7.07.2019

Carne Asada Grilled Steak Tacos Recipe


It's been too long. A whole year, plus. I just broke my own record for not blogging about tacos. But I'm still eating tacos on a weekly basis, thinking about tacos and talking about tacos, this I assure you.

I've tried a few new places, but none of them floored me enough to create a blog post. I find that the cream of the crop places from two years ago are still on top. For me that is Guerilla Tacos - gourmet, fusion tacos, now in a brick and mortar space in the Arts District (DTLA) and Sonoratown for sublime steak tacos, also in DTLA. As my favorite crispy shrimp tacos, Mariscos Jalisco , are also in DTLA - it's a bit of a trifecta. You can't do much better than that, especially if you are a visiting taco lover.

I also enjoy cooking, as you know from my catalog of awesome recipes, right there in the right margin. I recently feel I've perfected the carne asada taco, including the marinade, maybe the most important part.

I do think that 'smoke matters' but I'll leave the bbq tricks up to the griller and talk mostly about the cut of meat and the marinade.

After living in Mexico (Baja, California Sur) for 6 years, I'm back in L.A. in the exact same guest house I lived in 7 years ago. The best part about sweating it out in the Valley is that I live near Carniceria Don Juan! Located at 14103 Victory Blvd. in Van Nuys, in a Mini Mall on the corner of Victory and Hazeltine. 818 901 8971.

It's a taco shop and a mini tienda market and a meat market. They sell the thinly sliced 'asada' meat which is traditionally made from sirloin butt aka 'flap meat.' It's not Hangar steak or Flank steak in Mexico. That might be the way an upscale, gourmet restaurant does it, but this is a cheap cut of meat, maybe $5 a pound.

They also sell good tortillas - especially Diana's street taco-sized corn. Hard to find in a 'regular' supermarket. Last time I made my own flour tortillas because I haven't found a boutique place making really high quality, translucent not tough, flour tortillas. I wish Sonoratown would open a tortilleria but I know they have to drive all the way to Sonora to get their flour and it's hard enough keeping up with their taco success let alone selling tortillas to the 'stay at home' chefs.


Back to the tacos! Sure, this recipe will work with grass-fed beef from Whole Foods. I tried, but they had trouble slicing the meat thin enough and it tasted tough. That is really the key. the thinness and the flavor, of course. At Don Juan's, you can get the beef seasoned or plain. For this recipe, buy plain but feel free to do a taste test between the two.

NOW for some extra bling (I have Esdras Ochoa to thank for this tip) buy the cut they call Diesmillo. I don't know why they call it that... because it's worth 10x more? Because it tastes like a million bucks? No idea, just buy it. It's usually $2 more per pound. This is the cut that they call 'chuck' what they often use for hamburgers. The topmost part of the forequarter in case you're cutting up your own cow. :)



Best if that steak marinates overnight or at least start in the early morning the same day of the afternoon barbecue. Minimum 6 hours. Garnish with grilled scallions, chiles, avocado, and/or the delicious Emma's Salsa - so easy to make!

MARINADE INGREDIENTS (for 2.5 lbs. of meat)

1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar or malt vinegar – (no sulfates) I used Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Vinegar
1/4 cup Water
2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil (Grapeseed) not olive oil for smoking factor at high heat! 
2 Tbsp Lime Juice
2 Tbsp Orange Juice (use tangerine if like me you find orange to be too acidic)
2 Tbsp Chopped Cilantro (leave out if you have allergic friends - use parsley instead)
1 Tbsp Minced Garlic (or  pure organic garlic powder with no crap or anti-caking agents)
3/4 Tbsp high quality FINE Sea Salt
1/2 Tbsp White Pepper
1/2 Tbsp Cumin
1/2 Tbsp Chili Powder
1/2 Tbsp White Sesame Seeds (optional but also fun)
1/2 Tbsp 'Mexican' Oregano which is actually Marjoram
1/8 Tsp Ground Cloves (really just a pinch or a pisca, as I like to say)
1 Orange Sliced – Blood Orange? Anything but a dumb ole regular juice orange!!!!!! 
(I'm semi-allergic. I apologize for my disgruntled Orange aggression.)






COOKING INSTRUCTIONS

Add all the ingredients (except the meat and orange slices) to a medium size bowl and stir until blended.

Add the steak and use a fork to flip and coat each entire piece of meat evenly, both sides sloshing in the marinade.

Using a glass baking dish, lay those thinly sliced oranges down first and then lay the meat on top in one layer. Transfer any remaining liquid from your bowl to the baking dish.

Cover with plastic but use some kind of earth-friend bio-degradable cooking plastic. Or put vegetable bags from the supermarket over the glass dish and tie them off to make the whole shebang airtight.

