Monday, August 30, 2010

Shining Star

While speeding up the Glendale freeway, K and I were flagged for a pit stop that veered us down into Glassell Park, cosmic coordinates of Tacos La Estrella. One doesn't need a telescope to spot the constellations on the menu at this quaint fonda. I ordered a carne asada mulita (homemade masa pressed flat, grilled and sandwiched con queso, carne, cabbage, and salsa) with a taco de pastor on the sly. Although a 'little mule' is destined to be sterile around the barnyard, this is definitely not the case at the taqueria table: fluffy yet crispy, warm and slightly greasy, the mulita has a flavor that could easily spawn a multigenerational telenovela. K, who is a big fan of shoes, opted for the always practical carne asada huarache: elongated and fried masa topped with carne, cabbage, onions, queso, salsa and radish. I should also add that the pastor (while not shaved off the spit) is stewed to a tender loving perfection. One thing to remember before blasting off to La Estrella is that they keep banker's hours (but open daily) from 9 to 5. This is due, at least according to my observations, to the fact that the family lives in the casa directly behind the restaurante. You can't have people roaming around at all hours looking for delicioso tacos while trying to relax with a cucumber facial and a crossword puzzle, now can you? Anyway, I certainly think there is room enough to put one more star (one you've actually heard of) on the Hollywood walk of fame. Keep your eyes peeled.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Long March

At the toll of the lunch hour on a magnifico summer day, I found myself in Venice Beach searching for some quick comida before taking a long siesta in the sand. Luckily, I recalled that a newly formed lunch combo has been instituted at Mao's Kitchen. A bit torn between Chinese and a pulled puerco sandwich, I ultimately decided to take an amended page from the Little Red Book ("An army without tasty eats is a dull-witted army, and a dull-witted army cannot defeat the enemy.") and dine like a dutiful comrade. Despite being designed to "serve the people" with its flexibility concerning menu substitutions, some people would argue that Mao's isn't real Chinese food at all. At this point, I will take a slight diversion. Let's take my order for example:
Surprisingly flavorful hot and sour sopa, spring roll, sesame and yam beef (lightly batter-fried carne, snow peas, tomate, yam in spicy-sweet sauce sprinkled with toasted seeds) and steamed rice. According to the menu, this recipe comes from Nanjing in the Jiangsu Province. Even though China maintains a single time zone, its geographic size weighs in at a vast 9.6 million square kilometers. Imagine transporting this dish to Urumqi in the Xinjiang Province where it would certainly be considered non-halal, possibly bland, and maybe even inedible. With that said, it seems that real Chinese cuisine is dramatically regional, thus the Americanized version is just another offshoot of a diverse culinary system. This is not to say that it's always good, nor would I be so presumptuous as to even mention it in the same sentence as the Eight Great Traditions (oops), but who hasn't experienced a little rush when finding that neighborhood joint that's a little better than the rest. Maybe Mao's would be that go-to spot if I lived in Venice, but I'd definitely have a closer look around just in case. Oh, and make sure to BYOB fellow comrades.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Way To Go, Joe

With a few horas to kill before I was scheduled for a pick up at the Long Beach airport, I decided to do some comida recon deep in the corazon of Cambodia Town. After a successful mission (will be returning with numbers to confront the Khmer cuisine here ASAP), I drove towards the eastern border of this little enclave to a well-established watering hole by the name of Joe Jost's. Founded in 1924 as a barber shop & pool hall, Joe moved his fledgling taproom to its current location in 1933 (after a devastating earthquake) and began slingin' cervezas and sandwiches following the lift of prohibition in 1934.

I promptly took a bar stool by the front window and ordered a schooner (around 18 oz.) of frio Busch beer, a Joe's special (homespun polish sausage {complete with a clever slit down the middle to house a thin dill pickle strip}, slice of swiss queso, mustard on rye bread), and dos pickled eggs. These briny huevos are puckered along with a distinctive yellow chili pepper that is found in almost every pub, burger joint, and deli in the LA basin; then served over pretzel sticks con sal y pimienta. Despite being up half the night with strange dreams and a solid case of heartburn, I would certainly have this exact set for lunch everyday if I were alive in 1935. As for amusements, JJ's has it all: slick shuffleboard table, keg cam, cell phone booth, snooker, and an astounding archival display of the bar's calendar history (wink, wink).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's Not Crazy, It's Katsu

With the X games in town for the weekend I knew that K and I needed to add some 'extreme' to our Sabado comida search. So, after knocking a few ideas around we happily decided on katsu. What's so radical about breaded cutlets? Nothing usually, but today was a definite exception to the norm. We found ourselves standing outside the Brown Derby Plaza (site of the original restaurant) in Koreatown on a muy busy section of Wilshire Blvd. Tucked away in a corner like a nutty relative, the elusive Wako Donkasu awaited us with open arms.
This Korean take on the Japanese favorite is downright delectable. After ordering your desired form of katsu, a bowl quickly arrives filled with toasted sesame seeds along with a mortar to crush them all to atoms for a homemade katsu sauce right at your table (brillante!). K went in with gusto and got the puerco katsu combo: perfecto cutlet (thick, juicy and crujiente), shoyu udon, cabbage salad, potato croquette, shrimp tempura, pickled chiles and radish. I went for the curry puerco katsu which proved to be a mighty trayful: same jugosa cutlet over arroz smothered in curry with all the fixins plus miso soup. All this comes with cold barley tea and a call button that illuminates a mini scoreboard by table numero for any whimsical comida needs. Since I can't say enough about this place, perhaps I should say no more and simply leave you with an image of the colorful cantina next door, salud!