Thursday, February 26, 2009

Taco Stands Standing Tall: Los Angeles Taco Stands & Taco Tables

tacostands


***Update 10/6/10. This posting was written over 1.5 years ago and many of the taqueros no longer set up shop. The ones that do exist are Fletcher/Larga, Verdugo/Ave. 31, a few on York Blvd. and Pasadena Ave./Figueroa. Happy taco hunting.***

I remember working till 1 am one night. I was exhausted and driving back home on the 10 freeway. The last time I had eaten was 5 pm and I was starving. At this point, I was ready to go home and sleep, but my brain made me double-check the hunger department. Yes, you did eat earlier today. But did you have double dinner? Why no i didn't! Something about me when I work late, I feel like I should reward myself for burning the midnight oil. Ok then, let's find something else to eat for all the hard work. When you're looking for late night eats, Los Angeles provides the options. I exited the freeway off the Vermont exit and immediately became happy because I was in food-hawk mode. I put both hands on the steering wheel and ducked my head lower to check out my options on the left and rightside.

Bland-looking burger joint. Probably too greasy.
Jack in the Box. Greasy and probably a long ass line in the drive-thru.
Korean-style pho. No, especially when you have to ask for cilantro.
24-hour diner. I'm not paying $13 for ham & eggs.
Taco trucks. The obvious choice but I'm kinda tired of it.

I was already nearing home and quickly becoming concerned that I had not made a food decision yet. It usually does not take me this long to consider what I'll eat. I stopped at an intersection and watched as cars crossed. Suddenly, as the last car passed and the light turned green, I noticed four blurry white lights. Like a moth in flight, I became drawn to it and hit the gas pedal. As i drew closer to the source, I noticed that the four lights were actually Home Depot clamp lamps on a pole. There was a crowd of people huddling around the light source like a campfire. And then I could see that they were huddling around a man and a woman behind a table. Oh yes. It could only mean one thing: taco stand, or as I refer to them, taco tables because they use folding tables to set up shop. I pulled over to the side and parked. Business time.

As I walked towards the taco vendor, I suddenly time traveled to Oaxaca, when Jeni and I were on a taco hunt. A boombox on medium volume playing Spanish music. A child, bundled in a jacket, sitting on a little chair cupping warm Horchata with both little hands. Patrons talking quietly among their friends. And finally, the sound of metal spatulas clanking the griddle top as the vendors cook up their meaty offerings. I asked what the taqueros had to offer besides the beautiful orange spit of spiced pork. The man smiled and removed the foil from one of his trays, bearing fresh lengua and cabeza. The vapors rose from the pan, giving a nasal teasing. I ordered my tacos and Jarritos, paid the lady and moved on to the 'salad bar' – a smorgasbord of taco accoutrements such as salsa, salt & pepper, curtido (spicy, pickled veggies) and napkins. I walked back towards the curb behind some patrons and quietly enjoyed my little snack, muttering groans of satisfaction. This is all I needed at 1:30 in the morning, and for me, was the true taco experience. All of this set within a auto repair shop backdrop on a busy street in Los Angeles.

It's not that you couldn't get the same quality tacos from trucks. You definitely can. But for me, there are little things that do it for me. While trucks can operate in rain or shine, they pretty much sell tacos all day long for a living. For the people running the taco stands/tables, they are usually families making extra money every night after their primary jobs. And in some cases, the vendors I've spoken with are even employees that station themselves in front of their own businesses/workplace. It's a lot of work and I am more drawn to them because its a method of business practiced heavily in Mexico, that I want to support. It's real street food.

I hate to mention the 'B' word, but taco tables give you a Mexican Benihana experience. Disclaimer: I do not eat there nor will I ever again. You know Benihana. It's the type of restaurant that seats you around your own 'chef' and grill. The actual quality of the food is usually masked by whatever circus act the 'chef' has to offer. Will it be the blindfolded, juggling of shrimp? The knife stab between the v-shaped space of your spread fingers? Or my favorite, the 'onion volcano' which consists of butter being cooked inside a well created by stacked onions, causing rising vapor like a semi-dormant volcano. Whatever the case, it's pleasing to the senses. Taco trucks have been under fire over the last year or two by the City, and there has been an emergence of taco tables because of the relatively low overhead, compared to a truck that costs upward of $50,000. At a taco table, I'm more hungry than I would be at a taco truck. I can see, smell, hear and ultimately taste the food. And with a truck, I can get good tacos but not quite the same experience.

