Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Taco Tour with Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

About 8 months ago, Roy Choi was situated in a restaurant he had helped built in Santa Monica. He was at a standstill and pondering his next move in life, like a chess player. He had always had ambitions in opening a restaurant that would serve Korean-fusion food, but that would take years to achieve. It wasn't until one day when his old friend Mark Maguera called him with a proposition he couldn't refuse. One that would make him the executive chef, serving Korean-style tacos – a Korean homage to one of Los Angeles' favorite foods. At first it seemed like a daydream, but after a few days, Choi knew that Maguera was serious about this. On the day of his departure, Roy found himself leaving the doors of a restaurant and right into another one that had four wheels. They were offered a chance to test-drive their concept in a vending truck for two free months. With recipes tested, cooks hired and the financiers behind them with full support, Choi literally got behind the wheel of their taco truck, named Kogi BBQ, and hit the streets of Taco Town, Los Angeles. Shortly after the first day, they knew this would be a tough endeavor. For weeks they didn't sell one taco. They were heckled by locals and even threatened by gangs to leave the turf. But with patience, determination and a little bird that loved to tweet her song, a new type of business emerged, in the form of a Korean-run taco truck. And pretty soon, they found themselves overwhelmed by crowds of 800 in Rosemead and Torrance.

I received an email from Alice, Kogi's PR-superstar, saying that both she and Chef Roy really enjoyed the exhaustive taco stand and table posting from February. I thought it'd be fun to invite them on a tour and just talk food. After a few emails, we decided to meet up on the day Chef Roy would be speaking at UCLA with Jonathan Gold, Octavio Becerra of Palate and my favorite, Anthony Bourdain. I thought Roy and Alice could use a break from the aroma of soy sauce, sesame oil and chili paste and oh yeah, Jeni and I would get to try their tacos too. We also decided to invite rising-comedian Aziz Ansari of MTV's Human Giant and NBC's Parks & Recreation along on the journey. He apparently, is a big fan of Kogi BBQ (2nd photo), amongst many other celebrities. Here's my favorite Aziz Ansari skit.

We headed out to the Eagle Rock area off Eagle Rock Blvd. and York Blvd, where Kogi BBQ was stationed that night. I had driven a good 50+ times into this area because of my taco foraging and was quite familiar with my surroundings. I saw the usual Leo's and Rambo's taco trucks, with their spray-painted murals, and continued going north, not really knowing where Kogi BBQ lay their nest. I asked my friend Tyson, "Where is that truck?" He replied, "Oh, you'll know when you're at Kogi BBQ." And all of a sudden, without second guessing, we had arrived – a jarring 200+ people waiting in line on a Thursday night around a corner in Eagle Rock . We parked and started walking.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

We had parked far enough, not being able to see the truck. All we could hear was the light chattering of people in line. We then cut behind a Starbucks towards the end of the taco line and within seconds, we smelled what could only be Korean BBQ. The sweet, smoky, charred aroma of meat being spanked by a hot metal grill. It was beauty. My brain was confused... was this a Mexican taco or was this a Korean BBQ restaurant – what was this mysterious harmony that has got people talking. I had trained my brain into searching for any vending truck or stand with clamp lamps, but the Kogi BBQ truck just didn't register. "Both," I said to myself.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

We got to the end of the line and I simply could not believe the amount of people waiting around. The majority of the crowd was Asian, 22-26 years old, with the occasional sprinkle of Caucasian and Latino people – there was some diversity. Everyone was huddled around their own cohort, chatting away – doing anything to make time pass before it was time to eat. I could hear a girl saying that she couldn't wait to get a burrito. I called Aziz and told him, "this is ridiculous. I'm not waiting in this line." We're supposed to leave in 15 mins. But hey, six-pack and plastic cups to the rescue. Aziz called back and told us to meet him in front of the truck, and sure enough we found him there with his group.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Now we were in front of the truck and all I could smell was that deliciousness that is Kogi BBQ. I already knew it was going to taste really nice. You walk into Manna Korean BBQ, and you know it's not going to be good. You walk into Park's BBQ and you know you've come to the right place. I could see Roy hustling and bustling inside. There must've been like 5-6 people in the heart of the truck. One wrong move or sudden jerk, could mean someone really injuring themselves. I saw Aziz talking to Roy and I went to introduce myself. Firm handshake, a smile and a question, "Do you want some tacos?" Yes, please.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Within 3 minutes, he yelled at my name for the pickup. With both hands out, he passed on the little treasures – two, tiny tacos filled with steaming meat and shiny garnishing. I took a bite out of the kalbi (short rib) taco first and it was definitely good. The sweetness of the meat, light touch of sesame oil and the sour bite of the vinaigrette on a toasted corn tortilla somehow made sense. The pork version was also very good. I didn't think of this as a taco but more a delicious creation by Chef Roy, like Josef Ceteno's "Baco". The term "taco" is merely used to lure you to the truck, and from there, you're at a point of no return.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

