Monday, August 17, 2009

Finding Figueroa - A Small Taste of Highland Park Part 1

A while back, I spent some time checking out the Highland Park food scene. And by now, it's quite obvious that I see tacos the way Pac-Man sees those yellow pellets. I was attending Art Center for some night classes and by the time I've been thru an hour and a half of traffic – I'm hungry. I didn't want to give into fa(s)t food restaurants and eventually started driving on the surface streets looking for food, since it is quite difficult to locate a restaurant from the freeway. And that's where I ended up in Glassell Park and Highland Park – two parts of the Northeast side that I feel, along with East LA and the 710 freeway area, deserve a 'taco town' nickname. But I can't eat always tacos...

I eventually found myself driving further east on York Blvd. until I hit Figueroa. My eyes lit up with the numerous latino restaurants – mainly Mexican and Salvadorian cuisines. I was getting hit left and right by them. Here are my thoughts on a few of the places I decided to try out.

La Estrella Highland Park, Los Angeles

La Estrella #3, the Restaurant
Yes, this is the immobile brother of the three other taco trucks in Eagle Rock (Colorado Blvd.) and Highland Park (one on York Blvd. and one on Figueroa Street).  I saw this place and stopped right away. I am a sucker for burger restaurant takeovers – the ones that are run by some guy named Jim or Tommy, and always claim they have the best burgers and fries. That can't be possible if all of them buy the same food from Sysco, right?  Anyway, I had heard that it is not the taco and burritos they are known for, but their fish taco.

La Estrella Highland Park, Los Angeles

I was surprised when the counter guy rang me up for a $3.75 fish taco – I've never paid that much for a fish taco. Ricky's Fish Tacos over in Silver Lake clocks in at $2.50 each, but if you've tried it, you'll know it's worth it.  Anyway, I then knew why La Estrella charged more for their fish taco when it was ready for pickup. It was massive, or at least, appeared to be massive. It looked like a Rose Bowl Parade float with a piece of fried fish on top with fixings.

La Estrella Highland Park, Los Angeles

Like a tribal man foraging in the bushes, I parted the lettuce and found what I was looking for. They gave two decent-sized pieces of nicely battered fish and served it with hot sauce and cream. I know some people prefer their fish tacos served as is, like at Tacos Baja Ensenada in East LA, while some others prefer dressing their own at Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada in Los Feliz. But I was completely happy with this set up. Eating this was quite messy and difficult, it's no wonder they give you a regular sized plate.  The fish was fried nicely, moist and batter was not overdone. Cream and salsa were perfect. I just felt that they could have held back on cabbage, for the sake of making it look like a Rose Bowl float. I would come back here for more.

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit Mariscos Truck
I first experienced Nayarit-style seafood when I ate at Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista. Nayarit is a Mexican state located along the Pacific Ocean, near Guadalajara and Mazatlan. There, people eat, drink and breathe seafood. I was thrilled to find a truck serving Nayarit-style food. Screeeeeech. I'm not really in a position to distinguish the delicious types of ceviche available to us, but if I see lime-soaked seafood on a tostada with hot sauce and avocado, I'll drop my silk boxers. I parked my car, and got the usual stare down from the 100% latino clientele.  I took a look at the menu and ordered the ceviche and the mixed seafood soup (caldo de mar).

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit, Highland Park

Here we have a glimpse of a part of the menu. I love the signage and photos on roach coaches - so simple and so real. Straight to the point – no Photoshop or food styling needed because what you see is what you get. Notice, the shrimp cocktail image, the food stylist decided to place the lime in a standard Chinese sauce dish.

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit, Highland Park

Caldo de Mar (Seafood Soup)
I also love when I get food in a cup. It totally makes sense if you're driving and feel the need to eat. I think beef noodle soup would be fantastic in a coffee mug. You could totally bring this into a meeting and NOT look like a ( o o ) ! Anyway, I haven't eaten enough of this to form a comparison. But for a few bucks, I was more than content with my soup. A slightly sweet broth comprised of shrimp, imitation crab (jaiva/jaiba), octopus (pulpo) and fish. I added a few drops of lime juice and hot sauce – good stuff but I know there are way better joints out there.

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit

Tostada de Ceviche
Ceviche is one of those things for me that just work. Even if it was the worst ceviche in the world, some lime juice, smoky hot sauce and avocados can make a world of difference.

There are three seafood trucks on Figueroa. This one and the truck from Mexico City (D.F.) are pretty decent. Again, I don't know much about seafood trucks – I just eat the food from them.

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Papa Pollo Restaurants
This is a chicken-chain originating from Mexico. A house-turned-restaurant screaming in yellow paint with a lovable mascot cartoon, I had to try it out.  Who doesn't like rotisserie chicken?