Refrigerate (overnight or at least 6 hours) Before grilling, remove from the refrigerator up to an hour in advance to allow the meat to come to room temperature.

Pre-heat your grill to 'medium high'. Place meat directly on greased grate for 7-8 minutes. You don't want it to be dry and tough but you don't want it 'rare.' Just juicy, seared, grill-striped etc. Adjust to your grill and preference.

Flip and grill for an additional 5-6 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

YUM.

ox Taco Maven

5.17.2018

Los Tres Potrillos for Tacos - Phoenix Oregon near Ashland

                         The Three Ponies Talking About Tacos
While on a trip to Ashland in  S. Oregon, to visit my mom for her 75th birthday, I had a serendipitous foodhist experience.

There are many Mexican food restaurants, cafes, etc. in the state of Oregon. Some of them famous, many of them authentic. Very different from the Cali-Mex or Gourmet-Mex of places like LA and San Francisco (still favoring Burritos! - forehead slap)

I've been excited to try a few new places on prior visits, but the Mother of the Mother of Tacos does not enjoy Mexican food! Her favorite food is salad. Is that a food? Well... sometimes there's lettuce on a taco, so.... To be fair, she's extremely healthy and peppy for her age!

Still, I felt the need to drag her to something 'hip' and so we found ourselves in a tiny, boutique, authentically DELICIOUS, Indonesian restaurant early on a Friday night. Blue Toba reminds me of my very own Bistro Magico because it's tiny and it's pretty much a one-man-band of a cool dude cooking up creative, clean, affordable food. The dude and a helper, that's it. 3 tables. I wonder if Jonathan Gold has eaten here.

Pastor Taco with Crudite Salsa
Wait... isn't this a taco review? It is! I promise. We enter Blue Toba at 5:30pm on a Friday, we are a party of 3. Two tables are taken and the third is for 2 people only. What to do. The two guys at the bigger table were very friendly, shared their table, their food and their taco tips! It turns out they are two actors from LA up in Ashland performing at the OSF - the big theatrical attraction to this tiny town 12 miles N. of the California-Oregon border!

I could tell from talking with Christopher Salazar that he knew his tacos. Like me, he wasn't terribly impressed with the stuff near the theater, but he recommended Los Tres Potrillos which happened to be on the way to the airport in Medford. He explained that potrillos means ponies; a word I'd never come across in 5 years of studying Spanish and 5 years of living in Mexico and I'm a total horse lover and recently wrote a YA Novel about horses! What the heck. HAD to go and so I did.

It was raining on the way to the airport. The unassuming taco joint was on a very short main drag of the 99 that goes through Phoenix. It's on the corner, well-marked and plenty of parking! I got my food to go and could only order two items on the run but I loved what I had.

Undressed Pastor - Lots of tender meat
The pastor wasn't your traditional LA/Baja trompo with pineapple affair which I truly adore. It was very tender, nicely grilled pork - it wasn't red, I'm not even sure there was any achiote present, but it was still so fresh and tasty. Tortillas, fresh and tasty. Price: $1.35. The revelation was the salsa bar. I actually saw a salsa I've never seen before! What? Yup. I'm calling it Taco Salsa de Verduras in Spanish and Crudites Salsa in French/English.

The salsa was a finely chopped mix of carrots, radishes, peeled cucumbers, tomato and cilantro. I'm pretty sure there was no onion...  but you could add onions and chiles for a spicy version. It was fresh and crunchy but not marinated in that vinegar way at all - maybe some lemon, oil and salt. Delicious on carne asada as well. I'm working to perfect the recipe and when I do, you'll see it here.

Tasty Tostada of Carne Molida
The second item I ordered was a comfort food indulgence - a ground beef tostada. Look mom! It's a salad. I was trying to create a crispy taco vibe - it got soggy pretty fast and the tortilla tasted a little funky and was probably too thin BUT the rest of the ingredients - very fresh.

Honestly - judge a place by it's tacos. Very clean and comfy inside. Extensive menu plus breakfast all day. Lots of people have blogged and written about this place but it's also a popular name for a taco spot so check to be sure which one you're reading about!

The day after we met the boys, my mom and her cousin saw the other actor at the table, Eduardo Enrikez in Destiny of Desire. He was so humble at dinner, he did not boast that he was one of the leads. Extra bonus, extremely cute AND had his shirt off for some of the show - making two 75-year-olds giggle and say 'We know him!!!!'

Wherever you may roam, follow the authentic food and/or the tacos! You will always have an adventure and meet wonderful people.

Los Tres Potrillos
102 S. Main Street, Phoenix, Oregon 97535
Open Everyday 8am - 9pm
541-897-4373

3.01.2018

Taco Roundup # 6 - Todos Santos Tacos as of February 2018

Todos Santos remains a plucky little town. Great taco places come and stay, and others come and go. I always love to try something new!

