Zapien’s Mexican Delicacies

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With Chef Marco Zapien presiding over the Grand Reopening of Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria in Pico Rivera, customers are guaranteed a delectable adventure through a wide variety of regional Mexican specialties. Named the best Mexican Restaurant in Los Angeles seven times, Marco has a lot to be proud of and he took time out of his extremely hectic schedule to demonstrate the steps that go into the creation of their well regarded chile verde. The dish of tender pork cubes braised in tomatillo salsa is crafted with a melange of chili peppers, herbs, spices and the distinctly tart tomatillos, often referred to as Mexican green tomatoes.

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The restaurant’s menu is loaded with exceptionally flavorful dishes starting with a mildly spicy chipotle bean dip that is as addictive as any we have ever had the pleasure of digging into. And that’s just the beginning.

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Freshly made guacamole satisfies brightly with its use of perfectly ripe avocado, tomato, onion, and cilantro.

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The secret to the success of Zapien’s dishes is integrating only the freshest ingredients including the savory tortillas prepared throughout the day. Everything is made in house, so be sure not to miss the salsa ranchera which can be used to add a spicy dash of invigoration.

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Their potato tacos burst forth with an abundance of shredded lettuce, cheese and a sprinkling of chopped tomatoes. We love this refreshing interpretation that elevates the staple potato tacos to a higher level of refinement and gusto.

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The enticing artistry and scrumptious flavors of Zapien’s Enchilada en Mole, tantalize with chipotle braised chicken, freshly prepared corn tortillas, a slathering of their specialty mole poblano salsa and a creative drizzle of sour cream.  This rich and complex dish has us singing Chef Marco’s praises to everyone we meet.

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The extensive menu highlights Zapien family recipes including chiles rellenos, fajitas, carne asada and sopes to name just a few. Your favorite Mexican dishes are sure to be found here with Chef Marco’s innovative spins and traditional interpretations. For those as taken with the cuisine as we are, Zapien offers cooking demonstrations, each with a different theme.  The price of these classes include techniques, tips, all you can eat tastings and drink specials throughout the evening.

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When dining with the Zapien family, be sure not to miss the comforting and dense bread pudding with caramel sauce. It is a treat best savored slowly with coffee or tea for a satisfying end to a memorable meal.

Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria is located at 6702 Rosemead Boulevard in Pico Rivera.

Mexican Culinary Magic

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Pati Jinich introduces her new book Mexican Today by stating, “This is a book of recipes born out of passion: passion for my family; passion for my native Mexico and its ancient, modern and evolving foodways; passion for the changing Mexican cuisine within the United States, my home for the past eighteen years and the birthplace of my children; and passion for delicious, unforgettable, irresistible food.” And after sampling her recipes we definitely see, smell and taste exactly what she means.

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Pati’s Simmered Shaved Corn with Chiles and Epazote, glistens with full bodied sweetest from the freshest corn enhanced by her unique spice blend. We went back for seconds and thirds and would have continued but for our engorged, happy tummies.

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We were particularly taken with her Fast Track Chicken Pibil, a recipe that simplifies the cooking process without skimping on the smokey achiote essence or richness.

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She recommends serving the chicken pibil atop crisp corn tortillas and alongside her refreshing pickled onion and cabbage salad, also found in her book.

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We were tickled and surprised by the chewy sweet, salty and savory Everything in the Pantry Cookies which combine most of our own pantry staples including pretzel pieces.

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Pati’s drink recipes also surprise and delight and we found ourselves thoroughly enchanted by her honey and hibiscus flower tea with its understated, sweet-tart core.

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Mexican Today provides simplicity, as well as new and old twists, on contemporary Mexican cooking. The recipes reflect a long practiced fusion in the Mexican kitchen. Pati explores the way Mexican foods have merged and evolved on both sides of the border. A consummate storyteller, as evidenced by her five seasons as host of the PBS series “Pati’s Mexican Kitchen”, she shares not only the research but also personal experiences behind the making of this book. All her dedication and hard work unify into an inspired cookbook and a great read.

