Friday, October 29, 2010

The King and I (and the Zombie Apocalypse)

I always liked Rodgers and Hart better than Rodgers and Hammerstein. Then again, Rodgers was the one who came up with the music, so naturally I gravitate towards the composer since I'm a much better composer than songwriter...

Let me back up for a moment...

For those who don't know, the aforementioned duos were Broadway Musical songwriter/lyricist teams. Between the 3 of them, they basically wrote all the musicals...seriously, they wrote all the musicals ever written for Broadway from about the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s...

Well, ok, so I'm exaggerating, but it's kind of true. Between these three fellows you got musicals like Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and my personal favorite: Jumbo.

[For The Record: I'm not a fan of musicals...but why do I care about them? Because they are the source for many of the jazz standards I enjoy trying to play on my blues gigs. Sometimes 3 the three chord repetition of blues bores me and I need other chords to play through and around.]

Now, I've never seen Jumbo, and I probably never will. I know nothing about it, save for the fact that it revolves around an elephant and a circus, which I don't really care about. I do, however, know it produced one of my favorite jazz standards: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.

No, not the Prince song. And not the Charlie Rich song either.

It's this one, done here by Sonny Rollins on his epic album Tenor Madness. It's the last cut on the record and features my favorite drum solo on record, done by Philly Joe Jones.



Such pretty, logical and bluesy changes with a great melody. I'll sometimes quote it if I'm playing a gig and I see a beautiful woman walk by. Granted the reference is never caught, but one day it will be and I will know that she is the raddest woman ever...I reckon hope springs eternal, or something.

So, where was I? Oh, yeah...Rodgers happened to hook up with Hammerstein to do the music and lyrics for the musical The King and I. You may, or (more likely) may not remember the movie of the same name starring Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr.



(Stay with me...the food is on its way)

The King and I is...uh, I'll let Wikipedia get this:

A musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. The plot comes from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who became school teacher to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Leonowens' story, The English Governess at the Siamese Court, was autobiographical, although her biographer, Susan Morgan, author of the 2008 biography Bombay Anna has discovered numerous inaccuracies and fabrications.

Now, you know, you can't technically go to Siam anymore, much like you can't technically go to Ceylon, Rhodesia, or Zaire. You can, however, go to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe or the Democratic Republic of The Congo.

Ooh, wait! I take that back...you still can go to Siam and you don't have to fly across the Pacific to do it. You just need to drive down Franklin Boulevard, in the heart of The Hood...

There it is...Siam

Let me just begin by saying this: I LOVE Thai food. I don't know how it started. I remember even as a kid I loved Asian food and my dad would always say, "You're Mexican! Where did you even learn to like Asian food?"

Well, I don't know how I learned to like it, but I always have and I always will...and Thai is my favorite of all. To me (and some of you may disagree) it has the widest range of flavors- from fresh to sweet to spicy hot. It also seems to be the healthiest, outside of Japanese, but then again I'm no nutritionist.

We are really blessed to have a lot of great Thai restaurants in and around Sacramento. But honestly, who would ever expect to look for one on Franklin Boulevard, across the street from an epic torta shop (El Abuelo) and an amazing panaderia (La Esperanza)?

Thai food on Franklin? Huh?

It's not just Thai food you'll find on Franklin. It's great Thai food you'll find.

I was accompanied by my friend Krista and we got out Thai feast on while discussing, oddly enough, the finer points of how to survive the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

The unassuming entrance common to restaurants in the hood...

So this is another one of those places that (a) has been there as long as I can remember and (b) I've always driven by but never been to. More than anything, I'd always wondered what the place looked like inside. In my mind, I always pictured it as being kind of plain and slightly funky with a down home charm that you find in many of the fine dining establishments in The Hood. What I didn't factor in, though, was the fact that this was a Thai restaurant and that no matter what, Thai restaurants are always decked out with dark wood and bronze figurines.

The cashier/kitchen entrance just inside the front door

This place is really cool looking inside. Not that it has a necessarily nicer decor than other Thai places around town, it's just surprising that such a nondescript place in The Hood would have such, dare I say, ambiance...

Yet another place with a mural reminder of "home"


Meditate...

Our server came, attentive and prompt, with waters and Krista and I got down to the business of deciding what we were going to be feasting on this evening. It was one of those situations where everything looked and sounded good. We'd been anticipating this Thai feast for so long that when we finally got there, we were a bit overwhelmed by choices and paralyzed by indecision. After some discussions that involved arm wrestling, ro-sham-bo, and the flip of a coin we chose the following items for consumption:

Pad Thai (I know, typical...but it's just yummy and simple)
Green Curry (Medium Spicy with chicken)
Larb w/Duck (Spicy Thai salad with mint, chili and lime juice)

While we waited for our food and I blissed out on a Thai iced coffee (mm...condensed milk!), the conversation somehow turned towards survival of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Now, I had always been of the mind to get out of town and head for high ground where you can stay out of their sight and, if they do find you, see them coming a mile away. This is actually not practical as Krista rightly pointed out that there would be traffic jams as people tried desperately to escape the urban centers where zombies are more likely to gather. She even noted that a car wouldn't be the best vehicle to use; that a motorcycle would be better in terms of speed and mobility. Needless to say, I was amazed and in awe of the thought that had gone into this. I even found out where the ideal place to seek shelter during the Zombie Apocalypse. I will not, however, disclose that at this time. I want to be able to stake my claim on the place without having to fight people over it. Let's just say this: When and if the Zombie Apocalypse is ever upon us, text me. I'll be with Krista, because she's like the Eisenhower of Zombie Apocalypse strategy.

Our first plate arrived as the discussion turned to the type of zombie the coming apocalypse would likely bring- the slow 50s style ones or the more modern crazy/fast ones.

Larb...Quack Quack...

So, I had to be convinced to get the duck. I've never been a big fan. It's always tasted a little to gamey and greasy to me. That being said, if I could get duck like this all the time, I would be eating duck all the time. This dish was SO good! It looks simple, but trust me, there's a lot going on here. Foremost was the duck itself.

I remember my mom would cook turkey legs in the oven when we were kids. The way they came out, the outer parts and the edges of the leg were a little drier and barely crispy, but so flavorful as they seemed to suck in all of the flavor in the pan they were cooked in. The duck had that same quality- very, very slightly crispy on the outside and moist, but not too oily on the inside. The duck itself was spicy, but not overpowering. The dish was like an amazing balancing act with the spice of the duck and chilis being balanced perfectly by the sweet and fresh of the mint and lime.

[As a side note, I've been reading about the latest taco fusion trend where clever foodies are attempting to combine Asian food with the venerable street taco. I don't get Japanese tacos and Korean tacos kind of make sense. THIS, however would be perfect in a taco...maybe with some onions and a little green salsa. You're welcome in advance food truck people!]