Three fun, new places I ate at on this last trip down to Baja in February were:

El Santo Chilote
Patrick's Fish Market and Cafe
La Palapa del Sabor

Santo Chilote is at the end of the same street as Hotel California. Walk downhill, away from La Paz, toward the Centro de Salud. You will see this cheery outdoor cafe right across from the beautiful fountain that marks the courtyard of the Hotel Hacienda - a lovely place to stay!



Chilote is sometimes used as a naughty word in Spanish for male private parts. The owner is a local musician named Pepe, who rocks the drums and is a great band leader. He has done a lot for the quality of entertainment in our town. He really has. And now he's bringing the tacos - and specifically a breaded coconut shrimp taco - which not too many people make. It's yum. Friendly staff too. Give it a go! Tacos come desnudo (naked) and you do the fixins yourself.

La Palapa is a delightful BLD spot (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) on the same side street as the Banorte bank and the Gabo Art Gallery. It's also right next to the Bahia Fish Market which is a long-time 'go-to' fish taco spot. Run by the lovely Cristina, formerly of Rancho Pescadero, La Palapa is very fresh and delicious. I've had great eggs and great enchiladas there.

This time I had simple shrimp tacos but they were so tasty and well-priced - on blue corn tortillas, no less. It's also a very clean establishment, which is an important consideration ALWAYS. I went light on the toppings, but YOU don't have to. :)



Patrick's Fish Market and Cafe is the brain child of the amazing chef Patrick Mullen. For several seasons he was the man behind the sublime sushi at the Todos Santos Inn restaurant and his menu for them had many other fun items like sliders and garlic greenbeans. Trained in San Diego, Patrick knows fish! He also has a great palette. I've never had to add seasoning to anything he has ever cooked.


Stop by the market for amazing fresh fish cuts (you won't find elsewhere) and then grab a taco. Once a week, while it's in season, he does a sublime lobster taco. I was so lucky to have stopped by on the right day! It was incredible. The cafe menu also has delicious fish tacos and other daily specials and he too is making his own blue corn tortillas.


It's located in the area called 'el otro lado' which is toward La Esquina and the Las Brisas neighborhood. From the main part of town, turn left down Topete (near Ezra Katz' Gallery) and follow it down and then up, past La Esquina (on the left) and the little elementary school (on the right) to Los Pinos Market (also on the right.) Patrick is right next door.

If you find yourself in this part of Mexico (and really you should, ASAP) please give these new places a try.

Taco Maven out
:)

6.22.2017

Balam Mexican Kitchen, Lynwood CA


I finally made it to Balam today, after being reminded about their existence by the LA Taco 2017 March Madness contest. I tried to go two months ago, but a rare case of 'bad taco luck' delivered me on a Monday, the one day they are currently closed.

I thought about taking a mini posse with me, but it was very spur of the moment, during a heat wave, and I was in the mood for a quiet, observant, taco experience. Lynwood is 25 miles from Pasadena. It's also 20 miles from the heart of Hollywood. If you're lucky enough to still live on the Westside, it's only 20 miles from Westwood. This place is definitely worth the drive. Make it an outing!

I recommend going for lunch, when traffic is lighter all around. Their hours are 10am - 8pm (6pm on Sunday.)

They just celebrated one year in May, which means they missed last year's competition. Always good for a newcomer to score well, and they did, making it all the way to the quarterfinals. The contest was eventually won by Sonoratown's perfect carne asada street taco.

So how is Balam? First of all, I love the name and the logo! Balam means Jaguar in Mayan. In Spanish, Jaguar is pronounced Ha-Guar. It's a very sexy word and so is Balam. It does sound slightly East Indian, but that's OK too as chef  Manuel BaƱuelos is definitely mixing his metaphors across a number of culinary ethnicities.


Okay, okay, the tacos! As I was alone, I could only pound down 3 on this first visit. But I believe I chose wisely Obewan. I was pretty much thinking about the coconut shrimp taco the whole way there. Why is that the greatest combo? Dunno, but it's a winner.

I have seen tacos served on a pliable, impossibly, thinly sliced, round of jicama for five years now. But alas, I can never find anyone doing it consistently.  I will go and they'll be out or it's seasonal or no one seems interested in it. I haven't tried it at home because where do I get a jumbo mutant jicama and how do I slice it without a meat slicer?

I love it because it's so darn light and refreshing that it allows you to eat more tacos, without getting filled up on corn. Speaking of corn, they make their own tortillas at Balam. I learned from a brief chat with the chef (more on that later) that the masa they use is organic for both the white corn and the blue corn. Now that's impressive and delicious.