Link here Mexican Today to purchase Pati Jinich’s book from Amazon.

Mid-City Tacos Al Pastor

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Taco trucks are nothing new in Los Angeles, but we want to give a shout out to one of the old timers, Leo’s Tacos Truck, which is still located in the 76 gas station on the corner of La Brea and Venice. We stopped by on Friday evening around 9 PM and found the crowds lined up for the well loved tacos. The queue moves quickly, especially for those ordering tacos al pastor which are pulled together fast as lighting.

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The al pastor stack of seasoned pork is enormous and rotates over flames thrown from a vertical spit. Watching the maestro work his knife, slicing off thin shavings of meat is entertainment in itself. He works at breakneck speed, wielding the long blade like a samurai and finalizing each taco with a sliver of sweet pineapple.

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The salsa bar overflows with lime wedges, a chopped onion and cilantro mix, smokey red salsa, zesty green salsa (our favorite), a thin avocado sauce and a spicy onion and carrot slaw. To go cups for salsas and plastic baggies for vegetables make it easy for guests to pack their condiments to go.

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They do have other items on the menu, but we are in love with the flavors pulled out of the al pastor tacos. Chared thin cuts of juicy, spice infused pork are enhanced delectably by the addition of sweet pineapple found a top the rotating mountain of roasting pork.

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We find a nice squirt of lime, chopped onion and cilantro, and a final chaser of green salsa to be our optimal design for tacos al pastor.

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Leo’s pulls out the big daddy of al pastor on weekend evenings and does a smaller, in the truck, version the rest of the time. These wonders set us back one dollar per taco, just the right price in our book. They have become so popular they now run 4 trucks in locations around the city with varying hours. Be sure to check times before you visit so you don’t miss the joy delivered by Leo.

Leo’s Tacos Truck, 1515 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Phone – 323-346-2001           web site – leostacostruck.com

or

Leo’s Tacos Truck, 1533 Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone – 323-346-2001

or

Leo’s Tacos Truck, 2400 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Phone – 323-346-2001

or

Leo’s Tacos Truck, 415 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026
Phone – 323-346-2001

Enchanting Westside Mexican Moles

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Juquila on Santa Monica Boulevard, is our westside mole spot. The time consuming Mexican dish is a reduction of a laundry list of ingredients, with each chef introducing their personal vision into the mix of chiles, nuts, spices, bread, fruit, vegetables and up to 100 ingredients, if you believe some of the legends.

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Juquila serves the food of Oaxaca in a narrow space with relaxing, warm, sunny, terra cotta colored walls and patterned booths.

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Everyone gets to sample the red mole drizzled on fresh tortilla chips, because they are delivered complementary to the table as guest settle in.

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The chips come with a spicy salsa that adds a nice kick to the starter.

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We were so enthralled with the red mole that we had to order a side of the rich, sweet, spicy, thick and complex sauce to submerge our chips.

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We ordered their cinnamon tea while dipping the crisp tortilla chips into our tongue teasing, flavor packed, red mole and perused the menu for dinner options.

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The red mole was so satisfying we had to order the mole negro or black mole. There are at least 7 types of Oaxacan Mole with the most well known being the black because of it’s enhancement with rich, bitter-sweet dark chocolate that adds significant excitement to the sweet, nutty, roasted, and bitter flavors.

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We stirred our white rice into the inky sauce and then pulled off pieces of the tender dark meat chicken and rolled them in the corn tortillas provided, creating a soft  black mole taco that brought joy to our hearts and palates.

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We strongly recommend trying their moles but there are also flavorful bowls of chicken and beef soup, burritos, tacos and some traditional, hard to find, Oaxaquina dishes such as tlayudas, large corn tortillas covered in toppings and resembling a pizza.

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Completing our meal with a thick, creamy slice of flan was just the ticket. We are always thrilled to have a wide variety of regional cuisines to savor locally and since its not always convenient to travel to East LA for some of the best Mexican food Los Angeles has, it’s nice to know we can find reliable and delicious alternatives that have been thriving on the westside for decades.

