Tag Archives: Mexican Food

La Cocina Delivers Tasty Mexican Fare in West Mobile

28 Jan

La Cocina Mexican Restaurant is located just off busy Airport Boulevard in West Mobile. People who live in Mobile often talk about avoiding Airport Boulevard at all costs, but why do that if it means missing out on this terrific little gem? I first heard about La Cocina from a local food service professional. He also happened to be Mexican, so I felt like his advice was worth taking. I asked “Where can I find good Mexican food in Mobile?” He answered “La Cocina” without any hesitation.

With food this good, they can celebrate Christmas year-round if they so choose.

Some traditional Mexican art is etched into the wooden dining booths.

The chips are fat and crunchy and the salsa tastes fresh (and not too darn hot).

The Poblano Relleno platter (featuring sides of Mexican rice and refried beans) is a personal favorite at La Cocina. How do I love it? Let me count the ways. First, they begin with a fresh Poblano pepper. They are a dark, rich green in color and are mild with only a slight afterburn. The pepper is stuffed with marinated, grilled (almost smoky) chicken breast meat and queso fresco (a mellow Mexican-style white cheese). It is then dipped in a batter, deep fried to crispyness, and then doused in a tangy red sauce.  Sound good? You better believe it, amigo!

A closer look at the Poblano pepper stuffed full of chicken & queso fresco.

La Cocina is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week.



Los Angelinos Fighting to Save Taco Trucks

12 Mar

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles, loath to rally cohesively around a local cause, has joined hands around tortillas.

A new county ordinance restricting taco trucks has outraged food bloggers, construction workers, residents of East Los Angeles accustomed to plopping down in a folding chair, taco in one hand, nonalcoholic sangria in the other, as well as members of the taco-loving public willing to drive 15 miles for the best carnitas.

Nearly 5,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the new law at saveourtacotrucks.org, where “carne asada is not a crime.” Enraged taco cart proprietors are defiant; some have hired lawyers. On Thursday, people flocked to taco trucks in support.

This a place where you can pave over a freeway’s carpool lanes with toll roads, and few will complain. You can propose a 40-story skyrise in the center of Hollywood, and hardly anyone two miles to the west will take notice. You can squander public money, close down the ports and flatten landmarks, and many residents of this sprawling metropolis will simply yawn and move on.

But this is also a food-obsessed city with rich Hispanic cultural traditions, and tacos have crossed the miles of road and class divides.

“Taco trucks are iconic here,” said Aaron Sonderleiter, a teacher from the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and one of the petition founders. “You go to one and you see black, people, white people, old people, young people. They really capture a microcosm of L.A.”

Violations of the old rules, which allow food vendors to remain in a location for 30 minutes, are mere infractions, and in any case the rules are seldom enforced. But under the new ordinance, which goes into effect next week, taco carts would be required to change location every hour, with violators facing fines, misdemeanor charges and, possibly, jail time. County officials say the change comes at the behest of residents who find the carts eyesores, and some restaurant owners who feel undermined by the price-chopping ways of their mobile competition.

“They are a blight,” said Omar Loya of East Los Angeles who took his complaints about the trucks to the office of his county supervisor, Gloria Molina.

Ms. Molina’s policy director, Gerry Hertzberg, said the trucks had become “a big quality of life issue” in some neighborhoods.

“Businesses with a fixed place of business complain about unfair competition and the spillover effects mobile vendors have on the surrounding area,” Mr. Hertzberg said, citing litter, noise, public urination and excessive parking space hoarding as typical complaints.

The new restrictions apply to the county’s unincorporated areas, of which East Los Angeles, which lies just east of downtown, is the most populated. In this dominantly Hispanic neighborhood, taco trucks — and their culinary cousins, fresh fruit vendors — are the curbside pizza storefronts of New York.

At night, some serve as social centers, where communities gather to listen to music and chow down. Some trucks — loncheras — are adorned with names or artwork that signifies the region of Mexico that the vendor hails from, and the food served often also has a regional distinction.

Far faster and far cheaper than restaurants, they are a favorite for day laborers, poor families and cheap dates.