About 15 minutes later, with hands reeking of dried corn and Korean BBQ, we wrangled everyone and headed out. Previously, we had done a larger party taco hunt with 11-12 cars on my birthday and it worked out as smoothly as a funeral procession minus the motorcade police. This time, it was 3 cars and much easier to manage. Me in the front, with Roy and Aziz in the caboose.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

La Estrella Taco Truck (York Blvd. & Avenue 54)
This is usually my first stop when entering Highland Park's Taco Town. Here, they are known for their juicy carnitas and al pastor. Of all the stands and trucks I've been to, I have to say they make a killer salsa roja (red sauce) that is smoky, rich, tomatoey and the perfect touch to tender pieces of meat. The tacos here are expensive, meaning $.25 more than the usual $1 you'll pay out here, but you get a LARGE, WELL-ENDOWED taco. Very food porny. There is a truck west of here called El Pique and no matter how many times I try to give them business, I find myself doing a U-turn back to La Estrella – which is one of ER/HP's favorite trucks. I recommend carnitas, al pastor, cabeza and lengua. They have two other trucks and one actual restaurant – choose your poison.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

York Blvd. & Nolden St.
Exactly 4 blocks east of La Estrella is a bunch of nice guys from East LA that park at Serrano's Auto Repair. I know this place is authentic because I get stared at here and they freak out when I order in Spanish.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

I lost my buche virginity here and never order anything else but the buche. So that's what I suggested to our group of 14, more than half were buche virgins. I almost shed a tear when everyone told me that this was very delicious. Besides the buche, I recommend the cabeza, lengua and on this night, the al pastor hit a home run. Tip on al pastor: this is a meat that should never be served dry – strictly illegal. It should look pasty and juicy. If it even looks charred, don't even bother. You can try asking for a fresh cut off the spit but the taquero could take offense. Try your tacos with the curtido (pickled vegetables) with habanero.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

My friend Tyson and Aziz's cousin going in for a kill.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Aziz Ansari plugging his new NBC show, Parks and Recreation that airs on
Thursday, April 9th. Written by two writers from The Office. How was that Aziz?

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Taco hopping is not just a meal, it's a sport. And in almost all sports, you need a half-time to relax, re-strategize and swap out a new, dry jock strap. That's why I always head to my favorite watering hole in Los Angeles for some fine, craft beer – The Verdugo. If you don't know what to order, you're going to get a Stella Artois. Also, if you've heard of the new Boho Restaurant, the guys from The Verdugo provide the delicious beer there. Two beers later, everyone was still hungry and we headed out.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

The Verdugo bar guys also have a friend of theirs setting up shop right outside. To me, this is a blast to the past – to a time I used to be out till 3-4 am in a sloppy state. I am really not sure how I was able to put two of these into my stomach. It looks like three hot dogs in a gutter/sewer. Aye, say no to Danger Dogs.

We then drove to the taco stand by the Verdugo bar on Verdugo & Avenue 31. These guys moved up to my top three instantly with their friendly service and $.80 tacos. I knew they weren't open on Thursdays but had to try anyway. And sure enough, they were there, but already taking down their stand. Frown.

It was now almost 12 am and there one last taco stand effort, my favorite, Fletcher and Larga in Glassell Park. Nope, not there either. Taco Zone it is. But even Taco Zone tricked us! Instead of parking in front of Vons, they parked even further south by the Rite Aid. Messing with my stomach!