The taco features a red slice of jicama 'tortilla', causing many to think it's served on a giant radish. It's red because it's soaked in jamaica water, (before the sugar is added to make the agua fresca) presumably. Jicama, jamaica. Jicama, jamaica. Say that 5 times fast before you have your 2nd beer. They have an excellent beer selection and I overheard el Jefe chefe telling an associate he would like to have draft beer and plans to soon.

Is this the most A.D.D review you've ever read? It must be the heat. I chose to sit inside, for the lighting. Most of the customers were outside and I was there early. I was lucky to catch the boss chilling in a booth. But not for long. Once it got crowded he was up and greeting regulars.

I did overhear him say he really wanted to try Sonoratown. (The Taco Snoop strikes again!) As I'd just reviewed them last month, I had to shout out across the cafe, 'You must! You must! It's awesome.' And then we got to chatting about tacos.

So that magnificent shrimp taco was battered in a tempura-like substance. I see from earlier photos on Yelp that sometimes it's the more traditional shredded coconut and bread crumbs. It had a wonderful, mild, mango salsa and that delicious 'tortilla.' They provide 3 different salsas to add on. I didn't use it, but I'm pretty sure I saw some habanero go by in a mini squeeze bottle. It is the perfect summer snack!


At LA's Tacolandia in June (curated by Bill Esparza) Balam won Best Taco Innovation for this fantastic shrimp taco. The trophy was proudly displayed on their counter, along with their LA Taco Madness medals.

I had to choose between the Chicken Tinga Masala taco and the Mole Almendrado. I went for the Mole. I really just wanted to say 'Almendrado' which rolled off the tongue in a way that made me hungry. It was delicious. The sauce was very thick and rich and it came with a scoop of yellow basmati rice on a blue corn tortilla, Full of flavor. I still got my East Indian on after all.


Between the beefs, it was choice of a Kogi Style taco or Barbacoa. I was getting pretty full by then. I went with the Barbacoa. It was flavorful and filling but I was wishing I had gone Kogi. I always fear the sauce will be too sweet on a Korean style taco, but I'll find out next time. The Barbacoa was a little chewy and a little heavy for such a hot day.


All in all, the selection was fabulous, service was efficient, the place is very clean. The chef appears to be very passionate about keeping this restaurant going strong into its Sophmore year. It's very hard work to keep a new place going, keep it creative, keep it consistent. It's exhausting work too. No one at Balam is complaining, but as someone who has done this at a professional level, I know how hard it is.

I applaud them for their skill and innovation and I can't think of one good reason why every Millennial 20 miles N. W. or S. of here shouldn't skedaddle their 30-year-old firm foodie arses down to this taco mecca. I'm serious. This place was delightful and I'll be back with a few hungry men in tow.

Balam Mexican Kitchen
11700 Long Beach Blvd., Lynwood
(424) 338-6762   @balamtaco

5.07.2017

Sonoratown, Downtown Los Angeles


Proud winners of the LA Taco Contest for Best Taco in LA. Literally, the best single taco. Not the best taco restaurant, but the best actual taco.

Of course I was intrigued! Thank you LA Taco for continuing to highlight all the amazing taco places we have in Los Angeles!!!!

I have to say I fell in love with Sonoratown from the minute I walked into the teenie tiny box of a taco waiting room.

The adorable server was so friendly and delightful, completely unruffled by the line that formed behind me and out the door, like a magic trick.

She answered all my questions - even my disbelief that the best taco in LA was only $2!!!!! That's right, $2!!!!!!!! Wait, this little, simple, carne asada taco? This street taco? Really?

It was so good, I would eat it totally plain. Just meat and the fresh, soft and tasty homemade flour tortilla. The only corn tortillas they serve are fried (for the Tostada.) RIGHT ON!



I ordered several things. Everything was delicious. Fresh, flavorful, nice spice, simply, just, delicious.

It was a unanimous agreement in our group that the humble $2 taco was the best and most addictive thing on the menu. I'm thinking I can eat 6 next time, no problem. Not because they're small, just because they are so stimulating to the taste buds.

Similar to the style of Mexicali Taco, the grill magic hails from Sonora itself. Is it the spice? The wood? The smoke? The marinade? The cut of meat? All of that and it's all that, people.

Run, hop, skip, jump, fly to 208 E. 8th Street, between the hours of 11am-10pm, 5 days a week. They are closed Sunday and Monday.

Order at least 5 of those tacos. Just because.

*** update! 2 years later and Sonoratown is going strong and now open for dinner. They have burritos! They won the LA Taco contest AGAIN and they also won best tortilla in Los Angeles. They're still nice, they still work hard to please their taco fans and the tacos are still DELICIOUS.