Pork: The New King Of Meats In LA?

DIA DE LOS PUERCOS

I recently had a chance to interview one of the famed returning Chefs from last year’s Big Bite Bacon Fest to get a little insight into his pork-centric realm that is Dia De Los Puercos food truck. Here is a portion of what we discussed…

Q: Since the majority of your inspiration came from your abuelita’s home cooking, what are 3
of your favorite dishes of hers that always bring you back to your childhood?

A: 99% of my inspiration is from my Gramma ‘B’, she is the reason I love to live in the
kitchen. So to narrow it down to 3 dishes is going to be tough! But I will do my best; the first
would be her Menudo, second is her carne en su jugo and last, but definitely not least, is her
mole tamales.
Q:  While you were at LCB, who were some of the Chef Instructors that inspired you and helped you hone your skills in the kitchen?

A: Although there were some interesting Chef personalities at LCB, There were two that
stood above the others. Chef Fred Jean Marie and Chef Farid Zadi, were the most influential
and motivating Chefs’ I have ever worked with to this day! I will forever be grateful for
sharing their passion for food with me.
Q: Which restaurants did you work at prior to opening up your truck?

A: I worked for quite a few restaurants, which is quite the norm for a line cook. One
restaurant that I gained the most from is ‘The Cellar’ in Fullerton, this is where I was able to
hone and broaden my classic French culinary techniques. I, also worked as Executive sous Chef
and Executive Chef for seven years with Hilton Hotels.
Q: Since bacon is the focus for the Big Bite Bacon Fest, what delicious recipe will you surprise everyone with at the event?

A: Dia De Los Puercos will be serving our Trademarked dessert, The ‘Hog Pocket’. I can describe it
for you, but it would just make you more anxious for the Bacon Fest.
Q: I have been a big fan/supporter of Dia De Los Puercos ever since I tried your Mochomos at the monthly Truck-It Fest, what made you decide on having those three types of pork dishes on the menu? (Well, four, if you include the vegetarian soy-rizo.)

A: We wanted to provide an experience for everyone who came out to try our food, and
what better way to do that then to make food that NO other truck does. But we will not stop
there; there are many other ideas in the works for our upcoming projects.

Q: I hear you will be doing a special event with Carnitas El Momo and Primera Taza, what type of dish collaboration will you be doing there?

A: Not to sound like a dick or anything, but your gonna have to wait for that one..
Q: Where do you see your biz going in the next 5 years? Do you see yourself making that jump to brick and mortar somewhere in LA?

A: Definitely! We want to expand DDLP to other Cities and eventually other States.
Q: Would love to do a friendly Del Real/non specific competition with you in the near future, would you be interested? We can set up a group of Bloggers/Writers/Chefs to judge the dishes… (I think it would be a cool idea to do friendly underground competitions with Chefs in random restaurant locations…)

A: I’m always down for a friendly match! We can do Pop up ‘Cuchillo Battles’!

From what I gathered, I wish I would’ve had the opportunity to have met Chef Rick’s grandmother to see the inspiration comes from, and maybe try a dish, or two of hers which sound amazing- especially the mole tamales. Also, I don’t know about you, but Can’t wait to see what other events/dishes El Chefe and DDLP comes out with in the near future. If many of you haven’t noticed, not only bacon, but pork itself is becoming one of the main proteins being sold in restaurants and food trucks alike. From pulled pork sandwiches to carnitas, to EVERYTHING bacon. For me, the favorite style to have pork in is Al Pastor. Tender, slowly roasted spicy pork on a spit with a pineapple on the top to shower the ‘trompo’ with sweet/tangy juices to add another depth of flavor to beautifully charred chunks of meat- which surprisingly enough, has it’s origins coming from Middle Eastern immigrants moving to Mexico. Make sure to keep an eye (and an ear) open for when we start doing the Kitchen Battles throughout LA!

Photo by: Big Bite Events

Photo by: Big Bite Events

The Big Bite Bacon Fest will be returning to the Queen Mary this weekend, Sat and Sun (Aug 1-2) for three 3-hr sessions (4 hrs with VIP entrance) of pork-gasmic tastings to satisfy your heart’s desire. I will be there from 11a-3p doing my thing, hope to see many of you there!

MO-CHICA: PERUVIAN STREET FOOD, MODERNIZED

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On our tenth, and final stop on the hunt for the best ceviche in town, we came to the second incarnation of Chef Ricardo Zarate’s pride and joy in Downtown Los Angeles, Mo-chica. Originally, his concept started out as a stall at the Mercado La Paloma on Grand Ave and Exposition Blvd, about a block away from the DMV office that everyone oh-so-dearly “loves.” With its rapid expansion, Chef Zarate knew he had to open a larger location. Luckily, he was able to find his brick and mortar location right in the heart of DTLA off 7th St, between Grand Ave and Olive St. The restaurant has a great modern hipster vibe to it with some communal seating in the front, decorative ceramic Inca dolls throughout, and graffiti, aka modern art on the walls catered to Zarate’s liking.

