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

Silver Lake is About to Get Duro! The Full Scoop on Ricardo Diaz’s New Taco Dorado Shop

Duros: A New Kind of Taco Dorado in Silver Lake
Duros: A New Kind of Taco Dorado in Silver Lake

 

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

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 housewith 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.

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