Three straight weeks at the market and I finally feel as though I have the faintest of outlines regarding the food there. Below are comments culled from these trips.
*North of Roosevelt*
Pupusa stand on eastern side of Canal: Tried them today for the first time. The older lady hand pats the masa and filling while the younger one uses a press. Would be interested to know if others can taste the difference. Ordered one cheese and one bean/pork pupusa ($1.50). The cheese pupusa was bland and seemed more a vehicle for the pickled cabbage/ carrot mixture provided on the tables (excellent, by the way) than a dish standing on its own. The fact that it sat at the edge of the grill for a few minutes probably didn't help. The bean/pork pupusa was awesome. Fresh off the grill, the filling was very beany (and I wouldn't be surprised if there was lard in there). Topped with the cabbage mixture and a smokey red sauce (also on the tables), I left this stand very happy. The pickled cabbage and carrot is slightly sour and slightly hot. The closest taste I can think of is the "brine" of jalapeno slices that people put on nachos.
Taco stand with fresh pressed tortillas on western side of Canal: This is the place mentioned by VI in a post from last week that seems to employ only children under the age of 10. The hand-made tortillas initially drew me to this place two weeks ago. Tried a carne asada taco and was very disappointed. Topped with lettuce and tomato (??), I had clearly made a poor choice considering they did not have a live charcoal grill. I went back this week and ordered a taco de chivo (goat, $1.25). Topped with cilantro and onion, the goat pieces were tender, flavorful and generous. Very good. My favorite goat meat taco yet at the market.
Taco stand with cooler of tamales on eastern side of Canal: I visited this place on my first trip and tried their tamales (2 for $1). Tamales served out of a cooler should have been a strong clue as to their quality. These were cinder blocks of masa that no filling or sauce could redeem. Please avoid.
*South of Roosevelt, north of Dominicks*
The ojo taco stand in the western "corridor" on Canal: (If you haven't been to the market, this will make sense once you go there. Certain sections of the market have stalls on both curbs of the street, leaving a wide single corridor in the middle. Other sections have stalls set up on the median, resulting in a eastern and western corridor). I tried the ojo taco ($1.25) again today and it was much better than the one I had last week. Served by Mario (who was managing the grill today), a friendly boy wearing a powder blue "Players" cap, he recognized me from last weekend and seemingly selected some choice ojo pieces. This week I got an entire eye, some connective tissue, some meat that had the consistency of chicken gizzard, and some regular head meat. All of this was filmed with melted fat and collagen, giving a satiny mouthfeel. If you consider the head of a fish to be more highly prized than the fillets, then this taco is for you. If "connective tissue" cannot conceivably sound appetizing to you, then please avoid and try the cachete (cheek) taco instead. This taco also has the fat/collagen film, which I consider to be very appealing. I asked what animal's eye I was eating and was told cow by two of the employees. As speculated previously, a different answer may result if the question is asked in Spanish. I plan to return with Spanish speaking friends. The meat itself tasted gamier than standard beef, but then again I have little experience with flavors of the head. Two other words about this place. First, their tortillas are treated somewhat differently from most other places. The prefab tortillas are first dipped in rendered/ simmering chorizo fat, then dried on a grill, then placed in the corner of the "head" grill. The grill is tilted in a way that the fat/ collagen/ juice collects where the tortillas are stacked. So, unless you get the top ones, you'll end up with soggy, head juice and chorizo fat laden tortillas. Now, that doesn't sound appetizing even to me. Second, they had new signs up this week and next to the ojo taco was written "Grasias por preferirnos". I don't read Spanish, but I imagine that this says something like "Thank you for liking these". They were clearly popular with many of the Mexicans anchored in the ten or so seats provided.
The churro stand in the eastern corridor: Freshly fried sweet dough sticks, rolled in sugar, and then injected with more flavored sugar filling (vanilla or ?can't remember?, $1). A great way to cap off a day at the market. Disconcertingly, I did not see them today.
*South of Roosevelt, next to (east of) Dominicks*
Oaxacan Tamales on eastern side of Canal: I have yet to try the namesake tamale ($3), but have very much enjoyed the regular pork tamale ($.75). Tender masa with a flavorful filling, served with sour cream.
Tacqueria Familiar on eastern side of Canal: One of few taco stands that has $1 tacos, if that matters to you. Both the carne asada and chorizo were fine, if nothing spectacular.
Taco stand which is the width of the grill with seating behind, on eastern side of Canal (can't remember any more specifics, sorry): The al pastor taco ($1.25) was very good, but I haven't really tried versions from many other places. Wanted to retry this stand today, but couldn't find it.
No name, no signage stand that sells goat tacos and goat consome, on eastern side of Canal: Goat tacos ($1.25) are incredibly stewy and sloppy. Neither good nor bad. I really enjoyed their goat consome ($1 without meat). Cilantro, white onion, lime juice, and red sauce covered by a flavorful goat stock. The cilantro, lime, and heat from the red sauce reminded me a bit of the flavor combinations in a Tom Yam soup.
*South of Roosevelt, south of Dominicks*
Multi-entree place in eastern corridor, serving kebobs, parallel to loading dock behind Dominicks: Tried the potato-chorizo taco ($1.25) here. They were decent, but not great. Would love tips for better versions or any good potato products in the market.
BEST tacos in the world taco stand, eastern corridor, a couple blocks south of Dominicks (better description provided in past Maxwell St. Market posts): Still have not had a chance to try these tacos. Will report when I finally get around to them.
The taco stand at the southern end of the market, under an overpass (you'll see smoke billowing from the live coals): Mentioned previously by many others, the carne asada tacos ($1.25) here are very tasty. I also tried the chorizo (the only other choice, as they only serve two items), but was sorely disappointed as it was dry and flavorless (tasted like overcooked, unseasoned ground pork). There has been a huge crowd here all three times I've visited. Make sure to pick up a numbered ticket at the front. The wait can be ten to fifteen minutes, but I think it's worth it.
As you can tell, my entries are heavy on tacos and light on the fried offerings at the market. This has much more to do with space constraints of my stomach than health issues. I like to taste five to six dishes each time out and I just wouldn't be able to do so with fried dishes. I'll save all the fried tips for the next group outing or a visit with friends.
Also, please take locations as good faith approximations. As most of you may know, the stalls don't always stay in the same place.
Belated thanks to all who organized the Chowhound outing last weekend. It was a pleasure meeting everyone and am thankful for all the tips.