Category Archives: Mexican Food

Dirty dogs for dinner?

Although, we Filipinos are supposedly known for eating canines back home. I love my babies too much to even fathom the idea. So for me, not tonight, not tomorrow, or not in this lifetime. I’m talking about the famous Mexican-style street cart staple, of course. Bacon-wrapped hotdogs for dinner.

I have no idea if these things should come with a disclaimer or a warning on the side. Tiny cart with no sink anywhere to wash his hands, nothing to cover the hotdogs and toppings from the fuel emission, and a vendor that had no intentions of upgrading his popular means of living. But if the swarm of people do not care, then sure as hell I don’t either. I certainly believe that I grew up eating street food that not only compares well to this cart, but so bizarre that I have grown a stomach that can rival Mr. Andrew Zimmern anytime.  But first, let’s talk dirty dogs here.

This dirty dog is as good as I remember. We used to sell them for fundraisers but there’s something that makes this one so much better. Maybe the thought of eating from the source, I can pretend all day long that I make good ones, but nothing beats the goodness of a really “dirty” dog. A generic hotdog wrapped in a thin slice of bacon cooked, not on any grill or griddle or flat-top, but just a regular, make-shift sheet pan. Hotdogs and jalapenos on one side, onions and peppers on the other. Give the man your $2.50 and he’ll place it in the middle of the tray to heat up, toss around the onions and peppers, place the bun alongside, and you’re almost set. He takes the bun, the hotdog, drizzles ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, and then places the onions and peppers on top. Done. Did not even take him more than 2min to do it.

It was simple and absolutely, satisfyingly delicious. The hotdogs were juicy inside, the bacon added saltiness (and everything’s good with bacon anyway), the ketchup was sweet, the mustard gave it that extra kick, the mayonnaise was generous and creamy, the onions and peppers were so overly cooked down to a sweet, almost caramelized finish. Nothing wrong with this picture. Only err to this event was getting just one. Never overestimate when it comes to dirty dogs, who says one is more than enough. NEVER again.

So do I really care about that little piece of paper that displays the letters of the alphabet, preferably the A? Do I really care that this cart violates every good sense of  clean cooking? The empty foil in my trash says no, I don’t. Sometimes you have to live a little to enjoy the better things in life. In this case, a dirty dog for dinner.

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Filed under American Food, Hotdog, Mexican Food, Street-food

Carmen’s (A deconstruction of a Torta Cubana), Los Angeles

Not even back to Ktown and I already dreamt of which places I must go to before my deadline by end of May. Having stepped inside the hold, memories flood back as I remember the many months I stayed here, including the many places I go to for my fix. I must admit, Ktown is one of my favorite places to dine in LA. It is crawling in diversity, unabashed, hole-in-the-wall locations that are just simply put: delicious. Carmen’s taco truck is one of those places.

Nestled between Kingsley and Ardmore on 8th, Carmen’s shares the usual Mexican taco truck servings, including some “acquired tastes” of meat (cabeza, lengua)

But I do not go to Carmen’s for the tacos, burritos, or quesadillas. I go for the tortas. Not all taco trucks serving tortas are made the same. Some are just rolls and whatever meats they serve their tacos or burritos with, plus some salsa on top. But here at Carmen’s you actually get more than just chopped meat and bread. Expect to stay for more than a few minutes, because made-to-order goodness comes to those who wait.

The quesillo torta. First of all, the bread. They actually use a telera or a soft round bread, commonly used in tortas in Mexico. They grill the bread to a nice crust, with treasures of burnt parts on the outside. Whilst slightly crunchy on the outside, the inside is a soft, somewhat thin layer of bread that holds well against the heavy pounding of other ingredients. Lettuce, slices of a half of an avocado, and real queso oaxaca. Oaxacan cheese is similar to string cheese but sold in balls and very much used in a lot of Mexican dishes; with a very light taste such as mozzarella and even melts into an almost same consistency. Only $4, you really can’t go wrong with this torta if you’re looking for something simple and (almost) light to the belly.

But if your need is for weight and gain, then go for gusto and get the Torta Cubana.

There are no words big enough to describe this colossal monstrosity. It is MEAT in a sandwich, VS just a sandwich with meat, plain and simple. Five layers of one meat after another plus the addition of lettuce, quesillo, and half of an avocado.

This is only half of the torta (the rest lay peacefully inside my expanding stomach). Let’s have a closer look (from  LEFT clockwise):

-Salchicha: sausages. A whole sausage cut right down the middle and placed down on the grill to get those burnt, grill marks. It excretes necessary oils onto the grill to mingle with the rest of the meats. I don’t mind that their sausage is generic, I’ve had worse.

-Jamon: HAMMMM. Yes, let’s add pork to the equation. Salty, cured pork.

-Cecina: a type of jerky but not as salty as the one’s we’re used to here, comparable to Thai beef jerky or the Filipino tapa. It’s hard on the teeth and stringy, nevertheless one slice is NOT enough Carmen’s. Please make note of.

