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Imperial Ave. Chowdown (San Diego)

  • Josh Feb 2, 2008 03:32 PM
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Met up today with AliceQ, jturtle, and kare_raisu for an exploration of the food in the Farmer's Market building on Imperial Ave.

We started off with a quick overview of the different food vendors, before starting off with some mariscos. We had ceviche de pescado and aguachile. The ceviche was delicious, citrusy and bright. It had a little bit of heat to it as well, but was better when augmented with one of the numerous hot sauces available.

The aguachile was also great, and was like nothing I've had before. It's made from raw shrimp, "cooked" in the manner of ceviche via a soaking in citrus juice. It comes on a platter, with shrimp, onions, and sliced cucumbers visible, with sliced tomatoes underneath. Like the ceviche, this is meant to be eaten on tostadas. They didn't tell us that, and were chuckling as they watched us eat the first few mouthfuls of shrimp on cucumber slices. This dish was very spicy, and we found out they season it with fresh habanero. I really liked it a lot, and thought the spiciness level was perfect since I didn't feel the need to add any hot sauce.

We then moved on to the carnitas stand. This is a second location of the Carnitas De Michoacan restaurant next to Super Cocina. In the display case we saw lots of interesting looking cuts of pork that had been deep fried. There were ribs (!), kidneys, ears, pork belly, and the standard pork shoulder. I ordered tacos made from the rib meat, the pork belly, and the ears.

When handed the tacos, though, it was clear I was misunderstood because instead of pork belly, I was presented with two pungent pork stomach tacos. Not being one to shy away from weird food, I figured it was worth trying at least. I didn't totally care for them - the pork stomach is very strong tasting, and had an almost liver-like flavor to it. kare_raisu found that by dressing it with lime juice, cilantro, and onions, some of the rich gaminess was mitigated. He was right, and I managed to eat half of the taco. Still, not something I'd get again!

The tacos made from the ribs, though, they were awesome. This might be my favorite type of carnitas, in fact. They were a lot more flavorful than the standard pork shoulder carnitas that we also sampled.

kare_raisu really liked the ears, but they weren't really my thing. Crunchy cartilage doesn't do much for me.

jturtle and I then paid a visit to one of the guisado vendors, and got a plate of barbacoa de res and chile relleno. We all really enjoyed both of these items. kare_raisu was detecting the flavor of pork fat in the barbacoa, speculating that the meat might have been browned in manteca prior to braising. Whatever was done to it, it was really delicious. The chile relleno was also very good, though I prefer the cheesier ones at Super Cocina.

The only clinker of the outing was a torta ahogada that I got from one of the vendors. kare_raisu and I each had a bite of it and thought it sorely lacking. The sauce it was served in was very bitter, and had no other discernible flavors. It was so strong and overpowering that the flavors of the bread and meat couldn't even be detected.

AliceQ brought the meal to a close with some pan dulce. I'm not much of a sweets person these days, so someone else will have to comment on that part of the meal.

Having gone on a few chowdowns, I have to say it's pretty cool to meet up with people who are so interested in trying new things. It's very refreshing to bring something like pig stomach tacos to a table and not have people recoil in revulsion.

Here are some pix:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshthew...

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  1. Great report Josh... looking for the rest of the comments.

    1. No, Josh, I would have recoiled at a stomach taco ;-D. I was so sorry to have to miss this event. Now that the kitchen remodel is done we've moved on to the bathrooms. I spent the afternoon shopping for tile, sinks and toilets. Trust me on this, I would much rather have spent it chowing down with you guys. I LOVE carnitas de costillas and maciza as well. Divine. Looking forward to everyone elses descriptions too.

      3 Replies
      1. re: DiningDiva

        So is maciza the pork belly?

        1. re: Josh

          No. I think maciza is called pork cushion meat up here. It's similar to pork shoulder but not quite as lean. I like it because it's lean but flavorful and not full of gristle. If they had it you should have tried a taco de suadero.

          Frankly, I'm not sure what you should have asked for in order to get pork belly. Maybe Cristina will answer this for you, but I think she's either in Chiapas right now or on her way. I'll be in Uruapan and Patzcuaro in 6 weeks and can hardly wait for carnitas at the source :-)

          1. re: DiningDiva

            this article from Chow has a Spanish name for pork belly - but I don't think I saw it on the menu, I'll check when I download my photos.

            http://www.chow.com/ingredients/177

      2. Apparently I hid my revulsion better than I thought! ;-) Thanks for taking the lead on posting about this Josh - you did a lot of the work for us! It was great to meet you guys, I am looking forward to doing it again, and can't wait to meet some of the rest of the people who couldn't make it this time.