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Juquila Restaurant, 11619 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone – 310-312-1079         web site – restaurantejuquila.com

Sublime Mexican Fruit and Ice Cream Creations

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Anyone who happens to be near Pico and Crenshaw between the hours of 6 AM and 9 PM should schedule a stop at Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars.

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The bright, colorful shop sells all natural, Mexican ice cream and popsicles as well as made to order produce juices, milkshakes and other fruit and vegetable based goodies.

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The fruit bars, also known as paletas, are made with minimal ingredients, most are simply blended fruit and a little sugar.  Chunks of fruit, citrus juice, spices and other natural ingredients are sometimes added, but its the simplicity and honoring of the fruit that is paramount.

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Besides popsicles and chocolate covered popsicles, Mateo’s also sells frozen bananas and ice cream that are all serious flavor bombs.

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We are head over heals in love with the passion fruit scoops that have a consistency hovering somewhere between sherbet, Italian ice and ice cream. The flavor is spot on passion fruit pulp, so much so we expect to crunch into the fruits black seeds. The driving force behind the amazing flavors of these frozen delights are the 100 percent all natural ingredients.

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The cafe and chocolate shines with strong coffee flavor and crunchy, frozen chocolate chips. The coconut ice cream is a creamy tropical pleasure.

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Prices are delightful as well with a single, very generous scoop setting us back $2.00. Doubles are $3.75, triples $4.50 and quadruples $5.75. They also have beautiful waffle cones and waffle bowls that add just a dollar or a dollar and a quarter more to the bill.

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Those looking for something a bit healthier will find smoothies, milk shakes and the famous juice blends called vampiros, all made to order.

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Another Mexican treat, corn kernels with mayonnaise, cheese, chili powder and lime can also be whipped up warm and ready to satisfy.

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Mateo’s is a Los Angeles fruteria (fruit shop) not to be missed, offering exceptional value on stunning versions of Mexican fruit and milk based sweets that take natural ingredients to their highest common denominator and that is something we think is worth sharing.

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Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars, 4234 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Phone – 323-931-5500

or

Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars, 1250 South Vermont Avenue, Suite 105, Los Angeles, CA 90006                          Phone – 213-738-7288

or

Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars, 4929 Sepulveda Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90230
Phone – 310-313-7625

 

Some Of LA’s Best Mexican Baked Goods

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We continue our exploration of East LA with El Gallo Bakery. In business since 1949, they have perfected their craft and the Latin community has come to love and embrace this neighborhood gem. Get ready to explore the amazing world of pan dulce (sweet breads). The sweet Mexican pastries/breads come in a variety of forms and shapes including seashells, animals, flat cookies, round puffs, stuffed crescents, and all manor of classically beautiful baked goods.

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Originating in Spain, pan dulce made its way to Mexico where they are eaten for breakfast, often dipped in hot chocolate or served with coffee. They are also a popular midday snack.

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El Gallo has a reputation as one of the best spots in Los Angeles to get these delectable bakery items. The lines attest to the quality and assure fast turn over, making these some of the freshest treats around.

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The bakery also sells packages to make hot chocolate and inside huge vats are freshly made tamales of pork or cheese.

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Not to mention a small smattering of Mexican candies, sweets and coconut macaroons.

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The proceedure is simple. Take a plastic bag, grab some tamales from the enourmous silver pots near the front door and get in line. When it’s our turn we ask questions and point to the most attractive sweets, which are then piled onto trays and scooted along the counter top to the register.

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A lovely bakery attendant packs the goodies and then we were presented with a small bill, under $10 for a tray full of deliciousness.

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We were barely out the door when we had to sample the pineapple stuffed crescent which is a light, super supple, sweet pastry topped with toasted almonds. Everything melts together on the tongue and we fell hard for these beauties that we could eat all day long.

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Our empanada was filled with extremely sweet squash that tasted like fresh baked yams. We heated this one up at home to bring out the flavors even more.

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El Gallo does a wonderful pan de elote, also known as Mexican corn bread. This bread differs from American corn bread in that it has an almost pudding-like consistency.

