Saturday, December 17, 2011

Truck Stop

As I have mentioned previously on CCB, eating lunch was quite the ritual at my former place of employment. Not only did my colleagues take great care in choosing what type of comida in which to indulge, we were also perpetually mobile so the world (the Bay Area anyway) was literally our oyster. I have many fond memories of those days and often rue the culinary confines of my current appointment. All is not totally lost however, for I still get the freedom from time to time to drive an oversized truck through the endless calles of even more oversized ciudad. I took the advice of a food-minded coworker and coasted over to Van Nuys to dine at his favorito truck stop, the legendary Don Adrian.
The name of the game here is cemitas poblanas; the illustrious Mexican sandwich that hails from the markets and comida stands of 19th century Puebla. When it comes to variety Don Adrian's got it covered: head cheese, millanesas (breaded puerco, beef, or chicken), fried perch fillets, cattle leg cured in vinegar, lamb, jamon, and salmon to name a few. I opened the stakes with a taco arabe (another Puebla creation influenced by Mid-East immigrants) which is a close cousin of the always scrumptious taco al pastor.
This shawarma style plug is filled with piping hot shaved pork and grilled onions wrapped in a flour tortilla served with a thick chipotle sauce. Although I was sad to see it go (could have happily downed two more), my cemita was patiently waiting in the wings.
I ultimately opted for the pollo adobado: marinated grilled chicken, aguacate, panela cheese, onion, jalapenos, cilantro, and quesillo (string cheese) captured in a warm sesame seed egg roll. Doused with a squeeze of lime, this monster is as good as it looks and just outright explodes with flavor. Even the bread was perfecto (not the dry and hard cemita roll at all), slightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside yet durable enough to keep things standing tall. I actually look forward to future work expeditions to the Valley now that I know where Don Adrian lives. So keep on the lookout Don, we'll be comin' in hot!

For all the art truckers out there, remember: don't break the art, don't wreck the truck, and most of all enjoy your lunch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tiger Beat

I had originally intended to string together a series regarding Bengali market comida, but due to certain time restraints I'll have to go at it piecemeal. Los Angeles is home to more than a few ethnic enclaves: some large (Koreatown), some medium (Thai Town), and some small (Little Ethiopia) that are each officially recognized by the city as areas of cultural importance. Little Bangladesh occupies a mere five blocks along 3rd street but what this barrio lacks in size is more than made up in good times. I started my expedition at Aladin Sweets and Market on Vermont where the steam table was fully stocked ready for hungry cabbies and curious wayfarers like myself. The helpful young proprietor here proved instrumental in deciphering the many fragrant dishes (all Halal) that range from Hilisha curry to Karahi beef. He also quickly sold me (against my will) on the chef's special Biryani which I ordered with a couple samosas (that he ultimately forgot) to go with it.
While this type of dish isn't really my thing (he also forgot the chutney), I imagine it would make an filling almuerzo for a tireless rickshaw driver pedaling through the dusty streets of Dhaka: Basmati fried arroz with lightly spiced carne served with lime, onions, and pepinos. The small dining room was empty except for a family of four (the matriarch giving me a mean hairy eyeball) who shortly took their leave only to be replaced by a fresh faced couple with a sprightly toddler. They were greeted by an aloof waitress (whom I had yet to encounter) and the hilarity promptly ensued. Although these good folks may have the Muslim faith in common, they most certainly didn't share any similarities when it came to language. Some of the highlights included:

"I want aloo paratha."/ 'no aloo.'/ "no aloo?" (sounding worried)/ 'no no aloo.'

"What's the difference between shammi kabab and shisk kabab?"/ 'yes, different.'

"Do you have french fries?"/ (blank stare)

 I realize that all children love papas fritas, but I'm not sure a random Bangladeshi market is the best place to score a basket of golden brown shoestrings. They then looked me over and asked: "Do you come here all the times?" To which I lied and answered: "Yeah, I like the curries." This seemed to put their minds at ease as I slipped out to pay my tab. The helpful young proprietor implored: "Did you enjoy your mutton?" (I ordered carne but that explained the depth of flavor and the odd shaped bones). He noticed the look on my face and sputtered: "You do eat lamb, I should have asked?" Mortally offended I replied: "I don't eat goats, I worship them." Actually, I just said something like: "Of course, yeah, it was tasty." I ordered dos savory pastries on the way out (one pollo one beef) which were quite delicioso later that evening with a cold cerveza. Despite all the small quirks, I have made it a point to return to Aladin ASAP but not before I check out what's cookin' down the street.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Special Forces