“In my case I have 30 minutes for lunch,” said Carlos Baptista, a construction worker eating a fish taco last week. “And when I only have $4 in my pocket, it is more cheaper than restaurants.”

Under the new ordinance, trucks in a commercial zone will have an hour to sit; those in a residential area will still have to leave after 30 minutes, but in much of East Los Angeles, commercial and residential are one. After the allotted time, a vendor would have to move at least one half mile from the location, and not return for three hours. The district attorney may also charge taco flouters with a misdemeanor, and fines will increase from $60 to $100 dollars for first violation, increasing to a cap of $500.

The City of Los Angeles already has similar restrictions, but they have been uncontroversial because they are rarely enforced; a law regulating food trucks in the city was enforced 28 times last year, according to the police. Efforts to restrict the vendors have met resistance in other cities, as well.

Several taco truck owners last week said they had heard of the law change and were displeased.

“We are hard workers and we pay taxes,” said Jose Naranjo, who has been selling fish and shrimp tacos from his truck in East Los Angeles since 1989. “We are poor people feeding other poor people.”

Mr. Hertzberg said the current county law was enforced roughly “150 times a year,” although Henry Romero, the captain of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s East Los Angeles station, said they had not issued a summons in four years. (Mr. Hertzberg later said that he was referring to 2004, during which one violator was fined 60 times.)

Law enforcement officials say the new ordinance has clearer language that will make enforcement easier.

“Is it one of my primary goals?” Captain Romero said. “Put it this way: We will enforce it when we get complaints from the community.”

Several restaurant owners in East Los Angeles, when asked about the taco trucks, shrugged. “What they do is different,” said Bernardo Garcia, who owns three restaurants.

But there are plenty who disagree.

“A lot of these food trucks are not from our community, they make money in our community but do not give back to the community,” said Lourdes Caracoza, the president of Maravilla Business Association, which covers a small section of East Los Angeles. “People say this is part of our culture. I don’t recall any towns in Mexico having taco trucks.”

Learning to Love Jicama

24 Nov


The Jicama root is gaining popularity thanks to chefs like TV’s Bobby Flay. If you’re interested in learning more, here is some basic info on the plant …  

Jicama is a crispy, sweet, edible root that resembles a turnip in physical appearance, although the plants are not related. Jicama has been cultivated in South America for centuries, and the vegetable is quite popular in Mexican cuisine. Jicama has a unique flavor that lends itself well to salads, salsas, and vegetable platters. The roots can sometimes grow to be quite large, although when they exceed the size of two fists, they begin to convert the sugars that give jicama its sweet flavor into starches, making the root somewhat woody to the taste.

Jicama is actually a legume, and it grows on vines that may reach 20 feet (six meters) in length. The vines tend to hug the ground, terminating in tubers that may grow up to 50 pounds (22 kilograms) in size, although the majority of jicama roots sent to market are approximately three to four pounds (1.3-2 kilograms) in weight. Before eating, the coarse brown outer layer of the jicama should be peeled to reveal the white inside.

When choosing jicama at the store, look for medium sized, firm tubers with dry roots. Do not purchase jicama that has wet or soft spots, which may indicate rot, and don’t be drawn to overlarge examples of the tuber, because they may not be as flavorful. Jicama will keep under refrigeration for up to two weeks.

Jicama is excellent raw and is sometimes eaten plain. It can also be used as a substitute for water chestnut in Chinese dishes, in which case it should be thrown in right before serving. Jicama also appears in stews, juiced drinks, stuffings, and a variety of other recipes. In addition to having a unique flavor and texture, jicama takes flavor well, making it well suited to culinary experimentation. Jicama is a great source of vitamin c and is fat free—making it a superb on-the-go snack.

Jicama grows best in warm, dry climates. It can be planted and grown year round, although tubers form better during the winter time. Jicama plants sprouted in the late spring tend to produce extremely robust tubers by the winter, while jicama planted in the summer produces the most flavorful tubers, although they are typically somewhat smaller. Jicama prefers full sun and moderate rainfall, and it is subject to frost damage, making it a poor choice for northern climates. In addition, jicama produces a natural insecticide in the above ground vine, meaning that the plant protects itself from harmful pests.

