I have been healing up for the last month and unable to go out to eat, and started compiling all sorts of best-of lists that I forgot in my drug-addled state, but here is one I remember.
The various Latin-American eating cultures around here share enough overlaps that it makes sense to write a list like this.
This reflects my location (very East Hollywood-centric, so I know a lot more about the South American and Central American stuff around there than I do about the East L.A. Mexican wonderland.)
Anyway, this is intended to provoke people:
Best pinto beans: the pot at El Gran Burrito. It's free. It's glorious.
Best black beans and rice: El Cochinito. (The last time I was there, the roast pork wasn't as good as of old, but the black beans were still perfect.)
Best green salsa: Juquila's, when it's on special. NOTE: this is NOT their green mole, which tastes and feels like booger-snot. This is a tomatillo (I think) salsa that is the most perfect green tanginess with a slight creaminess. My favorite is when they have chiliquiles with salsa verde on special.
Best grilled meat, large: Gallo's Grill, especially the butterflied garlicy steak. The only boring meat there was the filet. All the thin-marinated steaks - awesome.
Best papusas: Atlacatl, either cheese and loroco in a corn papusa, or bean and cheese in a rice papusa.
Best tamarindo: Mario's Peruvian.
Best horchata: no clear winner. I used to favor Guelaguetza's dense beast, but these days I like most the clear, simple horchata at Mario's Peruvian.
Best saltado: Mario's Peruvian, saltado de mariscos.
Honorable mention: El Caserio's lomo saltado, for best french fries in a saltado.
Best chicarrones: Antonijero Denise's Hollywood branch.
Best carnitas: ? (Used to be Antonijero Denise's East L.A. branch, but it's gone sadly downhill. Now I am adrift. I dislike that place on Olvera street that people talk up for carnitas.) (If anyone tries to convince me that I should go to Yucca's for carnitas, I will throw a hissy-fit.) (Nothing in L.A. comes within 1/2 of spitting distance of El Porvenir in San Diego.)
Best fish tacos: Tacos Baja Ensenada, East L.A. I ate there first when I got here three years ago, following J. Gold. After about 3 years of checking out various stands for this, one of my favorite dishes in the world, I have not found anything that comes close.
Best tostones (green plantain fritters): No holy ones, but El Cochinito's are my current favorite, with a nice garlic topping.
Best hot chocolate: Guelaguetza.
Best carne asada tacos: No holy ones in my book. El Gran burrito is the best spiced one.
Best melding of meat and salsa: Alameda Swap Meet. Southwest parking lot, the northernmost stall on the eastern wall. Saturdays and Sundays only. Order carne asada tacos, and add the pink-ish salsa labelled hot.
Best churros: Middle parking lot (with electric rock band) of Alameda Swap Meet. There is a stand that fresh-fries churros every 3 minutes.
Best tamales: La Indiana, East L.A. POSSIBLY THE HOLIEST LATIN-AMERICAN FOOD EXPERIENCE I HAVE YET HAD IN L.A. Try: beef tamales, pork tamales, sweet tamales. (My dear girlfriend claims that these are better than anything she had after a while of living in homes in a Oaxacan village, teaching English and having grateful grandmothers cook for her.)
Best corn tamale: Atlacatl. Fried corn tamale with fresh-made crema.
Best chorizo: Guelaguetza.
Best al pastor: No clear winner. Suggestions? (I prefer to El Taurino the al pastor at Antonijero Denise's, Hollywood branch, and the al pastor at the northwestern msot stall on the southwestern most parking lot at Alameda Swap Meet saturdays and sundays, but neither of these is quite holy.)
Best use of pork cracklings: the clayuda at El Sazon Oaxacqueno. There's asiento - pork cracklings - in the bean paste. So satisfying.
Best sopes: None distinctively great yet.
Best roast chicken: ? (I'll tell you one thing, it sure ain't Versailles, which is worse than any random Latin American roast chicken joint in the West Valley or in East Hollywood I've tried. Nothing clearly distinctively best yet, though.)
Best roast pork: Used to be El Cochinito, it's now worse and I've found none to replace it, though I've tried.
Best dessert: Porto's Bakery, tres leches in a cup. JESUS.
Best pound cake: Quesidilla at Guatamalteca.
Best fried stuffed thing: criolla empenada at Empenadas placed. This is Argentinean. It's a fried stuffed turnover filled with raisins, egg, ground beef, and, I think, cinnamon? DAMN it's fine.
Best use of potato: shrimp chowder at Mario's Peruvian. It's down there. All the flavor has left the shrimp and entered the potato.
Best corn tortilla: ?
Best flour tortilla: ? (None to match El Porvenir, San Diego)
Best oddball beverage: squash drink at Guelaguetza.
Best tostones (fried ripe plantains): ? (Nothing perfect yet, that comes close to certain Cuban home cooking I was exposed to.)
Best use of yucca: Fried yucca with fried pork at Atlacatl.
Honorable mention for food substance comiong closest to a Twinkie: condensed-milk filled empenada at Texis No. 2. (A salvadorean empanada is a fried ball of mashed plantain filled with something sweet.)
(Note - all references to Guelaguetza refer to the 8th street branch.)
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