Scouting Report: Tijuana-Style Carne Asada Tacos at Carnitas “El Veneno” in East L.A.

Mesquite Grilled Carne Asada Just Waiting To Be Taco'd up and Devoured in East LA
Mesquite Grilled Carne Asada Just Waiting To Be Taco’d up and Devoured in East LA

*Originally published on LA Times Food’s Daily Digest Foodblog on September, 25 2013

Name of restaurant: Carnitas El Veneno. A weekend-only, nighttime food truck.

Concept: An old school taco truck from the neighborhood’s carnitas restaurant. It is only open on weekend nights in East Los Angeles, and specializes in Tijuana-style juicy carne asada tacos grilled with mesquite wood.

What dish represents the restaurant, and why? The Tijuana-style tacos de carne asada. A few things make these unique in the hazy world of East L.A. street tacos. First, their signature Tijuana trademarked cone design, wrapped tightly in wax paper not unlike an overstuffed Greek gyro or spicy tuna hand roll. This specific method of wrapping each taco is the only way these crisped-up pair of chewy tortillas can hold the excess of chopped, subtly smoky, juicy beef and Tijuana’s signature scoop of mashed up avocado — not the usual runny taqueria guacamole sauce. This is a delicate taco.

Runners-up:  Tacos de lengua doused in the restaurant’s Veneno spicy salsa. Their beef tongue is boiled for hours and then a heaping portion is briefly seared on the plancha right before taco-ing it up. It’s drizzled with a toasty salsa that accentuates lengua’s slightly offal, yet meaty texture and flavor.

Who’s at the next table? A very dedicated and loving wife who drove out on a Saturday night just to order 10 takeout tacos de asada con todo for her lucky husband, who stayed at home to watch the fight.

Appropriate for: The well-read taco enthusiast who abides by L.A.’s taco lifestyle and knows all about Baja California’s bountiful fresh food culture, but for one reason or another hasn’t made the trek down south yet.

Uh-oh: Both the salsas can be fiery. If you are sensitive, opt for poquita salsa nada mas (just a little bit) or just opt out. Also, the creamy guacamole paste is purposely unseasoned and benefits from a strong squeeze of lime.

Service: It’s a small operation that’s only been open for about six months. If there are a few people in front of you, be patient.

What are you drinking? Many aguas frescas are available inside the restaurant.

Info: 514 S. Indiana St., Los Angeles. (323) 264-4762. Open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 6 p.m. to midnight

Baja California Culinary Fest: A 10 course multi-chef dinner at Mision 19

Probably half of L.A.’s food writing media was in Tijuana over the weekend as part of the Baja Culinary Fest 2011, “an international event that will allow the projection of Baja California [as] an important culinary venue with first class cuisine and innovative proposals” according to their website.

Fellow Mexican food reconquista writer Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet L.A. organized this whole trip for Angeleno “foodbloggers and friends of them”; he’s been the underestimated food city’s main food writing advocate for the last couple of years. The $205 ticket included this dinner, a two-nights stay at The Gran Tijuana hotel, access and almost unlimited food at the food festival component of the event, and a three stop street food crawl with Bill and Javier themselves. With the seafood intensiveness of the meals, free flowing booze and transportation, the ticket was a steal. It was obvious this was an event not really made up to make money but instead to really just spread the word that Tijuana’s “Baja-Med” exclusive cuisine and food community is if not the most bad ass of all of Mexico, then definitely comparable to it…

We arrived in Tijuana at around 7:30 PM and drove directly to Mision 19, the latest and hippest new restaurant of Chef Javier Plascencia, the city’s local food superhero. He organized this whole event and this particular dinner was the hottest ticket in town, combining the efforts of three different regional Mexican chefs, two different sommeliers and Julian Cox, the Mexican-inspired mixologist extraordinaire from Los Angeles. Amongst some of the high profile attendees were Lesley Barger Suter of L.A. Magazine, Barbara Hanson of Table Conversations, Garrett Snyder of Los Angeles Magazine and Search and Devour, Joshua Lurie of Food GPS, Matthew Kang of Mattatouille, Fiona Chandra of Gourmet Pigs, Esther Tseng of EstarLA, Caroline on Crack, Elina Shatkin of LA Weekly, Dave Lieberman of OC Weekly, Pat Saperstein of Eating L.A. and many, many others that I am too lazy to type out.