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

When you walk into the 'patio' of the restaurant, you'll see the menu printed on large tarps. The orange reminded me of Little Caesar's growing up.  I was surprised to see potatoes and taquitos offered as a side order to the roasted chicken.  Looks like I'll be having a nap really soon.

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Roasted Chicken (Pollo Rostizado)
From the outside of the restaurant, you can definitely smell the action-packed chicken.  They have a lot going on in their spices which can be a good thing.  The chicken is very moist and the skin full of great flavor.  I've been here twice and the first time the chicken was fabulous, the second time, I found myself downing a ton of water because it was so salty.  I'm curious about my third visit.  

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Taquitos
If taquitos are your thing, then I guess this wouldn't be that bad of a side order.  But I had eaten so much chicken that when I looked at this, felt even more full.  But I tried it anyway... chicken was kinda dry inside and the tortilla was over-fried.  Definitely not the best flauta/taquito you'll have.

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

As if the taquitos weren't enough, you get roasted potatoes.  For your information, these potatoes are not fried, but rather placed directly underneath the chicken carousel.  So all the drippings fall gracefully into the cut-up starch grenades we call potatoes.  I could taste a lot of Lawry's seasoning salt and man, I was thirsty.  And very sleepy.  

I think if I eat here again, I'm ordering chicken.  Only.  Good night.

And of course, on my journeys, I snuck in a few taco stands.  I can't turn away a street vendor. Here's a brief description of the types of tacos offered by taqueros (taco vendors).

Asada (CA) - flap/flank/skirt meat. Usually grilled. Sometimes fried in oil.
Suadero (SU) - brisket. Fried in lard/roasted.
Lengua (LN) - cow tongue. Steamed/braised.
Cabeza (CZ) - head meat and cheek meat (cachete). Steamed.
Sesos (SS) - cow brain.  Steamed.
Nervio/Ojos (OJ) - cow eyes. Braised.

Carnitas (CR) - pork shoulder/picnic/butt. Fried in lard/roasted.
Al Pastor (AP) - pork shoulder/butt. Spiced and marinated over a day and roasted on a spit. Originated in Mexico City by Lebanese immigrants. An onion or pineapple is usually placed above the spit for extra flavoring. Try with pineapple!
Chorizo (CH) - pork sausage. A mushier, spicier and oilier version of its Spanish counterpart.  
Buche (BU) - pork belly/pig stomach lining/hog maw. Fried in lard. My favorite taco filling. When fried longer adds a nice texture.
Tripas (TR) - pig intestines/chitterlings. Washed, boiled and fried. People love these for the texture and 'filling'

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

CA, CZ, AP, CH, 
This guy has a great visible location, right in front of an auto repair shop.  Who knows, he probably works there during the day.  I've learned that a lot of employees of businesses will stay on the property after closing hours to sell food.  Pure diligence. I enjoyed the CZ.

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

CA, CZ, LN, AP, BU, CH, TR 
In addition to the taqueros that operate right on business property, you've got some that will sell outside their homes.  Like these two nice guys from Jalisco.  You would never find them unless you were paying attention to the Home Depot clamp lamps.  Out of the three taco stands I reviewed in this posting, they are my favorite because pretty much everything they offer tastes great.  I enjoyed the CZ, LN, AP and BU.  Ask for a crispier buche by saying "bien dorado, por favor."

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Right at the end of the York Taco Town strip is this nice couple, also from Jalisco.  I think I know which Mexican state I'll be visiting next as their is a pattern of good tacos from Guadalajra.  Anyway, they've got everything you need.  And if they like you, will give you a free deep-fried potato and offer you some boiled beans for your tacos.  I enjoyed the AP, CZ, LN and BU here.  

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

More to come from the Figueroa area of Highland Park.  Thanks for reading.

21 comments:

Milla said...

awesome post and photos. i still can't read your blog without instantly turning hungry, even if it's just after lunch.

if i may suggest: as far as fish tostadas go, there is nothing better than Rico @ El Mar Azul. it's the blue truck on Fig in front of sycamore park, but he's only there until about 6pm and never on tuesdays so it's hard to catch him. but when you do, try the $3 tostada mixiada and prepare to come in your pants.

also, best Estrella truck is on York and 54, particularly for al pastor tacos with extra red sauce. i never tried the fish taco. will do that at the storefront shop on Fig. thanks for the tip. and as always, thanks for featuring the hood and reporting from the front lines. hope to see you and Jeni at the Verdugo sometime soon.

weezermonkey said...

Your pics are looking bluer these days. Is Jeni influencing you? ;)

JF said...

and...taco orgasm. I also have to say, all your previous taco posts inspired me to

1. get a taco crawl setup with friends
2. have a taco truck cater my bday next month!