Next up: Green curry w/chicken and vegetables

It may not seem so with the lighting, but trust me, it's green curry

The green curry was very good. My only mistake was that I ordered it medium spicy. This is not to say that it took away from the dish. It's just that we were trying to err on the side of caution here, and never having been here, we had no point of reference as to what the degrees of hot meant. When I go back I will definitely try the next level- Hot, before I decide whether or not to attempt the highest level on the menu- Thai Hot.

Again, this dish was all about balance. Each bite was an amazing mix of sweet and heat (albeit medium heat). The curry sauce was almost creamy and felt (this may or not make any sense, but go with me on this) pillowy. Also, the veggies weren't soggy, as sometimes can happen when they arrive swimming in soups. I was liking the whole thing.

Finally: Pad Thai

Who doesn't love Pad Thai?

The final dish was the classic Pad Thai. What can I say about this dish that hasn't been said already, probably millions of times? It was what it was. It was good and done right. I will point out a detail that I appreciated. There was no noodle clumpage (at least this night) that sometimes can happen to Pad Thai. As with the other dishes, the veggies retained their crisp and added nice texture to the dish as a whole.

I am going back to Siam. I may even invite my vegetarian friends (yes, I am a supporter of alternative lifestyles), because they really do veggies well and offer tofu as an option with their dishes. When I do, I will also order things one level spicier, because...well...I'm Mexican and I like spicy foods.

As for the Zombie Apocalypse, I'm calling Krista, because she's the woman with the plan, and she's not afraid to kick ass...literally. But like I said, I can't disclose the location just yet, unless you make me a very lucrative offer, of course.

Siam Restaurant
5100 Franklin Boulevard
Sacramento, California 95820
(916) 452-8382

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

350,632.511 minutes

No, not 525,600 minutes. I really hate that song, but it can't be that bad if it gets stuck in your head- which is one of the marks of a good song...

I'm talking about 350,632.511 minutes, give or take. This is the number of minutes that exist in the span of 8 months, the span which, as of today, I have not put any alcohol (or any other substance) in my mind and body. I know 8 months seems like such a non-event in terms of being sober. I know people that have been sober for years, decades even. I'm only at the beginning of a path that has been well worn by others before me and will be followed by many after me. For some reason, however, something struck me about this milestone that made me want to write about it today.

It was on January 7, 2010 that I woke up feeling terrible, yet again, after another in the long line of epic drinking binges that I was simply incapable of avoiding. My problem wasn't so much that I would drink every day (although it was starting to get close to that). My problem was that once I started I couldn't stop. I am incapable of having one drink. What would begin as an innocent evening at the bar after work on a friday would lead to an out of control freight train of drunk that wouldn't end until sometimes saturday morning, sometimes hundreds of dollars later. I was overwhelmed by the guilt and shame that this weakness and its results would leave me with. My marriage was beyond repair. My mental health was shaky, at best. My physical health was visibly bad. Things were getting worse with each day, each minute that I continued to deny the fact that I was, and still am, an alcoholic.

I will never forget how I felt that morning- mentally and physically. After a few hours of restless sleep, I creaked out of bed filled with nausea; my skin feeling like taut, dry parchment over my bones; eyes hurting regardless of being opened or closed; my head feeling awkward on my spine, clearly attached, but feeling barely so. The universe tilted on its axis as I walked into the bathroom, deciding whether or not I would vomit out the remains of the previous night.

It was a walk of shame as I passed from the spare bedroom, where I had been sleeping for the previous months, to the bathroom past the main bedroom where my soon-to-be-ex wife slept. No doubt she saw the shadow passing across the doorway, shameful footsteps that I had long since tried to hide. She knew I was a failure. I knew I was a failure. It didn't even need to be said by this point. She was tired of it months earlier and had no fight left in her. In fact, I'm surprised she had kept the fight up that long. She was just another in a line of failed attempts at domesticity, one more relationship, one more love, inevitably ruined by a desire to drink and get high and have a good time that far exceeded a desire to love.

In the mirror, I saw a mess. My eyes stared back at me- puffy, red, and empty. I splashed water over my grey, bloated and ugly unshaven face in an aborted effort to keep the nausea at bay. It didn't work. I found myself, within minutes, on my knees, face in the toilet bowl, knuckles white, gripping the sides as I vomited nothing but bile. The bottle had finally let me down.

The words floated closer to the top of my head, like they had so many times before when I felt like this. This time, though, I stopped trying to drown them. I said it to myself, looking into my bloodshot eyes, "I am an alcoholic."

And I said it again, this time to my then-wife, as I curled into a fetal position and wept. It didn't change the fact that she was leaving me, but I am grateful for her comfort in that time of complete vulnerability and humility. After I told her, I called two of my closest friends who had been down this road years before, and I told them. Each time I said it, I felt the weights of guilt and shame lifted from my shoulders, my heart coming out from under what had been a long and slow grind.

I chose life.

It was awkward at first. As much as I was advised to go to "meetings" at least at the start of this journey, I resisted. The Program just wasn't for me. Instead, I chose to confide in my closest friends. Thank you to all of you, and you know who you are. Thank you for not judging me with endless "I told you so."

The changes came almost immediately. I began to dream again. I'll never forget how good it felt to wake up and just be tired- as opposed to tired and hungover. It took a lot to keep everything together when both tired and hungover. The mental and physical stress of it was taking its toll. The further I entered sobriety, the more my moods stabilized. I was nearly manic-depressive from my chemicals being out of whack for so long. This clarity was a new thing, and the more I felt of it, the more I wanted.

The physical changes came next. People told me I looked different, which I didn't notice at first. I'd look in the mirror and just see me. But sure enough, I dropped 15 pounds. Gone was the puffy gray of my face, replaced by a healthy, slim glow with eyes that actually had life and desire in them. When I told my friend that I finally noticed the color returning to my face, she said, "duh...it's because your liver is working again."

Was I really that far gone?

Yes. I was. I was just blind to it.

It was kind of ironic when people saw the post-sobriety me, having lost the weight on my body and face. If they hadn't seen me in a while they'd ask me if I was ok, if I had any health issues. I would tell them that, if anything, the weight loss was a sign of good health (there goes the universe being ironic again).

The other huge difference came in my guitar playing. I was blessed (if you want to put it that way) with the ability to consume large amounts of booze and...uh...stuff...and still play the guitar better than many (arrogant as that may sound, it's true). When I stopped, it took only weeks before I was able to execute musical ideas that had escaped me for years. I was coherent and able to string together musical thoughts from places that had long since been dulled by what I was putting in my body. When people asked what had gotten into me, I told them it was what I had gotten out of me. I was, and still am, playing with a fire and intensity I hadn't known in years. I am so blessed to have found that place of fearless expression again.