        By far my favorite part of the meal was the barbacoa/chile relleno. The pork tacos were good (rib and carnitas, I tried neither the ear or stomach) but the richness of the pork was pretty overwhelming. I was amazed by the fresh tortillas - and I really want to try some of those sopes made with the fresh masa next time. Everything was incredibly fresh and the stalls were busy - cranking out bowls of pozole, plates of tacos, etc. There were lots of Mexican families eating together and it had a festive atmosphere with the strolling guitar player, etc. It was a little like the Farmers' Market in LA with the stalls - but of course all Mexican food. The only thing missing was some ice cold beer.

        As Josh said, there were four of us, and each of us took the lead on choosing a part of the meal and purchasing it for everyone to share. Alex did the ceviche, Josh the tacos, Jen the guisados, and I chose the pan dulces. I was pretty impressed with the panaderia, I have to say. Most pan dulces I've had in the past have been flavorless and sickeningly sweet. These were more subtle, and didn't taste artificial. They were fresh made right there in the store - the oven is a beautiful old art deco antique. I chose a flan, a couple of glazed crisp flat cookies - one was like a palmier and the other more like a glazed piece of pie crust. We had one that was a pound cake-like muffin wrapped in crisp pastry and baked, another one that was sort of like a cakey cinnamon butter cookie - and a cake made of the same poundcake shaped like a snowball - two halves stuck together and covered with raspberry jam and coconut. We couldn't finish them all, but we tried. (BTW - all of that, including the flan, cost $6.50) The owner was really nice and very helpful, he even made me a fresh pot of coffee.

        I really hope we can do more of these - there are a lot of places out there I'd like to try, and it's a lot more fun with other people who are passionate and knowledgable about food!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Alice Q

          Oh man, I can believe you guys didn't try the pozole, today was the perfect day for it. And, yes, I can believe a vendor made a pot of coffee for you. In my experience, Mexicans are some of the nicest, friendliest, most accommodating people around. There is a simple pleasure in making other people happy.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            Actually, you're right - everyone was really nice and helpful. They were also really amused that we were taking pictures. The sopes and the pozole (and the dozen other guisados) are definitely on the list to try next time around.

        2. I'm so sorry I had to miss this today, but the darling daughter had other plans for "us". And when you have a teenager who actually WANTS to spend time with you, well, you notate it in the family history album and go for it! Please do it again soon, and I'll clear the calendar.

          1. Alright! So my take:

            I'll start by stating that my absolute favorite part of the event was sitting down and spending time with the hounds- with the intermingling maize, tripe, intoxicating swiney pork cooking, as well as cinnamony chocolate champurrado perfuming the air we breathed.

            You guys are all clearly passionate, wonderful people and an absolute pleasure to share a meal with! I am really happy we got together.

            So! four hounds got together for a Saturday Morning brunch at the Imperial Avenue Farmer's Market, un verdadero pedazo de Mexico just east of the beautiful downtown San Diego Skyline.

            >>Mariscos Fonda<<

            We whetted are appetites by commencing with the Mariscos - we had a Ceviche tostada de pescado and a aguachile rojo. The Ceviche - was slightly tired and muddy for my taste - but entirely edible.

            I liked the Aguachile rojo - which I enjoyed watching being made for us - the cook delicately butterflied each shrimp and sliced onion and cukes. The ceviche marinade was delicious - I saw lime juice, oil, bottled hot sauce and fresh habaneros being used.

            The dish exemplified its exuded chile buzz to the t. You feel especially alive and blood rushes. I liked the combanation of the cool shrimp and cukes.

            >>Carnitas Estilo Michoacan Fonda<<

            Next up was Carnitas Estilo Michoacan. This place is great - some of the best carnitas I have had in San Diego. Go here for your next pork craving!

            The oreja "pig ear" carnitas taco I ordered was my favorite dish of the day. I do not lie - if you like buche and your a texture junkie- you'll love oreja. Crunchy cartiledge and fatty carmalized ear skin makes a pretty awesome taco - especially when its tempered by a good squeeze of limon. I wish I ordered more.

            I was secretly glad that the cashier mistook Josh's request for belly meat for pork stomach. I wanted to try it so I stomached one of the tacos! My cohorts despite my berating only took a few nibbles in good faith. I liked it - not nearly as skunky as Menudo tripe - & I also like interesting flavors - so this takes the cake of the term interesting.

            The rinones will have to be for next time. The ribs - costillas were ok - but I waited too long and didnt enjoy them hot.

