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Six months? Already? (Part1...)

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Erik M Jun 15, 2008 10:39 AM

I haven't read, followed, or posted to these boards for several months now, so my sincere apologies in advance if I'm retreading old ground here:

1. Nayarit-style Pescado Sarandeado.

BOTH of the shops listed below make weekly trips to Mexico to p/u the fish--yes, you read that right--and BOTH of them grill over imported Mexican mesquite lump charcoal.

MARISCOS EL KORA DE NAYARIT:

-The fish for the sarandeado prep here include Corvina, Robalo <Snook>, Pargo <Sea Bream>, and Huachinango <Pac. Red Snapper>, depending on availability. Anyway, the photoset below tells the story. <If you view them in order, at least.> I highly, highly recommend the sarandeado prep, yes, but there are a few other treasures on the menu,
including raw/live pata de mula <i.e., Mangrove cockles; they fairly writhe under a drop of lime juice> and cold seafood cocktails made with a complex seafood-based broth. <Obviously, the seasoning for the broth is most evident when the cocktails are ordered as God intended, i.e., "al natural," or without ketchup. BTW, did I ever tell you that I hate ketchup?>

<Black Diamond Skiers: Consider adding a jigger of the inky-black mangrove cockle liquor to one of the chilled seafood cocktails, as pictured in the photoset above. It takes the flavour profile to a whole 'nother level...>

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605364932977

PLAYAS DE NAYARIT:

-The seafoods for the sarandeado prep here include Robalo (Snook) and Shrimp. In any case, the seasoning for the sarandeado prep is slightly more complex than that at M.E.K.D.N. as it involves not only salt, chile sauce, and citrus, but also a soy- or Maggi-type sauce. <An entirely authentic treatment according to my sources.> Anyway,
it's excellent, excellent stuff. <Accompanied by handmade tortillas, etc.> And, the rest of the menu--at least what I've managed to try--has been very, very good. <Shrimp cocktail, ceviche, smoked marlin tacos, etc.> Oh, and FWIW--I know some people care about such things--P.D.N. has more "atmosphere" than M.E.K.D.N., including a rather fancy covered patio area out back.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605377254328

2. Pollo al Carbón.

MERCADO MEXICAN MARKET:

When it comes to grilled chicken I think that POLLO A LA BRASA is OK, and I think that DINO'S is great, but, for months now, I've passed on both for the stuff on offer at MERCADO MEXICAN MARKET in E.L.A. Like DINO'S, M.M.M. grills the rangier, more flavourful birds that I prefer, but, what really sets them apart--I think--is the live fire Mesquite grill. Does is hew to a particular Mexican regional culinary tradition? Probably not. But, with chicken this good, I don't care. In my book, there's not much that beats the resinous smack and tang of real mesquite grilling, and these guys are straight shooters. The light spice treatment and the tasty accompaniments--beans, tortillas, salsa rojo, etc.--is just that much gravy.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605508074387

NB: The chicken is avalable Fri-Sun only. Anyway, now that I'm somewhat of a "regular," I've had very little trouble getting a bird straight from the the grill--not from the steam table inside--but YMMV.

3. Birria.

BIRRIERIA TLAQUEPAQUE:

I've never been particularly enamoured by the birria at EL PARIAN--to me, the consommé and the tabletop birria sauce taste acrid, whiny, and shrill--which is why I was excited to find better at BIRRIERIA TLAQUEPAQUE on Florence Ave. earlier this year.

Why do I like it so? Well...

(1) The assortment of cuts incl. moist interior meat, *whole* meaty ribs, and braised/bronzed crusty bits, (2) the consommé is deeply-centered and mellow w/ restrained notes of chile and dried spice, (3) the tabletop birria sauce has earthy notes of coffee and ash, (4) the garnish array incl. not only raw onion, cilantro, and lime, but grilled onion slivers, toasted/dried chiles de árbol, and fresh green chiles de árbol, (5) the tortillas here are handmade, (6) orders incl. a bowl of luscious, porky refried beans <topped w/ fried chips made from those same handmade tortillas>, and (7) there's tepache on tap. <smile>

In any case, it's close, very close--much closer than EL PARIAN and a number of Eastside shops I've tried--to the Jaliscan spreads I crossed the border to sample earlier this year.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605323039564

BTW, speaking of tepache, and in case you haven't already noticed, there's a tejuino vendor who sets up shop at the west end of the Sears bldg. at Olympic & Soto most days. She doesn't gild her version with sherbert/nieve--claiming that most of the Mexicans hereabout don't care for the stuff--but the base product is REALLY REALLY tasty all the
same. <If you peek in the scrub nearby you'll see a big ol' tank of the stuff sweating and bubbling away.> She handmixes fresh lime juice, rock salt, ice, and the fermented honey brew in a large cup for $2.

Look close, her sign reads, "TEJUINO FRESCO ESTILO GUADALAJARA."