Perhaps the thing for which I am most grateful is the ability to be fully in the moment. When you're drunk, or hungover, or both, the world just passes you by. Everything is a blur. I was incapable of fully seeing and feeling the little details that life is made of. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I can feel again. I sometimes stop and just take it all in. The smells. The sights. The sensations on my skin. The tastes. I can honestly say, I am happy. Whereas I had been fooling myself into believing this before. I really am now. I actually smile and laugh...and I mean it and it means so much.

How amazing it's been to do the first sober vacation, party, night at a club, wedding, gig...you get the picture. I had been doing all of these things, but not living them or fully experiencing them. I was there for all of those things in the past, but not present. How lucky am I to have a chance to do these things again with a clear head.

Some aren't so lucky.

Why write about this here?

Well, this project came out of the desire to find an expression that came out of a new presence. I certainly couldn't have done this if I was still a drunk. I'd be too caught up in the vicious cycle of substance abuse to have any time to write anything...and I wouldn't have had the ability to experience these culinary delights fully in the moment. This blog is an expression of my new, and clear, mind- one that wants to really feel new things and remember them and share them.

Being a drunk is the most selfish thing you can do. I guess, in a way, this is one tiny part of being less selfish, at least with myself. I want to give, because I didn't for so long.

So, again, thank you to (insert the names of those who know who they are). Your faith and forgiveness continues to humble and inspire me. Know that every day I relish the opportunity to be a better human being that is capable of real feelings, real love, real friendship, real life. I'm not quite there yet, but I really feel like I'm getting closer with each of those minutes that have, and will continue to pass.

But then again, it's really all about the journey, not the destination, isn't it?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Heart & Soul

Love is all about timing.

You could meet the perfect person, but if the stars aren't properly aligned, no amount of effort or longing will make it work. Sometimes you just have to be at the right place at the right time; when the unseen hand of the universe nudges your orbit into the orbit of another and a sort of magical collision happens when you see that person and just know, sometimes against all reason, that you've met someone who will leave you forever changed. It really is a wonderful feeling, even if you have it and can share it for only a few, fleeting moments. Like the old saying goes, "Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."

I fell in love last week as we aimlessly wandered the neighborhoods of South Sacramento last Sunday afternoon. We really had no destination as we made our way down Fruitridge Road and on to Stockton Boulevard, reminiscing about the past and lamenting about the unsure future, trying to stay in the moment as long as possible. The only real plan we had was to stop at a few thrift stores to look for some kitsch, which we did. At a place on Fruitridge, near 65th Avenue, I managed to find some cool prints to hang on my walls along with some old 78 records and she scored some cool old souvenir plates from five different states to add to her collection of travel memories from places she'd never been.

Heading towards another thrift store, we turned left instead of right on Stockton and to no avail, ended up looking for a massage, then a psychic in an Asian strip mall...trust me, it made sense at the time...though it was a little funny seeing the confused reactions of the proprietors of those two places at the sight of a Mexican and blue eyed white girl asking for some deep tissue and a palm reading on a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon. We eventually made our way back north up Stockton and back across Fruitridge to Thrift Town, the place we were looking for all along. We were still giggling about our aborted efforts to see our future and have a "happy ending" when we got out of the car and headed into the store...

Then it just happened...Looking up as she walked ahead of me, toward the entrance...I fell in love with what I saw in front of me...

SOUL FOOD CUISINE

I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw these words and made a beeline to the little strip mall where that sign was mounted on the side of the building, next to the parking lot of the thrift store.

I called out to her, "Go ahead, I'll catch up with you..."

I think at this point, a little background is needed.

From the authors of the Harlem Renaissance to the blues and jazz artists of the 50s & 60s, so much of what I have become, at least artistically, has been influenced by Black culture. I don't know what it is, exactly, that drew me in that direction. All I do know is that it's always felt right to me and moved me in ways that are so hard to really articulate. So while all the poser hipsters try to out-obscure each other with the latest new band from the latest and hottest indie city on the map, I am stoked to find an old soul tune from Junior Parker or Little Richard.



Over the years, I've been blessed to cross paths and play with many older blues musicians who have shared their music and life stories to help make me both the person and musician I am today. Inevitably, some of those stories have occurred while sharing a meal; and on more than one occasion, it's been over a soul food meal which would inevitably unlock memories from these folks in a way only food can. So it goes without saying: I really love soul food.

I'd been looking for a soul food place for quite a while, and as it often is with love, found it by accident when I wasn't even looking for it.

It may be tiny, but look for Oh Taste & See on the top left...

The restaurant was named Oh Taste & See. I walked in and it just felt right. The place was small with a few booths and tables. I went to the counter and asked for a menu and was greeted by the owner, a small woman named Brenda. I gave her my spiel- that I was a food blogger who specialized in hood food and that I had been in search and need of a good soul food restaurant. We hit it off immediately talking about the difference between soul food joints & BBQ joints and how soul food wasn't just Black food, but any food that told a story and meant something. She went on, enthusiastically telling me how she'd just passed the six month mark of being in business, using her grandmother's recipes and working in the kitchen every day to prep and cook the food that was served. I knew, just by the way she talked about her food, that this place was the real deal. I told her I'd be back and that I couldn't wait to experience her food.

Fittingly enough, my eating companion today was my longtime friend Marina, owner and proprietor of The Torch Club, home of the blues in Sacramento. She'd been wanting to come along on one of my little jaunts down to South Sac and when I told her about this place, she absolutely committed to go.

The modest storefront

We were literally welcomed with open arms. Brenda, sure enough, was working and came outside when she saw me clicking pictures, remembering me and our conversation from the previous week. She greeted Marina and I with hugs and thanked us for coming. After they shared stories about the difficulties of being small business owners, we got in and got to the business at hand.

The place itself was nondescript, with the exception of some artwork on the walls featuring gospel music artists.

Brenda loves her gospel music!

Even Marina "got" this place when we walked in. Between my description of my initial encounter with this restaurant and her actually walking in and seeing it, she just knew we were about to experience something really special.

As if the gospel artists featured on the walls weren't a give away, the menu left no doubt- Brenda is a woman of God. Nearly all of the items on the menu featured names of biblical characters along with a page dedicated to quotes from scripture. Fitting as this place is clearly a reflection of Brenda's love of her fellow human beings. What better way to nourish the soul than with lovingly prepared food...

My personal favorite names: Adams Ribs & Abraham Gumbo


Bible food quotes...