            I actually least liked the masciza (meat -regular) They were not crisp, though moist - they tasted steamed - pretty boring (EN - Petalumas uruapan were even better than these)

            >>El Chetin Fonda<<

            We tried the Guisaderia El Chetin next - we had a chile relleno and barbacoa de res. The Chile relleno served here is very unique among those I have tasted and holds a special place in my heart. The capeado (the batter) was much less fluffy than usual - and possessed a well browned egg flavor. The caldillo was extradordinary - I felt it made the dish. Quite light on the palette, perhaps majoram and oregeno laced, and an appetizing sunset red color. I also appreciate one of the most toothsome roasted chiles I have had - al dente poblanos are a good thing.

            The barbacoa de res was pretty spot on a barbacoas go. The addicting flavor screamed of lard, and was spiced hauntingly with cinnamon and clove. My only critiscism was it was over salted.

            I am pretty certain that the tortillas hand pressed here by a woman with some of the strongest forearms I have seen in ages are the best in San Diego County. I don't like to stare but my seat was in direct eyesight of the wooden press tortilla production. The care and articulation of this masa maiden left me amazed. And yes, the masa here is FRESH not Maseca. El Chetin takes the cake for me on the tortilla and chile relleno front.

            >>Ricas Tortas Ahogadas Stand<<

            The Torta ahogada was a waste of money - I tasted it first. I had I high hopes - for gosh sake they import Birotes (bread) 3x a week from Guadlajara for this sandwich expressly. The sauce tasted like my meatballs at Pho Pasteur - Peppercorn. salty and bitter. It went in the trash.

            >>Panaderia<<

            I was shocked! This little panaderia's pan dulce was exquisite and consistently good tasting in all that Alice Q picked. Looks like Panchitas might have some competition. Great Job Alice! Without a doubt I will be back.

            12 Replies
            1. re: kare_raisu

              Great report Alex! Here are my photos - sorry it took so long, but Flickr ate some of them in the uploading process, I've noticed that happens sometimes if I try to add too many at once. I saw your comments about the carnitas - I liked them at first, but as I ate I realized they were kind of bland - I started adding salsa, but then it just tasted like onion. As I mentioned, I haven't had very good carnitas karma lately. We used to occasionally get good a carnitas burrito from our favorite taco shop on Adams (Rolbertos, actually) but it was hit or miss, and as I mentioned - my one foray to Carnitas Uruapan in Lemon Grove was a bust.

              Looking forward to the next outing to Super Cocina!

              http://www.flickr.com/photos/42323675...

              1. re: Alice Q

                Carnitas are really nothing more than pork confit, and when done right the meat should be meltingly tender and very voluptuous in the mouth. In Michoacan they are generally served with salsa de chile peron (chile manzana here in the U.S.), minced white onion and lime wedges. The quality of the tortilla is extremely important (and it sounds like you guys had excellent ones) as corn and pork together is an incredible combination. A fresh,hot corn tortilla, fresh, hot carnitas, a splash of chile peron, a sprinkle of white onion and a squeeze of lime and it should be nirvana.

                I've had really good carnitas at Super Cocina at lunch. I'd say to try Carnitas Uruapan again, but go during comida hours (2 - 3:30 PM approx.) on a weekend when Mexican families would be most likely to be eating there.

                KR, Josh, ChilePM (now PMacias) and I did get together last year at the Escondido swap meet, which has lots of good options as does much of Escondido. I just wish it weren't such a schlep from the East County. And kudos to Josh for turning us on to Holiday Liquors, what a great liquor store. I'd absolutely be up for revisiting Escondido sometime soon. Maybe brunch at the swap meeting, swing by Panaderia Ortiz to pick up some pan dulce, I'd have to make a side trip to the Mingei outpost, and finish with an early dinner at Hacienda de Vega.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  Thanks Gayla - I do know what you're talking about - the Pork Confit at Asia Vous was the best Carnitas I've ever had! :-) And that day trip to N. County sounds like fun. I'd also be up for a field trip to LA at some point.

                  1. re: Alice Q

                    That is so funny, I almost included the pork confit at Asia Vous in my post. They really were the best carnitas I've had in SD.

                    PMacias and I have talked about doing LA for some time. Both of us lived there for quite a number of years and both of us are really into art as well as food. We've talked about doing the Latin American museum in Long Beach, the Folk Tree, Norton Simon and Asia Pacific in Pasadena and, of course, the granddaddy LACMA in the Wilshire/MidCity area. And the Mexican food in L.A., aye, yi, yi, what options we'd have :-). It's really more than a day trip. We were thinking it might be worth burning a 3-day weekend to go eating and art tripping.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      That sounds great - I've also been dying to go to the Rose Bowl Flea Market - it's on the second Sunday of every month I believe - and now that my husband has bought a giant pickup truck (it must be something in the water out here!) I can actually buy some stuff and bring it home!

