Que le vaya bien! Eat Nopal Farewell crawl
Once I heard my best friend, Eat Nopal was exiling himself to the worst place imaginable, Hawaii - I knew I wasn't going to let him go without an all day gluttonous feast on the best Mexican food the bay area has to offer.
So I flew up from San Diego and today was the day of the epic SF-Mex crawl.
>>Yucatec in the Mission<<
We tried to hit up Poc -- Chuc only to find it closed on Weds. - so we walked two more blocks over to El Maya Yucatan. I am really glad we did end up - as what we ordered was much to our liking. We had 4 tacos;
* Relleno Negro - I am trying hard to think if I have had a better version of this burnt black recaudo based turkey and pork meatloaf dish. I can't. The sauce tasted alive - and fresh. You can taste the burnt chiles - but its a delicious burnt flavor similar to a good char on bbq meats. I am willing to bet the black paste used was recently homemade - all other verisons I have had taste distant -like they were made from an old paste shipped from the peninsula.
* Relleno Blanco - Quite good overall - the turkey meat was moist and delicious. I yearned for some capers and green olives but they were not to be had.
* Carnita - we ordered cochinita but got these little fried pork pieces which were very good with the above avg. pickled onions.
*Poc - Chuc - The best taco of them all. Great thin charcoal grilled and sour orange marinated pork with a thin black bean puree. Go and get this!
The tortillas here are also wonderful - light supple white corn that in part made the meal
Here are some pictures of El Maya Yucatan [until I can upload some of my own!]:
FWIW... we had lunch at Huarache Azteca #2 on our last day in the Bay Area.... food was bad to fairly good... overall completely average & unremarkable.... menu is too large, unfocused and poor execution.
> The Barbacoa taco & consomme... bad, just bad. Way underseasoned, not fresh, garbanzos mutilated, wtf was up with the strips of guajillo in the consomme?
> Huarache Aztec... passable but the Suadero was terrible. Beaten up & insipid... has it been frozen for a year?
> Huitlacoche Huarache.... decent, not bad... salvaged the meal.
Overall, they are so slow & the food so unremarkable I think they must have been laughed right out of D.F. La Gran Chiquita was significantly more delicious.
In conclusion... I agree with KR that Fruitvale seems to be ground zero for Mexican cuisine in the Bay Area. I have eaten at numerous Mission District board favorites now... and have just never been inspired to post on any of them... neither bad nor good.. they just tend to be blah.
The Fruitvale OTOH seems to be very competitive, there is a very good vibe... its urban & poor but also energetic & progressive... the stretch around that BART station really reminds me of East L.A.... whereas the Mission has a tired,unhappy vibe to it more reminiscent of South L.A. to me. Just my mexchowtaennas speaking... and not anything empiracle.
Mis antenitas de vinyl (a little Chespirito reference for those of you in the know)... tell me there is a lot of great chow in that area... and I hope people can start getting beyond the known quantities... and also trying to force the "upscale" Mexican. It will come with time... and I think the Chowhounds can certainly influence it... but simply rewarding the places that put out mediocre chow & service at $$ to $$$ time & again... isn't going to do anything to bring Alta Cocina to the Bay Area. And remember... having Frida Kahloesque chic decor but serving Chips & Salsa and gussied up versions of common dishes is not Alta Cocina... I think the evolution first brings Classic Alta Cocina dishes (your Quails in Rose Petal Sauce, Chateaubriand with Huitlacoche etc.,) then when that "tires" it can be followed by upscale reinterpretations of Low Brow dishes... not the other way around.
Maya Yucatan was a trip... owned by a distrustful & controlling older Chinese gentleman, serviced by a Totonac lady from Poza Rica (Veracruz)... we were the only non-Mayan speaking patrons... but I could cull a few things.. the customers poking fun at the owner's thriftiness (when they asked him for coffee refills)... the guys messing with the waitress.
As with Tonayense... the kitchen sounded very quiet... I have the feeling that most of the food is prepared by home cooks and sold to the restaurant (just a hunch).
> Poc Chuc was fantastic.. it had a haunting flavor & erased the fact that it was more of a Guiso as it was reheated on the griddle with lots of juices.
> Relleno Negro... that sauce was fantastic as noted by Alex (although the meat lacked the outstanding texture of the Relleno Blanco).
> Relleno Blanco... outstandingly tender poultry... comfort food familiar to any American... however it paled in comparison to good versions in the Yucatan... not even close. Nothing the cook did wrong (in my opinion)... the Bay Area just lacks the quality ingredients not produce a great dish... namely the skinny, flavorful Guajolotes or wild Pheasant used in the Yucatan on such a dish. Using locally sourced poultry could only result in a blandly flavored gelatin.
> Carnita taco.... interesting I never had it in the Yucatecan context... left over meat.. that was sweated in a couple of spoonfuls of a brothy sauce... had a nice, dark pork flavor to it.