There was so much good stuff on the menu...oxtails, neck bones, meatloaf...In a way it was overwhelming, especially since we were both starving and the menu was so appealing. After some deliberation, we had our plan. Marina ordered the chicken fried steak with a side of mac & cheese and green beans. I went for red snapper with black eyed peas and potato salad.

Here's the food:

Chicken fried steak with mac & cheese


Green beans


Red snapper with black eyed peas & potato salad


mm...cornbread!!!

Where to begin...I'll just start out by saying this: I loved this food! So, forgive me for gushing, but sometimes when you fall in love, you just want the whole world to know.

First, Marina's food:

This was the best chicken fried steak I, or Marina, have ever tasted. This was unlike any other I had ever had. To begin with, it actually looked like pieces of fried chicken. What made it amazing was the battered outside layer. Most chicken fried steak comes with a thin layer of batter that is somewhat soggy & greasy. This, however was light and airy, and crispy, just like fried chicken. And the gravy...it was actually alive...brown and juicy, unlike the gray and dead looking gravy that often accompanies most chicken fried steak. The steak itself was tender and juicy. The whole thing was great.

Her sides were just as good. The mac & cheese was creamy and actually cheesy, not some coagulated scoop of yellowish mass that resembles mac & cheese. The green beans were great as well. They seem so simple to cook, but a lot of places will serve them to you over cooked & limp. These came with some life left to them, neither over cooked, nor over seasoned.

My Plate:

This was some of the best red snapper I've ever had. Marina and I were both impressed with the fact that it wasn't greasy and soggy, as is the case with many a battered red snapper. Although the batter was different from the chicken fried steak, it shared the same quality of being light and crispy on the outside while maintaining the moisture and flavor of the meat inside. Topped with some Tabasco sauce that I drizzled on, it made me very happy.

My sides were awesome as well. I liked the potato salad because it had just a slight hint of sweet to it. And as with everything else, the black eyed peas came out not-too-soggy and actually reminded my a bit of my dad's pinto beans.

Yes Officer...I killed this plate of food...



Marina's stomach isn't as big as mine, but trust me, if she could have killed the plate, she would have...

By the end of the meal, Marina and I were totally stuffed and feeling good. Not only was this soul food, but soulful food. It was as if I'd gone to grandma's house for a nice home cooked meal...if my grandma were Black and from the south. I am aware of the latest trend toward comfort food. Let me tell you...this is serious comfort food.

Brenda Moore, the owner of Oh Taste & See in the kitchen where she works every day preparing all of her grandmother's recipes from scratch

As we were leaving and thanking Brenda for her hospitality she told us about her latest effort with the restaurant...something I just had to share in closing. On Friday and Saturday nights, she now serves a limited to-go menu from midnight to 4am. So if you're out and about partying and have a designated driver (don't drink & drive) and need something greasy to absorb all the booze you drank earlier in the night and you have the courage to venture south of Broadway on late into the early morning...go and see Brenda...seriously, the food is that good...

The late night to-go menu

So I fell in love down on Stockton Boulevard, of all places. I never thought it would happen the way it did, but it feels good and I want the world to know, no matter how cheesy it may seem...and I'm hoping this is a love that will actually last...

Go out & see Brenda. It is well worth the drive down Stockton.

Oh Taste & See is located at:
5015 Stockton Blvd (just north of Fruitridge Rd.)
Sacramento, Ca

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Mexican

I am, by no means, an expert on anything. In the words of the old jazz standard, "I know a little bit about a lot of things, but..."


Dig the bubbly guitar...


In all reality, I think I know just enough about many things to hurt myself, though you'd think I'd have learned enough about enough not to hurt myself. I'd like to think I've been leaning that way more often, but I'm such a glutton for metaphysical punishment, that I think on some sort of subconscious level I actually seek out the pain to feel more alive. It's kind of twisted, I know, but I've been more mentally healthy with that pain. It means I'm alive, as opposed to a period where I felt nothing...which isn't a good thing, because that inevitably leads to more self-abuse.

OK...I know this isn't a therapy session, but I'm trying a stream of consciousness thing in my writing, for better or worse.

So back the concept of expertise:

As I've been the first to readily admit, I'm no expert on Mexican food, despite being Mexican all of my life. Actually, if you want to get down to it, I'm not really an expert on being Mexican. My Spanish is a few steps above "tourist quality". I don't make annual pilgrimages down to the Motherland to visit la familia. I listen to, and play, black music. My favorite cuisine is Asian. I do what I can, however, and leave the rest to the "experts". With my parents being in Arizona, the responsibility of expert on all things Mexican has fallen to my friend and co-worker Ariana.

Ariana is a real Mexican. Hailing from Jalisco, Guadalajara to be specific, she is a wealth of knowledge on the all things Mexican. To be honest, I get a little nervous when I go to work the morning after I post some writing about an eating experience about Mexican food, out of fear that I have somehow gotten something horribly wrong. Fortunately, I have not completely embarrassed myself with my writing. In fact, she has been supportive of my writing in the sense that she appreciates me getting in touch with my Mexicanness through my writing about the food. For a while now, she'd been wanting to accompany me on a jaunt out to the hood to go eat some Mexican food. Since she lives in Davis, she's not really familiar with the restaurants that inhabit the Franklin Boulevard corridor and had been wanting to sample some of the food down there to see if it passes her test of authenticity. I was kind of nervous at the prospect of having her come along for fear that she would be disappointed in my choice of eatery. I felt as though I was on the spot and had to really deliver.

After some thought, I knew where we'd be going. It was a place I'd been before, and really liked, but not written about as my initial visit to the place was pre-blog. Deep down Franklin, outside of the city limits, past Fruitridge and across the street from the Campbell Soup factory was where we were headed...to Carniceria Lopez #2.

Hm...Now where can I go and have a taco while I wait for my taxes to get done?


There's the Campbell Soup factory, a reoccurring landmark in this blog


It certainly looks innocent enough

It was an early Wednesday evening when we walked in. The place was empty except for two men speaking in Spanish as they watched banda videos on a large flat screen television. Now for those who aren't familiar with it, banda is a type of Mexican music that typically hails from the northern border states and has strong polka influences as a result of the many Germans who settled in Texas and Northern Mexico, bringing their music and their instruments with them. Rather than try to explain it, feel the banda for yourselves:



Their outfits are kind of awesome!

I had to rib Ariana a bit, because banda is not her favorite kind of music. Being from Guadalajara, her musical blood flows with the sounds of mariachi music, which originated in her home state of Jalisco. We did, however, have a fun time sitting in awe of the huge belt buckles and loudly colored, gaudy outfits worn by the musicians in the videos. Some of the music was so bad it was good in the way that bad casino lounge bands are sometimes so bad they're good.