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Taco Zone (Alvarado & Vons)
You can always count on this truck to be here, unless it's catering a big event, like at the LACMA or MOCA. This is almost like the white guy's version of Kogi BBQ, drawing crowds as big as 30 at a time. We had first heard of this place from Jeni's old neighbor and Tokyo Astro Girl's husband, who swore by Taco Zone. But when I got here, I found it to be merely average – a place for SL/EP hipsters to congregate and sober up. The thing about Taco Zone is that you have to go there early to get the tastier meats. When I've eaten here before 12 am, I get decent stuff and I'm content - especially the suadero (brisket). But after 12 am, I get the charred, nasty bits that, once upon a time, came from an animal. It seems the owner does not care to refresh her supply. She knows very well that the people are inebriated haha.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

So what do I do at Taco Zone after 12 am? The answer is simple, ask for a mulita. For $.25 more ($1.50 total), you can Optimus Prime your taco with charred meat into one with cheese and extra tortilla. Almost like a mini, round quesadilla. And it is good. You know sometimes you just want a few bites of a quesadilla but don't want a tumor, this is the answer.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Hand modeling by Tyson. Anything you'd like modeled, he'll do for some freelance pay.
Tough times right now. I paid him with this delicious mulita.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Everyone loved these.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

The BLTC Burrito
I love BLT's, but I love BLTC's more. Akin to Willy Wonka's candy that changes it tastes every few bites, this is the Mexican version. Four types of meat all in one burrito – buche, lengua, tripas and cabeza. But it is CRITICAL that you do not end on tripas, because well, you'll be left with an after dinner mint taste that will taste somewhat like @$$. I love tripas but you just can't end on that. Try not to order this when it's busy, or you'll get looks from the cooks. Like I did. So what, this was delicious.

After three trucks and one stand, it was time for Aziz Ansari and his entourage to leave. By the way, Aziz Ansari's show Parks and Recreation will be airing on NBC on Thursday, April 9th. I told him that we'd be glad if he joined any of our future food crawls. He's truly a good guy and no he didn't ask me to announce that his show Parks and Recreation will be airing on NBC on Thursday, April 9th.

Eatdrinknbmerry & Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Taco Tour

Tacos Arizas (Sunset Blvd. & Logan)
It was now 1 am. And it was down to me, Jeni, Tyson, Chef and Alice. I could go home or I could go eat. This was a bit exhausting. But I had to ask, "One more stop?" Without hesitation, everyone answered "yes." So we ended up at Tacos Arizas of Echo Park. Only three years ago, Jeni and I sat apart from each other on crates with Jarritos and paper plates getting to know each other. Now we're sitting together.

But like the first few taco stands, we arrived at a truck that was on its way out. The workers were cleaning up and I asked if they would sell any more tacos. They looked at each other and hesitated. Right then, another 5 patrons came and the decision was unanimous. They dropped their cleaning supplies and started lighting up the griddle. Awesome. That's another $50 in their pocket, so why not. I have to say that I find myself coming back to this truck more often than not. Their tacos, burritos and quesadillas are simply done right. I like their chicken quesadillas.

In about 3.5 hours, I learned a lot about this 39-year old Korean man named Roy Choi. With something as successful as Kogi BBQ, major press on Newsweek, New York Times, LA Weekly and LA Times, celebrity sightings, its hard for a chef not to let this get to his head. Especially with a CIA culinary education, experience under Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin restaurant and 4-5-star chef ranking. Not once did I get that impression from him. Besides Octavio Becerra and Josef Centeno, I have never met more genuine, down-to-earth chefs with unmatched passion for food. Roy has seen rough times in his life but he told me that things seems to go well sooner than later with some hope and hard work. When he asked what he wanted to do next, he hinted on the idea of possibly running a taco stand.

As we were almost done with our food, one of the last few patrons started talking to us. He was drunk and enjoying his food, and must have heard us talking about all the tacos we tried tonight.

Guy: "Hey, have you guys heard of that Kogi Korean BBQ truck?"
Us: "Yeah. Have you tried it?"
Guy: "I haven't, but I heard it's good. Real good."

I expected Alice or Chef to reveal themselves, but being humble people, they didn't. Jeni, Tyson, Chef, Alice and I just looked at each other and smiled. Thanks for reading.

Here's Jeni's posting on this gluttonous evening.

