The Great American Al Pastor Taco myth busted at El Carboncito and a walk along El Malecón (Puerto Vallarta)

My poor little blog, it got me tv shows and writing gigs and now — I have neglected it. My bad, to any Glutster readers, if there are are still any out there. The problem has been an internal one for me, trying to juggle and take school seriously while trying to hustle in the paid food writing world. To write and make some gas money or write for myself (SANS-EDITING) and feel awesome about it?

Well, what ended up happening was just me pretty much half-assing everything and not coming through successfully on any front, nor academic or writing. I failed math my math class yet again and fell behind in writing. But thanks to a recent “WTF” epiphany, I’ve realized my lazy ass ways and will now strive to change them. Yes, Gustavo Arellano, if you are reading this, your wish has come true for more Chicano bloggers as you and I type!

El Malecón
El Malecón” in Puerto Vallarta, bustling

That being said, I’m going to base my next series of posts on my recent discoveries of awesome food in Mexico, San Francisco, Portland and wherever else the tasty will take me. In other words the pitches and stories about food, booze and music that Saveur didn’t buy, haha. Oh, the joys to write so freely and with so many grammar and syntax mistakes. Now, if I go broke, that is all your guys’ fault!

For all the right reasons, I found myself in the lovely city of Puerto Vallarta this last new years eve. I was introduced to the local people, food and traditions of such an underestimated part of Mexico. Vallarta is not as corporate as Cancun, at all and in terms of regional authentic foods and drinks, it’s pretty much undiscovered as fuck with some pretty eccentric street foods readily available. Even at El Malecón, the city’s Universal Citywalk of sorts complete with a Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory and all, you will find drinks such as Tuba, a fermented coconut fizzy drink sprinkled with pecan and apple pieces that made its way from the Philippines during the Spanish conquest — now accustomed in the costeño tradition because of all the dang coconuts that grow everywhere.

tuba nayarit
refreshing Tuba

Walk a little deeper into La Zona Romántica and ask for the locals price on such things as local oysters from the neighboring coastal state of Nayarit or Ceviche de Calamar, local calamari treated with ketchup paste, lime and cilantro. The ceviche, in Vallarta fashion, is made with tons of shredded carrot and finely ground fish, although no Tilapia here, think Dorado or Red Snapper fish caught earlier that day. Yup, tis’ all common street food in the city of Bugambilias flowers blossom pridefully. As a matter of fact, there is a small CANIRAC walk of fame dedicated to Puerto Vallarta for it’s awesome hospitality and local cuisine

canirac ode
local ostiones
Local oysters from Nayarit for about $6 US for half about a dozen
tostadas combo
Tostadas de ceviche: Street Food in Vallarta

But as the night gets deeper and the beer and tequila munchies start to creep in, there is really only one place you need to know about. El Carboncito in the north end of downtown on Honduras street. This place changed my life, ie. my beliefs in the al pastor taco system.

Tacos del Al Pastor at El Carboncito in Puerto Vallarta

The tacos I grew up in Los Angeles, the city of Mexicans of every generation a’ plenty — was not this. In Los Angeles there are trompo’s, the prized vertical spits in the Lebanese Shwarma style that every self proclaimed taco expert swears by. But they are seldom ever sliced directly off the spit into a tortilla to eat directly as is. No, they are usually finished off in a pan, just like any other standard taco meat, right? As long as there is plenty of caramelized onion, achiote and citrus flavor?

Well, not really, a real taco de al pastor is three or four paper-thin slivers of pork on a tiny tortilla with a squirt of salsa, dash of cilantro, onions and lime. They are less flavorful things in this world that can be engulfed in a single bite and in dangerously large amount like this. But the most important part of the taco is a tiny one; the tiny chunk of cooked fresh pineapple atop each corn cake. It might be the meat-tenderizing/digestion enhancing bromelain in the fruit or just the same pineapple-pork phenomena that occurs in Hawaiian pizzas, whatever it is. There is no way to have an al pastor taco ever again.