4. Hue-Style Food.

KIM HOA HUE RESTAURANT:

Over the course of a few months I've managed to try a large swath of the menu at this Hue specialist in South El Monte, and I have to say that there's little that I *haven't* been impressed with. <OK, so the papaya salad is lacklustre and the bun bo hue contains too much MSG, but, hey.> Excellent banh creations, excellent cured meats <Hue-style nem chua, tre, cha Hue, etc.>, and the best version of Mi Quang I've found on *this* side of the Pacific. <I'd say the same for the com hen, but, hey, this place notwithstanding, I've never seen com hen in the U.S. before.>

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605345922635

BTW, speaking of nem chua, I stumbled on another fantastic, all-natural version <i.e., no MSG-based souring agent used> in Chinatown, of all places. I'm talking about the Vietnamese Restaurant and Deli, THIEN HUONG, in Far East Plaza. If you look closely you'll see three different versions in their cooler case, (1) the standard, "nude," dice-shaped pieces, (2) the standard, *leaf-wrapped* pieces, and (3) thin, foil-wapped, domino-shaped packets which--surprise, surprise--can be purchased by the piece. It's these last ones you want. <Oddly enough, according to the shopkeeper, they're the only ones which *aren't* made in-house.> They're brilliant things, with a sweet, clean flavour which quickly gives way to a blast of black pepper heat. If it means anything to you, they remind me of the housemade nem chua that BANH MI CHO CU in Westminster puts out. 'Cept I like these even better. And, they're, like, what, 30 miles closer. Anyway, I've found the restaurant food at this place to be average at best. <They're actually from Hue, so I was hoping against hope...> If you want to try something, the bun rieu is perhaps the best of the lot, but I think that you'll find the need to doctor it up with a load of mam tom.

Oh, gosh, speaking of Hue stuff, and in case you don't know already, they make a real sharp, rustic, homestyle version of bun bo hue at BANH XEO QUAN in Rosemead. It has (1) a delicate and aromatic pork-based broth, (2) a hand-crafted, roughly-textured, Hue-style chile oil which is served on the side, (3) a garnish plate which includes shredded rau muong, i.e., water spinach, and (4) no discernable trace of MSG.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605599924711

I've yet to try anything else on the menu--which is only five items long--but I will. I will.

<I know a lot of people rave about the bun bo hue at places like NEM NUONG KHANH HOA and NEM NUONG NINH HOA--heck, they were the first ones that *I* heard about--but I gotta tell you that I was really disappointed with them both. They're made in the Southern-style, specifically--Nha Trang, according to the staff--and like any number of Southern Vietnamese spins on traditional Central and Northern Vietnamese dishes in my opinion, they put the emphasis on the wrong syllable, as it were. In this case it means that they dramatically punch up the broth's chile heat and oil quotient, and, in the process, they obscure--if they don't obliterate--some of the dish's more nuanced and subtle expressions. Oh, and they both use a f88kload of MSG. Rant Over.

5. Pho.

If you name a Pho specialist in the SGV there's a very good chance I've been there, but, I was DEEPLY underwhelmed with the scene until I crossed Rosemead Blvd. and entered South El Monte earlier this year. Generally speaking, I found the pho shops in this part of the Valley to be remarkably good, but the Vietnamese community in the area--which appears to be an even-steven combination of very recent immigrants and more culturally-conservative old-timers--probably wouldn't have it any other way. Here, the broths tend to be well-structured creations with real body, and they sing of tail (ox) and bone. And--unlike their counterparts on the west side of the Valley, not a one of them struggles under the weight of an overwrought, unnecessarily-complicated--hell, "confused" is the word--bouquet. Deliberate and assured, they're confident, all. No, you won't find any of that spindly-legged, brittle, and MSG-laden crap here. <Yes, I'm pointing at you, GOLDEN DELI and PHO 79, but I'm also pointing at PHO HA, PHO SUPER BOWL, PHO PASTEUR, PHO NGUYEN HOANG, PHO 54, SAIGON FLAVOUR, and VIETNAM HOUSE...> In any event, the South El Monte pho scene is on fire right now with 3 relative long-timers <PHO HIEN-MAI, PHO HIEN, and PHO HUYNH>, 1 relative newcomer <PHO FILET>, 2 *brand new* shops celebrating grand openings <PHO MINH and PHO HONG LONG>, and another shop still on the way <PHO KIM>.

