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Jan 27, 2010 07:50 AM

Grand Opening: Antojitos Carmen, a Piece of Breed St. Finds a Permanent Home in Boyle Heights

Back in 2007 I came across the gathering at Breed and Cesar Chavez that became a regular Los Angeles institution.Back then the vendors were about a dozen or so, lined up on either side of Breed St., just north of Cesar Chavez.

It would be a while before others would discover the magic of Breed St.,but all throughout the rising profile of this street fair I was a regular attendee on Sunday nights.

When Gloria Molina started her heinous crackdown on the trucks some of the vendors were chased away, and the remaining hold outs started to gather in the Bank of America parking, where many more vendors joined in due to the popularity of the street fair and the spaciousness of the parking lot.

Antojitos Carmen was one of the originals,though.The recent demise of the Breed St. Fair due to pressures from local restaurants ended an era.

But I say, be careful what you wish for.Any of you restauranteurs that might have made one of those phone calls to break up that rowdy street fair stealing all your business? Now you've done it. Antojitos Carmen is here to stay, better get your ass back in the test kitchen, compa!

On Sunday, January 10, 2010, I attended the opening of Antijitos Carmen's new restaurant, just down the street where they once battled it out with three dozen other stands.While others are still scrambling for places to seel their food, Antojitos Carmen has taken it to the next level.

The kitchen was well staffed that day, and hustling to keep up with the packed restaurant and the new challenges of a brick and mortar.

Carmen, who had become so well known amongst the Los Angeles food scene through blogs and local press was on fire. Cooking, directing, and squeezing in between family members in the narrow cook's corridor.

The small restaurant was packed on opening day as a steady stream of Carmen's well documented DF style "little whims", called antojitos, glided from kitchen to already worn earthy-red booths.

The familiar salsa of dried red chiles all to myself, part of me enjoyed the exclusivity, and the other part missed the hordes crowding around condiments, vying for the space to finish dressing their sopes or huaraches. "Permiso." "Pase"

Ah pozole, the benefit of stoves and counter space means that Antojitos Carmen has a few more items on their restaurant menu.

Flautas for the gentleman in the hat, gorditas for table number two.No numbers to call out and no cops to chase you away, just the nice officers sitting at table number three asking for that "flat thing with the green sauce."

The extended family of sopes is what Carmen is known for, though. Masa shapes:sopes, huaraches, gorditas,and quesadillas filled with home cooking fillings of huitlacochem squash blossoms, tinga(spicy meat),picadillo,potato and chorizo,chicharron,carne desebrada(shredded meat), and mushrooms. Enchiladas,fried tacos, or dorados,round out a solid offering of supper time favorites.

There was a seamless rotation at the tortilla station, a serious task for an organization molded from a mound of masa.

Abraham, Carmen's son, carefully prepares to deliver a sope and a tostada, assisted by an intent East Los beauty. An OG picks up another order and grabs a bottle of Jarritos.

Menudo debuts at straight out of Carmen's home kitchen, along with seven different tortas,migas(egg, cheese, and tortilla bits),stewed chicharrones, ribs in salsa,barbacoa,eggs any way you like.

Two elderly gentlemen wearing their Sunday best, blast ballads on a karaoke machine, a little bit of Joan Sebastian for your tia(aunt), and some Don Chente los abuelitos(grandparents).

When I stopped by the other night, their new sign had just been installed and lit.Opening day has now passed, the cops can't bother you any more, you can all take a deep breath and sit back and enjoy this a bit.This was 20 years in the making!!And for me? It's a little strange adjusting to being able to sit down, but I'll manage.

Congratulations to Carmen, her family, and all their loyal customers, who will always be a part of Breed St. long after that day when the comals and fryers went dark.

Antojitos Carmen
8:30AM-10PM Mon-Thurs.,8:30AM-midnight Fri.-Sun.
2510 E. Cesar Chavez
Boyle Heights, CA

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  1. Nice writeup. I'm looking forward to trying it.

