Archive | restaurant RSS feed for this section

Fish tacos in Tulum

15 Jul

My Platonic ideal of a fish taco is fresh fish, simply grilled (not breaded or fried), with some salad and lime juice and maybe salsa, but no crema or other dairy-based sauce.

When visiting Tulum (a few times 10 years ago, and again in 2017), my favorite fish tacos were at the cheap beach hotel Los Arrecifes:

IMG_20170430_150113 (1)

IMG_20170430_151931 (1)

The setting is decidedly low-key– it often feels almost abandoned, without much signage and with one employee (if you’re lucky) working in a kitchen, and a patch of sand covered in campers’ tents… but the tacos were fresh and simple– very different from any number of bars along the Tulum beach that advertise “Tulum’s best fish taco” (but whose focuses are just as much the bar, music, and a place to hang out).

 

Mexico City Food, Pt 2 (Pujol, Contramar, Mirotoro, El Cardenal, …)

29 Jan

During much of our late-2015 Mexico City trip I was eating tacos and street food, but we also had some really excellent sit-down restaurant meals. The ones that stand out most are:

Pujol

We knew from the beginning we’d have to come here for an extended small-bites tasting menu.

IMG_4632.JPG

IMG_4627.JPG

Looking at my phone, I apparently emailed myself some notes later that evening when back in our B&B because I couldn’t stop thinking about the meal (what a dork), so I’ll just copy them in here:

  • “tortillas!!– creamy corn center– skins on either side– very soft”
  • “Great ‘new and old mole’ dish– a fresh 1-day mole and an aged 786-day. Fresh was more acidic, tart, distinct spices, chocolate. Old was more mellow, umami, less acidic, a bit oxidized, smoky.”
  • “v. good taco w/ 7 kinds of mostly wild mushrooms (rain mushroom taco) that were just being found at this point in the season– some morel-like smoky/meaty”
  • “Baby corn smoked w/ corn husks in a gourd, w/ a savory, earthy sauce– a chile mayonnaise made with coffee and ground red ants”
  • “chicken w/ crispy skin and interesting beans– good w/ tortillas”
  • “escamoles (ant larva) in a pea pod– a bit eggy, rich, nice acid balance, mellow”
  • “great dessert mix– amazing spiral churro, crispy outside, thin, cinnamon. choc/corn drink was OK. Tamarind ice cream (tart not too sweet!) w/ cilantro cream? Anyway, excellent”
  • “such a good evening. Not too fancy or stuffy-feeling, just a refined / interesting take on various aspects of Mexican cuisine and ingredients.”

Contramar

This was A+ seafood, in a bustling, social, cheerful dining room where there were many large groups, with people showing up to join friends at dinner mid-way through a meal and ordering rounds of small and large plates.

The highlight was a whole red snapper ‘Contramar style’– grilled and split open, half covered with an amazing parsley butter, and half with a red sauce I don’t remember the details of. Accompanied with tortillas, picked onions and peppers, escabeche, and a great jalapeno sauce.

The ceviche was also excellent.

This was about twice as much food as we could eat– we should have invited our other two friends who were in town. But getting the snapper with parsley butter was definitely worth it.

 

IMG_4937.JPG

 

Ojo de Agua was a great low-key pit stop when feeling dehydrated, overheated, or tired from walking the city– there are several locations around the city including on a little park in Hipodromo and they serve revitalizing agua frescas including an amazing coconut milk (they also sell coconut water, but the coconut milk was especially creamy, rich, and rehydrating) and some decent breakfast chilaquiles with avocado.

Just nearby, the cafe Maque served a great breakfast– I loved the chilaquiles divorcados (half and half green chile verde and red salsas — probably my favorite of the trip) and the fresh biscuit with cheese and honey.

I had a great crispy, tender lamb and a hibiscus-mezcal sorbet at Merotoro.

Finally, at El Cardenal we had a good poblano mole chicken breast (though next time I visit I want to explore mole more broadly– a friend recommended Fonda Mi Lupita for mole and I never made it there). El Cardenal was especially notable for excellent tortillas (perhaps freshly-nixtamalized corn?)

Tacos, Tlacoyos, and other street food of Mexico City

22 Jan

In late 2015 I took a week-long vacation to Mexico City, and spent much of that time eating tacos, tlacoyos, and other food around the city (whether in restaurants or at street stalls).