La Chaya: Yucatan Food in Merida and Finally Eating It (Merida, Yucatan)

We arrived to Merida a little before sunset. I couldn’t believe it; I was finally in the south of Mexico! After years of being fascinated by the unique cuisine of the motherland’s south I was finally going to get to eat it. Until now, my knowledge of the cuisine was strictly limited to L.A’s “Chichen-Itza” restaurant.

Keeping it strictly adventurous, we didn’t reserve any hotel so that was first on the list. We settled for “La Residencial” eight blocks away from the central zocalo. We walked and walked around the town, I couldn’t believe the chirping clamor of the tropical birds were not coming out of a speaker or something.

La Chaya

After buying our fair share of trinkets, it was time to eat. I asked around and was led to “Chaya”, one of the cities more popular restaurants apparently. I was a little turned off at the half-hour wait and strictly-tourist customers, but whatever, my dad was getting cranky.

tortillera
totopos con salsas mayas

It looked a little gimmicky with the handmade tortillas being assigned to two stations inside the restaurants but the chips and salsa proved to be an interesting surprise. Just like every other Yucatan food that has a cool-ass name, the chips are called “Totopos” here. They were served with a toasty, green-pepita paste, a black bean puree, a thin salsa and a habanero relish. Not a bad start.

Agua de Chaya
Agua de Chaya at La Chaya

When in Yucatan, drink Agua de Chaya! especially if you are eating at a restaurant that is called after it. The spinach-y green doesn’t really taste like anything different from any other meaty green, especially when combined with lots of lime and sugar but its good and its “green”, so its cool.

La chaya Menuage

I kinda wanted to order everything on the menu, everything sounded so cool! We started off with an order of “Vaporcitos”. Which I quickly found out were really just banana-leaf wrapped tamales with a stuffing of turkey. They weren’t the softest or most flavorful but the fried tomato salsa smothering made up for it.

I ended up ordering for my dad and little sister since they didn’t really know what the hell any of the food was.

I recommended the Tixin-Xic to my dad.

Mariscos Tikin-Xic
Tixin-Xic

This dish is a common Yucatan dish, an Achiote-marinated fish baked in banana leaf. Here, it was a mish-mash of a bunch of different seafood and was served “sizzling” style. It wasn’t bad.

And for my sister? Los Tres Mosqueteros Yucatecos
Los Tres Mosqueteros Yucatecos at La Chaya

Without a doubt, this was the winning dish of the evening. It consisted of three thin, yellow corn crepes enveloping braised turkey meat, each one showered with a different Yucatan sauce, then glued together with this sweet plantain mash. The most interesting was probably the Relleno Negro sauce, Yucatan’s emulsified, thinned-down, ink-like answer to a black Mole. The second one was their Pipian, the usually-thick pumpkin seed sauce got the velvety treatment as well. Last was the Papadzule sauce, another pumpkin seed centered sauce but more toasty. T’was bomb indeed.

The first dish that drew me to L.A’s Chichen Itza restaurant was Pan de Cazon so I decided to try it straight from the source here.

pan de cazon
Pan de Cazon at La Chaya

It was just as I expected, a hell of a lot better! The dish consists of lightly-fried stacked tortillas layered with black beans and seasoned Thresher Shark meat, then of course, showered with more of that signature Yucatecano, marinara-like red salsa. In other words, they are what enchiladas would look like if a contemporary architect had his way with them, an enchilada skycraper if you will. Note to self, lightly fried handmade tortillas is way better than spaghetti to sop up tomato sauce with.

The meal came out to about 350 pesos, aka “tourist prices” in the words of my cranky papa. Sure, I could had probably eaten the better versions of the same dishes we got for 1/3 the price at the local mercado but at least one splurge was imminent for me in Merida.

Now, it was time to make up for it and find some tasty street food dessert outside…

La Chaya Restaurante
Calle 62 X 57 local 2 |
Centro Historico,
Mérida, México

Finally Amongst My Own Kind! My First Group Scooter Ride and an Ode to My Bajaj (San Gabriel Valley Vintage: Pasadena)

Ok, so this post isn’t either food, alcohol or music related but its just as cooool!

