Tag Archives: mexican

The Little Chihuahua: a burrito sleeper you need to visit now

little chihuaha

For decades San Franciscans far and wide have debated over the city’s BEST spot for burritos. I stand by Gordo’s through thick and thin. But before you even try to compare apples to apples (or burritos to burritos), you need to prioritize what, to you, are a burrito’s essential qualities. For me, it’s first and foremost about the tortilla. I don’t care how flavorful the beans are – if they’re enveloped in a dry and crusty flour wrap, forget about it. The tortilla must be soft, pliable, chewy and hot, and the cheese must be fully melted onto it – not tossed in the middle of its fillings. Steaming or throwing the puppy on the grill with cheese on top usually gets the job done. Then, the meat, which must be grilled with only the subtlest of seasonings. It should not overpower the salsa, another key flavor generator. And of course, the guacamole should be fresh and not doctored with mayonnaise (vomit) or sour cream. My priority list could go on for paragraphs.

And while I may have my favorite spots, I am always on the lookout for other places that fulfill my top criteria for a great burrito, which is why I was thrilled to finally try The Little Chihuahua this weekend. With three locations, they evidently have a large fan base. The menu consists of what you would typically expect (burritos, tacos, etc), but also includes pozole, breakfast tacos, taco salads, and what I went out on a ledge to order – a black bean and fried plantain burrito. After reading the many Yelp reviews about this specialty item, I couldn’t resist, and thank GOD I didn’t because it completely hit the spot. The griddled tortilla bundles together sour cream, cheese, salsa, beans, and fried plantains to become the ultimate Latin combination of sweet and savory. I’d say a half of one of these dense puppies is the perfect lunch.

breakfast tacos

breakfast tacos

plaintain burrito

plaintain burrito

Because I came with a friend on a Sunday afternoon, we also decided to order the breakfast tacos off the brunch menu – two tacos with a generous portion of scrambled eggs, black beans, and cheese, and, in our case, delicious carne asada. A side of potatoes lays next to the tacos as if they’re not enough to fill the belly. Not to mention, all food comes with a complimentary side of chips and salsa (which you can fetch at the delicious salsa bar). Hangover cure? Check!

I loved the tacos, but as a burrito fanatic, I left elated that I’ve found a new burrito joint that will fill my occasional craving for a heavy, cheesy burrito. And, one thing The Little Chihuahua has that many other take-out joints do not is a clean and friendly setting for a sit-down meal – which comes in handy for those who like to eat their burrito as soon as it’s prepared. Get yee here now, and check out my Tastemade video for more angles of my burrito!

Grade: A+
Location: multiple
Website

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Californian Cuisine, Cheap Eat, Erin's Favorites, Mexican, San Francisco

Copita: modern Mexican in Sausalito

20120430_copita_560x375

Love Mexican food. My last meal on earth would be a Gordo’s chicken burrito, sour cream on the side. So when my friend Gillian spontaneously suggested going to Mexican restaurant Copita last night to celebrate some good news, I said Heck Yes!

Given the plethora of restaurants to explore in SF, I pretty much only venture out to Sausalito if I’m with Gillian. That said, I always have memorable food experiences when I cross the bridge. From Sushi Ran to Poggio, Sausalito is home to a good bundle of food-focused restaurants that peer onto the gorgeous bay area skyline.

Copita, with its inviting open air entrance, fits the trend. Gill and I sat at the bar where the Columbian bartender gave us his undivided attention and accommodated our requests for a non-sweet margarita (me) and a non-tequila cocktail (Gillian). Both, served over 1 massive ice cube, were perfection. The guacamole, made fresh with flavorful Californian avocados, wasn’t as chunky as I like it but definitely delicious. The standout, however, were the chicken tinga tacos – roasted chicken, avocado, tomatoes, and crema wrapped in warm corn tortillas. It was such a relief to find crema, not aioli, in my taco to balance out the spice, and the roasted chicken was a standout in terms of flavor, just like what you can find in the chicken tacos at La Canasta. The huarache de milpa, vegetables with heirloom tomato salsa, queso fresco and pickled onions piled atop a thick round of masa with black bean puree, was a creative alternative to a vegetarian taco. Thought it needed a heavier dosage of queso fresco, I still loved the mixture of fresh cherry tomatoes and managed to eat every last crumb on my plate.

marg perfection

marg perfection

beautiful chicken tinga tacos

beautiful chicken tinga tacos

veggie taco

veggie taco

Food aside, Copita does a great job of creating a warm, feel-good environment, especially with the wood-fire oven behind the bar and festive Mexican tile on the walls. I’d say it’s definitely a go-to spot for those in Marin seeking a more upscale Mexican experience, but for those who want down-home greasy Mexican, head to Lucinda’s instead.