Read more!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Introducing Mona Greasa... Arby's New Non-Greasy Work of Art

A great advertising spot done by Arby's, advertising their new 'Roast Burgers'.  I still wouldn't try it.  Remember that great line from an episode of The Simpsons? 

"I'm so hungry I could eat at Arby's." - Sherry or Terry

Check out www.burgergreaseart.com Read more!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Honey Pig, Koreatown - Porny the Pig

Honey Pig, Koreatown Los Angeles - Prime Kalbi

Sometimes, words are simply unnecessary. And sometimes, I wish these images were scratch n' sniff. Google and Apple, I'm waiting. There are three things that define Honey Pig: fire, shield-size grill and pig. Lots of pig. Go. Enjoy.

Honey Pig, Koreatown Los Angeles - Kimchi

Honey Pig, Koreatown Los Angeles

Honey Pig, Koreatown Los Angeles - Octopus Tentacles

Honey Pig, Koreatown Los Angeles - Prime Kalbi

Honey Pig, Koreatown Los Angeles - Prime Kalbi

Honey Pig
3400 W. 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 380-0256

Read more!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Boiling Crab, Alhambra - Redux

Boiling Crab Alhambra Redux

On Sunday night, my new family and I sat back in our seats in relief and satisfaction. We were at Boiling Crab, and examined the aftermath of our seafood genocide. Our hands sticky with sauce and spices; the outer edges of our lips slightly burnt from the slight heat. On a large piece of white butcher paper lay the remains of the insects of the sea. Shrimp completely stripped of its natural clothing, crab shell pieces smashed like a car in an accident and tiny crawfish severed at the midpoint. It was in fact, a battle scene the insects of the sea had no chance of winning. But they were doomed to begin with the second they entered The Boiling Crab in Alhambra. These guys are either boiled, steamed or deep fried. From there, they are lathered in your choice of sauce – the whole garlicky, lemony, spiceful, buttery sha-bang in our case. And finally, tossed into a plastic bag and shaken up till they are painted a new color. Oysters, catfish, gumbo – are also on the menu but not what they are known for.

When we first opened the bag, you couldn't see much but orange objects, yellow corn and brown sausage slices. But the smell, man... I suddenly remembered what a lovely ingredient garlic is. Name one thing with butter, garlic, wine and spices that tastes bad – sans the whole Olive Garden menu. I reached in first to grab my first shrimp. I removed the head and went straight for the brain, the sweetest part of the bugger in my opinion. Then I cleaned off all the sauce on its arthropodic body. And after removing the shell, I took that shrimp back to Garlicville for a night on the town. Damn. That. Was. Tasty. We looked at each other and nodded – oil all over our hands and mouth.

When the waitress cleaned up our table and handed us the bill, I had to ask:

Me: "Do you sell this sauce?"
BC: "No."
Me: "You should bottle it up and sell it."
BC: "Yeah. Just come back again!"
Me: "I know. But for now, may I have two plastic bags please?"

Like my mom from Hong Kong would do or Asian for that matter haha, I dumped all that sauce back into plastic bags. I do not usually do this, but I have finally found an exception. Even at one point, extending my arms up so that I can push out all the sauce from the large bags. Jeni's mom laughed. But I didn't, I had serious game face on. I don't joke around when it comes to sauce like this. Afterwards, we quickly went to 99 Ranch to buy a pound of shrimp. I went home and threw them right into the Boiling Crab marinade. I swore I hear the shrimp scream, "Yayyyyyyyyyyyy" – they continued to scream and cheer until I tied up the bag.

The next day, all I could think about was my shrimp. I brushed my teeth twice, but I still smelled 'Le Cologne de Garlique'. I would look at the time and countdown. Ok, 4 more hours till it's on. Almost time for Boiling Crab Redux.

Boiling Crab Alhambra Redux

I even bought some fresh corn and found some Trader Joe's chicken sausages – threw them into the sauce party. There was major happiness going on in there.

Boiling Crab Alhambra Redux

I threw maybe 8-10 scoops of garlic sauce onto the sausages and corn but reserved the rest for the main event. Versus boiling the shrimp, I decided to take it to another level by doing it Hawaiian style. I cooked the shrimp no longer than 4-5 minutes total since they were so large. My only complaint with BC is that the shrimp were overcooked. But that's ok, the sauce more than made up for it. These shrimp tasted awesome and I think the shrimp trucks of Hawaii or Uncle Moki's might have something to aspire to now. Boiling crab, thank you. And thanks for reading.

