Ricardo Diaz continues to uphold his family’s legacy of Mexican food hospitality (Diaz’s family is responsible for L.A.’s quintessential Mexican seafood family restaurant franchise: El 7 Mares). Slated to open in four to six weeks near Silver Lake’s Sunset Junction is Diaz’s Duro, a joint project with his brother-in-law Patrick Aguirre, former head baker at Bouchon Bakery in Napa; and his sister Stephanie Aguirre, responsible for the Michelin-rated La Taquiza Fish Tacos in Napa.
Duro will be a strictly taco dorado house, with a menu of about a dozen or so contemporary and classic takes on the folded-over crispy taco variety and the rolled-up flakyflautas. Each will be served with a different salsa and topping meant to highlight the filling, including smoked chipotle orange crema and even arugula on some tacos. The menu combines the experiences of Diaz’s refined homestyle classics and Aguirre’s fine dining skills. Expect fillings such as pickled pigs feet, a creamy brandade using a house-cured Mexican fish instead of the traditional salted cod, a duck guisado,Diaz’s homemade chorizos and veggie options such as Mexican spice-intensive sautéed garbanzos. And yes, there will be a chimichanga, though served with a spicy broth for dipping.
Keeping true to the chef’s passion for fresh craft beer, about four to eight rotating local craft beers will be on deck. Diaz is making a strong effort to bring in some of Mexico’s emerging craft breweries to L.A. Mexicali’s Cucapá is confirmed, and maybe a few beers from Ensenada Brewing Co. will be available.
This soon-to-be crispy taco haven is replacing the family’s restaurant at the 7 Mares complex, but its outdoor “La Playita” ceviche stand next to it will remain untouched because of its popularity among old school and new school clientele.
The new eatery will seat about 50 and will have a “reclaimed” feeling to it. Meaning that its minimalist tables, chairs, rusted channel letters and simple counter will be reclaimed from the old 7 Mares restaurant. It will also be the first restaurant where Diaz displays some of his own “impressionistic human figure art,” in addition to some barrio-rooted murals. The name Duro translates to “hard” in Spanish and is not only a nod to the restaurant’s namesake crunchy antojito but to the hard-knockbarrio lifestyle of Diaz, who grew up in Highland Park, Boyle Heights and East L.A., and to Patrick Aguirre’s rough upbringing in Montebello.
Meanwhile, Diaz said that Chorizo Amor is a dream distant-future concept of a bigger house-made Mexican sausage and beer company, but for now he’s focusing on Duro, his newly opened Colonia Taco Lounge and Bizarra Capital in deep Eastern Los Angeles.
Like every good gentrifying hipster, I try my best to shop locally and demonize big chain supermarkets as much as I can afford to. Which is ironic because I’m broke as hell these days (fyi, for any lurking eyes that reads this post and can hook it up with any type of work). But amidst my neighborhood browsing, I found a place that sells the elusive Tamales Michoacanos known as Uchepos.
I think it was the window painting of the iconic mustached Mexican Panadero pulling out tray full of burnished bolillos that lured me in.
It turns out they sell a couple of regional Mexican specialty foods, the most special being Michoacan’s notorious all-corn tender tamales on weekends made by an old Michoacana lady. These corn pouches of love are exclusively made with a little butter, a pinch of sugar and whole lot of freshly ground corn kernels – no nixtamal! Which results in a sweet, soft polenta-like tamal resembling a savory corn pudding that is on the edge of being dessert.
On their own they are fine but served with the traditional Michoacano accoutrements of thick, tart salsa verde, a mountain of salty, sharp Cotija cheese and a fat ass dollop of Crema Mexicana, they ain’t nothing to fuck with. Sweet and salty, and so delicately tender, bursting with fresh corn flavor. I usually buy two pairs of them with its toppings there too then head back home to pig out. They pair beautifully with a brimming mug of strong Clever Coffee dripped coffee.
To reiterate, these are only available on weekends (Friday-Sunday) and they are known to sell out by early afternoon so if you really want to experience them, you gotta bust that early ass breakfast mission. Ask for them at the front counter, they have a basket of tamales there with other fillings that aren’t bad if they are out already. The Uchepos are something like a buck and change a pop.
To this day, I haven’t seen these type of Tamales anywhere else in LA. Though, Las Brisas De Apatzingan in Orange County makes them daily and they are a little better there. I almost kept this little gem to myself, but whatever man, YOLO.