Mo-chica Mural

Our group casually entered within minutes of each other and struck up conversations as if we had known each other since childhood and had been reunited after years of absence. We planned our meeting perfectly to coincide with the happy hour schedule that mo-chica has set up. As we ordered everything on the HH menu, this is what I tried:

Mo-chica Causa

  • Causa de Cangrejo- An incredibly fascinating dish that I have never tried before. It’s a cold yellow potato (dumpling) mixed with lime juice, onions, and aji Amarillo pepper. Topped with mashed avocado, fresh lump crab mix, micro greens, diced tomato, and aji Amarillo sauce. This dish has a strong acidity that exudes the flavors of crab, avocado, and the aji. I really need to start trying more cold potato dishes if they are as good as this golden egg is.

Mo-chica Chicharron

  • Chicharron de Pollo- Marinated and crispy fried chicken “nuggets,” served with a Rocoto aioli. It had a nice, crunchy exterior, with just enough “crust” on the meat that it was still tender and moist on the inside. Simply put, It was SICK with the combination of the Rocoto aioli.

Mo-chica Colita

  • Colita de Res- Braised oxtail served with Trigo de Mote Pelado (hulled wheat “risotto”), Huancaina sauce (spicy cheese sauce made with aji Amarillo peppers, queso fresco, milk, saltines, onions, and garlic), and Salsa Criolla. One of my three favorites of the bunch. The slow braised and flavorful oxtail went great with the mixture of the Huancaina sauce into the trigo de mote. Tangy, spicy notes within the rich, melt-in-your-mouth texture of the colita  was paired perfectly with the pearlized grains giving flavor and a texture profile to the dish.

Mo-chica Ceviche

  • Ceviche Mixto- Halibut, prawn, squid, and scallop ceviche topped with sliced red onions, cancha, choclo, sweet potato, micro greens, and the ever oh-so-damn-delicious Leche de tiger (the ceviche marinade). Although, I love Peruvian ceviche, it was my third favorite dish, since it was slightly on the salty side. And if you know me, you know I can handle salty foods. Aside from that tiny misstep, the dish is exactly what you would expect from all Peruvian style ceviches, for the ingredients to be truly cooked in the Leche de Tigre, not just tossed in the marinade after being pre-cooked.

Mo-chica Tuna

  • Pan con Tuna- Chef Zarate’s version of Tuna Tartare, spread on top of a grilled crostini with mashed avocado underneath the tuna, cucumber jalapeño relish, and yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit similar to mandarin and grapefruit) aioli. My all time favorite of the bunch! Ever heard a parent insist they don’t have a favorite child when they actually do? Well, this one here, was my favorite child. The sushi grade tuna, tossed in a quick citrus marinade/vinaigrette, placed on top of an extremely crunchy grilled toast with avocado was one of the best tuna dishes I have tried in a very long time.

 

  • Alfajores- Peruvian macarons filled with Dulce de Leche, and Rocoto chocolate ganache. Very sweet, and dry, like a typical macarons. Just make sure you have some coffee or anything else on hand to wash this delicious little dessert down as it has a tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth.

Mo-chica Tres Leches

  • Tres Leches Cake- Not as moist as other tres leches cakes I’ve tried, but definitely more flavor. As I have to admit, I’m a bit of a tres leches addict. I got hooked the first time I tried it, since I can’t stand any kind of dry cake. Even though this one wasn’t “soaked” as the others I have tried, it was still very palate tempting and was able to retain its moisture. Well done.

Although, I unfortunately never got a chance to try Chef Zarate’s fare at his first location, I am certainly content in knowing the fact that I finally got a chance to feast on his awe-inspiring food that would make any gourmand clearly explode in food porn orgasms from the sheer fact of seeing what the next level of cuisine is for Peruvian food. Next trends shall be tamales, and Chilean or Colombian food. Just a thought or premonition.

EL CORALOENSE C/O LEONARDO’S CEVICHE CO: New Twists On A Rustic Seafood Staple

 

You would think that we would start getting sick and tired of ceviche after eight stops, right? Well, you guessed wrong. On our ninth stop, we were once again excited and anxious to try the vast selection of seafood dishes at El Coraloense. There are over  SIX dozen seafood dishes on the menu and over a dozen of those are ceviche creations alone.

My friends and I had a great time chatting with two brothers Marco and Chef Leo that were in charge that day, and were amazed to find out that Leo and his sister, Natalie, both graduated from my alma mater, Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, and went to do their externships in Prague, Czech Republic. After learning the importance of food plating, and complimenting flavors, they revamped some of their father’s recipes, adding some of their own to the menu.