The tortillas were very, very good. I also had a nice Watermelon agua fresca.
>> La Gran Chiquita <<
My lesson: Do Not Doubt the Instinct of the great.... nephew of Moctezuma, Eat Nopal.
By this time I was getting full and was on our oath to Huarache Azteca for Comida Chilanga. EN - spotted this restaurant walking down Inter. and settled for us that we must go. The key word on the sign - "Carnitas de Chamorro" - "Pork Shank Carnitas." Who does that?!
We get in sit down in the cute blast from the past diner and open the menu to find our jaws dropped - the offal lovers we are.
Ok, one taco de Moronga, a Nopal taco, and two tacos al vapor - Mollejas and ojitos. This place is now officially the sh-t.
My hunger revived and revved up we went two town on these tacos.
One thing I would like to point out is that they stick to tradition with tortillas. The al vapor - or steam cooked meats we ordered - gets sent to the man manning the al vapor cart station in the front of the building. There he assembled our sweetbread and eye tacos with the properly oil dampened and sweated taquero sized tacos. The two arrived on a minimalist silver plate complete with a perfect wedge of nopal, half a=of a rabano, lime wedge and boiled sweet knob onion.
These tacos were delicious but my only criticism is that they tasted almost identical. I recommend you use the salt shaker on these unseasoned meats as well.
The blood sausage and nopal salad - comes on a generously sized handmade yellow tortilla with a great thickness and well cooked.
These were my favorite - the rich moronga was the best I have ever had - lifted by the herbal cilantro and The nopal - with the slightly melting QF giddy-inducing.
La Gran Chiquita was the place I liked the best the entire trip - and it is worthwhile of Chowhounds attention. I would be here weekly if I lived in the East bay.
>> Chaac - Mool Deli Cafe <<
Perfect example of a place that alludes pioneering chowhounds yet needs to be recognized and patronized by us.
We came across this place with no intention of eating another bite. But with a name like Chaac mool - we mexiophiles become like zombies. We walked in and were immediately offered gratis tacos of cochinita that the owner in chef outfit were assembling seemingly for his daughter and son coworkers lunch.
The pork was much more of a seco - or dry achiote rubbed shredded pork - which I had never experienced before. I'd be hard pressed to find nicer beautiful purple pickled onion and a more sabroso salsa than the chile tomate they served us.
What a kind gesture I have never came across in my year chowhounding. Please check this place out for Yucatec eats as well as:
Milanesa in the style of Jalisco
Mixiotes Chilango style
BRAZO DE REINA!
Chaac Mool Deli Cafe
3700 E 12TH STREET SUITE 1D, OAKLAND, CA
Excellent chowhounding, caballeros! Five years ago we stumbled on La Gran Chiquita when it was newly opened and had my impromptu birthday lunch there, http://www.chowhound.com/topics/23607 . Some how I've never made it back and am happy to hear that it's still the bomb.
I'm really excited about Chaac Mool and can't wait to try its brazo de reina.
A couple notes on Chaac Mool... look & feel reminds me a typical "Cafeteria" in Mexico's interior usually means a hangout spot for pre-adult students.... something about the menu struck that chord as well (particularly with the sandwiches, baby burritos, hot dogs, fresas con crema, trajineras etc.,)
The Brazo de Reina came up as part of a discussion over their Taquiza services ($100 per 50 Tacos / 10 People)...
re: Melanie Wong
I don't think they get enough traffic yet to be able to produce an outstanding Brazo de Reina... but I am willing to be that the catered version will be spot on.
The tortillas here were very "rustic" i.e. malformed (they were in the process of teaching a teenager how to make them) but had good taste... the Cochinita was less juice than other versions around (tender none the less)... but what intrigued me was the REAL SOUR ORANGE used in the rub.
This family is from Oxhutzcab... the mecca of Seville Sour Oranges in the Yucatan... they know their oranges there... and the family sources them from a friend's back yard.
I am hoping the Chowhounds can support them in these crucial months.. you will be amply rewarded (come on if you are not in the Mission district... this stretch of Fruitvale should be more convenient & palatable with its color, charm and shiny, clean BART station).
La Gran Chiquita
Needless to say (what with a solid, solid Nopales taco)... I was delighted with La Gran Chiquita. I had just been telling Alex about Carnitas de Chamorro (Pork Shank) I had at a Fine Dining California Cuisine place in Venice, CA... and then we stumble upon the sign. The eatery is a little dark & funky... and we were full as can be... but we walked in side saw the seperate section for Tacos Al Vapor.. glanced at the menu.. and that there we went again... lots of exciting stuff on the menu... everything from authentic vegetarian tacos to offal.. lots of offal.