Corner of Figueroa Boulevard and Avenue 55
There comes a time in every young writer’s life when you just say fuck it, and move out of your parents house with your awesome significant other and try to take over the world together, in high hopes of pursuing your dreams in the creative field and making enough for rent as a writer. For me, that time lagged it a little bit and just happened last year. We moved to a New York-sized studio, in Angelino Heights. Though, the speed of gentrification there was a little too fast, well for me at least, pushing us out since we eventually got tired of paying the stupidly overpriced rent and had enough of our inconsiderate landlord.
Though I am thankful for his inconsiderate actions, as I found my dream quarters in the hills of Highland Park, just a few blocks away from places like El Faisan y El Venado.
I love me some Yucatan food but haven’t really found a solid place that came close to the stuff I had when I was down there a few years ago. Except for that one time that Gustavo Arellano took me to an awesome Yucatán bakery somewhere in his hood that I forgot the name of. I know I’m supposed to love Chichen-Itza here in L.A., but as much as I respect it and the family behind it, I haven’t really ever been crazy wowed by their dishes (though their house-rendered manteca is the best in L.A.).
So, when I saw El Faisan is El Venado sporting a sign that claimed Yucatán food, I got excited. The place is tiny, with about 20 seats in total. It used to be a Mexican restaurant specializing in the food from Puebla but a Yucatán man by the name of Angel acquired it a few years ago and revamped it. It’s now a bona fide, too-cool-for-credit-cards Yucatan restaurant, widescreen television bumping heavy cumbia and everything.
The only employees I’ve seen working there is Angel, his wife and another line cook in the kitchen. So, one of them will probably serve you. It is apparent that this will at least be a decent Mexican restaurant as soon as you taste one of their totopo chips from the welcome basket. Thick-cut, crunchy triangles that are on the ultra browned side, with a deep corn flavor. You’ll notice the chips are flaky, flecked with shards of salt and puffed up like puff pastry, a product of a deft hand in frying no doubt but more importantly, the tortillas they use for chips are probably on the thinner, better-quality side.
As we are every time we sit at a new restaurant, we were famished beyond belief so we got a little crazy with the ordering, we sampled a few things: a taco de Cochinita Pibil, a Panucho, Escabeche Oriental, a tamal colado and a Brazo de Reina tamal. The last two being only available on the weekends. The menu is pretty small, which is usually a good sign for specialized regional places like this one.
The basics were decent, the cochinita pibil was oozing with its notorious citrusy, porky juices. Though, the usual LA taco paradox of crappy Guerrero-esque tortillas weighed it down. They used shredded chicken instead of the usual turkey for their Panucho, but the core puffy tortilla was light, puffy and spot-on.
Brazo de Reina at El Faisan y el Venado: Not as dense with a soft-cooked egg
The classic dense tamal Yucateco, flavored with the lightly-floral yet meaty Chaya leaf was a lot softer than other ones I’ve had in town, and for once, the egg was not overcooked to the point of powdered sulfur. Instead, still tender.
But the joint’s true standouts are the Tamal Colado and Escabeche Oriental. Tamal Colados had their comeback last year when they were picked up and adapted by Alex Stupak at Empellón Cocina in New York. Though, many people still don’t know about them. It’s yet another Southern Mexican treat, basically a banana leaf tamal where the masa has been strained and then boiled, which then creates this pillowy, gelatine-like cloud of earthy corn. It’s airy, fluffy and unlike any other tamal you’ve had before, here they have a pork and chicken version.
At first, I just glimpsed past the unique sounding “Escabeche Oriental” on the menu, and had actually ordered something else. A rookie move, but that’s what happens when you forget your blogging roots! Fortunately though, I have a relentless mind that rarely ceases to be be satisfied and asked about the dish a few minutes after ordering it. “Oh, es una delicia, bien rica!” Angel said, going on to describe it as turkey leg that is cooked with a bunch of charred chiles, spieces, pickled onions and seasoned vinegar. I immediately and annoyingly, asked if it too late to change my order. It probably was, but Angel didn’t care and still switched my order without a a single quibble.
His enthusiastic response was not exaggerating it, in the least. To think, that I almost missed out on this! The hulking traditional drumstick was served with a pile of onions, charred chiles guerros, half a ripe avocado and a bunch of tangy turkey juices enhanced with cracked black pepper and vinegar. The flavors were similar to Jamaican Jerk Chicken, but enhanced with the big ol’, bad, bold tropical flavors of El Yucatán. With a big steaming pile of tortillas, this Yucatán plate was among the best I’ve had in this city yet.