Little Tokyo is not only a great place to get a cherry haircut; it's also the new home of a ramen chain that has thus far been mainly limited to the South Bay with a couple of outposts in the San Gabriel Valley. Shinsengumi: a much needed addition to the downtown noodle scene that will no doubt serve to satisfy the hunger of even the fiercest Ronin. Named after an elite police squad of the late shogunate period (who are most famously known for preventing the burning of Kyoto), Shinsengumi likewise protects their long tradition of serving excelente Hakata style ramen. As loyal CCB readers know, this hearty regional variety is characterized by a rich, milky pork bone broth (which at Shinsengumi is meticulously checked using a refractometer) and thin, straight (non-curly) noodles.
I tallied up the signature C.P.C: Hakata ramen with crispy pork ear, poached huevo (I got marinated hard-boiled for some reason), and fried onions. All ordering here is done on a 'golf card' with rows for each member of your party to choose: ramen type, firmness of noodles, amount of oil, strength of soup base, and any omissions along with a myriad of toppings from corn to cod roe
While gawking at the patterned countertop, my steamy bowl was plopped down front and center complete with the core components: pickled ginger, cebolettas, and chasu puerco. All I had left to do was place the toppings and go to town.
Pure crackly goodness. I must admit that I may be a bit too prone to having fanciful thoughts when dining on comida such as this, but with Halloween on the horizon it seems apropos. Shinsengumi would make a robust final meal for any forlorn samurai required to commit seppuku although it would make a terrible, yet slightly humorous mess. While a more modern wayward soul might have their fill of this amazing stuff at the Tokyo location before setting off forever into the mythical Sea of Trees. Whatever you do get some Shinsengumi before it gets you...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Border Patrol

I once thought the center of the universe was most assuredly located at the intersection of 6th and Mission in San Francisco. Never before had I felt such insane magnetism and outright unpredictability. I now know this notion to be a folly and suspect that the true hub of the cosmos lies in a much more serene (albeit hotter) environment. San Ysidro, California, the last bastion to browse through endless retail stores before heading south into the equally vast reaches of the Baja Peninsula. Stashed away under the 905 freeway lies the site in question, a well-stocked liquor store with a parking lot host that will knock your 'swap meet' socks off and leave you dreaming for more.
Complete with a few working payphones and the ever pleasant rattle of light rail, Mariscos German must of used some sort of celestial divining rod to find where to best chock their wheels. The menu here is extensive: ceviches, cocteles, clamatos, caldos, and even some sabrosa carne asada to keep things honest. 
Whatever delectable direction you choose to take, all orders come with a spicy seafood broth that will warm up the taste buds in a hurry. Typically there is a prawn or two to be found floating in your cup, which is mostly for flavor in my opinion, but if you're starvin' como Marvin take the extra step and suck away.
For me, it seems, the intergalactic concourse is all about the tacos de pescado: precisely fried white fish in a warm tortilla simply topped with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and crema. It would be tough task to find a contender for these magnifico plugs on either side of the border...muy bueno. It may be that our perception of time is determined by our personal inner clocks. Being that the center of the universe is relative to our own limited travels through the ether. Er, right...I'm just glad to have pinpointed its source once again, at least for now.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Use Your Noodle

Is it truly absurd to motor 15 miles for a bowl of noodles? Not when you got the time and the traffic's right. Besides, distance driving is a sport Angelenos frequently play whether we want to or not. But more importantly, as a wise comida sage once told me, when one is faced with the promise of phenomenal noodles it is always prudent to take advantage. K and I faithfully accepted this advice and sped out to Temple City for a Taiwanese style almuerzo at House of Mandarin Noodle.
While ordering a fresh mango juice, the stern (yet meticulous) waitstaff quickly profiled us and determined that K most certainly spoke Hokkien dialect (which she doesn't) and that I, Solo Basura, should ultimately be given the option to eat with a fork. With that established, I set the wheels is motion and ordered it up.
The first item on the block was a glistening bowl of puerco wontons in a spicy sauce with crushed peanuts and chopped celery. These little bambinos cover a lot of bases: fiery flavors and juicy dumplings combine with an emphatic crunch. During my savory foray, I couldn't help but think that this dish would make an excellent desayuno and it would sure as shinola wake you up in no time flat.
Next came the sliced beef pancake (sometimes referred to as a Shandong beef roll due to its Northern Chinese origins) stuffed with carne, green onions and cilantro. I must admit that I have had better versions of this tasty creation, but I also realize it's counterintuitive to complain about anything that's beefy and flaky.
And for the finale, a steaming cauldron of delicioso beef noodle soup: rich broth (not greasy at all) with tender carne, firm noodles, scallions, and cilantro. This stuff will put a smile on your face and damn sure cure what ails ya. If beef isn't your thing HOMN has around twenty noodle soups (along with stewed cold cuts) to choose from, just be sure not to miss out. I am deeply humbled to have recalled my comida teachings in such a meaningful way: it's not the distance, it's the noodle. This was well worth the trip.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Happy Diversion

