>> Eat the World LA

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Tacos La Central


[EDITOR'S NOTE: This visit was made by our friends at Pel and Word Charmers, all photos belong to them.]

In the dying days of 2015, Colton lost one of its beloved institutions, 58 year old Original El Burrito #1 closed for the last and final time. Originally a burger, hot dog, and milkshake stand, the owner switched to a Mexican menu in 1957 after 8 years in business and never looked back. Since then loyal customers kept coming back, bringing their children and their children's children until the final days in business.

It was these very large shoes that Tacos La Central set out to fill at the end of June 2016 just over half a year after the closing. As 2019 is already halfway finished the Tijuana-style taco is taken for granted in Los Angeles and surrounding regions, but back in 2016 La Central was blazing a path for themselves. As trucks and late night stands in Los Angeles continue making names for themselves, some even starring in Super Bowl commercials, Tacos La Central has been showing Colton, San Bernardino, and the Inland Empire what this was all about for over three years now.

One of the new co-owners has roots in Tijuana, where his family-owned restaurant has been supplying him with recipes. A little bit of inspection makes you trust when a taquero claims "verdadero estilo Tijuana" for their place, translated something like "the true style of Tijuana."

[From Pel: "The greater Los Angeles area is clearly experiencing a Tijuana-style taco moment. Everywhere you look, it seems there’s a new joint serving freshly grilled meats (and sometimes veggies, it's California after all) over tortillas hechas a mano with a bright green slather of requisite guacamole (hopefully the legit variety).

Even though the menu printed on the wall still announces “Opening Special” pricing, Tacos La Central has been in the game for at least three years now which qualifies them as established players in a field of relative newcomers.

Tacos estilo Tijuana.

The menu could not be more simple: tacos de adobada, asada, pollo and chorizo, all priced at $2. For a couple bucks more, you can upgrade to a mulita (below, which adds cheese and sandwiches the fillings between two slightly grilled tortillas) and wash it all down with a proper sized half-liter Mexican coke for another $2.

Grab a seat in the outdoor picnic area amongst gleaming strip malls, old school auto shops and (probably) still snow-capped mountains, while the scratchy speaker blasts something barely distinguishable. True SoCal.

And afterwards? Keep driving to little-known Diamond Valley Lake, walk amongst the wildflowers, rent a boat and make a day of it.]


COLTON Inland Empire

Friday, 14 June 2019

bb.q Chicken


While only gracing the shores of the United States for the last five years, bb.q Chicken is a company that is almost 25 years old, starting first in Korea but expanding to at least seven countries as the Korean fried chicken craze shows no signs of slowing down. Back home the franchise went crazy even in its first year, with 100 locations opening.

So when it started up in cities here, naturally Koreans were very happy with the additions (in addition to this DTLA location, there is one in Koreatown and three in Orange County) but it deserves the attention of everyone.

Sometimes you will see the word "olive" before chicken in the written names online or elsewhere, and this refers to their use of olive oil in the frying of the chicken and cooking of other items. Their signature dish is the golden olive chicken (below), which lets the simple ingredients speak for themselves.

Courtesy of bb.q Chicken DTLA

With many other options like soy garlic and secret spicy, most fried chicken lovers will be happy here. Most of their locations provide good beer and soju options.

Some of the locations also have grab and go bowls already prepared for quick lunches.

Grilled chicken bibimbap to go

One of the best dishes available are the spicy rice cakes known as duk-bokki (below). Cups of these to go or plates to stay can be topped with stringy cheese but regardless they have a really good heat kick, the "soup" full of plenty of gochujang.

Interested in some fusion? The bulgogi poutine (below) is one of the latest mashup poutines in the world to offer a really delicious way to eat fries. This pairs especially well when you come here to have some drinks, and provides a good contrast to plates of chicken wings.


Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Thành Mỹ Restaurant


Thành Mỹ Restaurant has always been the type of place that for whatever reason you end up at when your group has no one suggesting an idea firmly enough. You know it will always be up to the highest standards, is great for big groups as well as small, serves plenty of beer, and is open very late. You may have already eaten dinner some hours ago, but this place is still calling for a big late night bowl.

Come to this 40 year old restaurant during the day or early evening and it might be close to empty. It seems to find its legs as the night rolls on, as everyone knows the kitchen goes strong well after midnight. The menu is expansive, but some things are better than others and if you come here for the first time take your cues from the other tables and order beautiful bowls of bún, rice vermicelli noodles served cold with the toppings of your choice.

They translate chả giò here as imperial rolls, and indeed a bowl of bún chả giò ($7.50, above) does seem regal. The famous deep fried spring rolls filled with ground pork are some of the best on Bolsa Avenue, and in addition to the other ingredients everything is just about fresh and perfect. The consistency at Thành Mỹ Restaurant is worthy of praise, they never seem to have an off night.

