef tongue schnitzel bäco is loaded up with breaded, fried slices of tongue, pickles, greens and a smoked aioli. The tart sauce pairs well with unctuous, tender meat. We weren't convinced that the tongue needed schnitzeling, but it didn't hurt. Another really solid rendition of the bäco, but if you order only one? Go with the 'Original'.

 

 

Sure, we could spend all day sorting through the global influences, but the sum total feels as authentic as any individual component. Bäco Mercat is absolutely a trip around the world we'll be taking again soon.

Bäco Mercat on Urbanspoon