It became clear that when traditional seafood fare from coastal towns is mixed with the flare of classical French training, you get a visually orgasmic and palate enticing combination that brings you to another state of being within yourself at that very moment. For once, I have finally found a place that gives a stiff competition to the highly edified ceviches from Peru. Rarely, have I been able to find a ceviche that can compete against Peruvian style ceviches (except for Mariscos Jalisco).

It brings a sigh of relief to know that the younger generation is doing what I’m doing by taking culturally significant recipes and modernizing them for everyone, including foodies and bloggers alike, to take notice of food that has gone highly unnoticed for far too long, and being prepped for the spotlight within the next year or so as the next big thing to try.
While here, my friends and I tried:

• Cocodrillo- Halibut, octopus, and imitation abalone in an Aguachiles sauce with coconut cream. Topped with sliced red onions, pico de gallo, and avocado. Had a sweet, spicy, creamy taste to it, well balanced.

• Rompe Catres- Shrimp, octopus, imitation abalone, sliced red onion, avocado, and cucumber tossed in a spicy/nutty green aguachiles sauce and aioli. One of my favorites here! Tasted as if it was made in a green curry sauce.

El Coraloense Oysters

• Oysters- We got the order known as Viagra.com, to “Load up our rifles. Oysters served on the half shell, garnished with cooked shrimp, avocado, cilantro, black pepper, and a spicy house made marinade. The only downside of this one is that the oysters were served on top of a rapidly melting bed of ice. If only it could have been done on crushed ice so the water wouldn’t have gotten into some of the oysters. Aside from that, the oysters were so fresh and tender that we still wanted to order another round for the table.

• Ceviche Super Mixta- In all honesty, this was our least favorite of the bunch. Imitation crab, cooked shrimp, imitation abalone, octopus, and fish ceviche garnished with sliced avocado, cilantro and a few lime slices. Although it was piled up high on the plate, there wasn’t much flavor to this dish. Which was a surprise to us, since everything else that we tried was just stunning.

• Caldo “Maleficio”- El Coraloense’s Mexican version of Thom Kha soup (Thai coconut hot and sour soup). Shrimp, abalone, lemon, chili, diced tomato, and cilantro in a rich and spicy broth made with coconut cream. Well-balanced in its use of flavors.  Although it was quite a warm day for soup, I do not regret having it to indulge in while we waited for the rest of our ceviche tastings.

Mariquita (lower left); Mango (upper right)

• Mango Ceviche- Shrimp ceviche with mango, tomato, cucumber, cilantro, and topped with a carrot sauce and habanero aioli. Simply put, who can say no to mango in their ceviche? The tangy, sweet flavor of the mango pairs well with the aioli to cut through its richness and is thought-provoking as it is paired with the ceviche.

 

• Mariquita- One of my favorites! Shrimp ceviche, topped with a phenomenal peanut and walnut sauce, and chopped nuts as the garnish. Seemed to have a slight Thai influence in this creation. The sweet, nuttiness came through beautifully in this dish.

• Changoneada- Shrimp ceviche with chili peanuts, mango in chamoy sauce (sweet/sour/spicy/salty sauce made from pickling fruit-usually mango, plum, or apricot), cilantro, and habanero aioli. First of all, who doesn’t like chili peanuts, they’re awesome! Boy, am I super excited that they have broken out of the tradition of making ceviche with simple ingredients and elevating its status in the culinary world.

• Conejita- shrimp ceviche with carrot “relish”, cucumbers, cilantro, lime wedges, and habanero aioli. The sweetness of the carrot relish completely balanced out the heat of the aioli. Every single item in this recipe is jam packed full of flavor!

• Niña Fresa- Shrimp ceviche with cucumbers, cilantro, and macerated strawberries in honey. Sweet, tart flavors of the macerated strawberries goes well combined with the shrimp. Nothing but fresh ingredients in just about every dish I have tried here- except for the imitation crab and abalone.

I’ve noticed more restaurants from Huntington Park, Bell, Bell Gardens, and Cerritos are starting to get more notoriety, which is a great thing since there is too much focus on the inner city for superb, eye-catching restaurants. But, what people have started noticing recently is that there are many hungry, striving chefs throughout the outskirts of LA and it’s county that have been catching the public’s attention when they see better quality foods at normal prices in their area. Before all else, I would sincerely suggest you search around and support your local chefs before going to all the high-end restaurants, or wasting your money on chemically enhanced foods from your well-known fast food joints that provide you with nothing beneficial, but besides high blood pressure and diabetes.

That being said, you must be out of your mind if you think this place is not worth the drive. I am forever grateful that I found this restaurant. I will not be surprised if I start seeing more reviews of El Coraloense in the LA Times or LA Weekly once more word spreads of this hidden ceviche house elite. They certainly have brought this plebeian style of food to the levels of haute cuisine in my eyes and others alike. This was certainly my first, and indubitably not my last tour of this superb eatery in the heart of Bell Gardens.

