Sunday, October 15, 2017

Tacos Tu Madre

If you ever asked yourself (if you're a UCLA student like me) if there is a reason to frequent Westwood Blvd, south of Santa Monica, the answer could be "Mexican food."

If you head a little more than one block south of the sprawling intersection, you will encounter a pink stall with mission revival-style roofing. Along the exterior of the building that rises behind the stand, modernist (arial/bold?) text advertises "Tacos Tu Madre."

Back on the ground, you approach a square window (with the dimensions of a standard microwave), carved out of a ghoulish green mural, to place your order, pop-up (or, this being LA, Taco Truck) style. 

The menu, printed on laminated paper (there is no display), reads like a laundry list of trends in California fusion cuisine. 

There are Korean BBQ Tacos (and Burritos), Banh Mi Tacos (and Burritos), Fried Chicken Tacos (and Burritos).  For those in the mood for Mexican food (as I was on my visit last week), however, can opt for the classic Grilled Chicken (or Asada) Burrito.

Although the order window emulates a pop-up or take-out joint, a covered dining area, with tables and benches allows you to wait for your order (and eat) in comfort.

The minimalist design, enhanced by bright lighting and the occasional mural (or mustachioed skeleton) contribute to a quirky ethos: definitely more Williamsburg than Westwood.

The burrito is served from the kitchen on a tray lined with parchment, poking its nose from tin-foil wrapping, in the style from San Francisco Mission District

And indeed, like the prototypical mission burrito, Tu Madre's tortilla batons are gigantic.

 Unfortunately, the first bite I took of the chicken burrito I had ordered consisted exclusively of the briny red chili aioli--not a flavor craved after a long day of studying. I had to take a few more chunks out of the burrito in order to reach the chunks of zesty grilled chicken (with a hint of lime) and earthy beans. The ingredients could have been distributed better. 

Unlike a lot of places, the burrito comes with guacamole, but I recommend ordering them without this: they lime flavor is unpleasantly overpowering.

On the other hand, the creamy chipotle mayonnaise that is served as an accompaniment tastes like heaven (requests extra if you can).

Overall, I would give Tacos Tu Madre 4 out of 5 stars. Their burrito cannot compete with Border Grill (or DTLA's Tacos Tamix, for that matter), but compared well with those served at other Westwood-area establishments. The restaurant is conveniently located and open until midnight. If I am ever transferring between buses at Santa Monica and Westwood after a long night on campus, I might return.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Amazing burritos in unlikely places

An upscale museum cafeteria is the last place I would expect to find delicious Mexican food.

Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised by the burrito I ate for lunch today at the Huntington Library's Cafe.

In ordering the burrito, I bypassed the mediocre sandwich station at the entrance for the Mexican station run by the Border Grill chain.

After I ordered, the chef grilled the tortilla to crisp perfection (the secret to any good burrito in my view).

He spread a layer of black beans and added a zesty salsa and cotija cheese. These three ingredients created a pleasant flavor combination that obviated the need for condiments.

Tender rich steak and crisp, sweet-and-salty plaintain chips (yes! Plaintain Chips!) rounded out the interior.
Bomb Burrito on Classy Dishware
The outcome is perhaps the tastiest burrito I have ever eaten.

Priced at $12 each (i.e. two taco truck burritos), the Asada Burritos are not necessarily a bargain--though if you become a Huntington Reader (like I am), you pay only $9 (with a 30% reader discount).

For a more rexperience, consider dining at Border Grill's downtown restaurant, as I now certainly will.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Breakfast Burrito Battle (!?!!!): Frank's vs. Jose Chiquito

So I got a breakfast burrito from Frank's (near 3rd and Fairfax) for brunch today. I enjoyed the monster but detected some interesting differences from that which I've indulged in at Jose Chiquito. Like any serious (!?) foodie, I conducted some comparative analysis, reaching a revolutionary conclusion:

  1. Tortilla: Both breakfast burritos use warm tortillas. 
  2. Potatos: Jose Chiquito's hash brown potatoes are crisp, thin (only lining the rim of the burrito) and greasy. Frank's potatos are doughier (with a browned exterior) and take up a greater proportion of space in the burrito. However, I actually prefer the ratio of potatoes to eggs in Frank's burrito.
  3. Veggies: The cooks at Jose Chiquito scatter tomato chunks and grilled (slightly sweet) onion slices within the eggy burrito interior. Frank's burrito's bear a generous dose of zesty pico de gallo. The latter has a livelier flavor.
  4. Cheese: Jose Chiquito's burritos have no cheese. Franks have Cotija cheese.
Frank's burritos are cheesy and spicy, just as a burrito should be. They have a good balance between eggs and potatos as well. If you prefer a mildier, egg-heavy burrito, go to Jose Chiquito. Otherwise visit Frank's.

Photos forthcoming. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dina's Cafe

Dina's Cafe

This one is a quickie, inspired by dinner I had Thursday night after a show in Westwood. Since it was after 9 o'clock, and Westwood is a lame college town, I found my go-to sit-down restaurant (KoalaT) closed. Most of the other dining options I knew of involved clogging my arteries with saturated fat (I had already eaten an apple fritter for breakfast) so I whipped out my Yelp app. When I ranked the restaurants by customer review, I found dina's cafe near the top. This surprised me because I had passed by last December and recalled pulling up no reviews when I then checked for the place on Yelp and Google maps. Furthermore, the advertisement of $1.50 empanadas I encountered when passing by on the street during the daytime suggested a restaurant too desperate to be worthy. 

Nevertheless, the pangs of my stomach and foodie-ist curiosity led me to a low-rise brick edifice on Gayley Avenue, where Dina's sandwiches between a hair salon and smoke shop. When I walked in, I was a surprised a little by the colorful menu displayed above the counter: given the restaurant's name I had expected the restaurant to serve tuna sandwiches and baked goods (e.g. Empanadas).  Instead, the menu not only included Tortas but burritos and tacos. 

Although my hunger normally dictates that I order a burrito (when presented with the opportunity), a combination of Asada, potatos and crema attracted to me the Torta de Estilo DF. 

While I waited for the food to be served, the cashier offered me a taste of a fruit drink (I believe it was Jamaica) he had stored on the counter. I assented and he scooped out enough to fill a normal-sized plastic cup. It was not as cold as I would ideally like but quite refreshing nonetheless! 

Many places grill the bread and the ingredients for their Tortas seperately and stack them together at the end. The cook at Dina's however seems to grill the sandwich after it has been composed, like a Panini, and serves it in a wrapping of parchment and aluminum foil.

The combination of cheese and crema gave the sandwich a rich flavor, comparable to a white cheddar mac, that 
I unexpectedly enjoyed (I usually dislike rich, cheesy flavors). The chunks of roasted potato seemed to supplement the crema-cheese flavor, However, the asada was a little tough and less piquant than I normally like.

Nevertheless, the outstanding service offered by the cashier and the food's reasonable price (only $7.99 for the sandwich) ingratiated me to this restaurant. The meat might have come from the bottom of the barrel (which I could understand because it was near the end of the day), but the chef still did a reasonably good job at her Torta
Westwood needed a reasonably-priced, non-chain Mexican food joint. This might be it.

I hear they make a good breakfast burrito, so I will try to return in the morning sometime soon and update this post!  

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Jose Chiquito

I am finally writing about the Grand Central Market.

Its not Eggslut or Wexler's Deli that I praise, but Jose Chiquito.

This modest stall wedged between Tacos Tumbres a Tomas and Golden Road Brewing has neither long lines nor brioche buns. But it more than compensates with its breakfast burritos.

Within a warm tortilla, toasty hash brown potatos pad a filling of eggs, tomato, pepper, onion and (most crucially) avocado. The saltiness of the hash browns, the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes, and the tangy sourness of the avocado hit all the right gustatory nerves. .

True "comfort" food, the burrito (pictured below) bursts to it's seams and will certainly stuff yours: the vegetarian variety--which I order because I can't eat pork-- always keep me full from breakfast until dinner.

By the way, one burrito only costs about $7.00 including tax, a rare find these days at the market (or really anywhere in downtown)..