I’d done some initial reading on others’ experiences with the tacos of Mexico city (e.g. Serious Eats 2014, Thrillist 2015, The Mija Chronicles) which gave me a list to start from, and I also spent a day just biking around the city looking for street food carts and taquerias. I can’t claim any deep Mexico City or Mexican culinary expertise as a one-week tourist with very poor Spanish, but I had a great experience and jotted down a lot of notes, for future trips or friends. A year later (when feeling under the weather at home one evening) I’m finally transcribing a few.

A quick summary of my favorites:

  • El Vilsito must-east al pastor tacos (evening/night only, Avenida Universidad in Narvarte)
  • El Jarocho tacos guisados (stew) on Tapachula at Manzanillo in Roma
  • A blue corn tlacoyo pop-up street stand I found on Av. Álvaro Obregón just West of Jalapa
  • Pop-up stall La Esquina del Chilaquil (or the corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas) selling a “chilaquiles sandwich” (time it right– a line forms before 11AM and they will sell out)
  • Tacos Gus for more unusual tacos guisados (huitlacoche, chile relleno, etc) in Condesa / Hipódromo
  • El Califa bistec tacos and nopales (afternoon/evening, Condesa / Hipódromo)

THE VERY BEST

El Vilsito (neighborhood: Narvarte)

A++, best al pastor I’ve ever had (it’s not even close), beating my distant memory of the transformative first-amazing-al-pastor in Mexico a decade ago.

IMG_4956.JPG

Such crispy-edged, delicious pork. A nice piece of pineapple. A thin red salsa that covers it with a bit of heat and keeps it moist. M$14/taco (about US$1).

El Vilsito is only open in the evenings (and open until late)– they’re located in what by day appears to be a large auto garage / repair shop. It took a taxi to get here as it was a bit out of the way, on a strip that seemed mostly dark / closed other than it, but even at 11:30pm there were about 50 people milling about, ordering tacos from the three men working the spits, and more people arriving every minute by car, bus, foot– very bustling.

IMG_4954.JPG

IMG_4962.JPG

Blue corn tlacoyo street stall (unknown name, Roma neighborhood)

I’d read a travel diary that included eating excellent made-to-order blue corn tortillas at a street stall in this area, but I couldn’t find any photos or a name or map, so I biked back and forth over a 5-block grid looking for something that matched the description.

At the intersection of Av. Álvaro Obregón and Jalapa I saw a stand that looked promising, with a woman scooping balls of blue corn masa out of a bowl into a tortilla press… (specifically, here, on Av. Álvaro Obregón just West of the intersection, in front of a sign that said “Salon Mercurio”)

IMG_4832.JPG

IMG_4823.JPGI give this a strong A grade. They were making a few different things based on blue corn including tlacoyos, but I had trouble understanding the options so pointed and got something like a quesadilla with “chicharrones” (in this case meaning pork sausage and chunks of potato) that was delicious– the toasted blue corn really stood out (the cheese was overkill– next time I’d skip it).

IMG_4828.JPG

This was a busy but social stand, with people dropping by, ordering food and eating standing up, all while laughing, chatting, making jokes with each other. A number of people bought one to eat on the spot and then another 2-4 to go for friends or coworkers.

Taqueria El Jarocho (Roma neighborhood, on Tapachula at Manzanillo)

I gave this an A+ in my taco notebook (doesn’t everyone have a ‘taco notebook’?). They primarily serve tacos guisados (filled with stews), with enough filling that they give you  a second tortilla on top of it.

IMG_4798.JPG

I got three of them for M$36 each, but they were big– I could have easily only ordered one or two. The sausage and egg taco was good, but the other two were the stars of the show.

The chuleta y papa special was amazing– hearty chunks of slightly chili-spiced pork with chunks of potato. So good.

And the Mole Verde was an A+, with chunks of tender pork starting to come apart into fibers, potatoes, and a savory green sauce (with I think tomatillos, some ground nuts or seeds, and some flavorful but not very hot chiles).

The salsas were also excellent– the red was tomato-based and not very hot, but the green was a perfect instance of a bright green, very fresh/uncooked-tasting hot salsa– I wonder if it was as simple as pureed fresh jalapenos, onions, and a little oil?

VERY GOOD

Still some of the best tacos or street food I’ve eaten.

La Esquina del Chilaquil (“the corner of chilaquiles”, Condesa / Hipódromo)

This pop-up stand (when I visited, located on the South corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas) sells a remarkable chilaquiles sandwich.