 

MARIO’S PERUVIAN AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: Eating Ceviche in the Heart of Hancock Park

On the eighth stop of our ceviche tour, we went to one of the most famously known locations to the majority of Angelinos in the heart of Hancock Park. It’s so well known that the owner was able to open a second location for Mario’s in La Mirada. Mario’s Peruvian and Seafood Restaurant is located in a tiny strip that is notoriously packed with customers, waiting upwards of an hour (especially on Fridays/Saturdays) just to be seated inside the decades old restaurant, which is also located across the street from the locally famous Bogie’s Liquor Store on Melrose and Vine.

I was immediately humbled by the generosity of the owner when he made sure my party was taken care of by reserving 4 tables for us and making sure our waitress, Alejandra, took amazing care of us. We were almost 20 deep and comfortably seated as the last few guests for the hunt trickled in.
Aside from the great conversations, we also had some soul-satisfying foods:

• Ceviche Mixto- Pre-cooked shrimp, squid, red snapper, and octopus in Leche de Tigre, served with corn on the cob, and cooked russet potato (served cold) instead of the traditional sweet potato. All I can say is that you can NEVER go wrong whenever you order Peruvian ceviche, always an orgasmic experience.

• Jalea Mixta- Prawns, calamari, clams, mussels, octopus, and red snapper fried to perfection. Served with salsa criolla, fried yucca, and sides of tartar sauce (best when mixed with the aji sauce before dipping any food in it). One plate alone was more than enough for four people. But, was not better than El Pollon’s Jalea Mixta.

• Choros A La Criolla- Steamed mussels served on the half shell, topped with tangy, spicy salsa made from tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, ,aji,  and lime juice. Each one was devoured all at once as if you were eating oysters to gather the whole complexity of the flavors within the dish. I just found a new favorite way to eat mussels.

 

• Shrimp Saltado- Sautéed shrimp with tomatoes, red onion and thick cut French fries. Served with a side of lightly seasoned rice. All in all was very good, shrimp was tender, and you can never go wrong when you add a dash or two of the Aji sauce.

• Lomo Saltado- Sautéed beef sirloin with the same garnishes as the shrimp Saltado. I was surprised to find that this dish was a bit on the dry side. Usually places have a sauce, or reduction that is used for this dish, but not this one. The times I had it before was done perfectly, I hope this was just a fluke on their part because I usually don’t have any complaints whatsoever on the food from Mario’s.

• Flan- The crowd was nervous at first when the waitress had told us they had run out of flan. Luckily by end of the meal she made our night even better by letting us know they had just restocked on their flan. It was utterly the best way to end the meal. The rich delicateness of the flan sat just right with us after trying quite a few dishes in one sitting.

Group Pic

There’s a reason why this place has held its own throughout its existence against other Peruvian restaurants. Unfortunately, against Mario’s loyalists’ beliefs, I feel that there are some restaurants coming up in the recent years that might actually start giving this place a run for its food. That is why my next exploration for the best in the unknown will be for Peruvian food. Don’t worry people, no one on the same level as Mario’s has knocked it down a peg from the top shelf, so-to-speak. Mario’s, keep dishing out your spectacular food, and your lines will never shorten. I’m going to be back in that line again soon enough.

MARISCOS EL PERIHUETE

El Perihuete Menu

The 8th stop of our hunt sent us deep in the heart of Paramount. Mariscos El Perihuete lies nestled on the corner of a busy lot in a calm neighborhood within the city. Luckily, this location has plenty of parking and plenty of seats within to boot. A friendly staff member took care of our group, sitting us at a big corner booth with the shades pulled down to block the rays of the setting sun.

Once you are seated, you are instantly greeted with a tray full of tostadas and salsa, as your waitress brings you a complimentary cup of Taliban, which is a soup, not an invitation to join a jihad or head gear with a side of artillery. One of the important notes in my book is that they serve beer to indulge on while waiting for your party to show up.

El Perihuete Michelada

Was definitely surprised to find they have sushi on their menu. iIt’s the same feeling you would get as if a sushi restaurant would put Mole Negro on their menu. It just doesn’t sound right. We made it a point to stay away from that section of the menu and stick to the more traditional items. With everyone in our group seated, we immediately ordered our feast for the day:

  • Taliban- A complimentary cup of shrimp consommé with flavors imported straight from Sinaloa. Superbly seasoned, and garnished with shrimp and other little morsels within, including diced red onion. Squeeze a tiny bit of the lime juice into it for a beautiful flavor that makes you smack your lips and take as much time as possible to take in its aromas and flavor profiles. Was so good, I ended up ordering a medium container of it to go.

  • Marlin Taco- Smoked marlin in a pan-toasted tortilla with cheese. In other words, it’s a marlin quesadilla garnished on the side with a simple salad and slice of orange. While decent in flavor, I was hoping the marlin would have been fresh and grilled, bringing its best features forward. Since it wasn’t, it tasted a bit dry, forcing us to put some effort into getting it down. Good thing I had a trusty Michelada on hand to help me out.