FWIW, for kicks, really, here are my own current rankings in REVERSE order of preference:

PHO HONG LONG--A new specialist at the far end of the strip, nearly at Santa Anita. <In the old Pho 999 space>

Their specialty is pho suon bo, or beef noodle soup with beef short ribs. <It strikes me as more of a novelty, but it'll likely give a gaggle of Yelpers real wood, I'm sure.> Anyway, I was underwhelmed by the stuff, but I've yet to try a straight ahead bowl of pho bo.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605529116541

PHO HUYNH--While leagues better than most of its counterparts in Alhambra, San Gabriel, etc., the broth here is perhaps the weakest of the El Monte bunch, tasting flat, wan, and overly-sweet after just a few sips. In any event, it's one of the most popular shops in the neighbourhood, and, relatively speaking, it appears to draw the highest percentage of young Vietnamese, including women. It's also the most spiffed-up and modernly-appointed shop, but, hey, you draw your own conclusions. Despite my misgivings, I'm quite fond of the cuts of meat at this place--especially the brisket and the thinly-shaved tendon--so I can very easily get by. <Nuoc beo can correct a lot of flaws in my book.> Oh, FWIW, the nam, or "brisket" cut here--shown in the close-up photo at the link below--is true brisket as Americans know it, not the ngau nam, or "fatty beef plate," which most SoCal shops seem to use.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605577782534

PHO HIEN--These folks make a supple, soft broth w/ good body and a light, delicate flavour and aroma. <Highly-clarified stuff, it's a good candidate for the addition of nuoc beo.> Good quality meats here. I'm especially fond of the meatballs. No, they're not homemade--I'm still looking for a pho joint which makes their own meatballs; Chicago had two of them the last time I checked--but they're a good deli product all the same.

<Black Diamond Skiers: The house special here includes ox pizzle and egg.>

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605547800063

PHO FILET--Always mobbed up, this shop claims to have been the first in the area to offer pho bac, or Northern-style pho w/ "filet mignon." Anyway, whether you take that option or not, a bowl of pho here is a veritable bloodfeast. I mean, there's no beating around the bush here, this is pho to make it absolutely clear that an animal gave its life for your sins. <smile> The broth is brawny, beefy, and rich, with an impossibly heady aromatic bouquet. This is pho for folks who insist on being slapped in the mouth with flavour. I'll admit, there's a time and place for it in my pho rotation, but it's almost 180 degrees in the opposite direction from the spartan, spare style I'm so crazy about. <Oh, FWIW, their ca ri ga, or "chicken curry," has a sizeable fan base. It's good stuff, the best I've found in the SGV so far, but I'll admit that I haven't looked real hard.>

<Black Diamond Skiers: As you can see in the close-up photo at the link below, PHO FILET'S "tai" cut is true sirloin, not the industry standard, eye-of-round. If you are a stickler about rare beef cuts clouding or muddying the broth, you may want to "cook" them yourself in a separate bowl of plain broth. Both the sirloin and the filet are bloody, bloody cuts of meat.>

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605559888778

PHO HIEN-MAI--This shop fashions an EXCELLENT, beefy and full-bodied pho broth in a classic, throwback style. A goodly amount of residual oil lends viscosity and gives the broth a rich mouthfeel. Unfortunately, this place is presently closed for "remodeling." <Cough***The heath department gave PHO HIEN_MAI a 57/100 score a month back, and then went on to close them down last week***Cough> Here's hoping that little changes whenever they manage to reopen. <Me, I'll admit that I was charmed by the shoddy, shabby environs. If you've ever had the pleasure of eating "close to the street" in Vietnam, or anywhere else in S.E.A. for that matter, you can relate, I'm sure.>

PHO MINH--In my book, the stripped-down and spare beef broth at this spanking new shop takes the SGV pho game to a whole 'nother level. This is pho for those folks in search of cerebral, as opposed to merely carnal pleasures. <"Liquid soul" is really the only way I know to describe it. My first taste, a few weeks ago, was like reconnecting with a part of me I never knew I'd lost, let alone had.> Anyway, until earlier this week, when they started effing with the recipe, PHO MINH had the best bun bo hue I've encountered this side of BUN BO HUE SO 1 in Westminster. <Here's hoping that they can right that ship.> Oh, and the com tam plate--pictured in the photoset linked below--is definitely worth checking out. I hate going hyperbolic on a place, especially when it's so new, but that com tam assortment is the best, most well-groomed assembly I've encountered in L.A. so far.>

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157605397096626

Anyway, if you get over El Monte way, and you haven't already, check out one of the VietCoffee cafes in the immediate area. There's CAFE QUYNH NHU in the same plaza as MY HANH, and then there's CAFE XINH XINH in the plaza on the SW corner of Rosemead and Garvey. I really like CAFE QUYNH NHU'S wrap-around lanai-style patio, but I've been hanging out at CAFE XINH XINH this week b/c it's a superior venue for watching the UEFA2008 matches. <Incidentally, I prefer both of these shops to the three others I've been to in the SGV, i.e., CAFE QUYNH NHU and JAZZ CAFE on Del Mar, and CAFE WINDOW, around the corner on Valley Blvd. <CAFE QUYNH NHU is often too smoky for me, and, hey, I smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes for nearly ten years, so I *know* from smoky; CAFE WINDOW is often filled with Viet teenyboppers and thugwannabees, which is amusing for, like, two minutes; and JAZZ CAFE, well JAZZ CAFE is just too grim.>

OK, I'm getting tired of typing, but I might come back soon to share more finds. The truth is that I eat out two times a day, almost every day that I'm in town--and I make every effort to eat at *at least* one new place every one of THOSE days--so I could go on like this for, well, DAYS. Here's some stuff I might do next time...