I remember I went to a Mexican food panel a long time ago and hearing someone from El Yucatán say: Someone that is from El Yucatán will always say that are Yucateco, not Mexican, because of the way different techniques and ingredients that only exists in that state of Mexico. After eating here, I understood their prideful solidarity in Mexican gastronomy.
El Faisan y El Venado
231 N Ave 50
Los Angeles, CA 90042
Between taking Stat 50. and English 1C classes, moving out for the first time, getting involved in a stupid amount of multiple new (paid!) projects and my blog getting viciously infected with Malware, my blogging has suffered severely – almost beyond repair.
But, I refuse to give up! After all, if it wasn’t for this little blog, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. Thus, I will now reveal that after many hours of lost sleep, this blog is finally getting a revamp! A whole new makeover. Estimated to be unveiled January 1st 2013! Of course, more regular writing is will come with that!
For now, I will leave you with this. It is the story of my mom and my family’s Thanksgiving Zacatecano-American turkey tradition – on this month’s Thanksgiving issue of Saveur!
It’s pretty crazy, growing up I always knew her turkey was something special, rubbed with a spiced chile rojo paste and then served with chile’d turkey drippings. I always felt the pressure of recording her recipe for future generations, leave it to a national food magazine to get me to stop procrastinating and finally do it.
“What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten?” is a question that every food writer gets every once in a while. And while I tend to brush it off due to the mere impracticality of the bold question, I’ve been thinking about it recently.
First of all, for such an answer to even exist, there are usually a number of undisclosed intangible factors in the food that comes to mind: the nostalgia, the cultural aspect, the significant others eating with you etc. Secondly, we all must eat three (or more!) freaking times a day, multiply those three times however days old you are and you’ll understand why the question is a little far-fetched.
Well, all this is basically true until — you actually eat that best thing you’ve ever eaten.
What this is, ladies and gentlemen, is that best thing: A taco of Birria de Ternera from Birriería Aceves in the Mercado de Abastos in Guadalajara.
I think the fact that this was the only food stand with a ten minute wait among a dozen others open gave the awesomeness of this place away. The guy dry-roast’s chunks of fatty ass veal, then throws a fucken ladle-full of umami-laden birria broth on top of the crisp-skinned tenderness. And to finish it off, wraps the roasted baby cow in a sturdy handmade tortilla that is then pan fried ’till brown and crisp. It produces this kind of Xia Long Bao pork belly-like lipid anarchism in your mouth. Squeeze a little lime on it with a few tablespoons of table-oxidized minced raw onion (no cilantro!) and you get “the best thing you’ve ever eaten.” Apparently, this style is common in Jalisco and is recognized as “Birria tatemada,” which translates over to a combination of blackened and/or smoked Birria.
Yup, blackened and smoked fucken Birria made from local Mexican veal.
And the intangible factor for me this time around? Scarcity! My significant other had inhaled her half and I was taking turns between my half of the beauty and a bowl of roasted goat Birria in broth to make the decadence last. Then, out of nowhere, the cutest little girl came asking for money to buy food. Naturally, my table-mate handed her my half-taco on the premise of burgeoning Mexican capitalism and being able to afford another taco.
We obviously did not know the greatness of Birríeria Aceves, they had sold out of all food right after we ordered ours at 11 AM sharp. The little girl nibbled on her winnings and ran off to another patron who didn’t spare even a quarter of a lime.
At least I had a 1/2 bowl of Birria.
And that was that, the best thing I’ve ever eaten. As a consolation, I did eat a pretty decent quesadilla a couple of food stands over. It was griddled in the same manner but instead, stuffed with pickled squash blossoms and queso Adobera, a local cheese with a similar meltability like Monterey Jack. With a side of nopalitos and guacamole, I was good. Plus, the Tianguis de Tonalá was our next stop and there was plenty of munchies and drinks to be had there too, I was sure.
For dessert, we stopped at a dulceria attached to the Mercado and picked up a sugar-free Mazapan made of pepita seeds. Oh well, on to the next best thing to eat.
I found myself at Humboldt State University over this last 4/20 weekend. No, not for the reason you are thinking, it was for a fencing tournament. Actually, The 5th Annual Redwood Coast Assault of Arms, an official national tournament held by the Historical Fencing Association. Along with seven other of my Salle Lancier (Pasadena City College’s fencing club) colleagues, we were invited to come up to defend the name of our lovely community college.
Well, most of us ended up getting slaughtered. Literally too, as was apparent by the epees this school of fencing uses, the tips actually have three sharp little teeth that are made to “cling on to your clothing” and create an “uncomfortable feeling.” Unlike the electricity-assisted, sport version of the dueling weapon sport that is more popular and made it to Olympic status that only has a flat screw top.