    To those who are thinking, "Aiiie, East L.A.," I urge you to get over it and head out there. It's a bit gritty-looking, yes—very urban—but the people are very nice and the gatherings on the street around the vendors are very convivial and polite. If you don't speak Spanish, it's almost certain someone will volunteer to translate for you.

    I imagine the scene in Antojitos Carmen's new home is probably the same... and I remember the food from Breed St. with great salivation.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      The space is quite charming in a rasquache (Wiki it) sort of way. The tables have glass over a table cloth with a little filet motif in the center. That and a cup of their Atole de Nuez totally made me feel like I was at my Abuelita's house...

      Anyway, in terms of East Los, it's in a decent neighborhood, well lit and parking is easy. I went at night in the middle of a pouring rain storm... for the Atole and to try the Enchilada's J Gold has been raving about. I ADORE Enchiladas... so I was prepared to be PICKY...

      OMG! I was impressed... first, they are very much unlike the typical style, refined thin sauce, neat stuffed rolls. These are much more rustic... the sauce has so much PUNCH, but is actually a little chunky with stewed tomatoes and onions. The tortillas are absolutely SOAKED with it, folded over the filling. I chose squash blossom and almost immediately regreted it. I was afraid the flavor of the blossoms would be over powered... but they WORKED since base of the bud added a bit of cruch and the petals just added to the earthiness of the dish.

      Now, I think I STILL perfer the ones at Carneceria Sanchez a little better (I'll have to visit again soon to compare) but the filling, salsa and toppings (Just a bunch of Queso Anejo with fresh lettuce, pico de gallo and nopal) on these made these not only more unique, but in a way more special.

      I can not WAIT to return back and try the Migas...


      1. re: Dommy

        Great review, Dommy! And, yes, I think the migas are the breakout item here, haven't tried them but the are calling, or rather screaming at me. I got this thing for egg dishes.

    2. Great news! Will check it out soon.

      Any word on Nina's? Her table was definitely my favorite. I haven't been back to Breed St since I heard they shut it down, but I would love to know where I can find her delicious offerings.

      2 Replies
        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          Nina's was a favorite of mine too. You can watch the twitter account, but they are mostly around 4th/Chicago, I've found the pozole stand opn 4th/Breed, and there's some activity where Carmen was before the restaurant, on Matthews, just south of C. Chavez.

      1. Now that I have personal business in East LA, this place will be a regular stop for me. If you are worried about being in East LA, the place is near the corner of Soto and Cesar Chavez, just a few blocks from the 10 freeway. Abraham is a fantastic host.

        The most unbelievable sopes and tacos dorados. I recommend the pan fried sope; Carmen does. And the tacos dorados were filled with a wonderfully fluffy potato filling.

        Coming back for the enchiladas.

        Thanks again, SGLA.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ogawak

          Abraham is the face of Antojitos Carmen, and a gentleman, tweeting away like a pro from exile to brick and mortar.

          This neighborhood is nothing to worry about at all.

          This marks the begininning of one of only a handful of cenadurias in Los Angeles. A cenaduria that does also does breakfast, and a little comida corrida.

          You're welcome, and since you're so close, hope you share all of your meals with us as you get explore the menu.

        2. Hi streetgourmetla,

          Finally catching up on various threads, phew. Great review, and I'm so glad to hear one of the Breed Street vendors landed into a more permanent home. :) I can't wait to try this!

          1. Went with a group for lunch today. This is a find. The value is outrageous. To start, chips, 2 salsas & smashed avocado were gratis. Between the four of us, we covered most of the menu. We had tortas, tacos, huraches, enchiladas, gorditas & burritos with a wide assortment of fillings / toppings. A habanero salsa and another rough paste, for lack of a better term, with sesame seeds and chiles were brought out with our mains. We were planning our return as we ate. Best of all, Abraham made us feel like familia.

            2 Replies
            1. re: JAB

              Hey JAB, that's the salsa de semillas(seeds), a rare treat indeed. Only Nina's and Carmen do this. This is the spot!

              1. re: streetgourmetla

                You can also get salsa de semillas at Homegirl cafe... although the one at Carmen's is a bit more flavorful...