LA CARIDAD, the Cuban place in Historic Filipinotown <cubanos/medianoches, daily specials like pollo asado, soups, games of dominoes, etc.>

EL AMANECER SALVADOREñO, the Salvadoran place on 8th in K-Town <pupusas, esp. revueltas and loroco, chicharrónes en tomate, caldo de gallina--one of the best chicken soups I've had--carne asada, costillas de res, etc.>

LAS MORELIANAS, The new Michoacan-style carnitas specialist at the GCM <pick-your-cut-any-cut, bacon studded frijoles puercos, chicharrónes prensado, etc.>

PALATERIA LA MICHOACANA <Small-batch artisinal ice creams made--40 at a time--with whole milk and seasonal fruits, incl. jamaica, plum, coffee, vanilla w/ whole raisins, immature (green) guava, etc.>

SZECHUAN BEST, which I first visited w/ TonyC earlier this year <They've got three dishes currently vying for space on my Top Plates of 2007/8 list...steamed spareribs w/ yams, minced beef mapo tofu w/ crispy soybeans, and spicy, sliced/cold pork belly.>

MALO <Has anyone elaborated on their assortment of single-village mexcals?>

SEVEN GRAND <Damian's unique tequila and gin genius...>

Oh, yeah, a couple of Gujarati joints, a couple of new Thai places...

In any case, if the mods kill my lights, or if I don't get back here soon, you can always check my Flickr profile to see which sets I've made publicly available. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'll add that link to my Chowhound prorfile right now. Just give me a sec...

...OK, I just had a coffee and I'm feeling a second wind...m-u-s-t push on...here are a few more things I should probably add while I'm here...

ANTOJITOS GUERRERO:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157604192106983

<I know, I know, nothing new or revolutionary, but I've had a number of tasty dishes here all the same. And, hey, even if there isn't anything distinctly Guerrerense about them, their pork chops in green chile sauce with housemade tortillas are worth talking about.>

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ORD:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157603919317740

<ORD is virtually indistinguishable from a number of cafes which have popped up in college areas across Thailand in the past few years. At any rate--and whether you care for it or not--the cooking at ORD accurately represents the new face of Thai cookery in Thailand, which is governed by parsimony as much as anything...>

Oh, speaking of Thai stuff, here are a few things:

1) If you are a fan of the Chiang Mai-style, curry-flecked pork sausage called sai ua, you've got to try the stuff at SWEET LEMONGRASS in N. Hollywood. I admit, I used to be keen on the version that SPICY BBQ made, but, these days, and along with a number of other things--kaeng khae, khao soi, laap khua, laap thawt--they've resorted to taking some unacceptable "shortcuts" in my book. Two of the *most* unacceptable being (1) dosing the khao soi w/ non-dairy creamer instead of coconut creme, and (2) switching from natural to artificial casings in the case of the sausage. Anyway--back to SWEET LEMONGRASSS--the demand for the stuff in the Thai community is so great at this point that it extends to neighbouring states, and they're now cranking out hundreds of pounds each month. If you go, have Nung translate the rest of the Northern Thai menu for you. <Or, if you know where I hang these days, you can find mine online. And, if you don't, DON'T ask me here, please. I'm not in the business of advertising.> They do a few Northern-style dishes better than anyone else these days.

FWIW, here's a picture of the khao soi at SPICY BBQ for your viewing displeasure. <It was taken on February 24th of this year> :

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157603980722717

As I said above, the white stuff on top is, er, was non-dairy creamer. <I saw it poured in with my own eyes.> And, to think, Jonagold was hyping this stuff--"probably the definitive version in Los Angeles"--just two weeks back...

2) Speaking of Northern Thai food and laap khua <"cooked" laap>, head on over to PAILIN sometime and try Andy's wife's version. <It's not on the menu, so you'll have to ask for it.> I still refer to my initial tasting notes from 03.08 when recommending it to friends. <They're good for a laugh, if nothing else.> As you can see I got *really* lathered up : "Craggy, spicy, smoky...topped with fried red onion slivers. Cabbage wedge, frilly Napa leaves, mint, laksa leaves, and nasturtium leaves. The irregularly chopped pork had been intensely seasoned and combined with liver, fresh skin, and crispy rinds. Wonderful contrast of textures and tastes. Some pork cuts/bits were crunchy-crisp and dry, while others were moist and oily. Some pork cuts/bits had little if any seasoning, while others had it in spades. A primitive stunner. Intense. Insane." Anyway, if you go, and if they've got 'em in
stock, snag a bag of the housemade pork rinds. They're some of the best around...