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The velvety interior is sweet and creamy against the more sturdy, scorched edged crust with whole pieces of corn dotting the cake. This is the most delectable “bread pudding” we’ve had the privilege of eating.

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The corn masa encased tamales are stuffed with either cheese and mild green pepper that come in a yellow wrapper or

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stewed pork that can be found inside the white wrappers.

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Whatever you choose, El Gallo Bakery will set you up with some of the best Mexican bakery goods that we have in our fair city and that makes them one of our top stops for party treats and other celebratory indulgences.

El Gallo Bakery, 4546 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90022
Phone – 323-263-5528          web site – elgallobakery.com

Terrific Tinga

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East LA closes down early, but for breakfast, lunch or an early dinner they bring mouthwatering Mexican food big time. We were lucky enough to get to La Placita de D.F. Restaurante before they closed and began what has now become a search for the best Tinga in Los Angeles.

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Tinga is a stewed pork or chicken stew, slow cooked in a spicy chipotle sauce and served in a variety of ways. The super tender, seductively seasoned, smokey dish is traditionally served as a tostada, wrapped in a soft tortilla or stuffed into a fried quesadilla. It is often piled high atop sopes, a thick, flat, griddle fried, corn dough called masa.

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We managed to wrangle both a plate of the smokey, stewed, pork tinga with a side of rice and beans and a tinga tostada, loaded with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado and grated cheese. Both ways we found this particular pork tinga recipe to be outstanding and a true pleasure to consume.

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Everyone in the restaurant had a cemita in front of them so we had to order one to find out why. Cemitas differ from Mexican tortas (sandwich) in a number of ways but one of the most important differences is the bread. The cemita’s “bun” at La Placita is etherial, light, slightly sweet, toasted heaven. Inside the bread sits a thinly pounded and fried slab of meat, shredded queso Oaxaca (a type of fresh string cheese), greens, chipotle peppers, avocado and beans.

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We found that dousing this big boy with the green salsa sitting on the table was an excellent addition and next time will ask for more chipotle chilies on top.

We are excited to continue exploring East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and neighboring areas, in our search for the most flavorful tinga. But we have to say that La Placita is up there with some of the best we’ve tried and that we are off to a fantastic start.

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Be aware that they are closed all day Thursday and at 6:30 PM the rest of the week. Don’t let the early hours stop you from experiencing these fantastic family recipes that are bringing the flavors of the Mexican state of Puebla to Los Angeles.

La Placita Del D F, 1859 East 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033                           Phone – 323-780-8232

East LA Mole Find

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Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights is many things. Starting with a central community square and metro stop, which allows for easy access.

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It is a central gathering place for community events happening throughout the year.

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We happened to be in the area on Sunday evening and found music, dancing and vendors peddling goods. We now know that Fridays and Sundays from 2 PM till 9 PM the community comes together to commune, eat, dance, celebrate and take advantage of vendors selling goods.

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We were particularly intrigued by a jewelry and ceramic vendor whose booth advertised Mole Mama Chabel.

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We hurried right over to find out what we could about this 100+ year old recipe of one of the most famous sauces originating from Puebla, Mexico.

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We were assured these are in fact traditional family recipes handed down from 1892. Samples are given of the green and red mole offered. The green mole is recommend for vegetables and has the distinct flavor of ground pumpkin seeds, while the red mole is rich, smooth, chocolaty, sweet and savory bliss.

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At $5 per pack we had to purchase both. Instructions are simple. If making the entire bag simply add 18 ounces of chicken stock to the mole and heat. Adding cooked chicken, vegetables or any other preferred ingredients is all that’s required. No need to spend hours slaving over a stove trying to demystify this challenging recipe that contains over 20 secret ingredients.  It’s already been perfected and is ready to go. The moles are also freezable if not intended to be used immediately.

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For those interested in participating in celebrations of Latin culture, dancing and purchasing some delightful moles, Mariachi Plaza on Friday and Sunday afternoon and evenings is a charming place to be.