Grade: A-
Location: 739 Bridgeway Street
Website

Leave a comment

Filed under Mexican, San Francisco

Gran Electrica, El Toro Blanco & ABC Cocina: a sampling of modern Latin American fare

Beans, cheese, guacamole
I miss San Fran Mexican
Still can’t get enough.

I’ve been on a Mexican whirlwind lately because, well, I am actually always on a Mexican whirlwind. These past few weeks I’ve sampled some of the most popular Latin American restaurants to date, and while I was overall underwhelmed by my experiences, there were definitely some standout dishes that may entice me to return…should the opportunity present itself.

Of the three, ABC Cocina was definitely the standout. My visit here was very happenstance. I had a satisfying dinner of a juicy kobe beef cheese burger  at ABC Kitchen with my boyfriend, and then we both realized that Jean George’s new restaurant was just across the way. We asked to see the menu, and boom, the next thing we know we were eating our dessert in the form of Latin American appetizers (though note that Chef JG describes this food as “a fusion of tradition and innovation combining yesterday and tomorrow”…). The disappointment was the flavorless, gummy fried peekey-toe crab and corn fritters with chipotle mayo, which I pretended to enjoy as JG nervously walked by (investors must have been in the house). What made up for it were bright and impeccably flakey sweet pea empanadas with yogurt and the delicate sauteed mushroom tacos. The cocktails were absolutely amazing and, as promised, inventive. I had the gin and coconut water, which was served up with ginger in an ice cold martini glass. The energy in the restaurant is vibrant and sexy, and the rest of the menu looks divine so I hope to return for a more honest experience (as opposed to a post-cheese-burger evaluation).

Inside

Inside

peeky toe crab fritters

peeky toe crab fritters

green pea empanadas - delicious!

green pea empanadas – delicious!

I’d say the second best was Gran Electrica in adorable Dumbo, where I literally was able to try almost everything given I was going with a chef and restaurateur for “research” (thank God). Unfortunately the garden was wet and unattainable the evening we went, so I didn’t even get to experience their most attractive asset. On top of that, the double-sided chips were stale, the guacamole was over-smashed and monotonous with minimal “mix-ins”, and the flautas de pollo with salsa verde, though actually quite taste and bright, were served cold. That said, there were things that I loved, like the verduras en escabeche (pickled vegetables), the light romaine salad, the creamy, havarti filled and steamed chile rilleno, the deeply flavorful Frijoles de la Olla (black beans with oregano and queso fresco) and the quesadilla setas stuffed with oyster mushroom, queso fresco and jalapeno. The refreshing Tostada Jaiba, with peekytoe crab, lime, citrus and avocado, was inventive, crispy, and well-balanced, but the tacos overall were low on the flavor scale and just underwhelming. The tres leches cake, hiding a ring of pineapple and served with excruciatingly sweet caramel, was no where near as good as that of La Esquina’s. If you go to Dumbo for your Mexican food, I’d say save it for a day where you can sip margaritas on Gran Electrica’s back porch and focus on the more interesting dishes as opposed to what might be your go-to taco.

outside

outside

my favorite, crab tostada

my favorite, crab tostada. the perfect light meal

carnitas

carnitas

yes, we ordered this. flavorless and insanely overwhelming

yes, we ordered this. flavorless and insanely overwhelming

awesome salad

awesome salad

fish tacos

fish tacos

Of the three, El Toro Blanco was the most underwhelming food and scene-wise. At 9:30pm on a Saturday, the place was almost empty, and despite their attempt at setting the scene with darkness and music, it just feels a little stale. The chips are served in white bowls, the energy dipped early – it strikes me as the Mexican restaurant for an older crowd. The menu has some interesting options. The tostada chopped salad was actually pretty delicious, filled with romaine, tomato, black beans, corn, avocado, cilantro, chips and lime vinaigrette, and the grilled swordfish tacos and shortrib empanadas were tasty (albeit sweet), but I didn’t finish the meal super excited about my experience. The Sonoran cheese crisp, which was an open faced quesadilla with tomato, tasted like the homemade pizzas I make at home with grocery-store tortillas. The chocolate cake with mini churros and ice cream I do remember being pretty addictive though. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed my meal here, I just wouldn’t come racing back when I know I can get an even more exciting Mexican experience at the $5 per taco Dos Toros.

inside

inside

quesadilla - crispy but nothing genius

quesadilla – crispy but nothing genius

My conclusion? Nothing has changed, I still love Mexican food and on most nights would prefer any of these restaurants over that serving any other food group. But against all Mexican / Latin American restaurants I’ve tried in this city (and around the states), I wouldn’t say these ones jump out at me. I’d love to give ABC Cocina another go-round when their “booked for 31 days straight” status simmers down.

