This past spring while wandering through Boyle Heights and East L.A. as I often do browsing the rich food scene for something new, I came across a scene straight out of Mexico.A street food scene not just like the kinds that erect themselves all over Mexico in and outside "Ferias"(fairs)and the many "glorietas"(public squares) celebrating the heroes of Mexico.We have street food in L.A., but it usually consists of cloying tacos and uninspired bacon-wrapped hotdogs.No matter what city you find yourself throughout Mexico, the nights bring forth a panoply of lucious street foods:Mazatlan, D.F., Guadalajara,Monterey, Tijuana, Tepatitlan,Hermosillo,Culiacan,Uruapan,Zacatecas,Loreto,Aguascalientes,Tepic,Valladolid,Playa del Carmen,Chihuahua,Veracruz,Cuernavaca,Oaxaca,Puebla,Guanajuato,Torreon,San Cristobal de Las Casas,Campeche.........
Mexicans start the day with desayuno, a light breakfast with fruit, bread, and perhaps some chilaquiles thrown in.It's menudo, pozole, and birria for the "borrachos"(drunks)."Para la cruda"(for the hangover).
"La comida fuerte"(the strong meal) happens around 2PM, when Mexicans really go to town.We're talking mass quantities of delicious foods.I remember my cousin asked me why I wasn't eating more one glorious day in Aguascalientes.I retorted,"I'm saving room for dinner, I have to get some more of this "comida" in before the day is through." He laughed generously,"Bill, this is it,la comida fuerte,you'd better get some more carne!"
"La cena"(supper) is a light meal in the evenings.Perhaps some tacos from the corner stand, where "la abuelita" has been making the same delicious carne asada tacos for the past 40 years.Maybe a bowl of sensuous pozole at 3:00AM after dancing up a storm to the racous rythyms of Banda Recodo.
Mexico has many incredble regional cuisines, but at night along the "malecones"(seawalls), "plazas", and "parques"(parks) it's tacos de pastor,sopes,huaraches, hot dogs wrapped in bacon, tortas, birria, tacos al vapor, tacos dorados, carne asada(best in Sonora state), pozole, nopales, pollo asado,pambazos,chiles gueros,etc.I remember arriving late one night to Campeche asking around for a "campechana", the seafood cocktail with everything named after the seafood rich port city in the Campeche state.The street food cooks snickered,"Son puras carnes ahora!".(It's purely meats right now)His mildly condescending tone suggested that I should know better.That's right, certain foods like the campechanas start at the crack of dawn and head some in the afternoon.The the grill and comfort food "puestos"(stands) come out and rule the nights with their smoky, mouthwatering scent wafting through the streets of Mexico.
When I arrived at the corner of Cesar Chavez and Breed where the Big Buy Foods market lies in Boyle Heights all my longings had been fulfilled. Nina's catering with their sopes, huaraches, gorditas, quesadillas preparadas, tostadas, flautas, and pambazos.Fillings cooked to perfection such as hongos(mushrooms), papa con chorizo(potato with chorizo), tinga, carne asada,flor de calabaza(squash blossoms),cuitlacoche(corn fungus),and pollo.This stand has the best salsa on the street including a salsa de semillas consisting of pumpkin seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds,chile de arbol, and a little bit of peanut oil.Que rico!! With some free nopales and pickled red onions with habaneros on the side, Nina's can't be outdone. Just north of Nina's white "brush" painted truck located next to the Big Buy Foods parking lot is a trailer selling tacos al vapor(steamed tacos).The friendly cook there offers up her delicious tacos de lengua, cabeza, carne asada, and al pastor.To the south closest to Big Buy Foods is a taco vendor serving up the classics and some excellent cochinita pibil(roasted pork in achiote).Haven't tried him yet, darn pambazos, always expanding in my stomach!
Across the street in front of a blue parking lot sign is another stand doing tacos al vapor with lengua and cabeza.This is a classic stand offering two great meats and two salsas deftly flavored with some onions and cilantro to finish.Next to her, heading south on Breed, is the delicious pozole stand, with the red and white varieties.They also serve up a formidable tostada of cueritos(pig skin).Pure heaven!!The chef assembles her pozole, the stock with hominy and chicken, then the meats-"que quieres de carne, mijo"(what meats do you want, son), oh, a little of everything please.Carnitas, cueritos,patas,etc.If you ordered white she executes the handoff,if you ordered the red she adds the red sauce flavored by mild and delectable California Chiles. Now, it's your turn! A little cabbage, lime, diced onion, crumbled chile de arbol, radishes, salsa and you are ready to go.This pozole rocks! Next a simple taco stand, an out of place pupusa vendor, some candies and botanas(snacks) along with the ubiquitous pirate DVD guys.The competing sopes and more stand to Nina's on the other side of the street flanked by a mariscos truck that packs up earlier than the rest(remember my campechana tale?), and a flauta and tacos dorados(deep-fried tacos) maker on the side.
Some nights another truck, cart, or makeshift stand shows up, but the places I've mentioned here are regulars.Last night I met up with two kindred souls to show them my little secret.The clientele is obstensibly local.This place was completely off the radar, until now.I'm including Abby's awesome revue here, and her great photos.Abby pulled off some quick shots that had the pozole chef looking bewildered searching for the source of the brilliant flash."Que es esso?"(What is that?)
Abby revue and picks.
It was a fun and intimate tasting with Abby of the Pleasure Palate, my friend Lisa, and myself, also Pleasure Palate members.
So, come on out to this "feria" in Boyle Heights, Thurdays through Sunday starting at 7PM and finishing up around 10 or so.You'll be glad you did, and get out there while we still have some good weather.Provecho!!
Big Buy Foods street fair
located on Breed at Cesar Chavez in Boyle Heights, just two blocks east of La Parrilla.
Thursday through Sunday
P.S. Weekends are best to get all the action!! I like sundays