Here are a few places I've stumbled upon in Los Angeles, mainly in the Koreatown, Echo Park and Highland Park areas. I'd like to do the East LA and Huntington Park area next. You should be the judge though. Some are great, some aren't. Even my favorite places have had bad days and some don't even show up like they say they will. Sometimes when I go too late to a stand, the results aren't as desirable because the meat has been sitting out too long or the vendor isn't willing to make a new batch. And I sort of like the unpredictability of it. It goes back to the the caveman days where we had to forage for food that was available. I've listed the meats each vendor offers and you can see what the abbreviations mean in a few moments.

Few Things to Consider
:
(1) All the taco vendors listed here are $1. Break down your Grants and Franklins prior to.

(2) If it's raining or extremely cold, taqueros probably won't be there.

(3) Al Pastor with pineapple on top is tasty. Ask them for a slice or have them sauté with the meat.

(4) Buche and tripas can be gummy sometimes. Say the magic words "mas dorado(a), por favor" and you'll get them fried longer. Tasty.

(5) I recommend ordering two tacos at a time and eating them right away for maximum enjoyment. Tacos do harden and get cold after like 2 minutes. The vendors aren't going anywhere, so take your time.

(6) They say you can gauge a taco stand/truck by its carne asada or al pastor. But to tell you the truth, I usually stick with the buche, cabeza and lengua and really don't remember how the asada tasted. If it was good, I'd remember it. I RARELY ever come across bad buche, cabeza and lengua since they are cooked with simple techniques that don't require heavy marinating.

(7) Again, the later you go to a taco stand, the better chance of your meat being either (a) dried out or (b) burnt to an unidentifiable state. Take for example, the Taco Zone truck on Alvarado in front of Vons in Echo Park, which receives much praise from the Yelp army, has its on and off days. And I've noticed it's off-days are usually when I get the tacos from 12 am - 2 am.

Cow Chart

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.

Pig Chart

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!
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'.

YN

CA, CZ, LN, AP, CH, BU, TR.
I found this stand by accident when looking for The York. They are situated in a car body shop and always have people eating here - good sign #1. Good sign #2, everyone there stares at me like I'm from outer space which should tell you the food is authentic. Good sign #3 is explained in the following image.

YN Pot2

YN Pot1

This is exactly what I look for in a taco stand/table. A pot of various meats cooking in oil. Here you can see carne asada, tripas and buche all having a good time in the hot tub. I just shed a tear. It's not a wonder that you're asada might taste like buche. This is the first place I'll stop at during a Highland Park taco hop. I always enjoy their cabeza, lengua and of course, buche fried crispy. They also offer a habanero curtido – onions, oregano and habanero peppers!

YN CA

YN AP

YN TR

FL1

CA, CZ, LN, SU, AP, CH, BU, TR.
This is also my go-to place if I don't feel like venturing into Eagle Rock/Highland Park. A lot of people from Red Lion Tavern, Cha Cha Lounge and Home frequent this place off Fletcher Drive. And with good reasons behind it. I always get welcomed with friendly smiles and before I usually order anything one of the guys there assumes I want my buche fried longer. That is service. This place is one of two stands that offers suadero (brisket) and it's quite moist and tasty (pictured below). I recommend buche, cabeza, al pastor and suadero with an ice cold Jarritos.

FL SU

FL CZ

FL AP

AK

CA, CZ, LN, CR, CH, BU, TR.
This taquero offers a different style of curtido. It's more of a cabbage and cucumber salad that balances out a spicy taco. I enjoyed the carnitas, buche and cabeza here.

AK CA

AK CZ

AK CR

VL

CA, CZ, LN, AP, CR, BU, PL.
If you happen to be doing your laundry in the Virgil/Santa Monica Blvd. area, do it where this taco stand sets up. I arrived right on the dot at 6 pm while they were setting up and I knew things would be fresh. The girl working there strongly recommended their chicken and it was really good. I enjoyed the cabeza and chicken.

VL CA

VL CZ

VL AP

VV

These guys do the hot tub thing. First thing I saw when I got there was buche being made. Mmm. I enjoyed the buche and cabeza.

VV Buche

VV CA

VV CZ

VV BU

AG

CA, AP, TR.
Back to Highland Park, this guy is from Guerrero and is one of the the few stands that I have seen offering al pastor con piña, which is one of my favorites. I also refer to him as Disco Ball (pelota de disco) taco man since he had a disco ball tied to his stand. They also offer grilled cactus (nopales) for your tacos as well as a relish or pico de gallo with nopales. If you have not tried grilled cactus, it's kind of like a bell pepper with a slimy texture, similar to Japanese mountain yams and natto. Ask the nice man for his 'hot cookie' drink. It's something 'galletas' in Spanish and it's tasty on a cold night. I enjoyed the al pastor and tripas. He seems to favor tripas because there's always tons of it on the grill. A disco ball, tacos and some house music and you've got yourself a party.