ABC Cocina Grade: A-
Gran Electrica Grade: B+
El Toro Blanco Grade: B-

Leave a comment

Filed under Brooklyn, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Flatiron, Fun Group Dinner, Greenwich Village, Mexican, Noteworthy Noshes, West Village

Kitchen Adventures: Sister Justyn in The House

20121127-054545.jpg
Growing up, I was known as the house cook and baker, second to my mom who dominated our kitchen with her fried chicken and Filipino masterpiece skills. But times have changed. Marriage has got my sister determined to be the best possible domestic wife she can be, and I’m no longer Bellsey chef #2. Because I live across the street from her and can often reap the benefits of her developing craft, it’s fine by me!

Last night I had a JB favorite, inspired by her father-in-law’s very own recipe: Tex Mex tacos with simmered marinated chicken, finely shredded cheddar cheese, and all the fixings you could ask for. The secret behind these tacos is the butter-pan fried corn tortillas, which of course I hate to watch being made but make all the difference with every crispy, stomach warming bite. With a sprinkle of lime, a dollop of sour cream, a BAM handful of lettuce, and a side of buttery Spanish rice, Justyn’s tacos bring me back to the days of my mama’s cooking. Fortunately I have no shame in inviting myself over!
20121127-054701.jpg

Leave a comment

Filed under Beans and Rice, Kitchen Adventures

Barrio Chino

On rare occasions I wake up craving a hearty breakfast, and when I do, that hearty breakfast has got to be laden with beans, cheese, and salsa. Yesterday morning, after a routine late night at the Rusty Knot, I couldn’t focus on anything else but getting some rendition of huevos rancheros in my belly. After passing Dos Toros, which had no egg option, the perfect spot suddenly occurred to me – Barrio Chino in the Lower East Side. This place is constantly packed. I’ve never walked by without seeing a group of people waiting for a table. But after I called to confirm that there was (shock!) no wait at 12pm on a Saturday, I trotted a little more quickly with THE number one breakfast of champions guaranteed in my future.

I LOVE Barrio Chino’s brunch menu (I had to check it on the iPhone before getting there), which includes 5+ egg options, homemade corn tortillas,  their regular tacos and entrees, and any side you could dream of. I got the Huevos a la Mexicana, which came scrambled with chiles, onions, and tomatoes, a side salad, earthy black beans with queso fresco and a hot corn tortillas. I added (of course) guacamole, more queso, and chorizo. I needed grease people. When the plate arrived, I died, significantly more excited than what the community has been labeling as their reaction to a hot plate of food, and I did not hesitate to launch into my mini-burrito-makin’ party. Corn tortilla, dollap of beans, egg, cheese, guac, salsa, and chorizo, wrap that puppy up and shove it in my mouth.

My mission to feed the beast was a success, in fact, I felt full until around 9pm that night. Next time I have another NEED MEXICAN NOW episode during the day, Barrio Chino will for sure be my place of choice.

Grade: A
Location: 253 Broome Street between Orchard and Ludlow
Website

Leave a comment

Filed under Affordable Date, Beans and Rice, Brunch, Erin's Favorites, Lower East Side, Mexican

Chavela’s

They should make a .gif animation for my reaction when someone suggests Mexican food for dinner. It would be something like “I’m all like” and then my arms would raise in gospel, somewhat like Praise the Lord!! I may not be able to clearly describe an image, but it’s true – I become overwhelmed with excitement to eat beans, cheese and rice. It could be the 8lb cheesy burritos from Fillmore Street’s Mi Burrito that my mom consumed while she was pregnant, or their gravy burritos she moved on to feed me as soon as I exited the womb. Or maybe it was the 300 Taco Bell Taco Supremes and Bean and Cheese burritos that sustained me throughout my adolescence. Or could it be that one chimichanga at Desperados in Sun Valley that stole my heart?

Whatever the reason, I have weekly cravings for a combination of fresh avocado, cheese, and carbs, and it’s no easy condition to have in this part of the country. There are of course my favorites that do the trick between my visits to California – Dos Toros, Mole and La Esquina. No, I do not like Empellon, and I rarely have time to venture to Queens for the real deal. But last night, after joining three others for a food-filled meeting at Chavela’s in Prospect Park, I came away mentally adding a fourth favorite to my list.