  • Stingray Taco- Topped with its own cooking liquid, cabbage and sliced white onions. What an interesting flavor and texture combination! It had a firmer texture similar to carnitas instead of fish. Surprising on the palette, but it had a very endearing flavor to it. Definitely one of my favorite tacos there! The flesh of stingray has a firmer texture than regular fish giving it a tooth feel, and yet, still tender due to the way it was cooked.

  • Taco A La Uyu Yui- A shrimp soft taco with filling that had been tossed in a very spicy sauce, then topped with cabbage, sliced onions, and a dab of creamy aioli. This taco will definitely make you wipe the sweat off your brow with the spicy mixture the shrimp is tossed in before serving. It’s well worth it, the shrimp was cooked nice and the spices were pristinely balanced.

  • Tostada Mixta- Precooked shrimp, tender octopus, imitation crab, and imitation abalone with cucumber, tomatoes in a properly seasoned citrus marinade. One of the biggest tostadas I’ve ever eaten. There was so much ceviche on this tostada that I could have made at least two more portions out of it. While big in its portions and full of flavor, I definitely could have done without the imitation seafood. Real and natural is ALWAYS better, in any situation.

Obviously, you can never go wrong with having a Michelada with your ceviches as an accompaniment. That being said, if you’re a bit adventurous with what you eat, I recommend trying the stingray tacos. They were one of my favorites along with the Ceviche Mixta Tostada. I will definitely have to come back to try the other dishes on their menu that they set aside for the weekends, which include the Campechana, scallops, and bloody clams. Either way, I know where to eat whenever I’m in the area now.

 

SINNERS & SAINTS

 

Located on Lincoln Blvd., between Washington and Venice Blvd. is a slightly hidden shop between all the others that line the street, but at first glance of their display case, your eyes will widen and your salivary glands go into overdrive. *Hint- all desserts labeled as a “Saint” are gluten-free, and can either be low in sugar or fats; and also offer Paleo diet, and Vegan options.

 

I was lucky enough to be invited to this event where everyone gathered to sample different desserts created by Sinners & Saints. The place opened three years ago by Elisa Testone and Chef Dustin Hodges, both having previous experience with owning catering businesses, as well as their loyal followers. People have been known to drive from San Diego for their desserts, and I can understand why. They prefer to source all their products from organic farmers themselves, that way they can personally assure the quality of the items they are purchasing. They do not deal with purveyors or big companies, and incorporate this philosophy into their baking. All of their desserts are made in small batch quantities to ensure that every single pastry is of the best standards possible before they say it’s good enough to sell to their customers.

 

  • Cannoli- Filled with peanut butter and strawberry jam, then topped with chopped pistachio nuts. Man, oh man, did it ever feel like the better parts of my chubby childhood brought back into the present when I took my first bite into this lip smacking cannoli. Good thing I’ve developed somewhat of a bit of self control, or else I would’ve annihilated the whole lot of these.

 

  • Red Velvet Cupcakes-Yes, I know. What’s the big deal with red velvet, EVERYBODY’S got it on their menus, right? Well, in their case, however it is that their recipe is  modified, it’s working. The batter itself is lighter, crumbles beautifully, and its moisture content is higher than the other red velvets I’ve tried anywhere else. Also, paired with the creamiest frosting that is so on point, my fat ass was ready to buy it on the side like a junkie wanting to score a fix.

  • Bourbon Croissant Bread Pudding- Warm and fresh out of the oven. Amazing flavor with the diced apples and cinnamon infused within as if an apple strudel and a bruleéd French toast had a drunken threesome with a rich and buttery croissant, then nine months later this bread pudding was born. I must have it again. Can I be your quality assurance specialist?

  • Gluten Free Blackberry Goat Cheese Cheesecake – As soon as I read the description, I had to try it. It seemed like this particular cheesecake was specifically made for my sister. It is rich and decadent in flavors, without worry of it affecting your health. The tartness of the berries is balanced out by the sweetened, creaminess of the goat cheese. You definitely get hypnotized by swirls of the blackberry infusion within the cake itself. Well worth trying at least once in your life… or twice.

  • Gluten Free Caramel Cheesecake – A soft and crumbly crust that is covered with a thick, insanely good cheesecake topped with Dulce de Leche, or caramel sauce for you non-food speaking adventurers. It is also garnished with hefty pieces of peanut brittle putting other candy/dessert shops to shame. I tried to pace myself eating this beauty so it would last me for at least two days..Was gone by the end of the first night.

Bakeries, please take some notes from them on how they make some of their unique, gluten-free creations. None of these were stale, nor did they taste like cardboard – you know who you are. It’s worth coming not only to satiate your sweet tooth, but to also get to know the people and their families behind the counter. Great people, beautiful attitudes, and desserts that will make you feel like a kid again – if you aren’t one anymore.