The Boiling Crab
742 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 576-9368

A review of the Garden Grove, OC location by super-foodie & poet, Elmomonster.

Read more!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Engrish #1: Chinatown Duck & Fish

I love the site Engrish.com and I thank them for the many laughs it has provided. Japan is full of quirkiness and many times, the signage is intentionally created for god knows what reason. But what about my Chinese people, I don't think their intentions are to make you laugh. They just want you to get in to their restaurant, sit down, shut the hell up and eat. And they don't care if any of that English really makes sense. To the printing presses, who is proofreading??? What is the rush to print these menus/signage out, that you can't even look over it once??? Send it to me, I'd do it for FREE so that we don't add more fuel to the already mile-high fire.

Here are the latest ones I've found in Chinatown.

Engrish Chinatown Lobster

Is it really that SPECLAI? How is that you spell it correctly first, then completely re-order the last 3 letters of the word? This ad does not boost the self esteem of this already-doomed $10 lobster.

Engrish Chinatown Duck

I would be sore too if I saw how my life was fated at this restaurant. Notice how the manager had blocked out the prices, because they are cash typos. But he doesn't bother correcting any Engrish. Whoever designed this poster should also get a spanking – it looks like the fish and duck corpses are on vacation in Tahiti. Why does the fish look like one of those painted Asian fans? It also looks like it's wearing some sort of headband from an injury. Probably from banging into the glass of a 10 gallon tank that contains over 100 fish. I also like how the duck looks like it's taking off like Mary Poppins, holding a plate of his chopped up comrade. Haha, the absence of webbed feet are funny too.

And here's an oldie but a goodie. Leave it up to the Koreans for an offer you can't refuse on Thanksgiving... $6.99 for ROBSTER. I'd take lobster with kimchi and gravy on it anyday. Mmm!

I have a feeling this will become a regular section on my blog. So, please feel free to send any you find and I'll post them up. Not limited to Asians, although we rule the world in Engrish. Thanks for reading. Read more!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mariscos Chente, Los Angeles - A Shrimp Morgue in Mar Vista

Mariscos Chente Camarones Aguachiles

It was a Saturday afternoon and I sat patiently hunched forward with hands crossed on a table with a lazy susan. Jeni was by my side and so was Eddie, Rickmond and Javier. Eddie, also known as the ultimate predator and every animal's/insect's worst nightmare had invited us to a day of adventurous eating. Just before, we had stomached a Filipino duck egg in its nascency – eyes sheathed with very thin veiny skin, claws just firm enough to give you a nice prick in the throat and enough feathers to remind you that you were in fact, consuming a dormant mammal. We had also just finished live spot prawns that jumped out of the pot brought out by the server. About 10 minutes before, they had added a Chinese rice wine and covered the shrimp with a lid, intoxicating them to a lethal state. We picked up the shrimp with our hands the second we their antennaes became limp. We took off their heads, exposing their brain and pulled off its shell. The shrimp was so sweet and fresh, and a few times, I thought I felt the pulse of the once alive shrimp on my tongue. It was exciting and unexpecting.

And now, we were up for the final dish, live lobster... sashimi. All of us looked at each other with confusion and excitement. Eddie saw the server coming through the double doors with a large platter, rubbing his hands together in sheer joy. When the server laid down the platter, we saw not one, but two lobsters. They faced each other on a bed of ice, with antennaes in full motion and making contact with each other. In between the two lobsters, was a small pile of light gray flesh resembling that of red snapper sushi. But then, there was something that caught out attention. The lobsters were moving, but it was only their head that remained. The thorax, abdomen and tail were nowhere to be seen. For a moment, there was an eerie silence. The server even looked at us to get our reaction, almost asking us through ESP, "are you really sure you want this?" We hesitated for a few seconds, and one after the other, we straightened our chopsticks and grabbed a piece of the flesh. I saw the lobster staring at me as I reached my chopsticks into the flesh pile in front of them, even brushing their antennaes. I dipped the lobster sashimi in the provided soy sauce and wasabi, which is not a typical condiment in a Chinese restaurant. I then put the piece of lobster in my mouth and looked at the lobster still alive and kicking. For a second I felt it was a bit wrong, but that quickly changed once my palate approved of the sashimi. My god, it was delicious. Sweet, beautiful texture and reminiscent of sweet shrimp (ama ebi). Once we had finished the sashimi, we cleaned out the heads of the lobsters and by this point, they had fortunately died. I wondered if they could see me eat them alive and I certainly hope they didn't. I felt as though I had walked away with murder and I'll never forget this delightful meal. Note: the lobster is very well dead upon being cut up and Eddie quotes that the remaining nerve or muscle reflexes will still be in effect for a little while.