Random cheesetastic art on the wall

After getting settled in and being washed over by the banda, the very friendly waitress came by with menus, chips, and salsa. I deferred to Ariana to do all the talking as the default language being used here was Spanish, and I get enough of a hard time from her at work about my bad accent. I sat nervously as I could tell she was sizing the place up. I had actually talked this place up a bit before we came and felt like my credibility was somewhat on the line. I was relieved when Ariana opened up the menu and began to sing the praises of what she saw, ticking off the origins of this dish or that dish, impressed by the mere presence of certain menu items. With so many choices, I thought she would pick something obscure, but she took the route of simplicity, opting for a simple plate of flautas with rice and beans with agua de jamaica (hibiscus flavored drink).

I decided to get a little more adventurous. I've had their tacos. I've had tacos at a lot of places. In fact, a lot of people have had a lot of tacos at a lot of different places....and many of those same people have written about said tacos, many of them much better than me. So I'll say this, their tacos are good...seriously good, but who wants to read another description of a taco? There are only so many adjectives in my little brain to describe tacos. I mean, I will probably write about tacos again, but with so many choices on the menu, I opted to take the route less traveled...and you'll have to keep reading to get there...


Yes, I ordered both a Coke and a Sidral

Ariana kind of looked at me like I was crazy when I ordered both a Coke and a Sidral. Alas, there was a method behind my madness. See, the salsa here is addictively painful, but in a good way.


It looks innocuous enough, but it will cut you

Heated with glorious little jalapeño seeds, this salsa is a gift that keeps on giving if you like spicy like I do. I went through a whole basket of chips and two of these mini bowls of salsa (I hadn't eaten all day and I was effing hungry). The reason for the two drinks was simple. The Coke was to wash down the salsa. The Sidral was to wash down the...nope, not going to tell you yet...

So, out came the food:

Flautas topped with crema fresca and rice &beans

The earlier nervousness that had subsided about Ariana's take on the menu quickly returned. It was the moment of truth. What would I do if the Mexican didn't like the Mexican food I had been singing the praises of? Would she revoke my Mexican Card? Would she cut me? There was this odd moment of silence as we both understood what was on the line here.

nom nom nom...

"This is actually really good..."

That sound you're not hearing is the sigh of relief I let out when she actually liked the food. She was impressed that the flautas came with crema fresca (literally, sweet cream) instead of the usual sour cream that tops many a Mexican meal. Even more importantly, she liked the rice and beans. It may seem to be a no-brainer to many, but much like haiku, rice and beans are easy to do, but also very easy to make bad or mediocre. There is a lot more bad haiku written than great haiku.

After Ariana's food arrived, mine soon followed:

Taco al pastor...served on a Chinese plate??? Huh???


OK...so I know I went on earlier about how I wasn't going to eat tacos and that I was going to take the road less travelled, but the tacos here are really good and it's al pastor. How could I pass up the opportunity to have one? A little lime juice and I'm in a state of mini-bliss. Besides, I needed to stretch me stomach a little bit to accomodate the real meal...

Still wondering?

I'll bet you want to know what is so damn out of the ordinary that I haven't mentioned it yet...

Well...prepare yourself...

Parental Discretion is Advised...

BOOM!

Yes...that is a whole fish (side one)

I couldn't resist. It looked so good pictured on the menu and it looked even better in person. Behold...whole deep fried tilapia!

[A little side note here...maybe it's just me, but I think it's kind of awesome that all of the plates are mismatched. If you look at all of the food, it all comes served on different styles of plates (including the previously noted Chinese plate). It's like going to your abuelita's house...a little funky, but with a lot of soul.]

...and the b-side

So, let me begin by saying this: Yes, it is as good as it looks.

Now I know most people are used to "nice" fish. I mean this in the sense that it's prepared as a nice filet, presented nice and white and clean looking. Not to say that this is dirty, but you won't find this at a high end restaurant...at least the ones I've been to.

The preparation was simple and amazing. The scales were removed from the edible parts of the fish and the whole thing seemed to be lightly sprinkled with what I would guess is a simple dusting of flour, salt and pepper. After that, it's just a matter of frying.

I loved this fish. Though simple in it's preparation, there was more going on here than the sight of it would let on. What struck me most was the texures involved. The skin was left on and absorbed the salt and pepper flavor, getting crispy in the fryer. This provided a nice contrast to the light and surprisingly not-too-greasy meat of the fish. Even better, the meat still had that fishy taste to it, which some may not like, but I think is awesome. I love tasting the ocean. As good as the whole thing was, the best part was the meat from the head of the fish. A bit more greasy than the rest, it had a bit stronger taste of salty and peppery and just melted on my tongue. This was truly some epic seafood, even more so when you consider where it was served. Most people woudn't think to go down to Franklin Boulevard for a great fish plate.

Remains of the day...

Mr. Fish saying goodbye!!!

All and all, this mission was a resounding success. We got out of there with all of that food and drink for under $30, leaving stuffed and satisfied. More importantly, the place got the Mexican's seal of approval and my Mexican food credibility remains intact...at least for now. If you do decide to go here, seriously, try the tilapia. So good!

Carniceria Lopez #2 is located at
6201 Franklin Blvd

Sacramento, CA 95824
(916) 393-5957










Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Undercover in Mazatlan

I always thought it was cool when there were crossover episodes of TV shows when I was growing up. I mean, how cool was it when the Jetsons met the Flinstones or when Mork from Ork found himself hanging out with The Fonz in Milwaukee? Granted, it was nothing but a cynical ploy by TV executives to increase viewership, but I was a naive kid and it didn't matter. It was always a big deal to me. In honor of that great tradition of the crossover episode (minus the cynicism, of course), I am honored to present my own...

I am a nascent foodie at best. I know nothing about the real nitty-gritty of the art of food and cooking, though I wish I did and hope to some day. I am, however, blessed to know some real foodies. One of them is my friend Sarah, who happens to be a great cook and great writer who brings a real working knowledge about food to her fantastic blog Undercover Caterer. If you haven't already done so, go check out her site. Not only does she talk about food, but she also has a plethora of great recipes- many of them inspired by her Nana (and we all know they have the best recipes). I've had the pleasure of eating her food. She's the real deal.

Since she found out I started writing about food we'd made a plan to one day go somewhere and share a meal to write about on our perspective sites. After a few rainchecks, we finally got our schedules right and were able to connect to make that wonderful trip down a mutual memory lane that is Franklin Boulevard...

Destination- Mazatlan

As with most places on Franklin, Mazatlan is one of those places you drive past and point at, saying to yourself or anyone you happen to be with, "I've always wanted to check that place out." Well, we were a part of that club for too long. Accompanied by her husband Guido, we made that trip...and we didn't need to deal with long lines at the airport and customs to tell people we were going to Mazatlan.