SINNERS & SAINTS

2547 Lincoln Blvd

Venice, CA 90291

 

MARISCOS JALISCO

There’s a reason why Raul Ortega has won awards for his crispy shrimp taco.

There’s a reason why Chef Roy Choi was on location filming” Riding Shotgun LA” for CNN here.

There’s a reason why many chefs and food writers/bloggers love eating here, especially on their days off.

There’s also a reason why Mariscos Jalisco has been mentioned numerous times in articles featured in L.A. Magazine, L.A. Times, and L.A.Ist.

And, lastly there’s a reason why Mariscos Jalisco has been named as having “The Best Taco in Los Angeles” by LA Weekly.

When it comes to their ceviches, mariscos, tostadas, aguachiles, botanas, and one single type of taco, Raul and his crew do not play around. I repeat, they DO NOT play around.

Brief history lesson and fun fact: Raul told me that the previous spot on my hunt list, Mariscos El Jato, is owned by a relative of his. If you think it’s a small world when you run into friends of friends in random places, you’ll be surprised to find out how small the world actually is when it comes to ceviche, Jalisco style. If you see or try any ceviches that are similar to the ones at Mariscos Jalisco, it is due to the fact that they learned from the master of ceviche over 45 years ago who put their hometown of San Juan De Los Lagos on the map. This is also when Raul became instantly amazed in the foods the guy was making, which led him down a path where no one will ever be able to forget him or his food, in a good way, of course.

Originally, he began selling Tacos de Cabeza in his hometown, gradually improving them to where even celebrity chefs were willing to wait in line to devour his amazingly prepared seafood and shrimp taco. As Chef Choi told Raul the day I was there, “visually clean food is clean food in the stomach,” the food doesn’t get any cleaner or more stimulating than this.

Here’s what I tried:

Mariscos Jalisco Taco

  • Shrimp Taco- “The Best Taco in L.A,” is golden fried to heavenly perfection. The filling consisted of diced shrimp with vegetables, and slightly undercooked so you can comprehend and fully appreciate the natural textures and flavors of the shrimp. Once on your plate, it’s topped with a slightly spicy tomato sauce, chopped cilantro, avocado, and diced cabbage. Saying that this has been one of the best shrimp tacos that I’ve had is a gross understatement.

Mariscos Jalisco Mixto

  • Ceviche Mixto- Shrimp, octopus, and shredded fish cooked in lime juice. Then garnished with avocado, tomato, and pico de gallo all massively piled onto a single tostada. I had a difficult time eating this at first. Not because the flavor was bad, but because I couldn’t decide which one to start with, either the tostada or the taco. In the end, I decided to switch back and forth between both the two. Obviously, it was the best choice I could have possibly made.

Mariscos Jalisco Poseidon

  • The “Poseidon” Tostada –  This is the same as the Ceviche Mixto, but topped with a very spicy aguachiles sauce that would be perfect for a Bloody Mary mix. Usually, the aguachiles sauce is green in color due to the chilies used. But, Raul explained they wanted to be different from the crowd in order to stand out. Indeed he has. If you love spicy food and heat that’ll clear a stuffy nose, then this is it. Packed with heat, sweetness, and flavors of the sea that I didn’t need to add anything to it as it was perfectly seasoned.

Mariscos Jalisco Campechana

  • Coctel Campechana – Abalone (imitation), octopus, shrimp, and avocado in a spicy tomato broth. By far, the best Campechana I’ve had on this endeavor to find the best ceviche/mariscos in town. It has a nice balance between heat, acidity, salt, and a tiny squirt of Salsa Sinaloa (habanero sauce) couldn’t hurt it, either.

Plain and simple: If you don’t trust the opinions of top chefs who create beautiful food that you pay top money to eat, or writers/bloggers that actually go scavenging for hidden gems of restaurants throughout Southern California for you to read about and try, then there’s an old & simple saying…”The proof is in the pudding.” Don’t believe me? Then, go down to Olympic, between South Soto Street and South Lorena St, and judge for yourself. Your stomachs will thank you immensely for visiting this amazing food truck that you just read about.

 

MARISCOS EL JATO

Traffic can be a bit of a hassle to reach this restaurant, but by no means is it hard to miss with its oceanic life mural painted all around the entire building. It is a very large space that is separated into three sections, with just one entrance. When we arrived, the last two sections were completely full so we ended up in the back area of the first section with the entrance. We were very lucky to be able to get these seats when we came in, then were greeted by the friendliest waitress I’ve met in a good while.

As we waited for the rest of our group to arrive and partake in our degustations, we got a chance to converse with our ever so helpful waitress. We ended up talking about searching for the best ceviches in town, and how a beer and/or a michelada goes perfectly paired with seafood menagerie. And although they do not sell alcohol, you can BYOB (bring your own beer), but cannot consume more than two alcoholic drinks per person. I was a little depressed over that bit of news.