                  2. re: DiningDiva

                    "Carnitas are really nothing more than pork confit, and when done right the meat should be meltingly tender and very voluptuous in the mouth. In Michoacan they are generally served with salsa de chile peron (chile manzana here in the U.S.), minced white onion and lime wedges. The quality of the tortilla is extremely important (and it sounds like you guys had excellent ones) as corn and pork together is an incredible combination. A fresh,hot corn tortilla, fresh, hot carnitas, a splash of chile peron, a sprinkle of white onion and a squeeze of lime and it should be nirvana."

                    Beautiful.

                    Escondido - does really need some more attention. A return is definitely in order - i need some of Fiesta Oaxaquenas food bad.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      I'd skip HdV and do something like this instead:
                      1. Appetizers: Share tlayudas and tamales at swap meet; maybe a cup of champurrado
                      2. tacos de carne asada @ Baja Foods on 9th & Quince (Has no one else tried these yet? I'm telling you, they are the only tacos I've had in CA that taste like Mexico.)
                      3. Ice cream next to El Tigre market on Escondido & Washington (the one kare raisu raves about)
                      4. Panaderia Ortiz to take home
                      5. Maybe a drink at HdV's bar if not too stuffed

                      Alternatives:
                      La Cocina de Maria for mole or costillas en salsa verde (though the rice is just so-so and the beans are lousy)

                      Steam-tray guisados @ Latino Meat Market (I haven't tried any, but the sign outside always catches my attention. Today they advertised costillas de puerco en salsa de chipotle.)

                      The tacos at Esperanza's Tortilleria might be good, based simply on the superiority of their tortillas.

                      Browse Middle Eastern and Eastern Europeans goods at the tiny Cedars Market on 7th and Escondido. I don't get to other similar markets often, but I think their selection of exotic meats, cheeses, and wines is particularly fascinating.

                      We also recently got a new large Mexican market (name escapes me now, but it's big) and a Tesco. I haven't visited either yet.

                      Our Major Market and Holiday Wine Cellar are two of the best specialty stores in the county.

                      I'm going to keep a more careful eye on this board in hopes of making it to your next chowdown!

                      1. re: maestra

                        Maestra, most of this event was planned through SDChow a Yahoogroup e-list, not the board. You and anyone else are welcome to join by sending an e-mail to SDChow-subscribe@yahoogroups.com . The e-list does not generate a high volume of messages, but there is occasional spam. The CH moderators are pretty adamant about no event planning on the boards, so SDChow was set up to serve that function. Please feel free to join if you'd like.

                        1. re: maestra

                          Ive been in the Baja foods market on your reccomendation - just to check it out. I didnt eat but I did see the Taqueria - "Tacos Alex." with a picture of Speedy Gonzales painted on the wall.

                          Where is the new Mexican Market and Tesco? Are you refering to Mi Pueblo?

                          1. re: kare_raisu

                            No, it's new than Mi Pueblo but on the same side of the street. Valley Max? Super Max? It seems like it has the same name as a chain in Mexico, but I also think the name has changed since it opened.

                      2. re: Alice Q

                        Thank you Alice!

                        I noticed everyone in the surrounding tables were shaking the salt shakers - maybe we needed some.

                        1. re: kare_raisu

                          I didn't figure it out until I thought about it later, but I think it would have helped.

                    2. Great reports everyone. I couldn't be there either, but I raised my breakfast barbacoa taco at Franciscos Deli in Vista in silent salute to the brave omnivores down south. Francisco's is a great place, and it was busy at 9:00 in the morning. It was cool watching the tortillas made right in front of me with a simple hand press, and the masa milled in the back. Even found a couple of bones in the meat in the taco. Very tasty. Thanks for the tip, Alex. I hope I can make it to the next outing.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Leucadian

                        Nice! You made it there. Did you check out Myras Mixtec Bakery across the street?

                        I am interested to hear more... Thoughts? Report!

                        1. re: Leucadian

                          Sounds like you were definitely there in spirit! Maybe we need to do another outing to the market up there - as I recall there was a plan afoot to do that a while ago and it never got off the ground - or maybe a few of you went, I can't remember.

                        2. PS

                          Its worth noting that you can observe the cooks cooking in the huge cazo copper pot - which is THE way to make carnitas in Michoacan. Above this you can see the pork skins hanging to dry - pretty damn cool.