IMG_4916.JPG

But wait, you ask, aren’t chilaquiles already tortillas fried in sauce? They put that in a roll?

Even better– it starts with a soft roll with a crusty outside. Then they line it with a chicken breast pounded very thin, breaded, fried, and folded into a U, fill that with chilaquiles (very soft, tender chips soaked in either red or green sauce), and top it with cheese.

The chicken acts as a barrier between the sauce and the roll, keeping the bread from getting soggy and making this a very portable lunch. All for M$30. I preferred the red version but both were good.

Even before they arrive and set up a stall (around 11AM?) people start lining up down the block in anticipation since it can sell out. We got there just as they were arriving and waited about 40 minutes in line.

img_4906

El Califa (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo, on Alfonso Reyes)

The bistec taco I ordered wasn’t messing around– just a thin, well salted, delicious piece of steak on a tortilla. It didn’t even need any toppings.

I ordered nopales (cactus paddles) and avocado to go with it not realizing I was ordering a plate of each…

IMG_4803 (1).JPG

Tacos Gus (Condesa / Hipódromo)

Tacos Gus had a long bar of more unusual guisados (stews) for tacos, including chile relleno poblano (a chile stuffed with cheese, topped with guacamole and cheese) and huitlacoche (corn fungus) that was very savory and musky. I’ve give these both an ‘A’.

IMG_4548.JPG

GOOD

Tacos La Cazuelas (La Juárez neighborhood)

This was at the intersection of Havre and Londres, roughly here— there were two taco stands adjacent to each other,  but the one I ate at was closest to the corner with Londres.

At 4pm they were almost out of meat, so I got the chorizo, which was excellent– not too fatty, just a nice smoky red sausage.

IMG_4853.JPG

El Tizoncito Tamaulipas (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo)

There are multiple El Tizincito locations within a few blocks of each other, but this specific one was recommended by our B&B host as the best of them. Looking back at my scribbled map and the geotag on some photos I took, I’m pretty sure it’s the one here, on the corner of Tamaulipas and Campeche, with a blue awning, (on the same side of the street and just 1 block west of El Kaliman).

I had a late night snack, with a good al pastor and a michelada (which came with ice, but I took the risk). Overall I’d say good tacos with a good salsa array. I spent M$120 total on dinner including the michelada.

IMG_4481.JPG

El Kaliman (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo)

This is on Campeche at Ensenada, about here, with an orange awning and orange chairs. It was decent– I’d give it a B+ on the pastor (I didn’t think the beef adobado was as good). A nice casual inexpensive place for al pastor… and you can get any of their beers as a michelada.

img_4284

Another unknown-name pop-up street food stand on Av Moliere at Avenida Homero in Polanco (roughly here):

img_4678

There seemed to be a line of regulars waiting for them to set up, so we stopped and got a fried tortilla filled with pork and topped with cheese and a hot fresh green salsa. It was a decent midday snack.

NOT RECOMMENDED

El Farolito (Roma neighborhood on Alfonso Reyes)

At 2:30 pm no customers were inside, and employees were sitting idle, while a nearby taqueria was busy– this seemed like a bad sign so I skipped it.

Tacos Alvero Obrega (Roma)– I had a bad, flavorless al pastor taco and the stand felt dirty (and they weren’t wrapping everything in plastic bags the way they did at most stands).

IMG_4842.JPG

Overall, this was a great trip for tacos and street food…

Still to be posted: Mexico City Food Pt 2 (I wrote up notes a year ago but still need to dig up a few photos for it).

Buenos Aires lunch “You Eat What I Cook”: Don Carlos

12 Mar

Looking back on our Buenos Aires trip a year ago (a few days after La Huella), the most memorable lunch was at Don Carlos.

After catching a cab across the city, we walked in to what felt like a casual family neighborhood cafe, empty except for two tables of older gentlemen chatting over food.

The grey-haired owner strode over to our table and brusquely said in English “You Eat What I Cook?”

It was half question, half order. We nodded, and without ordering over the next hour or so he and family members brought out dish after dish– excellent meatballs, a caprese-like salad, shrimp, steaks, pork chops, empanadas, bread, and for dessert dishes by his wife, including a flan that made me a believer.

IMG_20141114_135837652_HDR IMG_20141114_141309083_HDR IMG_20141114_143803596_HDR IMG_20141114_144625773 IMG_20141114_144640091_HDR

It was a hearty, cheerful lunch to sit and talk with friends over while passing plates around. And at the end of the meal he insisted on showing us the guest book of past visitors (including Francis Ford Coppola) and we took a photo with Don Carlito himself. Thank you for a great afternoon!

