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Nov 12, 2008 08:19 PM

Fruitvale fandango: antojitos mexicanos for a canadiense

On Mon, Nov 10 we hied ourselves to Fruitvale on BART, a surprisingly quick 20 minute ride. With the Google map rworange had put together for us based on all the excellent suggestions from this thread, we made our way around, starting at El Novillo taco truck. I tried a carnitas taco. The tripe was also recommended but I am not much of an offal person and did I mention it was only 10:30? At $1.25 the carnitas taco was the cheapest bite I had all day, and a very good start. It wasn’t greasy but still had a lot of flavour and a bit of crunch in the meat.

We walked up to Ojo de Agua truck and got a mango agua, which was very pleasant but I think the fruit was a bit underripe ($3.25). I could really get used to the idea of taco trucks. The only thing that we have that is similar in Canada are the fry trucks back east.

We moseyed up Fruitvale Ave and peeped in at all the baked goods in the panaderias but my companion was unfortunately feeling a bit under the weather so we didn’t purchase anything. We went up to 17th looking for the Tamales Acapulco cart at 1680 Fruitvale but no luck so we wandered back down and behold there it was at 15th Street, though it had not been there a few minutes earlier. I got a pork tamale ($1.50) with lots of tomatillo and cilantro salsa and forked it down as we walked. It was so tasty it tempted the mildly tummy perturbed SO into a few appreciative bites.

We continued back to International Blvd and turned east on our stroll, passing by several carts with bags of great looking fruit and signs for elote. Though I was sorely tempted, I knew that I could not count on the Alternative Stomach to help me out much today, so I resisted and kept my eyes on the bigger prize: La Gran Chiquita for some tacos de moronga. Now I have never tried blood sausage of any kind so I had no idea what to expect and was a bit trepidatious because of my general offal aversion. But I really wanted to try it so I ordered two, even though the waitress balked a bit when I told her what I wanted. I was thinking they would be the same size as the carnitas ones when in fact they were quite large as you can see in the photo. They came in a single, yellow corn tortilla that was much fluffier and thicker than the other small tortillas – housemade there or very nearby and recently I’m guessing. They (the sausage fillings, not the tortillas!) also smelled a bit livery which was worrisome but I have learned that smell and taste can be quite different and they were in this case. The moronga was not at all sausage like; it was very smooth and unctuous, with a subtle flavour I can’t really describe. In short, it was delectable. I waxed poetic enough about it that the SO rallied for several bites and concurred.

He had meanwhile decided he wanted something himself so I ordered him a carnitas and a longaniza, thinking I could get a taste of each and further my research. They were both excellent, with a slight edge to the longaniza. This being a sitdown resto, the waitress brought us a basket of chips and three salsas which we tried and found the salsa roja the most tasty. I point out it is a full-service restaurant for another reason: they have a very clean bathroom! The bill for our four tacos and a Jarrito was $11. I would come back here again in a flash.

We continued on toward High Street to check out Mi Pueblo Food Centre, noting on the way by that there is now an El Grullo taco truck on International Blvd in the middle of a construction zone. After a short walk we found Mi Pueblo and I have to say if I lived 20 minutes by BART from this place I would be here every weekend. Good Lord, what a treasure trove of Mexican and Latin American foodstuffs, both prepared and ingredients to prepare. And a tortilla factory to boot! The SO was getting nervous I was snapping so many photos. There were dozens of items I have never seen outside of Mexico, and hundreds we either can’t get here in Vancouver or that would cost the earth. I could have happily pitched a tent but International Blvd beckoned again.

We went back to Mariscos La Costa because I had decided I must try a tostada with ceviche de camarones, an old favourite of mine from traveling days. This snack was the one disappointment of the day. While serviceable, I thought the shrimp could have been fresher and the spicing more balanced so I did not finish it. But I did love the restaurant which reminded me of places I have eaten in Mexico with outdoor tables under an overhang, like a drive in for pedestrians.

We had a look in El Oasis but decided it was a bit too chilly for a raspado and the escamocha wasn’t available that day. We also eyed Otaez and Huarache Azteca (which was a bit confusing as there are two across the street from each other) but I was starting to feel full and knew that helados and churros awaited. I suddenly realized that we had missed Chaac Mool Deli so we doubled back and over a block only to discover it is closed on Mondays (this was the only place we had targeted that was, mind you).

By this time it was getting close to 1 pm and we had ideas about hitting a museum back in the city so we decided to return to the market. We poked our noses into the Taco Grill which advertises natural and/or organic ingredients, including IIRC Nimaan Ranch beef but our goal was Nieves Cinco de Mayo. There we met Luis who is the owner. When we told him we had found out about his place on the Internet he was quite tickled and plied me with multiple tastes: yerbabuena, elote, aguacate, coco, chongos (!). All of these flavours were very true to life and not overly sweet which I liked very much and they were very rich. Luis takes great pride in only using natural flavourings and ingredients. He learned how to make helados as a boy of 12 in a stand five blocks from the main market in Guadalajara after moving there from San Juan 60 miles to the north. I finally settled on the crema de limon because I am a sucker for lemon desserts (it was rich but light and tangy with wee chunks of zest), while the SO’s tummy decided it was ready for a from-the-field-fresh tasting fresa cone, as pictured ($1.50 each, ridiculously barato for the quality and quantity). We sat out on the sunny patio and enjoyed our treats with a shared vanilla filled churro ($1.50) from the cart there, which turned out to be an excellent combination. After basking in that sunny shelter for a spell, it was time to head back over town, secure in the knowledge that our trip to Fruitvale was a success. Now that we have the lay of the land, I would like to come back and do a suppertime taco/antojitos crawl.