                          If your lucky - you might have a strolling guitarist belt out in song as we did. This place typifies a vibrancy and a feeling of living that I imagine Mexico to be.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: kare_raisu

                            You guys really made it right under the wire weatherwise! It hasn't stopped raining since you got home, has it? The pig feast made my mouth water, especially those ears, Alex. I love buche, cabeza and sesos...all that good stuff. You had a real adventure and all the food was in the same area. Too cool. So sorry I couldn't join you.
                            As to future outings, I really enjoyed our foray into Escondido's swap meet and the Oaxacan food was superb. I'm sorry we weren't there early enough to enjoy those bowls of steaming whatever that was all gone before we could order it. Since you know Escondido/Vista area so well, we could all do a crawl up there sometime. The chicharonnes from the Panaderia were so excellent! I love that pig meat. In New Mexico we used to slaughter our own pigs and eat everything but the hooves. I'd also like to know if there is ANYWHERE that makes decent souse meat in SD county. Anyone know?
                            Yes, I lived in Pasadena for 30 years and loved it! We used to have progressive dinners quite often as there are so many eateries everywhere. For Latin food we'd always start with anquilas in Echo Park and end up with fried platanos somewhere in Hollywood that's probably not there any longer. But what fun! I'd really be up for 3 days in L.A. for art and food, Gayla. And I'd love to meet some of the other Chowhounds. Maybe the SD and LA hounds could meld, now that sounds like fun!
                            Alex, we're so lucky you are back with us and keeping us enthused about all the goodies that are available out there. YUM.

                            1. re: P Macias

                              P Macias -
                              I agree. Saturday was a perfect day - compared to yesterday's depressing rain. & its neat that all these different food stalls are together.

                              I am sure you would love Carnitas Estilo Michoacan if you like those cuts - which I tend to favor being a texture person.

                              If you check out Alice's killer fotos you will come across a picture of Chicharron Prensado - "Pressed Chicharron" which I did not notice. I have heard of this chicharron pressed into a rectangular cake like form and cut much like the sweet. This is the first time I have seen it in my US Regional Mexican journeys. Pretty exciting.

                              Thank you for your kind words, p. I think its my chowhound duty to share about interesting places - even if it as simple as a pumpkin empanada. We need to get this CA (sd) board moving!

                          2. Sorry that I am so late posting my review of the chowdown but I was stuck attending events at decidedly non-chow places while speaking fondly of our chowdown.

                            This was my first time meeting up with other chowhounders and it was a wonderful experience. Josh, Alice Q, and Kare_raisu were fun, knowlegeable and friendly companions for our exploration of a hidden (to me) San Diego gem: the Imperial Farmers Market.

                            They also wrote up wonderful accounts of what we had. I will add that I really enjoyed the carnitas offerings, though extremely rich. I think my favorite part was the various condiments on and around the tables. They were so simple and clean in their flavors that they really heightened the enjoyment of all the dishes we tried. I really enjoyed the chile relleno and the broth that it came in. I wish that I had more of the fresh tortillas to dip in the broth. The dish that tied for my favorite was the aguachile, in fact I think it might have been my favorite as it is the dish and flavor that I keep coming back to. I really enjoyed the heat and the depth of flavors that the sauce contained. The green habenero hot sauce that we tried with the ceviche is currently on my "must find and buy" list! Josh took a picture of it and I will be taking that with me to Northgate--where I have been wanting to go but now have a very good excuse.

                            Finally, I want to say that this chowdown was an extremely enjoyable experience. I for one cannot wait to have another chowdown with Alice Q, Josh, and Kare_raisu and meet more of the other chowhounders.

                            It was very exciting to have the opportunity to try our "stomach" mistake and Kare_raisu's ears. While not things I would order or necessarily try again; having the opportunity with other like minded eaters made my day!

                            Hopefully this chowdown will be the first of many.

                            1. Good on ya' for making the trek to little Mexico. It's a perfect place to get the Mexico fix without the damnable border lines and the food and atmosphere is just so unique.

                              I guess I'll get the see a few more gavacho faces now when I go...

                              1. Just FYI - my blog post about this is up - www.aliceqfoodie.com

                                Cheers and have a great weekend!

                                1. Thanks for all the information on the Chowdown! I'll have to sign up to accompany you on your next excellent adventure. Since I'm a relatively new member of these boards, I can finally find out what it is that Alex and Josh do for a living that gives them the freedom to visit restaurants from one end of this county to the other! LOL!

                                  1. Sorry some more belated photos:
                                    http://flickr.com/photos/22362067@N06/