3) The owner of the hugely popular--at least in the local Thai community--Thai cafe, SIAM SUNSET, sold off the SGV shop some months back to focus exclusively on the Sunset Blvd. operation. As a result, the place has been ever-so-slightly "spiffed up" <e.g., new awning> and the hours of operation have been extended. It's now open until 10pm 6 nights a week. Anyway, I'm not real keen on the dark soy-based sauce which accompanies it, but their khao man kai <Thai-style "Hainan" chicken and rice> is still the best I've found. <Not only do I like it better than any other Thai resto version I've found, but I like it better than the highly-touted versions at SAVOY KITCHEN, DONG NGUYEN, and PHO GA too. The meat is bouncy, and pink-at-the-bone, not falling apart and steamed-all-to-hell...> And, hey, if you ever wake up one day with a death wish, their FRIED version, i.e., khao man kai thawt, would not be a bad way to go. Lacy tempura-ish batter over that same *just-barely-cooked* chicken...unh. <I'm not sure if this last one is on the printed menu, but it's on the Thai language menu board. Right alongside standouts like khao khluk kapi, i.e., shrimp paste rice w/ sweet pork and omelette, and kuaytiaw khaeh tao-huu yat sai, i.e., noodle soup with pork-stuffed tofu cubes which are meant to be "picked out" of the broth and dipped in the accompanying sauce.>

4) After a recent Songkran-related sojourn to Tailandia--incl. a jaunt to Isaan--I've been fixing my attention on the new-ish Isaan specialist CHAI TOONG (aka CHAI THUNG) on Vermont@SMB. In addition to an English language menu (and an everchanging roster of specials which are written in Thai on whiteboard), there's a hand-written 30-item list of fairly obscure Thai <Isaan, etc.> offerings tucked away behind the register. Hell, if you know your Isaan food, don't stop there, they'll make you anything you want. Papaya salad with khanom jiin noodles, salted and fire-roasted whole fish, Isaan-style tom yam w/ pork ribs, dishes with ant eggs, etc. <I'm still working on them to make real-deal Isaan-style plaa som--which is rice-stuffed fish left to ferment in the sunlight for a few days--this summer.... Anyway, like I said before, if you know where I'm hanging out online these days, then you know where to find my trans. Again, if you don't know, DON'T ask me here, please. I'm not in the business of advertising.>

5) There are a number of items on the Thai language menu board at SAPP COFFEE SHOP which are not listed on the English language menu. Some of the best stuff, actually. Anyway, and only for what it may be worth, I'm particularly fond of the more haimish, homestyle stuff like khii mao pet phak bung, or "drunkard's style" roast duck with water spinach, and phat sa-taw kung sap, or "stir-fried sator beans with minced shrimp."

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EL JATO:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768@N05/sets/72157604101500162

<With the exception of the shrimp cocktail--which is awesome good--there's nothing mind-blowing about this little marisceria, but I think it's worth mentioning all the same. They're really, really great folks, serving solid food, and they run one of the most fun establishements I've come across in E.L.A. I should warn you, though, the Chivas Club is an object of worship here, right alongside the Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos...>

Oh, since I've now recommended three different establishments for chilled shrimp cocktails--and just for kicks--I may as well share my current rankings on that front, and in REVERSE order of preference. With the exception of the first one--The EL MAR AZUL TRUCK--I tried most of them more than once--AND TOOK QUICK NOTES/PICS--so this is at least a half-assed attempt--I said, "at least"--on my part to provide objective data. <smile>

-EL MAR AZUL TRUCK (N. Figueroa @ Sycamore Grove Park
)Shrimp Size: Med to Med-Lg (41-50/lb.)
Shrimp Grade: Poor-Fair
Base: V8, Motts Clamato, First "Naranja" soda, onion, cilantro, lime juice, oil, and chile
Garnish: Sliced avocado and lime wedges.
Avail. Embellishments: House hot sauce.
Mark: 8/20

Notes: The shrimp were flaccid. <Likely damaged by frost/handling.> Otherwise, the list of principal base ingredients says it all-->highly-processed/artificially-flavoured dollar store crap. As my father the farmboy-turned-Large-Animal-Vet-turned-Internist was fond of saying, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

-MARISCOS LAS BRISAS (E.C.E.Chavez @ N. State)
Shrimp Size: Med (41-50/lb.)
Shrimp Grade: Poor-Fair
Base: Chilled shrimp poaching water, ketchup (optional), onion, cilantro, and tomato.
Garnish: Sliced avocado.
Avail Embellishments: Ketchup, lime wedges, and Tapatio hot sauce.
Mark: 11/20

Notes: The quality/freshness of the shrimp was borderline. Base liquid was salty but otherwise bland. Vegetables were anemic/limp. This was low-rent stuff.

-MARISCOS SINALOA (York Blvd., Highland Park)
Shrimp Size: Med-Lg (36-40/lb.)
Shrimp Grade: Fair
Base: Chilled shrimp poaching water, cucumber, and tomato.
Garnish: Sliced avocado and lime wedges.
Avail. Embellishments: Ketchup, and Tapatio/Tamazula/Salsa Huichol hot sauces.
Mark: 12/20

Notes: Base product had little if any taste, requiring *a lot* of adjusting with lime, salt, hot sauce, etc. Even so, it remained rather unremarkable.

