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.

The Turkish Temptress: Börek

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Strolling through the streets of Istanbul, it is impossible to miss the warm, buttery aroma and seductive window displays of börek shops strategically tucked into nooks and crannies all over the city. Börek are savory pastries fashioned from flour, water and salt doughs of varying thicknesses, resembling anything from thin filo sheets to thick egg noodles. These light, flakey pies can be found stuffed with meat, cheese, potato, herbs, mixed fillings or nothing at all. The fundamental focus is on the butter slathered layers formed into a myriad of shapes from squares, rounds, crescents, cigars, to whatever a baker can dream up.

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Börek may be boiled, baked, sautéed or fried and half the fun is sampling as many versions as possible to find a favorite.

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At Çağdaş Börek, on a corner across Taxim Square from Istiklal Caddesi, we sampled meat, cheese and potato börek, finding them all light, flakey and just the slightest touch greasy. Our favorites were the beef and potato, both packing a flavor punch of spices we wish the more mellow cheese bundles carried.

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The unfilled börek look like hot crossed buns,

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or big slabs that are cut into long slices with the help of a wooden measuring tool. Both are served with packets of powdered sugar.

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The protocol is to dip the unencumbered, warm layers into a mound of sweet, soft, sugar dust, turning each bite into a habit forming, melt in your mouth, fluff of Ottoman Empire culinary history.

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Börek are usually served for breakfast, but are available all day and late into the evening at a myriad of brightly lit shops all over Istanbul. Don’t hesitate to take the edge off your hunger with this savory or sweet snack regarded as one of the national treasures of Turkey.

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Çağdaş Börek Merkez-Tarlabasi Cd No. 20 A,Taksim-IST(0212) 237 67 41

Çağdaş Börek     Istasyon Cad. No. 7/B,   Yesilkoy/IST   (0212) 663 32 47

Çağdaş Börek     Sipahiglu Cad. No. 5/B   Yesilyurt/IST  (0212) 662 99 69

Çağdaş Börek     Cekmece Cad. No. 4/1     Florya/IST      (0212) 580 80 64

For börek in West Los Angeles try:

Aroma Cafe, 2530 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-836-2919

Learning About Turkish Food In Turkey

We are more than a little surprised at how difficult it is to find Turkish food in Los Angeles, a city we perceive as overflowing with culture and cuisine. So when we were invited to celebrate UNESCO’s embracing of the Turkish city of Gaziantep into its Creative Cities Network, we jumped at the opportunity and a week and a half later found ourselves in Istanbul.

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Having only the most rudimentary knowledge and experience with the cuisine, our goal is to explore from the ground up and share what we find. Starting with street food we will work our way through to the gala celebration dinner so we can all gain an understanding of the Turkish table and how Gaziantep came to be honored for her contributions to Gastronomy.

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Our first exposure to Turkish food came in the streets. On practically every corner and in numerous locations on each square we encountered red and white striped carts selling simit, ring shaped bread piled high and covered in sesame seeds.  These soft, chewy, crisp crusted, pretzel-like baked goods are inexpensive, often eaten as a breakfast or snack on the run, go hand in hand with tea, another Turkish staple, and can be combined with butter, cheese, jam or Nutella for a little extra umph.

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The carts offer a small variety of savory and occasionally sweet breads, but simit has been the Turkish, transport friendly, bread of choice since it came into favor in the 16th century Ottoman royal courts and then trickled down through society.

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No trip to Turkey would be complete without a taste of simit and we have had a blast searching carts and bakeries for our favorite version.

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Acknowledging this as our first trip to Turkey, as well as limited exposure to the cuisine, we welcome feedback, discussion and correction for any mistakes made. Our commitment is to deliver the most accurate information, but as we attempt to travel, learn and share, all at the same time, we are happy to defer to experts, the Turkish people and anyone else with superior knowledge and love of this delightful country and her exciting bounty. Let the discovery begin.

Exciting Taiwanese Breakfast, Brunch And Lunch

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One of the less explored meals is breakfast and for those interested in delving deep into Taiwanese morning meals, we recommend starting at Huge Tree Pastry in Monterey Park.