Almost a year later, I was reminded of that occasion with the live lobsters the second I walked into Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista with my coworkers. With its white walls, green tables, blue-tiled floor, stainless steel metal and open dining area, I was mildly reminded of a morgue – a shrimp morgue to be exact. But I knew this place, much like any other humble Latino-run restaurant, was not about decor or adornments. They had something very delicious in store for us.

Mariscos Chente is run by Sergio Eduardo Penuelas and his wife, Maria. ("Chente" is short for Vicente (Vincent) in Spanish, which is Maria's fathers name – the original chef of MC's dishes.) They come from the Western Mexican states of Sinaloa, and Nayarit respectively – both of which offer an extensive list of seafood dishes. According to Street Gourmet LA's great discussion and review on Mariscos Chente, "it's Nayarit cuisine with a Sinaloan chef." I had eaten ceviche a dozen times, but had never tried Nayarit or Sinaloan-style food. Let's go.

Mariscos Chente Dos Equis Beer

Cubeta de Cerveza (Bucket of Beer)
Eating a Mexican seafood meal without some sort of alcoholic drink is simply immoral. Even more immoral than eating the flesh of a live lobster. The food gods will make sure you spend more time in the purgatory rather than ascending to heaven. Chef Sergio knows that, and that's why he endows you with your very own cubeta de cerveza... 6 beers for $15. Salud!

Mariscos Chente Marlin Tacos

Grilled Marlin Tacos
I watch a lot of Discovery Channel and National Geographic, especially the ocean related stuff. If there's one fish I do want to catch and cook up before I die, it's a marlin. Pretty easy stuff considering it'll only take 4 hours and rip off all the skin from your palms. This is one TOUGH fish and tough fish means tough meat. Right? Wrong. Leave it to Chef Sergio to give you some of the tastiest, smokiest marlin tacos you'll ever have. The meat has a consistency of pork and its super moist. A simple dip into the hot, cucumber-infused green hot sauce and you can relax knowing that Chef Sergio just saved you 4 punishing hours of skin-tearing pain on your palms. Guys will be grateful.

Mariscos Chente Shrimp Ceviche

Ceviche de Camaron
Your standard dish at any Mexican mariscos restaurant. But you'll notice a large portion of cucumbers are mixed in – that's because Nayarit and Sinaloa use it heavily in their cuisine. This ceviche was done very well. Just the right amount of lime and not too sour. The shrimp was well balanced with the cold tomato and cucumber cubes – altogether it was very refreshing. I would get this again and maybe even request an octopus (pulpo) version.

Mariscos Chente Coctel de Camarones y Pulpo

Coctel de Camaron y Pulpo (Shrimp & Octopus Cocktail)
Another standard dish that comes in a glass, rather than a plate. It's almost the same as ceviche only there is ketchup added. In addition to the freshness of the shrimp, octopus and vegetables, there was a nice smokiness in the juice and I can't quite figure out its origin. FYI, this is also the Mexican version of the "hair of the dog" and I believed it as we passed this along to everyone at the table. You will be completely sober after eating/drinking this. I have to say, I am now a huge fan of lime juice that is mixed with seafood, ketchup and veggies. Mmm, Sea Juice anyone?