 ElJatoChips

  • Chips and House Made Salsa- Thickly cut tortilla chips served with their signature house made molcajete salsa. Was definitely a great way to start off our meal, especially after giving the sauce an added kick from the habanero (Sinaloa) salsa. The salsa itself had a great smoky flavor from the tomatoes and onions being charred before getting blended coarsely together.

ElJatoFishTaco

ElJatoFishHand

  • Fish Taco- You wouldn’t believe me unless you saw it for yourself! Two WHOLE sides of fish, fried, and served with two tortillas. And all for just $5. No, seriously. While you do get a massive portion for the price, the fish was simply battered and topped with a bit of cabbage, crema, and a wedge of lime. Was definitely more than I could handle in one sitting, so I ended up sharing it with those who went. The only thing it needed was just a touch of salt, which was of no issue to me since they have everything you might need right there at the table for you.

 

ElJatoSinaloa

 ElJatoCeviche

  • Coctel de Ceviche- Shredded fish (Jalisco style) that has been cooked in lime juice with tomatoes, onion, and cilantro. Although I was surprised with the way the fish was prepared as this was my first time trying this style, it still contained great flavor within the unique texture of the processed fish. Since I like a good amount of heat in my ceviches, I added salsa Sinaloa to everything I ordered. Went perfectly well with the tostadas they have sitting at the tables ready and waiting to be paired with faultlessly made ceviche.

 

ElJatoCoctel

  • Coctel de Mariscos- A mixture of shrimp, octopus, imitation abalone, oysters, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and avocado in a spicy tomato broth with a dollop of ketchup on top. Despite the fact that this Coctel has had one of the best flavors so far from the various places I have tried, I could’ve done without the ketchup. In my opinion, it takes away from the nuances of what a great seafood cocktail should taste like by being domineering with the suffocating taste and smell that comes from the vinegar used to make ketchup.

 

I undoubtedly will be coming back here to try the rest of the dishes that await me here at Mariscos El Jato. Worth the drive and ultimately, worth the unbelievably low prices set forth with amazing dishes.

THE TASTE OF WEST O.C. AT KNOTT’S BERRY FARM HOTEL

I got invited to The Third Annual Taste of West OC, hosted by the West Orange County Regional Chamber of Commerce  that was held at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel in Buena Park. To say I got there with ease would be a cynical understatement. But, not through the fault of the organizers, I’m to blame for not leaving ahead of time and for not realizing how bad traffic gets in Buena Park during rush hour. Yes, it took me two hours to get from DTLA to Buena Park. Was it worth it? The simplest answer would be yes.

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I went through almost knocking out while driving in traffic due to the heatwave  we recently had in SoCal to finally reaching my destination and getting a chance to unwind, satisfy the gastronome within, make great connections with businesses, and by the end, waddled back to the car leaving the convention full and with both mind and belly satisfied. Once inside the convention, it was easy to become lost within the hustle and bustle going on all around, from group performances for the kids, to a DJ playing sets in between, to various raffles happening throughout the whole duration of the event.

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Below is a list of all the places I tried and what they were serving up for the masses:

TasteOfOCAromaRistorantePasta

  •  A’Roma Ristorante: Penne Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce- It was decent, if not as self descript as the name suggests. The pasta was perfectly al dente, but the sauce was subtly flavored. I could taste the garlic in it, and a hint of basil, but not much more than that. I should have added Parmesan along with chili flake to balance it out. Which, I could tell that was the purpose of the nuanced flavor in the sauce, but I wanted to try it unadulterated by my own augmentation of the products’ flavor profile.

 TasteOfOCLazyDogRestaurant&BarTurkeyMeatballs

  •  Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar: Turkey Meatballs- One of my FAVORITE dishes of the whole night! Spheres of super moist, tender deliciousness topped with a beautifully seasoned marinara, with just the right amount of heat and saltiness from the chili flake and grated parmesan. Was bound more with egg rather than with bread crumbs. It was also filled with finely diced mire poix (diced carrots, onions, and celery), toasted pine nuts, and believe it or not, golden raisins. Well done, Chef, well done…

 TasteOfOCGhostTownSlider

  •  Ghost Town Bakery: Burger Sliders- Were a bit on the bland/dry side. The meat appeared to have some sort of filler inside it. A patty with unseasoned caramelized onions and tasteless cheese on a somewhat dry bun, and not dry from being toasted, either. I couldn’t fully blame them too much for the food being slightly dry, it WAS in chafing dishes for who knows how long since they kept sending them out by the dozens, but some of the blame definitely lies in their hands.

 TasteOfOCVentanasHolidayInnBBQBeefSlider

  •  Ventanas Restaurant at the Holiday Inn: Barbecue Beef Sandwiches- With the amount of sauce these little fatties had, it made them look and taste slightly similar to a Sloppy Joe, but needed a touch of salt and spice to counteract the sweetness within the sauce. Aside from that little hiccup in these sliders, the food tasted pretty good with fork-tender beef that was tossed in the sauce before being served.