-Tasajo: a type of preparation of beef. It’s usually marinated in achiote which gives it that reddish or orange color, then it’s seared on the grill to an almost chewy consistency. But do not be deceived, it’s not one tough cookie.

-Milanesa: a breaded steak filet (think wiener schnitzel). Now this slice was the least on my list. It was a too thin that it almost had a mushy consistency. It would probably be a good thing compared to its chewy compadres, but it was a little off-putting.

Like any doubtful Thomas, I tried them individually. They actually tasted common; sausage and ham from any local supermarket. Two slices of hard, salted, and jerked beef. A mushy piece of breaded something. Combined, these slices of protein sing a song so dear to my heart (and my arteries). One bite gets the most out of everything. And with the bread as an envelope, the cheese as a coagulant, and the avocado as a salt buffer, they all make a wonderful, simple, and inexpensive symphony of flavors.

How can you go wrong??? Tell me. I dare you to tell me. You may have had better meats, a better Torta Cubana somewhere else; but given the location, the circumstances, and the SOURCE? A taco truck in Ktown? This is indeed the pinnacle, the culmination, if I may exaggerate. This is the best taco truck torta in LA. And now that I have had a chance to almost finish it, I am off to my next mission in Ktown. Manna Bakery? Mr Pizza Factory? Korean BBQ? Beverly Soon Tofu House? Bonchon? I can go on and on and on, but I will not. I’ll let you dream with me for now.

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Filed under Beef, Bread, Cheese, Mexican Food, Pork, Sandwich, Sausages, Street-food

Viva Las Vegas Day Two- Harbor Dimsum

Viva Las Vegas indeed. My henna tattoo faded as fast as I swiped my card to pay for it. And the Fat Tuesday’s big jug is still full of some potent concoctions. No hangover and tennis was a blast. So time again to eat, we decided to explore Chinatown and go for some dimsum.

A Yelp freak that I am, I decided to seek help and searched for the best places to try these bite-size delights. Cathay House, DONE. But it took us forever to find this place, it was also nearly 3pm, and we were already hungry. We saw the first neon sign for dimsum and decided to stop and take a chance. Harbor Palace, let’s go.


There were only a few carts, a big difference from my usual go-to places back in Los Angeles, so we decided to hoard from the first one that visited us.

The egg rolls were cold by the time we sunk our teeth into it, maybe because we came a little too late for lunch. The spare ribs were chewy and oily good but slightly bland. The tofu with crab meat was blah, fine for the hungry. The har gow was over-filled with shrimp but the wrapper was too chewy. The shumai was cold and hard, not worth another round. The crab claw was the highlight of the meal. Unlike the sugar cane sticks I’ve had many tastes of, this one came with actual crab claw that you can suck a fat piece of meat out of, also with fillings of crab and shrimp with a crunchy coating on the outside. We had to get some more, in fact we had 7 plates of these. But they come with a price. $7 per plate that came with only 2pcs. Ouch!

The chicken feet was tender, sweet with a little spicy finish. It was cooked just right that it was easy to chew and suck the meat off each cartilage and bone.

We also ordered crab fried rice to add a much needed carb assistance to our plates. It was fine, I mean, I really can’t say anything good nor bad about the dish. It was edible yet a little bland, but came with generous servings of crab meat (and not imitation), egg, and vegetables.

So our adventures paid off well. The food was very satisfying and came with little surprises, including a pricey bill at the end of the meal. $30 per person is steep for dimsum, especially since I know I can get better quality and more delicious servings back home. I can’t wait to go back to Alhambra and Monterey Park. The crab claws threw us off a little. But what’s done is done, and we’re on vacation so c’est la vie. And when you’re in Vegas, you either go big or go home.

SIDENOTE: We had some delicious boba after, with some very interesting flavors as well. At the next door shopping center we found a little corner that sold both boba and an array of dried fruits and seafood showcased just like a candy bar. I had the fresh taro which I would consider the best I’ve tasted so far (and believe me I’ve had MANY). It was packed with flavor and the tapioca was chewy good. Bf had black sesame which was an interesting flavor, with crunchy bits of surprises with every sip. Another had the avocado which, contrary to popular misconception, does not taste like guacamole. It was creamy and sweet. Delicious.

ANOTHER SIDENOTE: Dinner will be missing as I was too busy downing drinks and making shots to take some pics and even finish my cabeza burrito. Safe to say, we had Mexican food. Sad to say, our friend’s burrito got stolen inside the restaurant. He left it on the table for a few seconds just to grab a to-go bag. And when he was still waiting at the counter, other customers let us know some guy in a red baseball cap came and took it. Oh well, maybe he needed the meal more than we did. Hope he enjoyed it. Red-hat guy, if you get to read this, I’d love to know how it was. I might include it in my blog.



 

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Filed under Burrito, Chicken, Chinese Food, Crab, Dimsum, Drinks, Dumplings, Mexican Food, Pork, Shrimp, Tofu

Kogi, Anywhere in Southern Cali

It started with a mere rumor that became an interest that became a goal then finally a chase. I didn’t really chase the Kogi truck everywhere but I did follow it on twitter, if only to put a notch on my belt and say…”yah foos, I just did kogi”. I was actually more annoyed at the fact that for a proud foodie, I was last in Southern Cali to have one. UGH. Fudge that.