So as many of you know, I chose the two-wheeled way of life instead of the conventional safety cage when I graduated High School. Just like pretty much every other aspect of my life, I decided to go counter-culture in my way of transportation too! Haha. Yup, no used, 90’s Honda for me! Instead, my heart fell in love with the scooter way of life. I bought my baby back in 08′, a pitch-black 06 Bajaj Chetak, off a craigslist and that was it, scooters and motorcycles it would be for the rest of my life!

l

Maybe it was my endless fascination with motocross growing up or maybe it was the U.K mod influence listening to British Punk Rock, whatever it was…I’ve just always wanted a motor bike of any kind. So, when push came to throttle and it was time for my dad to HELP me pay for a vehicle (I worked hard for it and paid most of it myself man!) I went for the Bajaj baby!

my baby back from the shop
my baby
my baby's behind

Bajaj isn’t technically a “Vespa” but it looks a lot like a P-Series one and much of the same parts are used and its still vintage-scooter-clutch style, so, it still gets some respect from the sometimes-snooty vintage scooter crowd. Bajaj is an Indian, 4-stroke scooter (no pre-mixing gas and oil for me thank you very much!) and its built like a freaking tank! Not to mention it requires very little maintenance, which is highly ideal for one, extremely busy and lazy me!

Of course my parents warmed me about the consequences of riding beforehand: “Y que cuando llueve?” (How about when it rains?) Or even the motorcyclist essential…”te vas a matar menso!” (you are going to kill yourself!) But if you are of the two-wheeled way of life, people and parents can try to stop you all they want but it won’t mean anything after you go on your first ride…

Anyways, this last weekend I partook in my first “group ride” through the San Gabriel Valley Vintage Scooter Club . The ride was themed “Here comes the summer!” and it was one of the best experiences in my life. They get together and ride on the first Sunday of every other month – meet at 11, ride at noon. My hardcore hangover didn’t stand a chance against the combined positive energy formed by a bunch of loud, two-stroke beautiful scooters. We met at Lucky Baldwin’s in Pasadena and rode to the Rose Bowl, down Colorado…all thirty of us!

backside
hang a left
fill her up
looking back
the last resort shirt wearing guy
I like your red vespa
scooters invade suburbia
posted on his lambaretta
photo opp!

By the end of the day, I realized I rode over 100 miles as I also use my scooter as my car, not just for leisure! My skin was left extra crispy by the sun and my left wrist hurt after holding the clutch all day. But I finally felt amongst my own kind. People that decide to ride a scooter in their life are unique individuals, in a geeky way but also a passionate way. Not really accepted by the majority of riders out there (Harley’s and Pocket Rockets) so to be amongst so many other like-minded people felt goooood.

There is a new awesome scooter exhibition and ride going on next weekend at the Petersen Auto Museum called “Scooters: Size Doesn’t Always Matter” on Wilshire and Fairfax. So check that out if you guys want to find out more about this powerful two-wheel phenomena.

Even if my bike wasn’t technically “vintage” or a Vespa, I didn’t really care. Like my very good friend from East LA Carlos “Pee-Wee” Escamilla–the only other guy amongst my group of friends who decided to buy a motorbike too (a sweet 250 Ninja) said, “It doesn’t really matter what you ride man….as long as you ride”

l-1
Me on My Bike the Very First Day I Bought It

How Low Can A [Food Writer] Get?: A Flustered Five-Year Blogiversary Post

I tend to dwell and dwell hard. Some things just really are a trip if you think about the many other ways you could had handled a certain situation, in particular, the ones that turned out for the bitter-ass worst. But see, the problem with me is that, well, I dwell until I hit something hard. And when you get to that point…there is no turning back. I have grown to accept this neurotic quality of mine but it still wrecks some emotional havoc sometimes.

It was yet another night of senseless partying, the fifth day in a row to be exact. I now knew why the “#partylikeajournalist” stupid twitter hashtag existed. Although, technically I wasn’t a “real” journalist (ie. not getting paid–or correctly paid–therefore, not “real”) it sure as hell felt like it with all this OC Weekly and Saveur stuff happening as of late.