Mision 19
hungry foodies

Everyone was pretty freaking famished. It took five long bus hours to get to Tijuana from Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon during peak rush hour. We waited around half an hour to eat once seated. My randomly chosen table mates and I were even starting to think of ways to cut and eat the centerpiece! A huevo!

nopal centerpiece

Eventually, the food started to come out. I won’t poetically bullshit too much about each course as the food-writing norm goes, but I will share some thoughts on the dishes.

Primer Tiempo: Chef Angel Vazquez (Chef from Puebla)
tiradito
Tiradito de Hamachi: Rabanos/charales/chicharron/limon en conserva/habanero/sal

Wine pairing: JC Bravo-Palomino 2010.

Raw fish is always awesome as a first course, especially when the fish is local, fresh and as high quality as the hamachi on our plate. You can tell it was fresh because of that sinewy chew fresh sashimi has. I liked the fried charales as garnish, the little white fish were crispy and addictive like chips. Habanero was cool too.

Segundo Tiempo: Javier Plascencia
tuetanaso!
Tuetano de Res Rostizado: Atun Aleta Amarilla/Tobiko/aire de serrano

Cocktail pairing: “Negrito Sandia” (Julian Cox)

The cow bone was split lengthwise, roasted and propped on a bed of coarse salt; it was topped with chunks of fresh Yellowfin tuna, micro cilantro greens and ultra-thin slivers of toasted baguette. I liked it, somehow the fish lightened up the beef fat. It could have been a little more roasted though; some of the luscious beef fat still had the texture of a fat looogie. Nonetheless, the cilantro was fucking brilliant with the marrow The best part was Cox’s cocktail that tasted like a fresh watermelon with Tajin sprinkled on it. I’m pretty sure that was everyone else’s favorite of the night too.

Tercer Tiempo: Pablo Salas (Chef from Toluca)
ensalada de barros
Ensalada de Berros con Vinagreta de Piloncillo: Queso de Rancho Alegria

Wine pairing: Paralelo Emblema (2010)

The salad course couldn’t have come at a better time. The full flavored watercress greens paired with the toasted-amaranth-grain infused piloncillo vinaigrette was pretty awesome. The cheese was a standard stiff-curdle pressed farm cheese, known as a “cuajo” to Mexican cheese people.

Cuarto tiempo: John Rivera Sedlar
flan
Sardineria: Flan de Elote/quinoa Negra/flor de calabaza

Wine pairing: Pijoan Dominica 2009

Classic Sedlar! The popular chef brought his signature New Mexican-Los Angeles fangled dishes to Baja for this event. The corn flan was creamy and buttery as always, topped with chewy black quinoa and served alongside a piece of mystery fish that resembled cod in texture. The sauce underneath was a madras curry one, mmmm Indian flavored Mexican-esque food.
Quinto Tiempo: Sedlar
Chile Relleno
Codorniz de Valle Guadalupe: Chile verde/duxelle de champiñones

Wine pairing: Pijoan Dominica

Classic Sedlar again! The best part of this dish was definitely the chilito relleno, it was stuffed with a meaty ground mushrooms paste. The tiny local Cornish game hen was a tad underdone and still pink inside. I loved it actually, “Salmonella-risk is flavor!” I always say, but others seem bothered with it.

Sexto Tiempo: Salas
Cerdo Almendrado
Cerdo Almendrado: Papa Cambray/aceitunas (sorry for raping the dish with flash; I was pretty buzzed)

Wine pairing: Vino Shimul-Yumano 2009

The almond sauce smothering this was bomb, like a “vanilla” equivalent option to traditional Mole if there were such a thing. It was way lighter and easier on the palate than any Poblano or Negro. As the Mexican usual, the overcooked meat only served as vehicle for the minimalist, chunky almond sauce.

Septimo Tiempo: Vasquez
pork belly
Pork Belly: Platano/vainilla/naranja/relish de tomate verde con frijol de olla/reduccion de cocoa

Wine pairing: Estacion porvenir-textura 3 2009

Despite the dessert like sweetness of this and undercooked beans (a turn-off…especially for beaners!), I actually really liked this dish. But then again it was properly cooked pork belly and chocolate on a plate, so when isn’t that going to be amazing?