Mariscos Chente Pulpo Camaron Coctel

Mariscos Chente Camarones Aguachiles

Camarones Aguachiles
And here is the reason why I deem Mariscos Chente as a shrimp morgue and why I am reminded of the "Day of the Living Lobsters". The server brought this out to us and we were immediately attracted to the dish. The shrimps were all facing outwards, staring at each one of us. Their bodies had been butterflied beautifully, and the flesh resembled a cape behind their heads. And they weren't flying anywhere else but into our stomachs. The plating of the butterflied-Shrimp with heads still attached and the combination of gray, green and purple colors immediately hit our brain as true food porn. It was naked. It was sexy. And it was true Mexican seafood. Aguachiles refers to the stellar sauce that Chef Sergio makes – a little lime, chiles and cucumbers are blended together in this harmonious sauce that accents the sweetness of the shrimp. Not quite as sweet as Spot Prawns but still delicious. I love the texture of raw shrimp.

Mariscos Chente Camarones a la Diabla

Camarones a La Diabla
The server set this down and immediately reminded of a massacre. The shrimp, some beheaded, lay on the plate amongst fallen comrades in their own blood pool. It was beautiful. Considered to be the spiciest of Chef Sergio's dishes, this is simply fantastic. Chef Sergio serves up the perfectly sautéed shrimp in a sauce made of two types of chili (Nuevo Mexico and Chili de Arbol), cooked onions and butter. I think I tasted a hint of beer but that could be from my cubeta de cerveza. I have never found a Mexican seafood sauce as spicy, buttery and smoky as this and we made sure to lick that plate clean. We added the rest of the sauce into the shrimp cocktail and jokingly told Sergio to check out our invention: Ceviche a la Diabla. He laughed and then walked away muttering... "pinche chino." Just kidding.

Mariscos Chente Camarones a la Diabla

Another Gratuitous View of Camarones a La Diabla
If Chef Sergio bottled this sauce up, he would make a fortune and shrimp would hate him forever.

Mariscos Chente Camarones a la Pimenta

Camarones a La Pimienta
I think these are in my top 3 of Sergio's shrimp dishes. I am a black pepper freak.

Mariscos Chente Camarones al Mojo

Camarones Checo
All you're going to taste in this is garlic, tons of spice and butter. You will love.

Mariscos Chente Camaron Borracho

Camarones Borachos
These shrimp are deep-fried, and then sautéed with Worcestershire sauce (Salsa de Ingleterra) and tequila. Wasn't my favorite because the shrimp was way overcooked. It was nothing like Japanese deep fried shrimpheads.

Mariscos Chente Carnage

Mariscos Chente Pescado Zarandeado

Pescado Zarandeado
And this is probably Sergio's most proud dish – the pescado zarandeado. The verb zarandear means to shake or stir, but it has nothing to do with this dish that requires grilling with a special robato tool. He uses a fish called Snook and after filleting it in half butterfly style, he adds a sauce made of soy sauce, limes and mayonnaise. The fish is then folded back into its original form and sent to grill hell. And this beauty is served upon a turquoise tray – I love it.

Mariscos Chente Pescado Zarandeado

Mariscos Chente Pescado Zarandeado

Mariscos Chente Chef Sergio Eduardo Penuelas

Chef Sergio Eduardo Penuelas
Here is the shrimp mortician himself. Everyday, he probably sacrifices over 3,000 shrimp. He is the nicest guy and I have to say, probably the best Mexican seafood chef I had ever met. My biggest problem with ceviche in general has been the overuse of lime more as a way to mask older seafood, rather than 'cook' the seafood. But Chef Sergio has helped me realize my love for Mexican seafood once again. His sensibility of adding just the right amount of everything is exhibited in every dish we tried.

Compared to your "standard" Mexican restaurant, there is a lot to be learned about Nayarit and Sinaloan cuisine as there are huge differences. We didn't get to try the Nayarit specialty, pescado zarandeado, which is a whole-grilled Snook fish marinated in soy sauce, lime, chipotle and mayo. It's supposed to be the most popular, if not best dish at Mariscos Chente. Nor did we get to try the many variations of sautéed shrimp in various sauces such as pepper and oil, butter, garlic and tequila. The good thing about Mariscos Chente is that the menu is small enough for you to complete in about 4-5 visits and it's comforting knowing that anything you do try will be made by a very talented, warm chef that will have you coming back more than once. Thanks for reading.

Mariscos Chente, Los Angeles

Mariscos Chente Carnage

Mariscos Chente
4532 S. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90066
(310) 390-9241

Mariscos Chente reviews on Los Angeles Times, Street Gourmet LA and Exile Kiss.
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