It was Sunday, 1 AM, and I found myself fairly intoxicated with the two people who knew me best in my life for who I really was and not for who I was in my blog or twitter. Both…just friends. In our drunken reverie, they actually walked in to the Ralph’s on 9th and Flower and bought a copy of Saveur Magazine (Issue #138). The one that featured a cover story I produced entirely by myself. They asked me to “autograph” it. I did.

critical coleslaw
The Critical Coleslaw that Started it All

Several Mexican beers later, it was 4 AM and they found themselves hungry for the elusive “Fourth Meal” of the day. And in true “triiiiip-oooouut” fashion, we found ourselves in the birthing grounds of my entire “professional” food writing career: The Pantry in Downtown Los Angeles. “How does it feel man? To come full-circle?” my buzzed friends would ask me. And as I scooped The Pantry’s signature, soupy, slightly-sweet coleslaw on top of their thick-cut slices of grilled sourdough bread in their “Pantry Set-Up” menu option, I stared back and stayed quiet–I didn’t know how to respond.

Nighthawks at the Café was my first ever assignment from Saveur, it was published in issue #127, otherwise known as the “L.A issue” exactly two years ago. It was a 200-word assignment given to me by the editors of Saveur. I guess they must had liked me.

Exactly five years ago this day, I started “Teenage Glutster” as an alternative coming-of-aging distraction
. I fell in love with good food instead of a girlfriend, and I fell deeper in love with my old love…prose. Jonathan Gold became my weekly food sherpa and I did not want to end up venting away on snobby, message-board sites like chowhound and yelp. Foodblogging became my direct output for my unbalanced teenage emotional upbringing. My friends smoked lots of weed and drank 40 oz. to medicate themselves, I took one puff and drank one beer…and then left home early to write about it.

Now, I am twenty-two and find myself jobless, and staying home to write this post instead of going to a match class that I already failed three times. I remain stubborn on my passion of food writing and refuse to let go of my dream job of one day, making a living out of it. Hell, I already got a cover story on Saveur, right?

Well, not so much. For as far as neat and awesome that feature may have been, as much painstaking time and effort I may put into writing every single word and recipe, the ultimate question arises….now what? My great Zen teacher, Edward Espe Brown of San Francisco Zen Center, used to tell me “As a cook, you are only as good as you’re last dish”, so if you’re a writer…are you only as good as your last piece of published work?

I can’t, won’t will not be a one-hit food media wonder but as my inbox remains without reply of L.A Times, Saveur and other food powers and my bank account keeps on shrinking, as I continue to fuck-up in school and have problems taking it seriously, I ask myself….how much longer can I last?

How much longer can I last before I just give in, like a normal member of society? How much longer before I just get a job at a 9-5 to at least have some money to buy lunch with? In the brilliant words of the great 80’s Hardcore punk band Bad Brains in their song “How Low Can A Punk Get?”


I didn’t mean to rip off
I thought it was a get off of mine.
I tried to make the scence off.
The plan was doomed to set off on time
The time that I was wastin’
I spent chasin’ in the pits.
And now I pay the price
To make the sacrifice of a fool.

I was on me.
I choose not to be
Cheated on part of thrill.
Bargained was not fulfilled.
Lost in a crazy scheme
That got strapped up in my dream.
And now my time’s run out.
Oh, what’s it all about?

“Hopefully, this is the start of something special.”

–The Teenage Glutster on his post “Yay”, (published on May 13, 2006)

The “Glutster” Burger Now Available in New Menu at Biergarten Tonight! Eat Me Now!

menu shot
Outta Nowhere!!!!!

1. Have a burger named after me.

Well, I can now scratch “having a burger named after me” off my bucket list. Yup, I can pretty much die a–very satiated–happy man now. There is now A BURGER NAMED AFTER ME at Biergartenahhhhhhh raaaaaza!

I’ve met some pretty awesome people along this long and winding journey of food writing self-discovery I took up back when I was 16. Although, I have learned–the hard way–that this industry thrives on fake and thirsty personalities, I have made some genuine lifelong friends that have all taught me so much. Eddie Hah is one of those homies.