Shy folks that love their nước mắm pha will be happy with the portion served alongside each bowl, as it gives you the ability to drown everything. Some places are quite stingy with a small bowl of the fish sauce-based condiment that is both sweet with sugar and sour with lime as well as having components of savory and salty. It shines with rolls but perhaps is no better companion than with a well made bowl of bún.

Cuts of grilled pork in the bún heo nướng ($7.50, above) are also just right. It is a wonder that they can use decent meats when the prices remain fairly consistent over the years, but they never seem to be plagued by the random order of lower quality cuts.

Also of interest here is the deconstructed bowl of bún chả Hà Nội ($9.95, not shown), served in its component parts and ready to be assembled in fresh lettuce wraps with extra greens. This dish is named for and originated in the northern capital but remains popular throughout the country and even here in Orange County where you are much more likely to see the flag of South Vietnam still flying.



Monday, 27 May 2019

Nadi Myanmar Cafe


Even before living in Los Angeles, visits were full of routes through the San Gabriel Valley to procure the food of Myanmar. So I find it surprising to hear about it spoken of in such a way that makes it seem so rare and unattainable on many occasions. Monterey Park's Daw Yee Myanmar was so popular it set up shop on Sunset in Silver Lake, screaming mainstream. A recent pop-up event was heralded as if aliens had arrived and treated Los Angeles to something brand new. To this, it must be said: Try harder.

Recently, after repeated visits to Yoma Myanmar, finally the day arrived to try Nadi Myanmar Cafe in Alhambra. The restaurant lives quietly around the corner from Main on N. 4th Street, and for appearing so small it holds a surprising number of people, put on full display as it filled up during the course of this meal. Most of the interior is painted a bold and bright red, except for one wall which is completely covered by a painted photo of Bagan's many temples.

Nadi has a pretty simple two-sided menu of Burmese cuisine, but an interesting section labeled "special" focuses on renditions of kyah-oh, a particularly popular rice noodle soup in the country. If you have ever traveled in Yangon, you have noticed the chain YKKO, which specializes in the soup and now has 38 locations in the city!

Here at Nadi you can get pork or chicken kyay oh as soup, or served without the broth in a "sichet" version. This pork kyay oh ($9.99, above and below) is loaded with ground pork and intestine, and also comes with tofu, quail egg, fish cake, and mustard greens in a pork bone broth.

You will be asked if you would like to include brain with your soup, which should be accepted for those willing to have a more unique experience. Add in the bright red chili sauce as well for a bit of heat.

Amongst the old favorites is lat phat thoke ($10.50, below), a pickled tea leaf salad that has become Myanmar's most successful ambassador. Written about breathlessly many times and not needing the same treatment again, the salad is always a pleasure, full of contrasting flavors and textures.

As it becomes obvious as the lunch goes on that Nadi serves about equal portions Burmese and foreigners to the food, the place becomes more and more fun to enjoy in person. Returning to try their curries, other salads, and breakfast mote hin khar is at the top of the to do list.



Sunday, 19 May 2019

Mariscos El Faro


The line of wind-bent palms on the north side of Figueroa set a dramatic scene under which the Mariscos El Faro truck has been living for half a decade now, with a front row seat to the changing character of the neighborhood. Unfortunately only the grounds of the Highland Park Recreation Center live on the other side of the trees rather than the Sinaloan paradise beaches in and around Mazatlán, but with mariscos dishes styled in the manner of that city, a park bench does just fine for focusing on tostadas and cocteles.

Mazatlán, the birthplace of the owner and popular tourist and resort destination within México, is of course known for its incredible seafood, featuring catch fresh from the Pacific. It is a part of life, and a part of the lives of anyone who visits.

Crunchy tostadas are perfect for grabbing to take into the park and make the finger foods a little more manageable. They serve all of these with the addition of a top tostada as well, which can be immediately broken into smaller scoops. The whole thing is splashed with a nice layer of sauce and full of flavor.

The prices at the truck are a bit higher than what may be considered the "going rate" around town, $1-2 more for each item, but this seems to translate into a higher quality product. This is especially noticeable when enjoying fresh shrimp on a tostada de aguachile (below). Like anything, selections of fresh catch can vary in price and quality, and this family seems to care enough to pay for the higher grade items.

If you have ever tasted aguachile around town, you know that it can knock you down with a pepper-tinged slap in the face. Here at El Faro it seems that they want you to experience the shrimp, sliced cucumbers, and crushed chiltepin, a small, round red pepper common in the aguachiles and mariscos of Sinaloa. The heat is not overwhelming at all, but might get a bead of sweat or two going. The cooling qualities of the dish are always fascinating, and feel wonderful in any season but offer extra in hot summer months.