Octavo Tiempo: Plascencia
pato en seco
Pato añejado en seco: Persimo Fuyu/granada/col de bruselas/Mazapan

Wine pairing: Viñas Pijoan-Leonora2009

The duck was the last savory course of the evening and was traditionally served with a bunch of sweet stuff to contrast the rich duck fat. Duck is one of my favorite animal proteins and I grew up on the crumbly peanut candy known as Masapan, so, the pairing of these two things worked finely for me. The persimmon was on the ripe side too, which was a plus.

Noveno Tiempo
queso
Quesos Artesanales: Miel de Abeja/mermelada artesanal

The cheeses in this cheese course were all locally sourced from Valle de Guadalupe, Baja’s own wine country down by Ensenada. They were arranged from youngest to oldest, in other words, from least funkiest to most! The first one was like Monterey Jack, the middle one was a little more cakey and more nuanced, but the last one was the winner for the average cheesehead. The honey and guava jam underneath rounded out the creaminess of each. The añejo was some serious stuff, it was the cakiest of all and had a thick rubbery rind like a pair of super old, dirty Chuck Taylor’s, a little too funky for me but the camarada Garrett was all up in that shiiit!

Decimo Tiempo
dessert
Calabaza de Otoño: Cacahuate salado/chocolate amargo

I received the sweet component of this tasting meal with open arms after the savory onslaught. No one got credit for the dish but they should have. It was artfully presented and rationally thought out, each ingredient was served in paste form except for the Butterfinger-like crunchy salted peanuts. The calabaza de otoño paste had a camote-like flavor, the traditional Mexican dessert of yams cooked in brown sugar. It was described to be “like those chocolate bars that would melt in your pocket and accidentally make it better” by Garrett.

I came in buzzed off three Mexican craft beers and a tequila shot before the dinner and by the end of this wine-o dinner, I was pretty plastered. That still didn’t stop me from going upstairs and taking advantage of our open bar wristband, a Tamarind-Coffee Margarita and couple of Agavia tequila shots later, I was officially annihilated. Garrett and I ended up eating oysters at 3 AM somewhere in Tijuana and I woke up in my room’s hallway at 5 AM but one thing was for sure, this was certainly an “once-in-a-lifetime” type of collaborative dinner that I will never forget. It brought together skilled chefs from both sides of the border.

To Javier Plascencia for organizing this epic event and Bill Esparza for making the trip happen and deal with fifty hungry, impatient food-minded Angelenos who don’t know how hard it to make an event of this caliber run so smoothly as it did. I know next year’s will be even better and smoother.

Mision 19 cockails
Tamarind-Coffee Cocktails at Bar 20: Part of Mision 19

Salud!

Mision 19 “Cocina de Autor”
Misión San Javier 10643
Piso 2, VIA Corporativo
Zona Urbana Río
Tijuana, B.C., México
Tel: (664) 634.2493

Alambron Tacos y Guisados: My Dad & Tijuana Airport Food (Live-Blogging)

I never really realized but my father, little sister and I have kept an unofficial tradition of going back to Mexico City every summer for the last four years. The reason? To persuade my dad’s friend Don Aurelio to maintain the remnants of his lost empire for yet another year, a couple of dingy apartment structures in the ghetto Ahuizotla region of town. And although I can’t really get past even a single conversation with him without blowing his dynamite short temper, he always decides to bring me back with him for some reason. In his defense, he is 70 years old and is always right anyways.

Anyways, so this year is the first that we flew out from an airport other than L.A.X. Tijuana International Airport to be exact. Oh, how exciting! A bonus round of delicious authentic Mexican food! After all, we all know that Tijuana is no joke when it comes to good food and drinks thanks to the relentless documentation of it that Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA has done recently. Well, yeah…but not so much when you come with an overly paranoid father who deems it absolutely necessary to check in no later than noon for a flight that takes off at seven in the afternoon.

My poker-head brother has been rubbing off on me. The guy plays online poker for entire days sometimes. Although I’m not as addicted as he is, I did find myself killing a fair amount of time on pokerblog.com, this new internet café that is pretty cool.