Dig the redone exterior...It wasn't always that nice on the outside

As with most of the wonderful places down Franklin, Mazatlan is in a relatively nondescript location. Then again, as with most of those same places, it sits next to another business that makes you just scratch your head and say, "huh?"

Here's what I mean:

OK...all together now..."Huh? French Bakery on Franklin? WTF?"

Yes, maybe take a few moments to let the cognitive dissonance wash over you and pass. That is indeed a french bakery with plywood replacing the glass on the windows and doors...

...or is it?

Clearly not a french bakery, but what is it and why are the doors wide open? Alas the enigma that is Franklin Boulevard. Perhaps some questions are left unanswered.

Nope, not a french bakery. Not even a bakery, for that matter. Just a storefront filled with a bunch of random palates and assorted crap. We actually tried to figure out what it was all about, but something didn't seem quite right. Rather than stand around an ogle, we thought it would be best if we just got inside the restaurant before some malcontent came out and asked us what the fuck we were doing snooping around their place. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.


We were bummed because we just missed happy hour. Can't go wrong with those prices!

So after trying in vain to assign meaning to the abandoned french bakery, we finally arrived in Mazatlan. We really didn't know what to expect on the inside, since the outside was recently upgraded and the reflective mirrors offered no glimpse of what awaited us within.


Yes! Another cheesetastic wall sized mural!

The place was smaller on the inside that we had imagined. I think cozy is the right word, actually. I was absolutely stoked at the sight of the wall sized mural. This seems to be a reoccurring theme in these restaurants in the hood. They had the same thing at the Vietnamese joint I visited on Stockton Boulevard (well, not the same thing of course...same as in a representation of home). I mean, it's cheesy, but I get it. The murals are almost like a prologue to the story about to be told by the food. They provide a context, creating a sense of place or a sense of longing for a place. After all, food is supposed to tell the story of where we came from...

So when the sign out front said "Tacos y Mariscos", (oh yeah...remember, mariscos is basically seafood) they were serious.

As you can see, the menu is 90% seafood

We did, after all, plan to get our grub on with various sorts of seafood. Our mission was simple: ceviche, shrimp, and squid...oh yeah, and a couple of tacos, because at $1.25 a pop, how can you not?

We ordered and watched World Cup highlights in spanish on the tiny television set in the upper corner of the room. While the place was empty when we arrived, save for one other person waiting for an order to go, the room began to fill with a couple of families, small kids in tow, along with some teenage boys looking for sustenance before doing a summer evening cruise on their bikes looking for girls and/or trouble...you know, typical teenager stuff.

The wait gave us a chance to reminisce about our own misspent (only sometimes though) youth. All three of us, having spent some of our younger days in and around South Sac, exchanged Franklin Boulevard stories and marveled at the mini-renaissance that has happened over the last 5 years or so.

To those who have never had the pleasure to spend a lot of time down of Franklin, it may seem poor and run down at first glance. But let me tell you, if you've been a frequent visitor over the last 10 to 15 years, the difference is amazing- new grocery stores, dilapidated store fronts and mini-strip malls given shiny new make-overs, new businesses thriving, a police substation...It's like night and day. All of the improvements notwithstanding, it is still our Franklin Boulevard. It just feels right and safe. So I'll spare you the rest of the Proustian rap on the remembrances of things past and get down to business...

My tacos came first:

Taco de Carnitas (Pork)


Taco de Lengua (Toungue...yes, Beef Tongue!)

I swear, if Taco Hell ditched the genetically modified corn taco shells and mystery ground beef and served REAL tacos like these, I'd marry it! I mean, it's probably easier to make tacos like these than the sorry excuse for tacos they schlep over at The Bell. Just heat the little corn tortillas, put a spoonful of meat on it, slap a dollop of salsa on top, garnish with cilantro...and VOILA! You have the perfect taco! It's not rocket science. A taco shouldn't be needlessly stuffed with flaccid lettuce. A taco needn't be crunchy. A taco should not have shredded cheese product melting it's chemicals everywhere. A taco should just be what you see above- simple and to the point. And these tacos aren't hollow calories. They get inside of you and actually nourish you, unlike the fast food tacos that leave you hungry in an hour or so. Besides, at $1.25 a piece (and $1 during happy hour!!!), how can you be anything but a taco winner?

Next came the moment we had all been waiting for. The arrival of the mariscos.

mm...Tostada de Ceviche!


Not just Shrimp Cocktail, but Shrimp AND Squid Cocktail!


Oh look. It's my friend Sr. Tapatio Sombrero Guy and his friend Sr. Huichol along with the white stuff! They really know how to party...

Now, if you're from California, it's a given (I hope) that you've all had mexican style shrimp cocktail. However, unless you've been to a real, down home, mexican place, it's unlikely that you've had said cocktail with little squid. If you haven't, you've been missing out. All I would ask, is that you keep an open mind about it. I mean, you could go to a restaurant in Midtown and order the fried calamari appetizer and say you had squid, but there's something more awesome to say that you've had what is essentially raw squid, which is what I got in this concoction. I think what I liked best about it was it's presentation. It came in a big styrofoam cup. Simple. No nonsense. Ready to take home. This also says a lot about the food itself. That it does not come is a fancy vessel with a grand presentation screams, "We don't give a fuck about what it looks like. We only give a fuck about how it tastes, so enjoy!" Straight up chutzpah. And it was good. As with everything, I added some Tapatio to spice things up and was well on my way to eating all of my little shrimpies and squid. I was a happy camper.

The ceviche tostada wasn't bad either. I will agree with Sarah's assessment in that it was fresh, but it was a little too chopped up and seemed more like a sort of paste. This is not to say it didn't taste good, but sometimes texture plays a role as much as taste does. All in all, it was refreshing and great for a hot Sacramento evening. Plus as all mexicans know, you just drown something in lime and it can't help but be yummy.

Observe the wreckage...

In the end we had a great time. How can you not when you're reminiscing about old adventures while eating seafood? If anything, I would go back for the happy hour just to gorge myself on $1 street tacos and stare at the mural on the wall. If you do go, I will give you just one piece of advice- steer clear of the oysters. Just trust me on this...

For the other side of the crossover episode, go see Sarah's chronicle of the same evening here: A Quick Trip to Mazatlan. More pics there. I guess you could look at it as bonus footage.