Don’t get confused when you search online – there’s a Chavella’s that is closed in Prospect Park  but still somehow searchable. Chavela’s is relatively spacious (something my New York favorites lack) and it serves margaritas in high balls – two things I instantly noticed that won me over.  I somehow mistakenly ordered a mango and salsa cocktail that tasted like I was drinking jarred salsa, but I blame the order, not the recipe, and was able to redeem it quickly with a donated (thanks Erica) margarita. The food is really the stand out at this place, and given that it’s ridiculously affordable (a quesadilla is $3, a large platter around $14), we went crazy by listing off pretty much every item we wanted. There’s no over-thinking here, just local ingredients and pure flavors at its core, so everything tastes good. I loved the squash blossom quesadilla, which was more like an empanada in thickness than a griddled tortilla. Covered in crema and Oaxaca cheese, I could have been satisfied with two of these. The jack cheese and corn tamale was another hearty appetizer option, and the massive Plato Don with veggies, beans, rice, guacamole, cheese, and salsa was an awesome alternative to a greasy, sizzling fajita. And for dessert, we asked for all three options – rice pudding, flan, and churros. I’m not a fan of any of these desserts usually, but the piping hot fried churros were impossible to deny.

reachin for that guac

baby quesadilla

delicious platter

Despite the two train transfers required to get to Chavela’s from my house, I definitely plan to be back to fulfill a random craving.  But now that I’m in California for the next two weeks, I see no problem doing that in the immediate future. Gordo’s baby, here I come!

Grade: A-
Location: 736 Franklin Avenue @ Sterling Place
Website

Leave a comment

Filed under Beans and Rice, Brooklyn, Cheap Eat, Latin American, Mexican, Vegetarian / Vegan

Barmarche

Barmarche, nolita

I get the most satisfaction discovering places that not only have awesome food and ambience, but are also fairly easy to book for last minute dinner plans. This is hard to come by in New York city. Barmarche arrived as a miracle for my friend Ashley’s birthday last weekend, and I’ve since been a huge advocate for this sleeper. Not only did they accommodate 12 of us at the height of Saturday night mealtime, they seated us at a well thought-out square table as opposed to a long, awkward rectangle so commonly found in restaurants trying to conserve space. Our group, which was a diverse mix of people, could therefore communicate easily with multiple sides of the table, and we were all set up to share delicious food.  The servers, though incredibly busy, were timely with our orders and constantly checking in to take drink requests.

Our party shared many tasty appetizers: popcorn shrimp, guacamole, bruschetta, and my favorite, almond stuffed dates with crispy bacon and blue cheese. The mix of sweet and salty and crispy and soft was so perfect that we had to request another two orders to sustain our unstoppable craving.

caramelized bacon wrapped dates

crispy popcorn shrimp

While we overloaded on appetizers, we still had room for the overwhelming main course options, all reasonably priced. Barmarche is known for its “taquitos”, which are essentially tacos on slightly smaller tortillas. The fried bass taquitos were a vibrant, fresh twist on heavy Mexican food, and the shrimp risotto was creamy, hot, and filling. My branzino was incredibly crispy, and the perfectly light, pre-night out meal to pair with my spicy margherita.

bass taquitos

perfectly cooked branzino

truffled shrimp risotto

Barmarche is the perfect prequel for a night on the town. Conveniently located in the center of Soho, the Lower East Side and Nolita, it is positioned closely to a wide array of bars, and with its wide range of international food and cocktails, it’s a fit for all sorts of crowds. I wouldn’t say the food is breath-taking, but it’s thorough, creative, and well-rounded. Highly recommended for group dinners (especially for a younger, yet sophisticated crowd) – in fact, I hope to have my birthday there in May!

Grade: A-

Location: 14 Spring Street @ Elizabeth

Website: http://www.barmarche.com

Leave a comment

Filed under American, Brunch, Californian Cuisine, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites, Family Style, Fun Group Dinner, Nolita, Soho

Featured City Post: Nick’s Crispy Tacos in San Francisco

Nick's on Polk

Whenever I go home to S.F. the challenge of choosing the best restaurant always presents itself. But this weekend, I decided to tackle it with a different approach: plan nothing, and let my cravings guide me. On my way to meet my friend Polly at Peet’s Coffee, I passed Nick’s Crispy Tacos and made it my mission to eat there before the end of the night. After an hour of doing work, we went right next door, lined up and ordered, and sat at a red booth facing the football game. Aside from the name, nothing about this place screams Mexican food, but that’s no indication of the quality of the food.