While attempting to reach my local Italian deli for a look at a sandwich of legendary stature (later, for sure), I was abruptly blockaded by an unexplainable swarm of LAPD. This included three low flying helicopters, a dozen or so motorcycles, and an endless stream of squad cars all being filmed by a rookie cop with a smart phone. I decided not to take any chances in case they were going gangbusters towards the previously mentioned deli (which is certainly popular with the fuzz), and changed my course entirely heading south to Arlington Heights where La Cevicheria rocks gently in the breeze. This place is no secret, but the steady trickle of customers (never overwhelming) seems to make the already jovial proprietor even more elated. Walking up to the screen door my mouth started watering like Pavlov's dog when I mentally pictured my usual ceviche of choice.
The Chapin: a holy grail of tangy mixed mariscos Guatemalan style. One might presume that a ceviche recipe from a landlocked country might be a bit like buying a surfboard in Nebraska, but believe me this is some of the best that the present universe has to offer: shrimp, pulpo, crab, tomates, red onions, avocado, cilantro, fresh mint, and Worcestershire sauce served with a dynamic duo of tostadas and habanero salsa.
 In addition to a Peruvian ceviche (highlighted with red snapper and yellow aji peppers) and the now infamous chalice of Bloody Clams, La Cevicheria serves hearty Caribbean fish stews along with industrious seafood cocktails like vuelve a la vida: camarones, oysters, abalone, octopus, crab, fish ceviche, tomates, pepinos, onion, avacado, and cilantro all swimming in a saucy micro-ocean. Whatever your briny poison, this spot has got you covered. I would like to thank the LAPD for a truly pleasant dining experience and for reminding me that when you go one way I'll gladly go another. Here's mud in your eye!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Khao Soi 3: Search for Curly Gold

It's been almost a full year since my first sequel regarding the magical qualities of everyone's favorite Northern Thai noodle dish, so today I sailed over the Cahuenga pass to Sri Siam for a golden bowl of Khao Soi. North Hollywood is largely known for cranking out infinite amounts of internet pornography, but this fair barrio also hosts a decent amount of solid Thai cafes that can be just as tantalizing. Sri Siam serves all the basics plus a wide array of noodle soups (like yen ta fo sho kun: spicy rice noodle soup, fish cake, fish balls, espinaca), flavorful seafood dishes (such as crispy soft shell crab with green curry), and tangy salads (like the crispy rice salad: sour sausage mixed with crispy rice, roasted cacahuetes, ginger, green onion). However, with the focus of my comida adventure already predetermined, I ordered and waited vigilantly to get my hands once again on the savory treasure.
One curious detail hit me right away when the menu offered Khao Soi with a choice of beef or pork. As we know by now, this dish has Muslim roots and is sometimes served with carne but certainly almost never with pork. I should have simply requested pollo but I stuck with it and opted for beef. Along with a unique crispy egg noodle chopstick holder, this version came with the tipico sidecar: purple onion, bean sprouts, limon, pickled mustard greens, and a potent chili flake sauce. Once the components were fused, I set right in and experienced those joyful spicy sniffles in no time flat. During my slurping I suddenly realized that a Sri Siam bowl of Khao Soi is way hotter than any neighborhood skin flick, even on a good day. So for those of appropriate age and equal interest, here's a candid peek. Hubba Hubba.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Earthquake on 1st Street