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Mariachi Plaza, 1817 East 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033
web site – mariachiplazalosangeles.com

Shrimp Taco Nirvana

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Boyle Heights is home to some awesome Mexican food and one of our favorite places is Mariscos 4 Vientos.  This seafood emporium on East Olympic Boulevard serves up some mighty fine tacos, tostadas and plates.

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Simply sitting down bagged us a big basket of chips, a bowl of lime wedges and mild salsa.

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We had to order the specialty of the house, their $2.00 shrimp tacos. These bad boys come fried in hard shells that are topped with avocado slices and a chunky red salsa.

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It’s a bit of a wonder as the ingredients inside have been fried along with the taco shell instead of the standard procedure of filling taco shells with fresh from the fry basket deep fried shrimp and fresh vegetables.

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Biting through the salsa and creamy avocado into the crisp shell, we encounter juicy, plump shrimp and vegetables. The preparation and taste are unique and not to be missed on any visit to Mariscos 4 Vientos. Juicy, cool salsa is the exact opposite of the warm firm taco underneath, yet they work perfectly together.

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Should customers care for extra heat, a hodgepodge of hot sauces are available to spike the Mexican delicacies.

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For those  who love it hot they have tostadas de aguachile, a dish of fish and shellfish marinated in “chili water”.  They serve both red and green versions with the green being incendiary hot, so make sure to grab a beer first.

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Fish or shrimp tacos baja style are crispy battered, deep fried seafood served on soft tortillas, topped with chopped onion, tomato, crema and avocado.  The mix of cool, tart cream and snappy vegetables against the warm, sweet, crunchy fish that we douse with a nice hit of hot sauce, makes for the perfect hand held meal and something worth driving east for.

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For an authentic taste of Mexcian seafood specialties, a trip to Mariscos 4 Vientos is like a delicious adventure across the border, just a lot closer to home.

Mariscos 4 Vientos, 3000 East Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90023
Phone – 323-266-4045

 

Spicy Tortas Ahogadas In ELA

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Since 1996, Tortas Ahogadas Ameca has been serving up antojitos Mexicanos. These little cravings or whims, are traditional Mexican snacks and dishes often served by street vendors in Mexico.  They can include corn on the cob, tacos, tortas (Mexican sandwiches), tamales, quesadillas, tlayudas, etc.

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The little restaurant is decked out in coral, turquoise and purple, reminding us of tropical beaches and spicy food.

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The menu on the wall and the tables lists specialties in Spanish, but they are happy to explain anyything that is unclear.

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We are addicted to the pambazo bread and had to try one of the potato, chorizo, lettuce and mayo sandwiches which is just as decadent and carb loaded as it sounds. A heavy hand with the green salsa also adds a layer of heat to the comforting sandwich.

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Barbacoa is one of our favorite tacos. They come in a variety of roasted meats that are super savory and slightly gamey in their richness.  Served with lime wedges, diced onion, cilantro and sliced radish, the citrus and fresh vegetables cut the heaviness and add a refreshing light layer on top of the densely filled tacos.

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Chicken tinga tostadas take smokey, captivating, shredded chicken stew and top it with lettuce, tomato and cheese.  We like to break up the fried tortilla at the bottom or pick up whole tostada to make sure we get a taste of each ingredient in every bite.  A spray of lime juice tips this heavenly creation to the next level of satisfaction.

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Prices start with tacos at $1.45 and top out around $8.00, so we feel free to sample a wide selection of menu items.

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The restaurant is named for their signature dish the torta ahogada, drowned sandwich.  We chose to load ours with carnitas before having them submerge the entire package in spicy salsa, allowing the bread and meat to  suck up the sauce like a sponge. Messy hot pleasure is how we describe these.

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East LA is always a great spot to find traditonal Mexican fare and Tortas Ahogadas Ameca is one in a long list of ELA shops serving up fine examples of the street food we love.

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Tortas Ahogadas Ameca, 747 South Atlantic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90022
Phone – 323-268-6636          web site – tortasahogadasameca.com