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  1. Great report! Did something happen to the pics?

    8 Replies
    1. re: susancinsf

      You're too quick for me, Susan. Yup, just realized I forgot to post 'em :-). So here they are... the moronga tacos, the three salsas (you can see which one we liked best by the levels!), one of the many deli counters in Mi Pueblo, and the pedestrian drivein with the SO heading across to it.

      1. re: grayelf

        And here's one of Luis from Nieves Cinco de Mayo and a shot of his strawberry product about to be demolished.

        1. re: grayelf

          I hope you don't mind me eating that cone vicariously.

        2. re: grayelf

          I'm glad you enjoyed Mi Pueblo -- I always want to buy out the deli, especially the yummy rich yogurts and various cremas. The last couple of times I've gotten marinated meat from the butcher -- thin cut Mexican style -- and cooked them myself.

          I'm sure the tortillas at La Gran Chiquita were made to order in house. When we were there for the Melanie's birthday crawl, they were offering both flour and corn tortillas made fresh.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            The other thing that really struck me was the value of everything. I hate to use the word cheap because it has a pejorative sound but dang, the prices everywhere were CHEAP. You can't get anything much worth eating prepared foodwise for $5 in Vancouver, let alone $1.25, and that's even taking into account our weak dollar. And don't get me started about wine prices (a rant for another thread -- you folks have it made).

            1. re: grayelf

              LOL. Van is also the only place I can recall ever paying a chillage fee (10 cents per bottle?) for cold beer.

          2. re: grayelf

            Thanks! The helado de fresa looks outstanding, though I would probably have gotten the crema de limon also....

            I tend to prefer somewhat thinner tortillas for tacos ; do you think the ones with your carnitas taco at La Gran Chiquita were also housemade?

            1. re: susancinsf

              I didn't take a pic of my helado a) because I tasted it right away and b) I had it in a cup so it didn't look as festive.

              Re the other tortillas at LGC, hard to say but they were obviously very fresh and much thinner.

        3. Sounds like a great trip... glad to see another post on La Gran Chiquita's moronga tacos. Are you still in town? I hope you can make it up to Wine Country to try El Michoacano & Antojitos La Mixteca.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            Talk about eating vicariously. Can it really be Paradise without moronga tacos?

            1. re: wolfe

              Not quite... the Mex offering is pretty bleak in Hawaii... but there are couple of bright spots at least.

          2. Glad you enjoyed your Fruitvale crawl and the yummy tamale. I wish I still worked in the area, that was my favorite breakfast.

            2 Replies
            1. re: DezzerSF

              The good thing about eating vicariously is the lack of calories :-). No wine country this trip and sadly we are back in Van although on the bright side we have brought some of your great weather with us (though not the 80 degrees forecast for this w'end!!). I am quite convinced that corn enrobing some kind of meat should be a staple food for breakfast everywhere.

              Thanks again to everyone who helped us make such good snacking happen. I will be posting some more reports in the next few days about the other places we went and things we ingested... there is a shortish one on Asuka here

            2. Thank you so much for all your wonderful reports, not just this one. They have been fun to read and informative. They are also a big help to others, especially visitors ... one poster already mentioned how helpful these will be for an upcoming trip. Also, we know what you do and don't like, so can make better recs next time, though you seemed to do very well this time out.

              If you come back for supper next time, consider getting a whole deep-fried fish. Ortez has a good version.

              Did you ever find a cup of coffee in Fruitvale?

              Mi Pueblo Food Center
              1630 High St, Oakland, CA 94601

              Nieves Cinco de Mayo
              3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601

              Taqueria La Gran Chiquita
              3503 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601

              El Novillo Taco Truck
              1001 Fruitvale Ave, Oakland, CA 94601

              El Ojo de Agua Taco Truck
              Derby St and International Blvd, Oakland, CA

              Mariscos La Costa
              3625 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601

              Fruitvale Station Churro Cart
              Oakland, CA, Oakland, CA

              1 Reply
              1. re: rworange

                You're welcome, rw. I'm glad you liked them and even found them informative -- I feel that is a true kudo! Part of the reason I decided to post in such detail was for visitors but of course it will help me out as you suggested :-).

                And thanks for posting the links. You have more perseverance than I do -- ever since the site revamp I haven't been able to post links, and I used to be pretty diligent about it on my own reports at least. Now I just try to include the address.

                No coffee for us in Fruitvale but we didn't really look as we had plotted to hit up Mint Plaza Blue Bottle again on the way back in to try the New Orleans iced coffee (see the link above to Blue Bottle).

                BTW the whole deep fried fish sounds delectable. We had hoped to try the whole fish at La Ciccia but they were sold out that night. Good to know there is another recommended option -- I'm keen to try more local pescado, as you get quite different fish options than we do.