AG Pastor Spit

AG Tacos

Guerreros

CA, AP, BU, PL.
These guys are statione right in front of the Guerrero Meat market and also serve the al pastor con piña. They offer grilled cebollitas (green onions) and nopales with your tacos. Nice guys.

GM Tacos

WB

CA, CZ, LN, AP, BU, TR.
Found these guys when I decided not to take the freeway and I'm glad I didn't. I enjoyed the al pastor and buche. There was a nice guy eating there as well and told me to try tacos another way. Order one soft taco, and one cooked a bit more crisp... put them together and you have a dual textured taco. I didn't know if he was making this up or talking about Taco Bell's latest caloric delight.

WB CA

WB AP

WB BU


V31

CA, CZ, LN, SU, AP, BU, TR, PL
These guys are loved by the Yelp army. Probably because it's the closest taco stand for patrons of my favorite bar, The Verdugo in Glassell Park. I had tried to find them at least five times – either missing them or not being able to find them due to their frequent location changes. And like a moth, I drove down this really dark part of Verdugo Rd. and found the brightest lights along the sidewalk. The stand was covered by big trucks, probably done intentionally. The people running this here are young and very nice people. Tacos are served the way I like them... small tortillas, small portion of meat. $.80 for one taco. They also offer gorditas for $3. I enjoyed the asada, al pastor, buche (already crisped up) – my favorites being the cabeza and suadero. 5 pm - 11 pm, everyday except Thursday.

V31 CA

V31 SU

V31 CZ

V31 AP

V31 BU

Thanks for reading and enjoy it all as much as I do.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lucky Baldwin's 10th Belgian Beer Festival 2009 - Cheapest Flight to Belgium.

Lucky Baldwin's Pasadena Belgian Beerfest

Something happens to the 210 freeway every February-March. Just when you think you're heading to San Fernando or towards Azusa, you may suddenly find yourself in an area completely opposite to the Pasadena area. Greeeeeeen hills, blue skies and a sign that says Brussels. Why? Because you're in Belgium now, home to my hero, Jean Claude Van Damme. Besides the "Muscles from Brussels", double-fried fries and wine-cooked mussels, Belgians make some of the best beers in the world. Not to mention, some of the strongest. Lucky Baldwin's, a British pub in Old Town Pasadena, holds an annual Belgian beer festival. Saving you $1,000 on the flight alone!

Lucky Baldwin's Pasadena Belgian Beerfest - Chimay

From now till Saturday, March 7th, you can try over 50+ juicy Belgian beers. Taster glasses start at $4, full glasses at $7 and LB's also offers a festival glass for $10 – you keep the glass and if you bring it back, all your full glasses will be $6. Thanks for observing the state of the economy and our needs for delicious beer!

Last time I was here, I saw a lot of people taking notes on the Belgian beers they liked on napkins. I did the same and lost it after my 6th beer. I've gone through the trouble to ensure you have a good time here. Trust me, you'll probably be looking for these beers at stores after you've had some. Click on the image to download the PDF.

2009 Lucky Baldwin Belgian Beerfest

My beer connoisseur friend, Sloejams, may not have food in his fridge. But he does know beer. Here are some of his recommendations.

Sloejam's Belgian Picks
Leifmans Goudenband, 9% ----- sour
Urthel Hop It, Urthel
St. Bernardus ABT 12, St. Bernardus
Avec les Bon Voeux, 9% Dupont
Affligem Noel, 10% Affligem ----- Christmas (obviously)

Sloejam's Beginner Picks
Popperings Hommelbier, 8% Van Eecke
Mannekin Pis, Lefebvre
Avril Biere de Table, 3.5% Dupont
St. Bernardus Witbier, 5% St. Bernardus
KWAK, 8% Bosteels

ED&BM Picks
Delirium Tremens, 9% Huyghe
McChouffe, 8% D'Achouffe
Piraat, 9% Van Steenberg
St. Bernardus ABT 12, St. Bernardus
St. Feuillien Triple, 8% St. Feuillien

Good thing Sloejams is recommending some beginner picks, because you definitely don't want to start out your day with a 12% beer – especially if you're 100 lbs. and hungry. Won't be pretty. Sorry for the delayed downloading site. No other way to host a PDF. Thanks for reading and drink responsibly – make sure there's food in the stomach!