We took the first “Crucero” bus (8 AM) out of L.A and way sooner than later we found ourselves at the airport and hungry for some lunch. My mind was lucid with suggestions for lunch, perhaps some Aguachile de Callos de Hacha (raw scallops in a green spicy sauce) from Mariscos Ruben? Maybe a quick torta to go from the famous Tortas “WashMobile” that I’ve read so much about? With six hot and humid hours to kill, in true parent fashion…my dad would say otherwise.

menu signange

My sister and I walked up and down the tiny Tijuana airport terminal desperately. Anything that wasn’t cold and refrigerated between two pieces of soggy bread would suffice. We eventually went with the only place that had any aroma at all coming out of it, Alambron Tacos Y Guisados.

salsa bar

Alambron ambiance

A display counter filled with a golden brown taco strata and a huge sign bearing “Barra de Salsas” couldn’t be wrong, right? Score! And there it was on the menu, the Tijuana exclusive, highly elusive Tacos De Marlin.

tacos de marlin

The one food that I miss most from our local frontera town is smoked marlin. The meaty big fish is smoked, sold in chunks then usually rehashed with tomatoes, onions and spices. You can’t really get it in the U.S unless you smuggle it in yourself but in Tijuana it is an just another average taco filling. Lucky!

The order here came with three griddled, grease-slicked beauties and a delicate salad of chopped iceberg lettuce, peeled cucumber and a zesty creamy aderezo (dressing). Combined with the all-you-can-suffer salsa bar’s accoutrements of chunky green, red salsas and the brined purple onion-habanero slaw…like my compa chuy would say “amanos chikiadoooo!” The tacos were bomb as expected, imagine a peppery bacon if it was made of fish.

An honorable mention goes out to my dad’s Lengua en Salsa Verde guisado dish, probably the best tongue dish I’ve had thus far in my life when I think about it. It was as tender as braised short rib. My little sister’s Tortitas de Carne con Nopales were not bad either. The tiny, egg cakes whipped with shredded beef were meaty, stewed with sour cactus strips and a surprisingly delicious red chile concoction it was downright impressive. The overall excellence of the meal was aided by the tall stack of steaming tortillas, al-dente rice and wonderfully seasoned paste of beans that come with every plate, “aqui si te dan tortillas a llenar, no como en Los Angeles que no mas te dan hay lo que sea”. Yeah dad I can tell you liked it; you finished my sister’s plate too!

Tortitas de Carne at Alambron
Tortitas De Carne con Nopales at Alambron
lengua en chile verde
The Lengua Plate is Killer at Alambron Too

The only downside is that this little place is at an airport; the food for all three of us came out to nearly thirty bucks! Leave it to a random restaurant at the Tijuana airport to show up most Los Angeles Mexican food as a whole and to prove to me yet again that my dad is always right.

pops
The Pops

Tijuana International Airport
Carretera Internacional
Tijuana Baja California
Zip code 22300

Day Trip to Tijuana Seafood Festival: You Don’t Even Know….

back to reality
No Going Back Now

I spent this last Sunday not sleeping in like every other Sunday but instead in the closest proximity of the motherland: Tijuana. Thanks to the valiant efforts of Street Gourmet L.A and Jahdiel Vargas, Emma Cruz, and all the people at CANIRAC and COTUCO, an impromptu day trip out to the Seafood Festival was made possible for a few of us. The family oriented free event took place in the Playas area of Tijuana this last Sunday.

Playas Vacation Destination!
Playas: Beach Border Underdog Vacation Destination

And no I was not shot at, I was not mugged, I was not raped–ha ha. Its a damn shame how easy negative rumors get around and somehow substitute the truth. Oh well, more local, fresh seafood for us!

mariscos list
Ni Cual Localvore Ni Nada Hombre

Cesar Escandon of a local restaurant La Cafeteria was churning out the local seafood standards but ever so deftly executed. Like a fresh ceviche made out of swordfish or one made out of octopus and prawns served on artisan Tostadas, here they drizzle mayonnaise on just about everything. I like.

bomb ass ceviche mixto
Tostada De Ceviche Local

It wasn’t too long before we ran into the quintessential Baja staple though.

tacos de pescado baja seafood festival
The One And Only Baja-Style Fish Taco

Fried twice with a jaggedly crisp, lightly mustard flavored battered. These tacos are generously garnished with raw slivered cabbage, pico de gallo and a milked-down mayo sauce and Guacamole combination, a truly unctuous seafood experience.

baja brut!
Baja Bubbly: Vinicola L.A Cetto

It was time for a water–or wine–break. Meaning, take in the glory of Baja wines. Vinicola Don Cetto is one of the big hitters down in El Valle De Guadalupe, basically the Napa Valley of Baja. This particular sparkling white wine was a tad on the sweeter side for my taste since I usually like my bubbly’s on the dryer side but still refreshing nonetheless mang.