-MARISCOS LINDA TRUCK (@ E. Olympic Blvd.)
Shrimp Size: Med (41-50/lb.)
Shrimp Grade: Fair
Base: Chilled shrimp poaching water, ketchup (optional), tomato, onion, and cilantro.
Garnish: Diced avocado and lime wedges.
Condiments: Tapatio hot sauce.
Mark: 14/20

Notes: Shrimp were relatively small and the portion was relatively meager. Poaching liquid was clean and light, but the chopped tomatoes and onions were nearly flavourless/cottony. Hey, didn't I say, "No Ketchup"?

-MARIA'S SEAFOOD (@ GCM, Downtown)
Shrimp Size: Med (41-50/lb.)
Shrimp Grade: Fair
Base: Chilled seafood broth, tomato, onion, and cilantro.
Garnish: Chopped avocado and lime wedges.
Condiments: Ketchup and Tapatio hot sauce.
Mark: 14/20

Note: These days the shrimp are often flaccid/mushy, but MARIA'S remains on my roster even if only for the option of a freshly-shucked oyster cocktail. For whatever reason, they are able to souce a better oyster product than any other pescaderia/marisceria I've tried.

VIA-MAR (N. Figueroa, Highland Park)
Shrimp Size: Lg (31-35/lb.)
Shrimp Grade: V. Good
Base: Chilled shrimp poaching water, ch. tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and cilantro.
Garnish: Sliced avocado and lime wedges.
Condiments: Ketchup, lime wedges, house hot sauce, and Tapatio/Tamazula/Salsa Huichol hot sauces.
Mark: 15/20

Notes: Nice, briny/tangy base liquid incl. whirred/blended tomatoes. Novel. Chopped veggies were of good and plentiful. Shrimp were firm and abundant.

EL JATO (E. 4th, E.L.A.)
Shrimp Size: Ex-Lg (26-30/lb.)
Shrimp Grade: Excellent
Base: Chilled seafood broth, ketchup (optional), onion, and cilantro.
Garnish: Chopped avocado and lime wedges.
Condiments: Ketchup, lime wedges, house hot sauce, Tapatio hot sauce, and house tomato/cabbage salsa.
Mark: 17/20

Notes: Excellent, briny base liquid, epecially when ordered "al natural," or without ketchup. <The house salsa makes for an interesting addition to the cócteles.> The shrimp rank at the top of the pack in terms of freshness/firmness, size, *and* portion.

PLAYAS DE NAYARIT (E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead)
Shrimp Size: Med-Lg (36-40/lb.)
Shrimp Grade: Excellent
Base: Chilled shrimp poaching water, ketchup (optional), onion, cucumber, and tomato.
Garnish: Sliced avocado.
Condimens: Ketchup, salt, pepper, lime wedges, Tapatio and Salsa Huichol hot sauces.
Mark: 17/20

Notes: Clean, bracing, briny base liquid, especially when ordered "al natural," or without ketchup. The shrimp ranked right up there with those served at EL JATO in terms of freshness and relative portion size.

MARISCOS EL KORA DE NAYARIT (Huntington Dr. N., Happy Valley)
Shrimp Size: Lg (31-35/lb.)
Shrimp Grade: Excellent
Base: Chilled seafood broth, ketchup (optional), tomato, cucumber (w/ peel), red onion, and cilantro
Garnish: Sliced avocado and lime wedges.
Condiments: Ketchup, lime wedges, and Tapatio/Salsa Huichol hot sauces.
Mark: 18/20

Notes: Superlative base liquid <which, according to the owner's son, was made from an assortment of seafoods and spices>, epecially when ordered "al natural," or without ketchup. The shrimp ranked right behind those served at EL JATO. Slightly smaller in size, and slightly fewer in quantity, that's all. Cucumber was notable, even if only for the reason and that it had been minced but *not* peeled, lending a nice bitter note. Red onion was also notable, even if only for the fact that it was the sweeter red variety.

NB: On more than one ocassion I've been offered a small dish of the inky-red "liqour" from the blood clams to further enhance my cóctel. YMMV.

Dude. NERD.

----------
CEMITAS POBLANAS ELVIRITA #1:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22982768...

<Unlike so many of Señor Oro's Mexican food picks over the years, the cemitas at CEMITAS POBLANAS ELVIRITA #1 in E.L.A. are every bit as good as advertised. <Better even.> Anyway, I've tried a number of sandwich combos at this point, but I continue to gravitate toward the headcheese/queso blanco combo with chipotle chiles and the pierna
enchilada/quesillo combo with pickled jalapenos...>

-----------
Finally, and because I'm feeling weird like that, here are some thoughts on the burgers I've tried so far this

year:

<Every one? Yes, I tend to keep track of things like that.>

VILLAGE IDIOT--Pub Burger. CTO. Good meat, but I'm not keen on the over-sized bun and the overly-sweet relish.