Jicama Salad

  • 1 large jicama
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1 red pepper, cut into very thin matchstick slices
  • 1/2 cup radishes, shredded
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into very thin matchstick slices
  • juice from three limes
  • 1 Tbsp. lime zest
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. ancho chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely minced
  • kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Use a vegetable peeler or a paring knife to peel the jicama. Shred finely using a box grater or the shredding blade of a food processor. Place shredded jicama, carrots, red pepper, radishes, and cucumber in a large salad bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, lime zest, rice vinegar, ancho chili powder, honey and canola oil. Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Pour over the jicama salad. All the flavors to marinate for about 15 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Serves 6.

Cilantro Tamales in Naples, FL

25 Aug

We had dinner this past Saturday night at Cilantro Tamales in Naples

The tamale platter features two big fat tamales

The chatter on the web looked pretty promising. Several Naples area blogs recommended this small, unassuming cantina on the north end of Highway 41. Cilantro Tamales was started by a former chef at the Ritz-Carlton. The story goes something like this: The chef wasn’t totally satisfied with his ability to create authentic homesyle Mexican cuisine, so he ran a newspaper ad and recruited several local Mexican homemakers to share their best family recipes. He picked the best of the best recipes, hired those ladies to work in his kitchen, and opened the restaurant. That was several years ago and by all indications we were in for a memorable meal. However, I must report that our dinner was far from perfect.

The complimentary tortilla chips were thick and chunky. The salsa was really tasty and had a nice citrus edge to it. My tamales were mostly masa (corn meal) and somewhat dry. The fillings (chicken and pork) were flavorful, but not exactly piping hot. The accompanying Mexican rice was obviously warmed with a microwave oven and the refried beans, topped with some chopped and flavorless cilantro, were most likely out of the can. Not what I was expecting given the unique story behind this restaurant’s opening. Cilantro Tamales’ slogan is something like “The Best Mexican Food You’ve Ever Eaten or It’s Free.”  I could have called them on this bold claim, but decided to be nice and let them slide. Maybe they just had an off day. The best I’ve ever had??? Not even close. I have made better tamales in my home kitchen and I have zero Mexican ancestry in my bloodline.

We finished our meal by sharing a plate of flan (caramel egg custard) dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with chocolate syrup. The custard was just a bit on the rubbery side, but otherwise not too shabby. It failed to achieve the lofty heights of my gold standard, which is the wonderful flan served up at Danny’s in Laredo, TX. Wish I could have that stuff shipped in on a monthly basis — it’s that amazing. Light and airy custard topped with a crackling caramel crust. Mui bueno!


Maria’s Mexican

27 Jun

Maria’s Restaurant is located inside the Red Barn Flea Market in Bradenton, FL. The Red Barn is a pretty cool place — especially if you are a collector. I collect vintage vinyl LP’s and occasionally pop in when I’m in the area or between appointments. Found a cool Otis Redding LP on the Volt (Stax subsidiary) label today – was pretty excited about that. However, I was more excited about the delicious Mexican cuisine available at Maria’s. This time I ordered a carnitas (pork) taco and a plate of chicken tamales. Both were served with a tasty assortment of sauces (rojo, verde, and guacamole). It was all washed down with a Jarritos grapefruit soda, which tastes a lot like Fresca. Come on, you remember Fresca, don’t you? The whole deal cost just over $7. 

The food at Maria’s is truly authentic Mexican street cuisine. In fact, it reminds me of the many amazing taco trucks we encountered during our time in Texas. Everything appears to be fresh and cooked to order. The folks working the stand are friendly and the clientele is primarily Hispanic. They obviously know a good thing when they taste it. Maria serves up breakfast and lunch only, Tuesday through Sunday. A menudo plate is offered for $6 on weekends. Come find a bargain at Maria’s — fantastico!

Counter seating at Maria’s                 

Pork taco w/ lime, cilantro, guacamole & onion