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The small dining room is usually full and may require a short wait to be seated. Simply add you name to the list and you will find the turnover quick and efficient.

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Besides what’s on the menu there are also pastries lined up on the counter to choose from.

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Trays of green onion stuffed puff pastry and curried pork crescents beacon and if chosen are heated before being brought to the table.

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We found gua bao, sitting on the counter. The famous pork belly stuffed buns are accented with pickled vegetable, cilantro and crushed peanuts. Served hot, the pork is a layered combination of melt in the mouth fat and meat. Be sure to eat it as soon as possible to get the full effect of the melted fat before it cools down. We hit ours with some chili sauce to add a little zing.Be sure to remove the thin paper stuck to the bottom as soon as it arrives.

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Another Taiwanese breakfast delicacy is fan tuan. A sticky rice outer layer wrapped around a variety of ingredients. We chose the purple jasmine rice which adds a sweet, sticky component. Filled with egg and pickled vegetables, it creates a sweet and savory Asian style burrito that satisfies on every level with its mix of flavors and textures.

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Fan tuan is served in Saran Wrap which is slowly peeled away as one picks up this big boy and feasts on it one delectable bite at a time.

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As the name Huge Tree Pastry implies, there are quite a few pastries on the menu. We chose the sesame seed crusted, beef pastry with pickled greens which melts in the mouth like a meaty, flakey cloud.

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Condiments on the table include soy sauce, vinegar, chili oil, chili sauce and an onion sauce.

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We also indulged in the green onion pastry which is full of greens and glass noodles.

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The cong you bing omelet is also known as a pan fried green onion pancake with egg.

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As we lift up the top layer, we are delighted to find a savory pancake inside which we splashed with chili sauce to add yet another layer of complexity to the egg dish.

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The crowd is primarily Asian and beyond adorable from the youngest patrons,

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to the most seasoned of customers.

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For authentic Taiwanese specializes, especially breakfast dishes, Huge Tree Pastry is a fantastic addition to any brunch rotation.

Huge Tree Pastry, 423 North Atlantic Boulevard, Suite 106, Monterey Park, CA 91754         Phone – 626-458-8689

Honey Bee’s Sweet Salvadorian House Of Breakfast

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We are always amazed at the bounty of families coming to Los Angeles to set up tiny restaurants where they share traditional cuisine from their native countries. One such treasure is Honey Bee’s House of Breakfast.

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The quaint space is warm and inviting with dark woods and burnt orange walls.  And yes they do serve breakfast, but what we found most intriguing is the Salvadorian food that permeates the menu.

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Great prices, homestyle cooking, overflowing plates and charming hosts make Honey Bee’s a place we feel right at home.  We warmed up our palate with pupusas, thick corn flat breads stuffed with a variety of ingredients.

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There are a number of pupusas to try and being unable to chose we went with the rebuelta, a blending of cheese, beans and pork inside a firm, thick corn packet. The warm, melted cheese filling is gooey and delightful interspersed with fried pork and creamy beans. Served alongside is a crunchy mix of cool, mildly pickled cabbage and vegetables, adding a refreshing tang to the comforting pupusas.

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El super clásico breakfast offers a traditional taste of Salvadorian specialties. First a green pepper, tomato, and onion scramble of creamy eggs can be enhanced with a few shots of salsa to pop the flavors, although that is hardly necessary. Also on the plate we found fresh avocado slices, a hunk of hard, crumbly, salty cheese, a mix of starchy rice and beans called casamiento (married, referring to the union of the two), sausage, sweet caramelized plantains, crema and two thick corn tortillas.

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This substantial meal radiates with textures as well as sweet and savory flavors.  The coarse sausage, snap under the teeth and provide a mild, yet well spiced experience that adds a smoky essence to the platter.

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American breakfasts of pancakes, waffles, eggs, ham, bacon or omelets are available to mix and match with any of the Salvadorian dishes.

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For early breakfast, brunch or lunch in an adorable, homespun spot where overflowing plates are both exciting and extremely satisfying, Honey Bee’s House of Breakfast is a sweet spot to start the day.

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Honey Bee’s House of Breakfast, 4715 West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90016       Phone – 323-731-7203      web site – honeybeeshob.com