APPLE PAN--Steak/Tillamook Burger. CTO. I've loved it for years. It's in a class by itself, AFAIAC.

HUNGRY CAT--Pug Burger. CTO. The various parts are unbeatable, but it fails miserably as an ensemble piece.

IRV'S--Cheese Burger. CWO. Freshly squished meat and an unbeatable SoCal b-stand atmosphere. A long-time fave.

MOLLY'S--Cheese Burger. CWO. Nice vibe, but the burgers are just plain rude.

SEAN'S--Chili Cheese Burger. CWO. As CCBs go, they're better than most, but it pales in comparison to JAY'S.

MASA--Spanish Burger. CMO. Did you recommend this? If so, my regard for your opinion has slipped considerably.

LUCKY DEVIL'S--Kobe Burger/Tallgrass Burger. CMO. I'm not wasting any more bandwidth on this place.

25 DEGREES--Asst. Cheese Burgers. CTO. I LOVE IT with, like, twenty exclamation marks.

COMME ÇA--Comme Ça Burger. CTO. Mooooo! One of the brillest in the bunch.

PETE'S--The Hellman Burger. CTO. Dites-moi, aimez-vous le saveur de Liquid Smoke? Il est dans la sauce...

FRAîCHE--ROYALE W/ CHEESE. CTO. Opinion withheld on principle. <I REALLY, REALLY don't like this place.>

YUCA'S--Cheese Burger. CWO. It's close to home; I can't complain.

TOMMY'S (Bev/Rampart)--Chili Cheese Burger. Just kidding. I was finished with this place years ago.

YE RUSTIC INN--Myrtle Burger. CTO. Love it. A Five-Star Drunken Master.

MOM'S--Soul/Cheese Burger. CWO. SOOOOOOOOOOUL!!! GOOOOOOOOOOAL!!! <Props to TonyC>

HAWKIN'S H.O.B. (Altadena)--Cheese Burger. CTO. Masterful, muscular F-U-N-K.

CASSELL'S--Cheese Burger. CTO. DIY condiment bar? Housemade dressing? Potato salad? ROCK ON.

BLUE DAHLIA CAFE--Short Rib Stuffed Burger. CMO. 100 kinds of WRONG. "But, Yelpers love it," said my waiter.

PIE 'N BURGER--Cheese Burger. CTO. Ugh...that sauce is positively sebaceous. "Coke and a tuna sando, please!"

FATHER'S OFFICE--Duh. A onetime fave, but the hype/scene have sucked every oz. of pleasure out of it for me.

TAYLOR'S--Prime Cheese Burger. CTO from fresh-ground steak trimmings? Fresh Potato Chips? I'm lovin' it.

R BAR--Cheese Burger. CTO. An employee rec. Enh.

REDWOOD--Redwood Cheddar Burger. CTO. Mmmmmm....tastes like lighter fluid....Mmmmmm.

BOWERY--St. Andre Cheese Burger. CTO. Brill, but I'm through with it until/unless they lose the fing muffin.

BAR MARMONT--"Damn Good Burger". CTO. Tres, tres brill. Better than the Roquefort Burger @ THE SPOTTED PIG.

CORA'S--Wagyu Beef Burger. CTO. Brill, but it's the atmosphere as much as anything with this one.

THE YORK--Cheddar Burger. CTO. Spicy Harissa Aoili? Give me a break. And, what's with the ice-cold beer?

15--"15" Burger. CTO. As burgers go, I'm not keen on Kobe beef OR Gruyere cheese. I LOVE that bun, though.

SAM'S HOFBRAU--Sam's Kick Ass Burger. CTO. For some reason, I'm having a hard time recalling this one...

DINO'S (N. MAIN)--Cheese Burger. CWO. The meat has the taste and texture of prefab. Gyro cone meat. BlEcH.

Key:
CTO = Cooked To Order. Rare, Rare Plus, Medium-Rare, etc.
CMO = Cooked Medium Only. See MASA, LUCKY DEVILS.
CWO = Cooked Well Only. The default burger stand prep.

NB: I opt for house/signature styles/sizes whenever possible. That most often means ordering "singles," not "doubles," "standards," not "extras," and sure-as-hell- nevar-super-sized or "monster" creations. When it's an option, I order burgers "rare plus" or, "medium rare," and while I generally like mustard, mayo (or "spread"), pickles, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce on my burgers, I AVOID KETCHUP AT ALL COSTS. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot--if it's at all possible--I opt to dine ON-SITE, NOT on-the-run, in-the-whip, back-at-the-crib, etc., so YMMV. <smile>

Whew. That was a lot of typing. What a ramble. Hope it makes some sense.

Regards,
E.M.

P.S. Happy Father's Day, Dad. I miss you more than ever.
P.P.S. KNVB. Rah-Rah! Go Netherlands!