4374 Eagle Rock blvd., YES, it was in my neighborhood. As we pass the “Roja” Kogi truck, all that was running around my tiny brain space was PARKING SPACE!!! But luckily we parked near Rambo’s (another famous late night taco truck), got out, and went in line. Surprisingly it was not as bad as I expected. It was slightly a family affair, even mothers taking pictures of their kids in line and in front of the Roja truck that just parked. We had a conversation going with a former Korean local that has a Mexican restaurant in Vegas (how ironic, huh). We were both in line to try the hype, to test the popularity, and to taste the fad. So here we go.


“Azul” (the truck-in-training) pulls up, parks, and the prep time begins. Roja did start taking orders first and the menu was simple enough. If you have twitter, they do post the specials of the day including dessert. Yum. I was surprised that parking to prep to order and service was not a wait at all, in fact we did wait longer in line than to order and get our food. Short rib tacos, spicy pork tacos, kimchi quesadillas, and tofu burrito. I will come back in line for the Kogi sliders (short rib burgers with a spicy sauce) and the Kogi dog (hotdog, mexi-korean style). Those made my mouth salivate and my tummy rumble a little bit. But I wanted to try their popular and more interesting dishes first.The food comes unpacked, if you want it to-go (as we did) pull a couple of pieces of foil, get a bag, take your utensils, which are all available at the front of the truck and bag the food yourself. I didn’t really mind. They were nice enough to give us extra radish, lime, and orange wedges. So off we went.


The short rib tacos were tender, a little spicy with a little bit of tang. It was a little too much on a tiny piece of tortilla but I didn’t mind. I picked up fallen pieces of short rib on my plate and enjoyed the moment. The spicy pork taco was not spicy at all, given the mexi-korean style I was expecting explosion and an immediate need for a diet coke extinguisher, but was disappointed. The pork was tender and mild at best. Both tacos came with the same veggie slaw and sauce, which were alright. Slightly different from the original Mexican flavor but did work well with the meat. The kimchi quesadilla was a nice surprise. Interesting but in a very, very good, delicious way. The tortilla was perfectly cooked, the kimchi was excellent, the sauce was a little spicy but not to complain about. But my best bite so far was the tofu burrito. Silky tofu, melted cheese, a sweet yet somewhat spicy sauce inside a huge tortilla, definitely worth more than the 5bucks I paid for it. I can’t wait to go to Costco one day to find these in the frozen section, ready for my microwave otherwise I would like to petition for Kogi to follow me everyday just in case the craving hits.

The tacos did under deliver, probably because the hype made me expect so much that the disappointment was very much expected. I would order the short rib again, but only because of the “I waited in line for Kogi so I better get a taste of it anyway”. But the highlights were the quesadilla and the burrito. So next time I wait, I know what my purpose would be. Not for the rumor, the interest, the chase, or the hype but more of the food. I mean, really now, isn’t that what we should be after in the first place?


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Filed under BBQ, Beef, Burrito, Fusion Food, Mexican Food, Pork, Taco, Tofu

Rambos Tacos, Eagle Rock

Yesterday was not a good day to cook. Plenty to do and so little time. We had cash and while we were driving back home we passed by 2 taco trucks and decided to go to Rambos.  Yes, we passed two (Leo’s and a new one) but Rambos will always be a personal favorite. It seems that Rambos brought many weird, painful, embarrassing, and drunken memories. But tonight was just dinner.


I love their cabeza (beef cheeks) so I went ahead with my cabeza torta (sandwich), carne asada and lengua (cow tongue) taco. We also ordered a BRC (bean, rice, and cheese burrito) with plenty of hot sauce plus a cheese quesadilla. The smell of grilled meat filled the car as we drove excitedly back to the house. I was a happy little kid. My beef cheek sandwich was a heart attack waiting to happen. It was soft, tender pieces of chopped meat that melts in your mouth with just the right amount of salsa verde dripping down the slightly grilled, oily bread. I was ready for some serious licking. My lengua taco was just okay with some salsa roja, this time it was slightly chewy, not like I am used to.  The carne asada was a little salty for me but the salsa did cut some of that taste. The quesadilla was really good. Laid on a bed of lettuce, it was warm and gooey inside, and the tortilla was perfectly cooked. Ugh, I would’ve been satisfied with that alone. Sadly,  I was too full to try the BRC but by the sound of it, it was promisingly good. I will have totake my friend’s word for it as another morsel would have pushed me to burst in the seams. Ayayayayay Rambo’s.

If you hate waiting an hour for a taco at Kogi’s or Leo’s is not as spicy as you hope it to be, try Rambos. They have not failed me so far. Quick, cheap, and good and you didn’t have to go to Sunset/Hollywood to get it (ooopppss).

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Filed under Acquired Taste, Burrito, Mexican Food, Sandwich, Taco