 TasteOfOCAmberWavesMeatyMadnessPizza

  •  Amber Waves Restaurant: Meaty Madness Pizza- My second favorite item. Pepperoni, sausage, bacon, ham, mushrooms, olives, onions, and peppers on top of a thin crust style pizza. Great balance in the portions of the toppings, was a mouthful of indulgence in every bite. Fully doused with flavor from the pork paraphernalia packed pie (try saying THAT five times fast), a hands down must-try, especially if you’re a meat-loving type of person like this Chonchudo is.

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 Taste of West OC Sagan Sushi

  •  Sagan Restaurant: Various Salmon: Yellowtail, Spicy Tuna, and California Rolls- A family owned restaurant that was once a Korean BBQ spot for 10 years, but within the last four months has turned itself into an All-You-Can-Eat joint. Considering how great the rolls tasted and the freshness of the seafood, I would definitely come in to try the rest of their food the next time I’m in Buena Park.

 TasteOfOC85CafeSweetBread

  •  85° C Bakery Cafe: Taiwanese style Premium Milk Sweet Bread- White chocolate custard and golden raisin filled sweet bread. My favorite pastry/dessert there! The white chocolate was not overbearing like your typical mother-in-law, but was subtly balanced with a slight sweet/tartness from the raisins and well-balanced within the bread itself.

TasteOfOCKnottsChickenDinnerBakeryBoysenberryMousseCup

  •  Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant and Bakery: Boysenberry Mousse Chocolate cup- I’ve never been a big fan of many types of berries, including boysenberry. But not this time. This was a light, delicately flavored mousse inside a white/dark chocolate marbled cup with a bit of whipped cream and shaved dark chocolate on top as the garnish.

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The next time this event is in town next year, I’m sure it is going to be even bigger and better than what I experienced this time. It is single handedly worth going to if you love trying new foods, want to entertain the kids, and/or want to see what local businesses have to offer the public. Until then, I shall keep myself busy eating throughout the various neighborhoods in Southern California until the next Taste of West OC sends another love letter that is the variety of food to my stomach next year.

CAFE COLA

 

*Photos by: Michael Walsh

 

My friend/mentor and I entered Cafe Cola as they were closing shop. Luckily, they welcomed us with open arms like a relative pulling their family out of the cold and fill their bellies with nourishment, which in this case, is exactly what their staff did. Immediately meeting Romel and Adiss, the owners of Cafe Cola, I noticed they were laid back and friendly people that loved talking about food, their concepts behind it, and the love they put into all that they create. After a quick tour of the place, I immediately missed being inside of a restaurant’s kitchen and chatting it up with everyone, which at times got me into trouble when I first started working in restaurants!

Adiss in action2

What I found even more fascinating here is that unlike many well known restaurants, Cafe Cola preps and cuts their own meat. They slice the best rib eye you can buy for their cheesesteaks, grind their own chuck for their burgers, and even cut their own fries (which aren’t cut like regular fries, but taste better). Everyone should be happy and thankful for the price of the food, considering the grades of meat they use and how it’s all prepped in-house. Other “restaurants” will buy pre-sliced and frozen meats, and then charge you an arm and a leg for it. Not these guys, they are UNDER charging customers for what they give – in my opinion.

Cafe Cola used to be in Azusa, but has relocated to Covina on N. Citrus Ave between the 10 and 210 freeways. Make sure you go during the weekend, since they’re only open Friday through Sunday, from 10am to 10pm. There’s an inviting feel to the place with vintage diner posters throughout the establishment that makes you feel nostalgic and wish you were back in the 50’s diner era.

  • Zombie Fries- The great thing about these fries is that you can have the seasoned house made country fries with any and as many toppings (up to 34 toppings in total, three of which include an extra charge, which are the meat options) as you want. Mine included bacon, a tiny bit of gorgonzola, pepper jack cheese, and 1000 island dressing. So I might’ve had a bit of a salt craving, but they were great, nonetheless. A great combination with crispy/tender fries, topped with the smokiness and crunch from bacon, and then topped with gooey cheese that is melted on the plancha before added to the fries. And, who would have guessed that the fries were named after their dog? I didn’t, either. I thought it had some connection or reference to a certain favorite undead TV show.

If only I had come here before doing a tasting at another restaurant, I would have gladly finished my fries in Chonchudo fashion. Cafe Cola is literally a stoner’s dream come true to satisfy their munchies. There’s laid back music, cool and friendly people (both staff and customers), and food made any way you want it, with as little or as many topping as you want. I know I would surely be there on a weekly basis, especially if I still partook (par-toke, lol) in the medicinal properties of what is known as marijuana. Writing about these fries is making me want to go back now and order them again. But, I will definitely head back to try their Smoov Burger, Cheesesteak Sandwich, and their Walsh’s Chicken Sandwich. I am now hungrily waiting to return…