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 11.28.59 PM

Mensho Ramen, San Francisco

27 Feb

IMG_1218

Excellent ramen– Tori Paitan– savory-umami rich broth from chicken bones with some fermented flavors, with pork and duck chashu and good toothy noodles. The Suntory Premium Malts on tap was good company. Worth waiting in line an hour.

Remarkable Dinner at the Willows Inn (Lummi Island, WA)

19 Jul

Since reading about Blaine Wetzel at The Willows Inn a few years ago (a good article, from earlier in its existence before he’d won the James Beard award), I’ve always wanted to eat there, but getting to a restaurant on a small island a three hour drive and ferry ride north of Seattle was always logistically tricky.

Last week I finally made it happen… and it’s up there in my list of memorable meals and dining experiences. A dinner of 15+ small courses, each based around a few incredibly fresh ingredients, almost all caught, foraged, or grown on the island and prepared with care. I’ve never tasted squid so tender and tart (raw, fresh from the ocean, with oil and bright, intense flowers picked off herbs), such smooth and buttery cabbage and razor clams almost the same texture, squash blossoms so delicate (with a grassy green sauce from the stems), or anything like some of the drink pairings (an earthy mushroom-infused vermouth, a fermented rhubarb juice).

And eating those and more while the sun set across the ocean, highlighting green in the water and the shadows of the San Juan islands, with the hint of smoke from the outdoor grill, the sound of the waves, a large eagle flying by like that’s nothing unusual, and a great dining companion… these too made a difference.

A few photos (click to enlarge):

WillowsDinner1

IMG_1310

IMG_1222

IMG_1275

IMG_1276

IMG_1287

After many courses, a break for some soothing, relaxing tea made from birch branches:

IMG_1291

The breakfast the next morning was also remarkable– with a toothy, coarse porridge of various whole grains, a salmon cured in fennel, brown butter brioche, even cheese from a “dairy with a mere 9 goats” on a nearby island:

IMG_1617

And in a weekend on the island arranged around this dinner, there were hints of the source everywhere, from the dense, biointensive garden grown just for the restaurant nearby (talking to the farmer, she meets with the chefs every fall to plan out what plants, leaves, fruit, roots, and flowers they want to cook with the next year), to the restaurant pantry packed with dried, preserved, and fermented ingredients from across the island (cured venison heart, smoked egg yolk, bundles of birch branches, fermenting garlic, berry syrups), to seeing several of the chefs walking that corner of the island before dinner the next day (whether scooping up buckets of water from the ocean to lug uphill or picking flowers and leaves and tucking them away in an array of little plastic bins to bring back to the kitchen)…

IMG_1317

IMG_1372 (1)

IMG_1237

…to even the breadth of berry foraging available when we took a walk in the woods– picking up thimbleberries, blackberries and relatives, huckleberries, salmonberries, and salal berries for dessert in our apartment the next night:

berries

Food in Iceland

24 Jan

Even beyond The Hot Dog (already mostly lamb), most of what we ate during an epic December trip across Iceland was lamb or arctic char (14 lamb dishes and 13 with char in 12 days)… The trip was more about the icebergs, the lava, and the hot pools than the food, but a few memorable bits:

Salted cod and tomato.

IMG_20141220_133657779_HDR

But, even better, salted cod pizza from the pizza place with no name:

IMG_20141227_195052043

pizzamenu

Probably my favorite restaurant, Grillmarkaðurinn. Steak (the only beef all trip?) and lava salt and a bit of whale meat (itself very reminiscent of steak).

IMG_20141230_190016900

Cooking Christmas dinner in a little guesthouse near Höfn. Had to unscrew the plastic handles from a stock pot to make something we could put in the oven, and the knives were so dull they could barely slice an onion.

IMG_20141225_155613821

IMG_20141225_154900580

Homemade braised lamb stew and Brussels with fried mutton lunchmeat as a stand-in for bacon.

xmas

Yet more lamb.

IMG_20141222_195120810

Rye bread that was baked by burying it underground near a geothermal pool.

IMG_20141229_155250516

Smoked puffin. Dark and a bit fishy.

IMG_20141222_192735063

Wall of yogurt.

IMG_20141222_120733321

Some amusing menu translations. We did not eat the “our least sustainable fish and a must try when it is available”.

sustainablemenu2