These dudes are hardcore.
There are only two cool things that came out of this trip. First, enjoying the edible splendors of their hippy student market (it hast stuff like crystallized ginger sheep’s milk yogurt and puffed sorghum “popcorn,” available daily?!) Second, eating and drinking at Humboldt Brews.
Pre-Fencing Breakfast of Champions
Humboldt Brews is disguised as the local collegetown pub but it’s the pride and joy of the city of Arcata really. And while the rest of the 20+ fencers that participated in the tournament feasted like lumberjacks at the local historic restaurant, Old Samoa Cookhouse for the dinner reception, I asked to get dropped off and go solo at Humboldt Brews for a burger and a beer. As soon as I walked in, I knew my anti-social decision was the correct one. I sat at the bar and the cook had long hair, wore shades and was listening to “Iron Man” at a decibel level that would rival that of a metalhead cooking lunch on his day off.
I opted for their “Shroomers Delight” burger: 1/3 lb Humboldt grass-fed beef, roasted red peppers, sautéed mushrooms, a thick smear of Cypress Grove local chevre on soft buns with a steak knife stabbed in it. The meal came with mixed greens, tomato, red onion and their “Pub Fries,” which is basically their own unfussy rendition of fresh-cut Pomme Frites, for about $12.
The burger was bomb. Under seasoned, but in a consciously healthful way. Since well, grass beef doesn’t need much salt. Unsurprisingly, their medium rare was more “well” done than rare. The buns were amongst the softest I’ve had, as far as burger standards go. But all this just digresses from the fact that there was a thick, white, opaque dollop of local Cypress Grove chevre on a freaking burger. Chevre is the missing link on burgers. It works double shift; soft and creamy enough to replicate what a mayonnaise or aioli would do, and richly flavored enough to satisfy that tangy richness that a slice of cheddar or any other hard cheese would impart. The mushrooms and peppers were ample as well, barely cooked and unmushy.
To further the heavy metal feeling of the dinner, I washed the beast down with a “Back in Black” Black IPA from 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco. I am in the “Black IPA” phase of a budding beer enthusiasts at this moment and this was by far my favorite. It’s just something about the corequisite flavors of malt and hops in the same cup of beer, for the beer geek that wants it all.
The meal set me back only $17 and it turned out that the bartender is close friends with the owner of Cypress Grove cheese, yes creator of Humboldt Fog cheese. She informed me that the owner “was a single mom who did every step of the process by herself,” including driving down to San Francisco and distributing her cheese weekly. And that she recently, “sold her company for millions to Swiss dairy.”
Well, I may have not discussed the subtleties of an inquartata fencing pose with the rest of my fencing adversaries but I did eat one of the best damn burgers of my life thus far.
I saw your site last year and I have been saving it, so I can pick the best lunch spot. I don’t get to LA often because I am far to the North. I have to go to USC tommorow. Any advice on restuarants within 10 min drive from USC.
A fan of your site.
First of all, thanks for reading and keeping it old school, means a lot, gonna try to write more exclusive theglutster.com stuff.
Well, I might be seeing you there in the near future man, I just applied and am waiting to hear from them soon.
Foodwise, I hear that Manna’s is the shit for starving student dining, in particular their lunch buffet. It’s an Indian food joint so you can pretty much forget about dinner that night if you eat according to your “growing body,” haha.
But if you really want something awesome and different, drive a little farther south until you hit The Pelican, a Belizean food joint. I was supposed to do a few review for the CRA-LA until they were put on the cutting block. So now, it’s all yours, and anyone else that still reads this old blog.
I’ve been there once, they have some interesting stuff, like red snapper steamed almost Jerk-style with onions, except with a hell of a lot more clove. Or some really Mexican-like things, like fried tacos stuffed with ground fish and eaten with slightly fermented onions. Also, pretty cheap, less than $10. Although, from what I remember, there was only one guy working the place and he had a little attitude, but fuck it, you’re here for the food.
Lates! Let me know where you end up and how it went.
“Don’t forget the mercado la paloma where mochica and chichen itza live. they’re not too expensive and very worth it! also, there is a juice bar there as well as affordable thai food. there is lemonade at the usc campus that’s pretty legit, and across the street is health hut in the uv where the juices are cheaper than jamba juice. their salads and sandwiches aren’t bad either. bacaro has great happy hour at 5pm where all the food is $5. the burger there is amazing. just up hoover and olympic is the olympic cheonggukjang, which is my fave korean restaurant”