Mazatlan
4800 Franklin Blvd
Sacramento, CA 95820
(916) 451-4149

Friday, June 18, 2010

Aaron and Lee Make a (FOOD) Porno

I have been fortunate to have a lot of encouragement when it comes to this pursuit of food in the hood. What started out as a couple of entries encouraged by friends who told me to stop talking about eating at all of those places down Franklin Boulevard and Stockton Boulevard has actually evolved into something. It's been a win/win for everyone, I think...I get to write in a context other than a work one and people who read what I write seem to enjoy it and encourage me to keep doing it. Hell, I even have a number of "Followers" now who like this project enough to subscribe to it and keep up on my wanderings around Sacramento. I am very humbled by the whole thing.

One thing that has been suggested to me by several people has been to do video version of this blog. I was hesitant at first for a few reasons. First, was simply the lack of equipment necessary to do a video in the first place. Second, was that it seemed a little too self-indulgent to me. It's one thing to spend the few minutes it takes to read an entry...but to sit and watch a video? It just seemed like a bridge too far. Third, was just vanity, or lack thereof. I do spend a lot of time in front of crowds, on stage performing, playing the guitar. I have never had a problem with that because I have the guitar as a shield and people come to see me make noise with it and sing. The idea of being in front of a camera for people to watch, doing nothing but talking was a bit off-putting because of my general shyness and other issues (yes, I really am very shy).

But in spite of this, I decided to go ahead and do it. My quest at general self-improvement has forced me to confront fears and just do things. It's actually been a wonderful thing- that whole self-expression thing and embracing the moment. I don't know why I didn't realize to do it sooner. Actually I know why, but I needn't get into it...

So I was able to con my video camera owning friend Lee (actor, film maker extraordinaire) to bring along his little Flip cam and drive down to Franklin Boulevard to try an experiment in video food blogging.

We went to get tortas at a place called:
Tortas Chilangas Ciudad Nezahualcoytl

It is located at:
6035 Franklin Blvd Sacramento, CA 95824 (916) 393-7353

I won't be redundant and write about it since the video will say it all. I will say that the tortas were epic. Really. They were epic tortas as you will, hopefully, see.

I apologize in advance for the quality of the video. I did the editing myself, having never done video editing and using a program right out of the box without really reading the directions. It's not bad, but I always want things I do to be better than average. Hopefully I will learn to use the editing software by the time I make another video and actually have opening and closing credits...Also, it ended up being about 20 minutes. Not sure if that's too long or not. I hope I don't bore you or lose you along the way.

Anyhow, I would appreciate some honest suggestions and critiques for future attempts at making videos like this. It really was fun to do and I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Sac Food In The Hood 6/17 from SacFoodInTheHood on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

D.P.H.

Sacramento is blessed with some low-down and funky hoods existing down its long suburban thoroughfares. Del Paso Heights (the DPH as some people call it, myself included) is one of them. I'd been looking for an excuse to take the short hop down 16th Street and over the river to eat there, when my fierce (yes, fierce...it's just what she is) co-worker Tish told me about a little taco stand that some friends of her's had recently opened in the DPH on Arden Way just off of Del Paso Boulevard. Tacos? Del Paso? Uh, yes please.

Carless as I am, Tish offered to take me out there for lunch as she'd been wanting to participate in one of these gastronomic gallivants for a while now. We invited another work colleague of our's and piled into the Orange Crush (her nickname for her little orange Ford Explorer) heading from the bill mill (my pet name for the State Capitol) to the hood, a less than 10 minute ride.

"I'm going to be safe eating here, right?"

I shook my head..."Uh, David, it's JUST Del Paso Heights!"


Del Paso Blvd- One of the only left-lane exits I have ever seen

I sometimes forget that I assume just because I've spent time in some of these neighborhoods, and know that they are relatively safe if you are a civilian engaging in lawful activities; it doesn't necessarily mean that others have the same attitudes and perceptions of these places. As we got off Highway 160 onto Del Paso Boulevard I started pointing out all of the places of past adventures. Memory Lane would have been just as accurate of a name as Del Paso Boulevard this afternoon.

Tish pointed out the Stoney Inn..."You guys ever been there?"

Yeah, I remember many a crappy gig there playing to a smattering of people who barely gave a shit about the band playing blues in the cramped corner near the entrance, and the one time where the manager had us leave early and stiff us on the pay. Good times.

Passing the recently fire-gutted Iceland skating rink I pointed out the small brick building that once housed The Argonaut, an old rough and tumble biker bar that I used to play at every sunday afternoon when I was still well underage. While paying my dues as a musician I had the pleasure of seeing guns pulled, people being beat to a pulp as well as the one time, requisite full-on bar brawl. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything because I really credit those with helping to build character in their own strange way. I mean after seeing and dealing with such stressful and relatively dangerous situations, everything else seems like such a minor inconvenience.

When we reached the fork in the road where Del Paso splits off towards Arden Way, I saw Western Loan and Jewelry, one of the coolest pawn shops in town where I bought and traded guitars and amps. I'd spend afternoons there playing all of the cool stuff there trying to wheel and deal to get my hands on funky old musical gear, usually failing.

What we didn't see down Del Paso was Little Joe's, the old greasy spoon diner as old as anything there. I remember cheap breakfasts at 1am with my high school buddies. It used to be open 24 hours a day until the incident where some tweaker, likely up for a few days, stabbed a waitress in the dead of night during the graveyard shift. The management erred on the side of caution and stopped being open all night, which is a shame because, let me tell you, that place was amazing for people watching in the dead of night. Between the pimps and prostitutes hanging out at the nearby bars looking to soak up the night's booze with good old fashioned grease, the degenerate gamblers on their way to or from the old Sundowner Casino just down the block, and just random people who found themselves there for the cheap steak and eggs it was a place like no other- especially when you are an impressionable young man in your late teens or early twenties as I was.

I mentioned the Sundowner Casino. That place used to sit at the corner of Del Paso and Marysville Boulevard. I first indulged my inner degenerate there as a youth, sometimes playing all night, expensively learning the basics of poker playing 1-3 limit poker with the other sick degenerates. The place was dirty with faded and stained green felt tables, but it didn't matter. The clicking of the dirty chips and sounds of shuffling cards just made everything seem ok. It was action and, for me at least, action was (and still is) all I needed.

I know the City of Sacramento has made an effort to "improve" the strip, with people referring to it now as Uptown- home to new galleries, artist studios and lofts, foodie type restaurants and other businesses. As much as I can appreciate the changes, I miss the danger of the place. Granted, some would argue that Del Paso Heights still is dangerous, but not like it was. There was a time when going there was not for the faint of heart or those without the "street" in them. Now there are Second Saturday art walks and wine bars. It just feels like it's lost some of it's character, kind of like what people describe happening to Times Square in New York City. What was once a den of sin with its shooting galleries and porn theaters has now been Disneyfied and is a shadow of its once dangerous self. Call me crazy, but there's something that makes going to slightly unsafe places just that much more fun.