Sometimes signage above a restaurant is just too ridiculous to ignore. Such is the case with La Chicken in Little Tokyo which flaunts colorful banners that tout Japanese tacos and burritos. At first glance this seemed like another in a long line of 'Asian Confusion' joints that create needless comida combinations designed to enhance mediocre flavors. This aside, I promptly swallowed the bait (seeing that separately Japanese comida and tacos rank high here at CCB) and found myself intrigued even further by the baffling sign plastered on the front door.
I chalked this up to a translation quirk but made a mental note to be on the lookout for a 'new car scent' when dining on my pollo of choice. I ordered dos tacos fully expecting that teriyaki sauce would make up the Japanese component but man did I get it wrong.
These plugs are nothing short of spectacular: marinated pollo (spicy and juicy), chopped cilantro, cebollas, and finely diced avocado. After fueling up at the condiment bar, I suddenly understood the Asian persuasion. Two ice cold and frothy salsas: the green (Japanese mayo, wasabi, and basil) and the red (Japanese mayo and Sriracha) whipped thin with a submersible blender. This is just a guess because when I inquired about the composition of these mystifying elixirs the proprietor (who I had already pissed off by snapping pictures) simply stated: "that one's spicy, that one's medium". While delving into this flavor explosion there was a slight seismic occurrence, which made a nice emphasis on an excellent almuerzo. Nothing at all to get worried about, although I'm pretty sure this dumpster jumped over a solid foot...Kampai!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Down on the Corner

Upon hearing longtime rumors regarding the elusive Oaxacan quesadilla lady (complete with her traditional blue corn masa), I frequently sneak a peek whenever I pass the intersection of Sunset and Echo Park to just maybe catch a glimpse of the legendary comida phantom. So after three years of vain searching (someday, Oaxacan quesadilla lady...), I must admit that I have only set ojos on this wonderful little mujer who serves up tasty quesadilla fritas Mexico City style. Was there some epic quesadilla battle to decide which culinary region would ultimately control this turf? Perhaps the good people on the street silently demanded a sea change from blue to fried?  
Whatever the case, I have eaten a pile of these crispy dandies and they never fail to fill those queso cravings. For me the most sought after variety is shredded pollo in red sauce followed closely by the papas con queso. There very well may be other astonishing selections but I have yet to deviate from the norm. The process is simple: masa gets patted out, fillings are added, then it's folded and fried until golden. Once your order is up, our fearless mujer will administer cabbage, crema, and crumbled queso blanco (similar to Parmesan) to your liking then set you loose on the salsa buckets. I wish I could pinpoint which variety is the most picante, but from experience I've got to say all of them. No matter what colorful combination I create it somehow always manages to turn out hotter than the center of Hades
The crema certainly helps to soothe the heat but to make sure you're on the safe side do a 180, cross the street, and get yourself an ice cold cerveza (or perhaps a cocktail in a can). Now available on balmy summer evenings, see you there.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Go For Broke

With a house warming shindig to attend just north of adroit LAX, K and I got an early start on Sabado and went the extra mile down to Gardena specifically for some authentic Hawaiian style comida. Crammed in a tiny strip mall on Vermont Av, Bob's Okazu Ya beckons leeward travelers to have a seat and ease into Island time. Not only is Bob's possibly my new favorito place on Earth, but the food is decidedly some of the best I've had on the Mainland. In Japanese, Okazu means 'side dish' and Ya means 'shop' which in total translates to 'a take-out joint with comida ready to scoop from a steam table'. This is an excellent way to order here, 'Da Kine' plate lunch combos are both mouthwatering and affordable. Just pick your vegetables then your meat and off you go. Along with Chow Fun and Nishime (a humble root stew), some of the more amusing vegetable choices are: cabbage and onion with Kalua pork, beef tofu, and chicken long rice. As for the meat, highlights include: sweet and sour pork rib, shoyu pollo, beef curry, and Char Siu. With that said, K and I formulated a different plan and ordered from the Ono menu instead.
Looking for something crispy, K bravely chose the mammoth 'Go For Broke' special: pollo katsu, Nori wrapped chicken (muy sabroso), Chow Fun, mac salad, and rice. Ah, yeah.
I, Solo Basura, maintain a gigante soft spot for all things Poke: Ahi (Yellowfin Tuna), sea salt, Limu seaweed, Maui onion, soy sauce, inamona (roasted candlenut), and sesame oil served over shredded cabbage with mac salad and rice. After letting the juices flow together for a minute or two, I quickly pulled the trigger. If there exists in the world a mixture of flavors this electrifying I look forward to finding it, believe you me. Bob's also routinely features live music (in our case a duo strumming breezy popular standards) which is truly the syrup on the shaved ice.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hit the Bong

