Monday, July 17, 2006

taco blogging #2

While sometimes I fantasize about the big automobile-powered escape, driving on a rural highway with clear skies above and a clear road ahead, the fact is, I hate most driving. It’s a large part of why I abandoned my birthplace for the big apple. Running errands via a series of fifteen to twenty minute “hops,” or sitting in traffic (on the 10, the 134, the 405, the 101. . . ), wondering just how very late this will make me, tapping out my frustration on the padded vinyl steering wheel to the time of my personally chosen soundtrack—that’s not for me. . . and I find it hard to imagine that it’s for anyone else, either.

That said, one of the advantages of stopping and starting and stopping and starting down the various streets and boulevards of the flatlands is that it gives you numerous opportunities to pull to the curb (or into the lot of yet another strip mall) and experience what might or might not be a little slice of taco heaven.

So it was that I found myself deep into the Valley of the Malls, driving to pick up my nephew from summer school, when I spied a sign bearing a name that my nephew had actually mentioned as a place near his school that he liked.
I scooped up my nephew and circled back to the corner strip mall that contained Taqueria Juanitos.

Taqueria Juanitos

LA is in week two (or is it week three?) of a heat wave, and the interior of Juanitos was sympathetically toasty. The sign’s promise of “fast food”—normally a term of art for “try someplace else”—seemed like a desperate pledge that your meal would come before you sweated through your clothes.

My carnitas and al pastor tacos were ready in something less than “fast food” time (which was probably good), but it still was pretty fast. (Nephew had a burrito, so we needn’t speak of him further—I am not “burrito blogging,” after all.) The carnitas, splashed with salsa verde, was excellent—porky, sweet, a little smoky—it was everything the al pastor taco was not. Yes, the al pastor looked spiced, but that spice was paprika, and a lot of it. It overwhelmed anything else that might have been going on. That said, I ate it all, and finished just before the first beads of sweat rolled off my nose and on to the paper plate.

Back in the air-conditioned car (yes, I was now happy to be in the car), we continued our trip—but not for long, for I spied, just a few blocks down the street, an important “point of interest.”


I had read on Taco Hunt that Vallarta, a local chain of Latin-flavored markets, made their own tortillas fresh to order, and that (at least in the ones with a taqueria inside) you could get a full variety of meats on those tortillas.

Tacos at Vallarta come in two sizes, the tiny Mexico City-sized model, which is a little smaller than your average LA taco, and a “large,” which is a little larger than average. I went small since two tacos had graced my recent past, and dinner lay but a few hours into the future (they all eat so damn early out here). And, in spite of the wide variety of meats available behind the steamy glass, I went for the carnitas again since it looked pink and good, and I wanted to compare it with the Juanitos edition.

Sadly, it did not compare well. Though the color promised moisture and rich flavor, the meat was lacking on both counts. That said, however, the tortilla was fantastic. Shaped, pressed, and slapped on the grill while you wait, the warm, chewy disks were full of corn flavor with none of the grainy dryness that typifies packaged corn tortillas. The tortilla demands that repeated visits be made to Vallarta to find the meat filling they do best. . . or maybe I should just buy a dozen tortillas and some raw skirt steak from the carniceria (meat department) inside the store, and rush home to concoct my own rustic, gringo version of carne asada.

There was a little salsa bar with green and red salsas, some cold, roasted chilies and chopped onions (for the tacos are dished up un-adorned). Vallarta also has
several iced urns of fresh juices, flavored lemonades, and horchataa nice change of pace from the Mexican sodas that I find it hard to ignore at these places.

(It should also be noted that a couple of nights later, I drove past a Vallarta that was just a stand-alone taqueria. . . very exciting, if I could remember where it was.)

My nephew was intrigued by the three kinds of fried pork skins available behind the counter, but I couldn’t talk him into sampling any, so I ate my tiny taco, had a nibble of hot pepper, and downed my strawberry lemonade while he sat patiently and watched (I’d like to say “in amazement,” but it is hard for a man my age to truly amaze a 15-year-old boy). We then climbed back into the car, cranked the AC, and continued the trip home. . . counting future taco stops all along the way.


Post a Comment

<< Home