Veering right from Del Paso onto Arden Way we passed shuttered gas stations and liquor stores until we got to our destination:


Chando's Tacos

Maybe it's just because I pay attention to these sorts of things, but who else has been noticing old and long ago shuttered burger stands coming back to life as taco stands and the sheer awesomeness of it all? This is the third I've noticed around lately- La Garnacha on 16th at U and Taqueria Jalisco on 16th between C & D being the other two. If I had some kind of advanced degree I'd give a little rap about the sociological and demographic shifts occurring in in our state right now and what author Richard Rodriguez would describe as the "browning" of California. But I'm not that smart and I would rather not be mind numbingly pedantic. Needless to say it is encouraging to see that a place selling fast food doesn't necessarily need to be a "fast food" joint. Why go to Taco Bell for genetically modified taco shells and mystery meat (which I will never do again) when you can go to a taco stand run by Mexicans serving up food as authentic and cheap and tasty as anything you can get down in Mexico? This is a trend that must continue...

The sound of reggae music greeted us as we got out of the car and approached the tiny stand with its fold-out tables and chairs in on the side. It made me happy to see a diverse line of people waiting to order. There were folks from the neighborhood, workers from some of the nearby businesses in the area and we from the grid in our business attire. Nothing brings people together in peace and harmony like good, cheap tacos.


Lunchtime Taco Unity!

I was feeling the vibe. It was a beautiful springish/summerish day in the 70s with a slight breeze, the kind of day that makes you glad to live in Sacramento. Tacos. Del Paso Heights. Urban Decay. Nattily Dressed Elderly Black Man (seriously...he was dancing and singing as he waited for the bus).


Urban Decay, abandoned Valero style


More Urban Decay...Who remembers Lumberjack?



Nattily Dressed Elderly Black Man...think I was kidding?
I would totally hang out with this guy!



Look! Tish found a white guy in DPH! In a tie no less...

With all of these things adding to the overall Win that was occurring this day, there was little else that could have really put it over the top. What could have possibly made this outing better?


This is quite possibly the most awesome menu ever...

I know your thinking, "Uh...so, why is this menu so awesome???"

Well, scroll back up and look at the pic of the menu again, then count how many things are offered...go ahead...I can wait...got it?

THERE ARE ONLY SEVEN THINGS ON THE MENU!!!

Let that sink in for a moment and think of the sheer audacity of it all. At a time when restaurants seem to be regularly adding things to their menus to the point you need a magnifying glass and a half-hour to get through the whole thing, Chando's has gone in the total opposite direction and created the ultimate minimalist menu. Granted, I would imagine that part of the reason for the small menu is for the sake of efficiency and simplicity when dealing with people needing to grab a quick bite to eat at lunch time. However, I'd like to think that the other part of it was a conscious decision to be good at a few things than mediocre at a lot, which is what happens at places with a menu the size of a dictionary. Generally, the less things you see on a menu, the better the food will be over all.

To get the largest sample of foods and to get the biggest bang for my buck, or six-bucks to be exact, I went with the Chando's Combo with a chicken, steak, and pork taco. I figured they made three kinds of tacos, so I took one of each.

Pork (top left), Chicken (top right), Steak (bottom center)

I think what I like most about street tacos are their utter simplicity. In a way, they ought to be visually unimpressive. Ideally, the statement made by the tacos ought to be by their taste, not their looks. These were simple tacos, with the requisite cilantro and onion, with the added bonus of each taco topped with a generous dollop of salsa topped guacamole.

Uh...my taco just squirted
(insert inappropriate joke here)


I liked the chicken and steak tacos. They were what they were, and quite frankly, you'd be surprised at how much of a difference good meat makes in a dish, which ought to be a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised. I liked the fact that the steak was neither gristly nor fatty. It was nice and lean, cooked to the edge of crisp on the outside, but still soft. And the chicken, well it looked and tasted healthy, if that makes any sense. It wasn't greasy and tasted nice and light. As a matter of fact, I felt vaguely healthy as I ate with the avocado seemingly satisfying some sort of nebulous need for fruits and vegetables.

David and I eating (safely I might add)

It was the pork taco, (al pastor if you want to get technical) that was the best of the three. For you see, anything that comes from here cant help but be good:

Mexican Shawarma?
Note the pineapple at the top of the hunk of pork love

What are tacos al pastor? I'll let wikipedia briefly explain:

Al pastor (Spanish; "Shepherd style") is a dish developed in Northern Mexico, likely as a result of the adoption of the shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. Having derived from the shawarma, it is also similar to the Turkish döner kebap and the Greek gyros. Whereas those dishes are usually lamb-based (thus the "shepherd style" name), tacos al pastor in Mexico are made from pork.

It is a small world after all.

The al pastor was the spiciest of the three, which made me happiest as I love spicy food. The meat itself was obviously marinanted in chili before cooking and the salsa that topped the guacamole was a red chili sauce, unlike the green tomatillo sauce that was used on the chicken and steak tacos. I liked the contrast and balance of the freshness from the avocado tempering the spice from the sauce and meat. The wild card here was the hint of pineapple flavor that seemed to both pull together and push apart the fresh and the spicy.

Pinepple?

Again, I'll let wikipedia do it because it is usually much smarter than I am, being a repository for the collective knowledge of the world:

Pork is marinated over one or two days in a combination of dried chiles and then slowly cooked with a gas flame on a vertical rotisserie called a Trompo (lit: spinning top), very similar to how Shawarma is cooked, with a piece of fresh onion and a pineapple on top. The juice from the pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which breaks down protein and makes the meat very tender. When ready, the meat is then thinly sliced off the spit with a large knife. It is served on small tortillas, with finely chopped onions, cilantro and a small slice of pineapple, and usually topped with some lime juice and hot salsa. This meat is a common ingredient in not just tacos, but also gringas, alambres and tortas.

I think next time, I'd order three of the al pastor, but that's just me. If you go, try all three and find your own favorite.

One of the seven things on the menu was mexican popcicles. You know I couldn't leave without one.


Mm...Strawberry



Eek! I am always freaked out when I see pics of my long bony fingers!

I seriously wanted to hang out in the DPH for the rest of the afternoon and just wander the shops and maybe look for an old guitar at the pawn shops, but real life summoned David, Tish and I back to the bill mill. I will be back though with nothing but time to spare.

See David, I told you you'd be safe...

Embracing the love of DPH and the awesomest menu around!


Chando's Tacos is located at
863 Arden Way (off of Del Paso Boulevard)
Sacramento, CA 95815
(916) 641-TACO

Visit their website:
Chando's Tacos