  1. mollyomormon Jun 25, 2008 12:03 PM

    I'm looking over Erik's burger recs and is it really true that Lucky Devil's only cooks their burgers medium and there's no way to get it rare or medium rare? Eww. Why??

    1 Reply
    1. re: mollyomormon
      s
      sel Jun 27, 2008 12:50 PM

      Been to Lucky Devil's only a couple of times, a couple of months ago, tried both burgers which were ordered and served rare.

    2. Peripatetic Jun 20, 2008 03:20 PM

      Erik, this has to be the best CH post ever. I've accumulated a list of some 300 places in and around LA I'd like to try at some point. I think I should just throw it out and start from scratch with only the places you've praised here!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Peripatetic
        TonyC Jun 24, 2008 04:54 PM

        Erik, i'm gonna keep bumpin this until... you reply someday.

        the day after your post, i actually had a Mom's burger. "The Chronic Jr" with bacon and egg. fan-fuggin-fastic. just perfect construction of a burger for $5, yes with white wonder bread. See attached.

        and TOTAL LOL on your Hong Long Notes. I did pop wood over the pho w/ beef short ribs.

        Kim Hoa Hue is nothing short of amazing. The Hue combo gets me every time. The various salads are simply not found anywhere else in the SGV.

        There's a new coffee player in town: Cafe Waiting on Valley, next to Shaokao 808. You'll be scared.

        Cafe Givral on Garvey, once owned by the current proprietor of Cafe Waiting, offers the most stomach-wretching cafe sua da. it's so powerful it hurts.

        Pho Minh's broth is, like the proprietor advised, un-matched in SGV. we are believers.

        Finally, in the same plaza as V&L, I've found the most AMAZING lap xuong (chinese sausage) factory. Twice as expensive as store bought products, but it's salty, sweet porky heaven.

        Good to see you're still alive!

         
        1. re: TonyC
          c
          condiment Jun 24, 2008 07:16 PM

          I am definitely scared by Cafe Waiting - who the hell goes in there? - but 818 is the bomb.

      2. c
        condiment Jun 20, 2008 11:31 AM

        Ah, the pugilistic school of chowhounding. As always with Erik M, one is torn between wanting to follow his advice and wanting to punch him in the face.

        1. eatdrinknbmerry Jun 20, 2008 09:13 AM

          Like I said, you are a machine ErikM. I knew you weren't human from Day 1 haha.

          my only question is... where do I even begin??? I'm liking the up and coming South El Monte area since it's so close to my parents place. I think i'll go for the nem chua/bun bo hue places b/c yes, i agree that NNNH/NNKH dump boat loads of MSG!

          1. SauceSupreme Jun 19, 2008 12:46 PM

            Words don't begin to describe how awesome this is. *bookmarked*

            P.S. I'm a Liverpool fan, so I'm rooting for both the Netherlands (Dirk Kuyt) and Spain (Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres).

            1. j
              Jerome Jun 16, 2008 04:52 PM

              nice post. lots of info of course, and links to your photo site. which is great.

              if anyone here would like to research and post addresses, that would be nice as well.

              i'm not going to, but it's a lot of info.
              thanks

              1 Reply
              1. re: Jerome
                Ciao Bob Jun 25, 2008 11:26 AM

                I found the addresses on the first picture of each place mentioned.

              2. a
                Amata Jun 16, 2008 04:28 PM

                Hey E.M., we miss you in Chicago. Thanks for the great post -- an instant food guide. You've got me curious to look for tejuino around here now....

                1. ipsedixit Jun 15, 2008 09:40 PM

                  Great ... freakin ... post.

                  Thanks.

                  1. a
                    AndrewS Jun 15, 2008 09:32 PM

                    Erik,

                    many thanks for sharing your impressions. That's inspirational. . . I'm gonna have to write up some of my recent experiences . . .

                    Thanks,

                    Andrew

                    1. choctastic Jun 15, 2008 09:08 PM

                      Oh man, I'm reading this thing and it's seriously a work of art. How many parts will there be? I guess only the Shadow knows (and possibly Erik M)

                      I busted out laughing at the use of "sebaceous" to describe the sauce on Pie & Burger's cheeseburger. Yeah!

                      Aahha, "Jonagold". Lovin it.

                      1. mollyomormon Jun 15, 2008 09:07 PM

                        Yay!!! You're back! When are we going to dinner at Jitlada?

                        1. cant talk...eating Jun 15, 2008 08:56 PM

                          Thanks for a mind-boggling post, esp. the So. El Monte rec.

                          Btw, what's "corn hen"?? (@ Kim Hoa Hue)

                          1. Chowpatty Jun 15, 2008 04:18 PM

                            Wow, I'm going to have to spend some more time with this one when I haven't been picking cherries in 90 degree heat all morning. Thanks as always Eric for your devotion to finding what's good out there.

                            1. J.L. Jun 15, 2008 10:52 AM

                              Wowthatwasalongpost.....

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