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


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,'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, ", 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 it?


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. 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.


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.


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

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Toussaint McCall Detour

***[This has nothing to do with anything about food. I just needed to write because the song made me and other stuff. Press play and read, or just press play and just listen or just read]***

They just danced close

She clasped his big rough hand and it still matched
fitting perfect when their fingers intertwined without thinking
He found that smooth spot on the small of her back
gripping it firm
holding her close enough
but he wasn't sure
It just felt like it ought to be
The place was hot and packed with people
sweaty drunken smiling
They both looked away when their eyes met
twice then again
palms sweaty with heat and nervous
The song played on the old and dim brightly lit jukebox
Swaying in a circle
she laid her head over his heart as if to listen
And he gently squeezed her tiny hand
The song is ending soon
I remember
Do you?
Even slower they circled in time
as he inhaled her hair
and their eyes finally met
and his said everything
and hers said it all
They kissed for the maybe last time
as neither could stay
She just closed her eyes and nodded when he whispered warm in her ear
I know
And as the song faded
And it was about to end

They just danced close