Some of you may remember him from the post I did on him last year, hyping up his very own special burger at 8 oz Burger on Melrose. He comes from the lineage of the late Korean restaurant Sa Rit Gol, what many touted to be the best Korean place in L.A. And well, thanks to him, what started out as jocular late night texting is now…a full-fledged, meaty and balanced reality.

the glutster money shot
The Glutster Burger: Pickled Oregano-Onions, Epazote Aioli, Fried Green Tomato, Guacamole, Chipotle-Black Beans with an ALL-PORK Patty.

I present to you The Glutster: Eight juicy ounces of 100% pure charred ground pork loin, stratified with oregano-spiked, crisp-pickled onions, a thick and creamy Epazote-scented Aioli, a spread of Chipotle-laced black beans, two slices of fried green seasoned tomato and to finish the 2nd generation Mexification of it–a scoop of chunky, fresh Guacamole. All sandwiched between two toasted, soft, sweet and King’s Hawaiian burger buns.

For those of you that know me, you all may be smiling right now because you know that this is indeed a DIRECT homage to the way I eat. I didn’t call myself the GLUT-ster for nothing eyyy. I found out of my freakishly fast metabolism at an early age in life so basically, everything I cook for myself at home usually ends up being something stupidly ginormous like this, haha. Yes, with a giant mishmash of flavor-intensive simple ingredients like this as well.

And the bottom line? Well, bomb of course! I thought up of it! (burgers named after you do wonders for your low self-esteem apparently). Think of a glorified torta, one made with perfectly-balanced quality ingredients. In true nostalgic fashion, this burger reminds me of my fast-food driven childhood. I was skeptical at first, but the sweet buns really work awesomely with the burger. It reminds me of that flavor when the sweet ketchup adhered to the bread, remember?

My immortalization between two buns–along with many other interesting German-Korean bites–is part of the revamped new menu at Biergarten launching tonight (soft opening). Its a collaborative burger-fueled effort between Eddie Hah and Jacob Wildman (equally-abled burger bad ass formerly of 8 oz as well, Spago). Other chingon dishes include “German Fried Rice” (Kolbasa Sausage, Sauerkraut, Fried Egg, Dunkel Gravy; $9), “Pig Frites” (Korean Marinated Pork Loin, Fries, Celery Root Slaw; $14), grilled-chilled shrimp in Remoulade sauce, a new spin on the Korean classic Gol-bang-ee Muchim (Snail-Rice Noodle Salad with Chili but with fried snails instead!) and yes of course, the return of Eddie’s own “Chosun One” tasty Korean-fangled burger.

So come by and eat me tonight!

Biergarten
206 N Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Neighborhood: Wilshire Center
(323) 466-4860

New burgers all available starting at 5 PM tonight for $10-$11 each.

Disclaimer: Money cant buy you real burger love! I DID NOT PAY Eddie Hah, Biergarten or any one to make this happen!

Unseasoned Wasteland: A week in a Hospital

So for the majority of my last week, I feasted daily and was kept hydrated on salty, sustaining saline IV Fluid.

iv fluid

It was a week after I came back from Indonesia and I still hadn’t been able to shake off this weird continuous cough I had. Riding in the emergency row right next to door in the long flight over–super cold–and exerting myself daily since I got back like I was Superman couldn’t of had helped neither.

My cynicism along with the fear instilling worthless media was getting the best of me, making me think I caught some weird strain of Swine Flu or something worse even. After getting a fever of 103 one, I decided to give in. I went to the Hospital.

…turned out I had severe Bronchitis, which brought along other bad things, if I came any later–it could of turned into Pneumonia. Wow. My family did say they heard me coughing even before I left (almost a month!?). At least it wasn’t Swine Flu…

Fortunately I still have Medical Insurance since I still go to school, even cooler was the fact that one of my many, many aunts happened to work at the hospital too, my own room with double attentive service and double portions of food? Oh yeah.

generic dressing
Straight from the Source: Generic

Not that double portions of food was always a good thing here…

peas n chicken
Peas N Chicken: Don’t let that seasoned look on the chicken fool you.

Most of the food was ultra under seasoned, if not unseasoned entirely. No matter what, all the meals here shared this synonymous hospital food flavor, consisting of the plain flavor of food and probably microwaved achieved tenderness.

pretty lasagna
Lasagna: starch on starch, food here listened to no plating rules at all.