Paella Plate
Baja Paella: Good Seafood But I Miss My Saffron

Next up was some Paella done in the Baja style as well. Looked way better than it tasted. Basically, this meant nothing but the most pristine seafood flavored rice but without the enticing aroma of saffron. I also wasn’t too impressed with the use of short grain fat rice grains and not traditional Paella rice. But SAS! Can’t have it all.

Original Ceasar Salad straight from the source
The Original Caesar Salad: Born In Tijuana

One of my favorite things of the day was tasting the first and original Caesar Salad from the original hotel that created it itself, the Ceaser’s Hotel on Revolucion. Here, the only ingredients were raw egg yolks, Parmesan, olive oil, garlic, anchovies, lemon juice salt and pepper. All are emulsified beautifully to a lush, creamy full bodied dressing that coats romaine lettuces like no other.

roving candy at playas
Roaming Snack Cart

Another thing I love about Tijuana is the street availability of just about anything, like this roaming ‘snack-ero’ that slanged everything from Dried Mango In Chamoy to chile powder-roasted fava and garbanzo beans, my munchy favorites.

mmm coconut meat
Young, Tender Fresh Coconut: The Glutster’s Poison

The absolute Glutster street snack favorite in Baja though are the freshly cracked, young meat of local coconuts. These taste a lot different than the widely available Thai young coconuts available here in L.A with a more savory flavor spectrum to them, which makes them all the better when doused with lime, chile and chamoy!

And last but not least, Baja style stuffed churros! Actually, I regret to inform you guys that I actually didn’t get to gorge on these this time around but nonetheless here they are in all their unabashed sweet, decadent glory. mmmmm

pinches churros rellenos at playas tijuana
Stuffe
d Baja Style Churros
: Chocolate, Caramel or Vanilla…Choose Your Arteries Poison

And this was only the beginning of the day. See “T.J” isn’t that bad now is it?



IX Tijuana Tequila Expo 2009: 3 Day’s Straight

9th annual Tijuana Tequila Expo!

Tequila hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves in my life as a Mexican American. Would had loved to enjoy it in an earlier point in life, but was always subdued by the smallest bottle of East L.A punk youth favorite: Jack Daniels, or even cheaper, despicable Popov vodka, both…straight swigs of course. In between songs in my back yard punk day’s, it would do the job.

My earliest memories of Tequila are of chilly Christmas or New Year’s eve’s, my mom’s side of the family would brew Ponche con piquete , a motley winter brew of anything sweet that grows (pomegranates, Jocotes, Guavas, Apples etc) on trees infused with cinnamon tea…along with a generous dash of Sauza blanco, that was the Piquete, the “bite”. I would never get a full cup but would always get a thirsty sip from my mom, only for everyone to laugh at me as I cringed and felt the vicious burn run down my esophagus and into my stomach.

It was time to record new memories (and fuzzy ones at that).

In these three day’s…it was time to learn bit more about my heritage, I knew there had to be some better Tequilas out there, right?

Thanks again to the strenuous efforts of the foodbloggero elder StreetGourmetLA, we were to spend three days and two short nights stumbling in the illustrious streets of Tijuana, Baja California, drinking and eating our way through town to better understand Mexican culture.

Considered an unofficial “Part II” of our earlier epic Tijuana foodblogger family trip that took place last July, this featured only the truly dedicated bloggers of the last trip, including Food GPS, Gourmet Pigs, Pleasure Palate, Kung Food Panda and Eating L.A, amongst some that only joined us for one short day. Even Chef John Sedlar of the popular Rivera Restaurant in Downtown was spinning inspiration from T.J’s great splendors.

A quick crash course in the art of Tequila.