Lucky Baldwins
17 South Raymond Avenue
Old Towne Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 795-0652
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Monday, February 16, 2009

Anti-Valentine's Day Dinner

Anti-Valentine's Day 2009 Cafeteria Tray

The last time Valentine's Day actually mattered to me was in my prepubescent years in elementary school - you know, the days of innocence. For this day, you begged your parents to spend their hard-earned money on cards bearing Warner Bros. & Disney characters, heart-shaped candy that tasted like chalky meth and for that special special someone in your life, a small stuffed animal or something. It was honest, unadulterated fun. But, I had my system of distributing cards. I'd save all the crappy cards like Yosemite Sam or Three Blind Mice for people with cooties or didn't pick me on their kickball teams. These jerks wouldn't get any candy at all – not even the heart-shaped meth. They would get the stock message written on the copy without even a signature. Then there was the middle-tier friends who were cool to me and talked to me, but would never trade their delicious fruit snacks or fruit roll-ups for my asian delicacies like haw flakes or seaweed rice crackers. These racist friends still got a crappy card but some candy that actually had taste, AND a curvy autograph. And the final group to receive cards were for the ladies only. More likely than not, you liked more than one girl and that's why you'll see more than one Pepé Le Pew or Mickey/Minnie cards in that box – for 10-year old players like you. Now these were the cards I spent most of my night working on. I could see my mom smiling as I tried to profess my love in my limited kid vocabulary. I would say deep things like...

"You are sweet, pretty, cute, smart, beautiful, pretty, cute, sweet, fast, funny and cute. Hope you like Pepé Le Pew. Love, Dylan."

Attached to the card that was nicely sealed, I'd give like 5-7 candies. It was a simple yet fun time for many of us. And Jeni I promise, she means nothing to me haha. You are " sweet, pretty, cute, smart, beautiful, pretty, cute, sweet, fast, funny and cute" to the 100th power.

But now, as you get older, this particular 'holiday' requires you to fork out more and more of your hard-earned cash. In a relationship, shouldn't everyday be a test of one's love and devotion for a significant other? I took Jeni to Hometown Buffet a few years back, but this time, we wanted to do an Anti-Valentine's Day thing with some friends. I decided to tie the dinner theme back to elementary school... when looking 'cool' meant bringing your lunch in a brown paper bag, and buying cafeteria food on a tray meant you were a broke loser. Harsh!

Anti-Valentine's Day 2009 Bleu Cheese Burger with Caramelized Onions and Fried Egg

Bleu Cheese Burger with Fried Egg, Watercress & Caramelized Onions
Father's Office, you either hate it or you love it. I think Chef Sang Yoon does a good job on the burger but I think it's too sweet and a bit strong on the bleu cheese. And he's missing one component that, for me, takes food to another level… fried egg! I marinated ground beef with bleu cheese chunks, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, minced onions, cayenne pepper and S&P. Let that sit for an hour or two in the fridge covered with saran wrap and mold your burgers. Caramelize your onions and if you're not using a sweet wine like port, add a little sugar to give your onions a nice sweetness. Serve with arugula tossed lightly in a vinaigrette or try it with watercress, which has a delicate mustard taste that I enjoy.

Anti-Valentine's Day 2009 Crab, Macaroni & Cheese with Scallions & Smoked Paprika

Alaskan King Crab Macaroni & Cheese with Scallions & Smoked Paprika
I love crab, and I love macaroni & cheese – this dish was a perfect mesh of flavors. I made a cheese roux with flour, butter, milk and whatever brand of grated cheddar cheese and mixed the sauce in with the macaroni shells. I then sautéed the crab quickly with some garlic, smoked paprika, shallots and smoked paprika. Just enough to wake the crab up. Add this on top of the macaroni & cheese or mix it in. This was really good.

Anti-Valentine's Day 2009 Garlicky Tater Tots

Garlicky Tater Tots
I don't know anyone that dislikes tater tots, especially kids. Versus eating large fries, tater tots were the perfect finger food. I sautéed some garlic and parsley and lightly mixed them into the freshly baked tater tots. For dipping, I mixed in some curry powder into some ketchup (inspired by Wurstkuche in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles - review coming soon!) for a nice kick. For your snobby friends, try mixing the tater tots with grated asiago cheese and a few drops of truffle oil – good stuff.

Anti-Valentine's Day 2009 Chocolate Cookies

Save the Best for Last Cookies
Always the one thing kids are eyeing as they chomp down on soggy chicken nuggets and vegetables. Thanks to Sandra for baking these tasty cookies.

As we ate, we drank great Belgian beer from Cap n' Cork in Los Feliz and enjoyed the sultry sounds of my Valentine's mix, Cheesy & Sleazy, still available for free download.

C&S Full

Anti-Valentine's Day 2009

Thanks for reading.

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