Remember to always eat your breakfast, kids.

NADI Myanmar cafe

I took the bus to Alhambra Thursday morning for an interview. While I waited for the return ride, I began to feel hungry and, like all good foodies, consulted my Yelp (mobile) app. 

The second listing down from the top of the "restaurant" search results (with 4 and a half stars) read "Nadi Myanmar Cafe." 

I had never eaten Burmese food before and adored every southeast Asian cuisine I have tried so far. Therefore, I decided to postpone the hour and 45 minute bus ride home in order to give the restaurant a try. 

My first impression upon entry was the sweet waft of incense that permeated the air. A mural on the left wall depicts/immerses you in the round pagodas and rainforest of Myanmar's countryside. Amulets and boddhisatvas crammed a shelf on the opposite wall. 

Mural display

I skimmed through the list of curries and soups before settling on the chicken noodle salad (which a Yelp reviewer had positively commented on).  I then sat back in my chair and waited for the meal's delivery while taking in the Burmese ballads playing on the radio. 

Chicken Noodle Salad
The dish was served with artistic flair in an undulated ceramic bowl, accompanied by garnishes of chopped egg and dried (golden)  noodles.

Eager to satisfy my stomach's grumbling, I dug into the display with chopsticks. 

The noodles had a rich umami flavor, with a hint of Vietnamese fish sauce, that was occasionally punctuated by the sharpness of cilantro. Crumbling up and mixing in the egg added a richness that accentuated the umami quality.

In between bites of noodle, I slurped on the small bowl of rich (but not salty) chicken broth given as an accompaniment.

On the balance, my lunch at Nadi Myanmar Cafe made a wonderful addition to my trip (in terms of both nourishment and excitement). I will definitely return to the restaurant if I visit Alhambra again, and look forward to digging deeper into Los Angeles' Burmese culinary scene. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Crenshaw Fish Market

"Good things come in small packages", a wise man once said (okay, I don't know who said it, but it's been said). Food wise, this saying applies well to my experience at the Crenshaw fish market on Saturday. 

As I crossed Jefferson (while walking along Crenshaw), a worn brick exterior, that more closely resembled a liquor store than a fish shop, appeared before me: only the placard that beamed the store's title in bright red letters confirmed for me that this was the place I had spotted under a "lunch" search on Yelp. Walking in shortly after the time the market opened, at 11 am, I found little visible evidence of lunch in the display case: the employee who worked behind the counter appeared to be in the process of setting things up. Nevertheless, the faint smell of raw fish and shrimp indicated that this was indeed a place for Louisiana-style fried seafood. After quickly perusing the paper menu (attached to the display case), I placed my order for the number 9 (Five pieces of fish, french fries, a side (coleslaw, in my case) and a dinner roll).

Within a couple minutes, I saw the employee take pieces of seafood from a container and appear to place them in some sort of breading mixture. A few minutes later, the deep fryer cackled. The fish smell grew stronger, intermingled with the blossoming waft of spices.

After the employee had repeated the process, I heard him call "your order" and point towards me. A plastic bag, containing a styrofoam container and a small paper bag with condiments and coleslaw, beckoned. 

After bringing the containiner back to my table, I opened it up and took my first bite. The fish was tender (obviously high-quality) and the breading crisp and flaky (an indication that the fillet was fried well). Unfortunately, the sharpness of the pepper overwhelmed the zesty spiciness (from chili) on the first two pieces, making for an unpleasant bitterness. However, the remaining pieces displayed a good balance of the two flavors that delivered a double punch of spiciness and savoriness. The Crinkle-cut fries, sprinkled with a light amount of chili seasoning and a moderate dose of salt, were consistently delectable. 

The coleslaw and the dinner roll were both mediocre. The former was a tad too sweet while the latter had a doughy consistency.  

I left satiated and delighted to have tried something new. However, I can't say I was blown away, particularly in regards to the fish. I will have to visit more Louisiana-style fish restaurants to discern whether this reflects my taste for Louisiana-style fish or the quality of the establishment.  

Luckily, my feast ringed in at only $7.49. That's a pretty good deal (for LA), regardless of how the food tastes.