It's certainly not out of the ordinary to find members of mi familia quickly pairing off to split a bowl of jjambbong when closing out a meal at any number of Korean Chinese restaurants across the Southland. Today however it was just K and I, and seeing as how we had a hankering for the spicy seafood noodle sopa, we marked a plot west along Beverly to the California Market where Hong Kong Banjum shines like a bright red traffic light. There are basically two items on the menu here: jjambbong and tangsuyuk.
The version of jjambbong at HKB is nothing short of phenomenal: spicy broth (two employees wore goggles), veggies (onions, carrots, cabbage), calamares, pork, and wheat flour noodles. Served with a few slices of takuan, this stuff is a whirlwind of flavor from start to finish. Even the noodles are perfecto (an afterthought at some establishments), staying nice and firm while bathing in the steamy pastiche.
Also felt was an uncontrollable urge to order some tangsuyuk (a Korean take on sweet and sour pork): skillfully breaded puerco fried and topped with a self-administering cup of gooey sauce (wood-ears, carrots, onions with hints of plum and pineapple). Give yourself an early birthday present and come here as soon as humanly possible. While going to town on this business along the stainless steel counter, I was embarrassingly alarmed by a sudden blast of heat blown through the bullet proof kitchen glass. Fortunately for us all, K recaptured this comida sequence for the annals of history (watch the eyebrows).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Le Roi De Trempettes

With fuel prices in California climbing close to meltdown levels, I intended to keep today's comida expedition within rifle shot of the quaint Casa Basura. Luckily, a solid (and historic) option came to mind that fit the bill perfectly. Philippe's (nowadays pronounced with the E on the end) is an LA landmark that hardly needs anymore introductions, but I will gladly oblige nevertheless. Originally opened in 1908 by French immigrant Philippe Mathieu, this old-fashioned lunchroom holds title for generating the illustrious French Dip. While this dubious claim is often disputed by Cole's Pacific Electric Buffet (who also declares the honor), most Angelenos think Philippe's first for dips. I somehow managed to miss the noon rush, so I chose the shortest line with the most animated lunch lady (all orders carved on the spot) and presented my humble request: beef dip, coleslaw, pickled huevo (brined in beet juice for a psychedelic effect), and an ice cold lemonade.
 After receiving my trayful, the next step is to procure a seat in the institutionalized (not unlike grade school or a psych ward) dining room. This can prove no easy task during peak hours but today I was chowing down in no time flat. The most exquisita feature of the dips here, as well as Cole's, is that the French roll is dipped (or double dipped) in the au jus rather than having it served on the side. This technique insures a desirable uniform moistness. Accompanied by some chiles and Philippe's hot mustard (which has a nice creamy horseradish flavor), these sandwiches bring out the wolf that lives in all of us. As for the sides, the slaw had a cool vinegar finish and the egg (after I was done staring at it) maintained a sturdy texture with an earthy undertone. With the world turned upside down and imminent doom basically unavoidable, it's a welcome relief to see that Philippe's hasn't changed much after all these years. Truly a lesson on the benefits of patience. Now if only more things in life were just as practical we'd be in good shape.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sea Shanty

After an unintentional hiatus, I, Solo Basura, have returned once again to the lunch lines to seek out worthy comida that proves to be both mildly inspirational and downright delectable. On a lovely Viernes afternoon, K and I found ourselves in Encinitas at one of my favorecido North County roadside stalls. Raul's is mostly known for their adobaba, chile verde, and fish burritos but whenever I'm in San Diego my brain instantly computes rolled tacos. I swiftly ordered the number 13 combo: four rolled tacos (2 carne, 2 pollo) served with rice and beans (both vegetarian as it goes). At this point I will pause because I know what you're thinking: "Man, that's some gringo comida if I've ever seen any." While this is certainly true (catering mainly to surfers and teenagers), Raul's does manage to keep it real with items like the Mexico City style chicken sopa: flavorful broth, tomates, onion, shredded pollo, sliced avacado. This happens to be K's go to choice here (with a taco back of course), so after the stage was set we started on in.
Ah, a perfecto snack before heading down to San Elijo state beach for a night of camping in the sand. Shortly after we arrived, however, the wind picked up and the sky darkened followed by some light hail and rain that banished us to the tent for the rest of the night. During this restless time, drifting in and out of sleep, I had the tune of the Drunken Sailor stuck firmly in my cerebro (put him in the scuppers with a hose-pipe on him!). I hadn't thought of this song in years but there it was clear as a bell. I'm not sure if I can attribute this heightened musical ability to Raul's, but I'm certain that further testing is definitely in order. Who knows how many hits one might get for a video of a half asleep guy belting out a popular standard (secretly fueled by rolled tacos), but I'm guessing lots.