Thanks!

H. C. said...

Dinner's not for another 5 hours for me and now I'm ravenous from this post -- Booo and thanks!

Off to solve Calif's drought with my drool now.

Anonymous said...

Hot Damn! Thanks for this write up. I went down to Breed Street because of your post about it. Looks like I don't have to go that far.

e d b m said...

Milla, hey it's been a long time. we were actually thinking about you guys the other day when i brought up going to the Verdugo. Thank you for the recs – i've seen the Blue Sea truck but missed them when I did try to eat there. i agree with you on the Estrella truck on Y/54 – love their carnitas and al pastor tacos. The smoky sauce is outstanding. hope to see you guys soon.

WeezerMonkey, one of many things she does to influence me. = )

JF, thank you i'm flattered. which taco stands did you find the most tasty? which truck you using for your bday?

HC, haha. hope you aren't getting too sloppy looking at the food.

Anon, awesome. how did you like Breed Street? These are two entirely different things. Breed street for sure is a great time.

Katie said...

damn, this post makes me sorry for stuffing myself with chicken for dinner. should have gone with some tacos. mmm.

you make food look and sound delicious.

Dewey said...

I think it's time for the EDBM series of iphone apps
1.LA taco finder
2.LA noodle finder

I think that would be awesome...I have to get back to LA soon, it's been way too long. Awesome post.

Dewey

justJENN said...

"But I can't eat always tacos..."
Are you nuts? YES YOU CAN.
Love Highland Park.

Milla said...

yeah, man, let's hook it up after labor day. we'll be in portland during that long weekend (and week), with your earlier post on PDX as our trusty guide on where to get the good eats!

e d b m said...

Katie, it's never too late to have double dinner. thanks for reading.

Dewey, ha. the app should be solely based on tacos/noodles and oh yeah, places to get great beer and whiskey.

justJENN, i know... what was i thinking. i was trying to mix it up a little, yet taco stands still rock.

Milla, please do tell me about your trip to PDX. i hope you it enjoy it as much as Jeni & I did. we will be going back next year for sure.

highlandpark said...

You are doing the Lord's work.

(A note about Papa Pollo: The house-turned-restaurant is actually a historical landmark where Wyatt Earp lived when he moved to Los Angeles in the 1920's to do consulting work for the movie industry making westerns.)

Michael said...

Highland Park is that unchartered territory for me. Somehow I always seem to be driving around it, but not on purpose. I'll have to check these places out. Great writeup as usual. My only excursion into Highland Park is to go to Galco's Market. I love their selection of old time sodas made with cane sugar and in bottles. Next time I go to Galco's I'll have to try some tacos as well.

alex said...

nice post dude!

you GOTTA go to Chico's for breakfast. its across from Food 4 Less on Fig near RocknRoll 7-11 (crazy beer selection if you've never been).

Also; jam over to Eagle Rock and hit up Leo's taco truck on ER and El Paso. Been a loyalist for near a decade.

Above the City said...

AWESOME!

Anonymous said...

great photos. this seems to be a subject that can never be covered too much in the "blogoshere". i agree with everyone else, i'm friggin hungry now!

e d b m said...

HighlandPark, what? Wyatt Earp's spirit is now in the mix with Mexican-roasted Chicken? Spooky! That is a very cool fact. Thanks for stopping by, your blog is supercool.

Michael, funny thing is I do everything in Highland Park except for Galco haha. I've heard that they have a great selection of beer and sodas of course. Hope you get a chance to eat in HP soon.

Alex, Chico's it is. Ohhh, so that's the 7/11 with the great beer selection. I think we all can use a break from gross Magnums, Colts and OldE's. I've been to Leo's many times and definitely prefer it over Rambo's. Something about their carne asada taco that does it for me. I haven't had his ex-wife's tacos though, have you? (Sonia's Taco Truck)

Above the City, thanks for reading.

Anonymous, no such thing. it's unanimous in LA, we all love tacos.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi E D B M,

Nice report! :) When I saw that you listed (OJ) Ojos, I couldn't believe it! :) But did I miss which stand was serving the Ojos? I didn't see it.

Bummer on the Pollo Rostizado.

e d b m said...

ExileK, i was just listing those as a reference. I haven't seen 'eyes' on a taco stand menu yet, but of course at some smaller taquerias in LA and Mexico. Sesos (brains) will be more available than eyes... i've eaten sesos mainly in San Francisco.

Natakata said...

thank you for detailed post that brings back my memories of LA and mexican foods... =).. i'll make sure to visit these places on my next trip there...

Afner said...

Awesome Blog! Excellent pictures and look! Keep up the good work!

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