chips

After a heaping of incredibly crisp chips and fresh, chunky salsa and bright green guacamole, I dove right into the crispy vegetarian taco with pinto beans, melted jack cheese, cabbage, salsa and guacamole. The two tortillas were unnecessary but after properly reforming the taco I couldn’t put it down. With the hearty pinto beans and hefty spoonful of guacamole, this one vegetarian taco could have definitely been a sufficient meal.

vegetarian tacos

I’m glad that didn’t stop me because the grilled fish taco was just as delicious. Fish can run the risk of being pretty sketchy at Mexican taco bars, but this had no aftertaste of the ocean – just pure freshness. Perfect to wash down with a $3 margarita, a deal available all day Saturday!

vegetarian and fish taco

I may even consider coming back to Nick’s tomorrow. It was phenomenal, cheap, laid back, and the perfect solution to a craving for Mexican.

Grade: A+

Location: 1500 Broadway @ Polk Street

Website: http://www.rougesf.com

2 Comments

Filed under Affordable Date, Cheap Eat, Erin's Favorites, Featured U.S. City Posts

Empellon

It’s not a good sign for a restaurant when a table mutually agrees to block out any memory of the food that was just eaten. Unfortunately, after much excitement around trying the new West Village Mexican spot Empellon with two of my old San Franciscan friends, we left not only hugely disappointed but on the verge of being ill. Each course would be painful to recount, but let’s just clarify that when I order a pekie toe crab salad, I by no means have any intention or desire to dig into a white, gelatinous substance flavored with fishy crab. Nor do I want to eat rubbery, chewy pieces of octopus layered in clear, jiggly, fat. If you do, then come to Empellon. Oh, and if you also like your tacos served on mushu pork wrappers with seemingly raw chicken attempting to be tender, then this might just be your favorite spot.

these look good, but don't be fooled

The only remotely decent offering here is the drinks, and the “Por Que No?” with pineapple, mint, and silver had quite the kick. But that and the mediocre yet palatable guacamole aren’t enough to save the night. I may be what some call a “foodie,” but in all fairness I’m really not picky. Empellon was just, in reality, horrible. The memory serves as hard evidence that there’s no need to fancify Mexican food. Straight forward and fresh is the way to go. If it ain’t broke, old WD 50 pastry chef, don’t fix it!

Grade: F

Location: 230 West 4th Street

Website: http://www.empellon.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Beans and Rice, Mexican, West Village

Featured Post: Lolita in Philadelphia

This weekend my friend Sara and I were in Philadelphia to do what only very few have been so privileged to do: see Britney Spears (along with Nicki Minaj) perform live. As not only a fellow Britney fan, but also a fellow foodie, Sara picked an awesome place called Lolita to set the stage for our fun night ahead with her two childhood friends.

The letters “BYOT” takes up most of the chalk board resting outside the restaurant, stressing the importance of bringing tequila. We definitely followed orders, and as a result, we were tipsier and richer than we would have been had we purchased onsite.

I’m a sucker for Mexican food, but I can say unbiasedly that Lolita’s food is significantly creative and uncontrollably addictive. The guacamole, served with an assortment of plantain, taro, corn chips, and thin slices of jicama was so good that after one order, we called the waiter over to place a request for a second. The grilled romaine and asparagus salad with polenta croutons was my favorite of the two salads we ordered (so fitting with our Skinny Girl margaritas) – I couldn’t get enough of the beautifully browned and creamy croutons.

romained salad

beet and goat cheese salad

Despite devoting ourselves to the task of finishing two bottles of pre-made margaritas, I couldn’t stop eating the creamy green enchiladas with grilled shrimp, rice, and beans. With flavors of lime and cilantro balanced by crema fresca and melted jack cheese, the enchilada served as an edible explanation of why I am obsessed with Mexican food. So amazing!

enchiladas

perfectly roasted salmon

I wouldn’t typically choose salmon at a Latin American restaurant, but we couldn’t resist the description of roasted hearts of palm, corn, and chipotle. The combination was incredible.

Britney Spears came as a blessing, because had it not been for our commitment to the show, I would have definitely spent the rest of the night gorging on chips and guacamole and sampling other dishes. And after 1.5 hours of watching Britney dance, I have to say (regretfully) that Lolita may have stood out as the night’s best performance. ‘Til my next trip to Philly!

Grade: A

Location: 106 South 13th Street, Philadelphia

Website: http://www.lolitabyob.com

3 Comments

Filed under Beans and Rice, Featured U.S. City Posts, Mexican