By law, Tequila can only be made in the state of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan and Tamaulipas and Nayarit. Anywhere else, it can not be labeled Tequila. Nonetheless, Jalisco still controls the market since its one of the few states abundant in rich volcanic soil, perfect for growing the Blue Agave plants. Only after 8-10 years of caring and tending are the piñas (pineapple shaped base) ready to be pulled out, roasted, then extracted of its sweet liquid to be fermented into alcohol.

DSC06189
A fine example of a piña

When cooked, the Mezcal is also a popular inedible snack with a smoky, sugar cane like flavor and texture.
Mezcal

Knowing that I was stepping into a country where the legal drinking age was 18, I was determined to Carpe Diem–FULLY take advantage of all my temporary privileges.

tequila expo first booth oh yeah

Already, the first taste was a splendid sip.

los tres toños

Los Tres Toños Extra Añejo is aged for three years in bourbon cask and grown in the central lowlands of Amatitlan. This starter shot had noses of molasses and faint dried fruit with sweet Vanillin finishes, only the subtlest burn…not a bad start.

DSC06193
Gimmicky sounding and labeling, but with a respectable taste actually.

Chamuco’s (“Demon”) Reposado brand, aged six months in white oak barrels with a 38 proof, this taste was quite straightforward with mostly spice notes, smooth, with no throat burn at all.

Per the wisdom of Streetgourmetla, a general rule of thumb is that the hotter the Tequila model, the worse the Tequila will be.

random models

As was the case with this random brand I can’t even remember, tasted like motor oil though.

The flavored Tequilas deserved some attention to, being a nice little sweet break from the hardcore tasting.

DSC06281
A refreshingly tart pomegranate infused Tequila from La Pinta brand; lanky, girl-body background courtesy of my profused buzzness enhanced attention to girls.

DSC06199
Feeling Fuzzy, not just picture–

Tequila con Jamaica was stronger than expected, keeping that sweet-tart flavor of it but with that renown burn.

Of the three day’s, the showstopper had to be “Volcan De Mi Tierra’s” Reposado, aged 6-8 month’s. A product of El Arenal, Jalisco, this was a definite underdog; an unexpected small producer with only an old man sporting a handlebar mustache at the table, no ditsy model or fancy engraved bottle in sight.

The nose on this was surprisingly light, not burning the inside of your nostril or making your eyes roll over. It smelled simple, herbaceous, like taking a small whiff of a stalk on a hot, dry day.

volcan de mi tierra

The flavor was phenomenal: a crisp, nutty beginning, a fluid, oak-y continuation and alas the sweet, elegant burn tickling your throat–not torching it.

An added bonus, some primordial Pulque!

DSC06269
Cured with Guava: Multiple flavors usually available like Walnut, Tuna etc.
<
br />Milky, viscous and tart in texture, Pulque was the original beverage of Mexico with it’s earliest records being 200 C.E, 1319 years before the Spanish conquest.

Originally, it was reserved as a purely ritual drink due to the Maguey’s sacredness, drunk only by priest’s and sacrifice victims to….yeah. It takes a maguey plant twelve years to produce the sap for this wonderjuice. Unlike Tequila which only uses the cooked heart of only the Blue Agave, Pulque is made with the uncooked whole Maguey plant, stalks and all.

It’s popularity has decreased severely over the generations, the introduction of European Beer basically killed it off, being given a ‘dirty and low class’ appeal when the first beer manufacturing plants started showing up in Mexico around the beginning of the 20th Cntury. Now, it’s almost completely forgotten.

It is really hard to find this authentic drink outside of Mexico City, Hidalgo and Tlaxcala states–at least the unpasteurized, thick, layered, legit stuff. They sell it now here in the states, but it’s pasteurized, sweetened and all that other usual stuff that’s done to American products.

Oh well, I fully appreciated it, getting a full glass cup of the luxurious stuff every day I went, and event taking a pint home, illegally.

layers of complexities
Just take a gander and behold the Layers of sun kissed complexities

Hasta La Proxima…

Subject: Tequila Expo this weekend in Tijuana…wish me luck, seriously

Disfrutalo!

http://www.expo-tequila.com/

two day’s and two nights of educational debauchery!

…all for the sake of knowing my roots of course:)

I wish at least one of my homiez from the hood had their passport so they can join me though!

get your passports now!

NO EXCUSE!

Hasta Luego.