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 #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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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'
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.
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."
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.
More to come from the Figueroa area of Highland Park. Thanks for reading.