The famous lighthouse (faro) in Mazatlán and inspiration behind the name of the truck, is located at the top of Cerro del Creston just west of the city and is the highest lighthouse in all of the Americas. Views down to the city from the peak are impressive and something most tourists take in between meals at the shaded beachside mariscos vendors and restaurants. While the views across Figueroa Street are far from impressive, at least the mariscos are getting somewhere close.

The beaches of Mazatlán only have to be imagined.



Friday, 17 May 2019

Rockin' Crawfish

USA 🇺🇸

For anyone who has spent time near the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana or Texas, the cultural and culinary connections made between Cajun and Vietnamese folks is quite extraordinary. Just like here in Orange County, after the fall of Saigon in 1975 waves of resettlement came to the bayou and Gulf Coast, and as always wonderful things happened. Many Vietnamese got into the fishing and shrimping industries, making them natural ambassadors of the eventual Vietnamese American food craze.

While it appears to have multiple competing versions for an origin story, the first Vietnamese Cajun crawfish joints grew up in and around Houston, Texas, which still has a vibrant community and many thriving restaurants. In Orange County, the first Boiling Point back in 2004 was the brainchild of two Texas transplants that saw the possibilities. After only a couple years, the concept blew up, with more locations and hoards of copycats. It now seems so much a part of the fabric of Orange County's Vietnamese communities that it is hard to think about 15 years ago when there were none further west than Houston.

Rockin' Crawfish first made its name in the Bay Area, serving the demand for spicy crawfish to East Bay communities, but quickly expanded to Garden Grove and now has locations in Sacramento, Orlando, and the suburbs of Atlanta. As with most since the original Boiling Point, a nautical theme pervades, but here they also mix that with corrugated metal walls giving a shack feeling and the addition of some guitars and such to make sure the "rockin" gets its due.

The seasons are quite different in the Gulf and in California, ours being for the months of July, August, and September while in Louisiana they have a longer season from January to the end of June. Since this meal was eaten off season, the crustaceans were frozen, and this was very transparent. The half pound seen above only costs $4.49. Pair this at happy hour with bottled beers that cost just $2.49 and you have a very economical way to get full and drunk.

It appears most people order some of the other seafood items during the off season, but the crawfish are still good and the sauces are still just as delicious of course.

With California crawfish season fast approaching, paying a bit more for fresh catch will be absolutely worth it. Also, did you know that Long Beach has its own annual festival celebrating the Louisiana tradition of a crawfish boil? Lovers of the crawfish will never run out of options in Southern California.



Sunday, 12 May 2019

Long Xing Ji Juicy Dumpling


Besides some of the pastel colors and that distinctly Californian-Mediterranean-ish architecture beloved by mall planners, it would be easy to imagine yourself in the suburbs of a Chinese city here in San Gabriel Square. The large mall is anchored by Focus Department Store and 99 Ranch Market, but more fun are the multiple staircases and landings, not quite an Escher experience but still providing a lot of options for navigating from place to place.

The other restaurants here offer the cuisines and experiences from Cantonese barbecue to Guilin noodles to hot pot. There are so many storefronts that you often see turnover and new openings are constant. Bake Code, which we visited in January, recently changed hands and turned into a Chatime.

Long Xing Ji did something similar a few years back, as the space was occupied by a chain from Wuxi in Jiangsu province called Wang Xing Ji. When it made the switch it was because of a change in ownership, but the menu stayed the same and still features the same favorites from that city just northwest of Shanghai. Approaching the menu for the first time is best done by selecting dishes that say "Wuxi-style" in the name or have a thumbs up icon next to them, or both like the Wuxi-style spare ribs.

Another reason people come here is for enormous soup dumplings like the juicy pork & crab bun ($6.69, below), which comes in the size and shape of a heat bag. But do not under any circumstances try to pick this up and heal your pains, the dough is so thin it will burst under its own weight before it gets to the top of its steamer.

They of course know this and bring straws for everyone at the table. The fatty juices must be sucked out before you try anything else. Fail with this one rule, and most of your soup will inhabit the shallow plate underneath.

To get here in the first place, the dumpling has to be constructed inside the steamer, first by laying the sheet of homemade dough, pressed out as thin as possible by the skilled crew which can be seen through a window in the dining room. After this the ground pork and crab can be spread at the bottom and topped with the "soup" which has been cooled and gelatinized. When steamed, this will of course become soup again, but this time concealed within the dumpling which has been securely wrapped and sealed at the top.