> The Tacos al Vapor.. they were okay... well much better than tacos at El Tonayense at least. I think the meat was undersalted.... also many DF places sauce the Al Vapor... and I gravitate towards Mole Verde versions.. which La Gran Chiquita had as a side (if I remember correctly)... and I think that is definitely the way to go.
> The Moronga taco was excellent... again I find the texture, flavor & visual to be very reminiscent of Foie... without the ethical concerns or high price tag.
We didn't try the Chamorro because they sell it whole... but something tells me this is one of the few places in Northern California that does proper carnitas... there is no excuse for settling for the mediocre taco truck versions of carnitas.
>> Off to Oakland<<
I could definitely picture the correlations EN was drawing to that calmed, relaxed stretch of International in Fruitvale to East LA.
I regret not spending more time in this area in pursuit of of Mex -passions while I was up here. Those of you posting on Oakland - keep doing it - because this seems to be ground zero for Mexican cuisine.
>> Nieves Cinco de Mayo <<
SUper friendly man who operates this ice cream store. We wished we could have sampled the garlic and avocado flavors but we ended up with chongos, arroz, canela, and rose petals.
Our favorites were the canela and rose petal. I doubt that I have consumed r tasted anything more sexier than that rose petal nieve. Its one of those flavors that will be permanently etched in memory for me.The canela had a great not super sweet cinnamon flavor.
>> Churro Relleno Cart<<
Top notch! Fresh, warm, crisp and delicious 10x better than my TJ one last week. Eat churros here - filled with Cajeta!
Nieves Cinco de Mayo
Great guy... he does his thing well... they do a very credible version of Mexican ice cream... I really enjoyed the Rose Petal and the Canela which should really be called Canela Shortbread Sugar Cookies because the flavor & slightly grainy-sugar texture interspersed with the smoother base really evoked those classic cookies you find throughout Panaderias in Southern Mex
Cinco de Mayo is a couple notches below the Mexican chains like Tepoznieves etc., and I think it really goes back to the primary ingredient... milk. There just isn't an adequate source in the Bay Area (that I am aware of) that can substitute for the full, rich, slightly gamey, taste of the unpasteurized milk commonly used in Mexico's lauded ice creams... and it really showed in the Rice & Chongo versions... particularly the Chongos as that really depends a good quality ingredient.
Batches fried every 20 minutes... good quality cajeta... is bound to be a winner. The version is excellent... I personally prefer the pastry walls to be thinner and more sauce... but it would be stupid of my to deny the excellence of this churro on the grounds of my personal preference.
The car was parked near the El Tonayense truck so on our way back EN - told me we are trying this to see all what the hype is about.
We ordered a sesos, cabeza and tripitas to share.
To sum this place up in one phrase: WTF?
They gave us two overly pepper fried-to-mini-asteroid-pieces azada for the sesos and cabeza. We are not that dumb. The salsa they put on it all had to be the most uninspired salsa _ Ive tasted outside of Taco bell hot sauce packets.
The only thing I would come back for is the tripitas which were pretty finely executed - just under the crispness of a piece of chicharron - but the salsa flavor kind of -fed up this taco as well.
I just came back from eating in Tijuas last week and I can tell you that this truck would not last a day there - or even in Sonoma County with the great lonchera operations here.
We should have known not to eat here - when all we could see was a guy leisurely spooning pre cooked steamed meat into a burrrito in a corner. Very different when you juxtaposition him against the 4 sweating taqueros in the Delicias Elenitas truck in Santa Rosa.
"see all what the hype is about" . . . note that the hype is elsewhere, not here. The bloom is off the Tonayense, but truck options are quite limited in the City. It's "good" by SF standards, but that's not saying much.
Glad you had a chance to return to El Maya for more than a bite of flan,
Too bad about Poc Chuc.
Edited to add: Which El T. truck did you frequent? Looks like EN has added the Place link for its brick and mortar restaurant, not the two trucks in the Mission. Just found Chaac Mool's website, http://chaacmoolcafedeli.homestead.com/ (and entered in Place record), looks good, can't wait to hear about it.
Yeah Tonayense was blah... the Tripitas were really good but the sauce & chopped onion killed them... shows a place that doesn't know what to do with Tripas... they should normally be served with a light Salsa Verde & onion green tops or chives.. not white onion & a dark, bitter dried chile sauce.
The guy working it was kind of a prick... but I got him back. A couple of African-American gents were trying to figure out what to order... I explained to them that this place had good Chitlins called Tripitas... and boy they were mobbing him for some samples!
Where is the rest cabron?
Links to the places we hit up:
El Maya Yucatan
2022 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Nieves Cinco de Mayo
3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601
Taqueria La Gran Chiquita
3503 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601
2598 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA
Fruitvale Station Churro Cart
Oakland, CA, Oakland, CA
Chaac Mool Deli Cafe
3700 E 12TH STREET SUITE 1D, OAKLAND, CA