Not complaining though, food wasn’t all terribly bad, still relished focusing my taste buds on the plainness of it all. There is just something to be said about a pre-portioned amount of an assortment of food prepared for you, even if its not amazing, the sheer joy of opening each container to see what’s inside, tasting it, enjoying it, then moving on to the next side.

pudding!
Jell-O Pudding!: No Butterscotch Budino but hadn’t had this since I was ‘yay tall, totally reminisced and treasured its artificial sweet silkiness.

Ok, ok…I didn’t eat all the food here. I was lucky enough to have my loved ones (mom) save me for most of the meals, bailing me out through take out food from places I craved and convinced them to bring me.

indian carry out
Saag Paneer, Daal, Aloo: Indian take out from Tandoor India near S.M.C (courtesy of my friend)

I even had a full meal of multiple Dim Sum dishes on Sunday morning!

dumplings
Green Chive & Shrimp Dumplings from Yum Cha Cafe

Almost a week in there but it was well needed, can’t remember the last time I watched T.V until my eyes glazed over and ate nonchalantly all day.

Anyways…95% better y otra vez, hechandole ganas! (back at it and in full throttle).

L.A Community Hospital
4081 E Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 267-0477 ?

Yum Cha Cafe
421 N Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754-1027
(626) 289-6287?

Tandoor India
2622 Pico Blvd
Santa Monica,
CA 90405

Indonesian Immersion: Pre-Porkage Snacking in Bali

Mosquitoes in Surabaya are fiendish little bastards, greedy in their foreign foodblogger preferred blood thirst and not stopping until you stop them. My sleep deprivation was to continue for the third day in a row as sooner than I knew it…the Surabaya sun was rising and it was time for us to jet.
Surabaya Sun

To Bali, it was yet another short flight, less than a sleep deprived hour. As if my excitement was going to let me catch any Zzzz’s anyway…I still couldn’t believe I was going to freaking Bali!.

The morning was barely breaking in as we smoothly landed, our driver on hire had arrived kept punctuality.

At first, I was mesmerized by the sheer prevalence of people on motorbikes. For every one car there must had been at least fifteen bikes meandering their ways through the traffic stop-and-go formed smoggy labyrinths, dangerously close to the courteous but compulsive driving of cars that went to and fro everywhere.

Never thought that 100cc light-frame pushbikes were able to serve as family vehicles but guess I was wrong. I saw as many as a family of four to a simple nuclear family of three, all riding along nonchalantly.

don't worry baby has a helmet
don’t worry, the baby…has a helmet

First things first, a pit stop for snackage was due before the driven scenic tour (since the suckling pig place wasn’t open yet).

nori seaweed lays
Nori Seaweed flavored Lay’s for breakfast. Crisp and briny, mmmmmmm….

Nothing though, had prepared me for the breathtaking sensory overload I was about to behold:

Rice Paddy Terraces
Rice Paddy Terraces made me treasure every single grain of rice I ate on this trip (and that’s a lot).

DSC05002
The traveling photo genius Mattatouille also having a field day with the scenery.

Some more pre-pork snacks was to be had at one of the many local spice and produce shops along the curvy roads.

DSC04949

fruit bounty
Passionfruit, Salak, Mangosteens, Mangoes

salak
Salak or ‘snake fruit’ as it is also called is up there with the unique exotic, hard-shelled spectrum of fruit. A look and feel like monstrously enlarged garlic cloves with a hard, sweet crisp. For me, a flavor reminiscent of sweetened vitamins with kiwi essences.

DSC04993
Exuberant Passionfruit with its alien-baby like flesh and seeds.

a fresh fucken pineapple!
A Fresh Fucken Pineapple!: I never really thought about where they grew from…

cacao trees only natural here
Cacao trees were were also usual around these areas

And last but not least….Kopi Luwak.

kopi luwak

This coffee achieves a particularly murky nuttiness and deep flavor due to its fecal, pre-digested sourcing: the precious droppings of the Musang Luwak.

matt's senses

DSC04991

Actually preferred it over the normal non-pooped ground Kope Bali coffee…yup, I just said that.

Next…porkage.