2011.09 Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita

2011.09 Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita

November 13, 2011

3010 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90063

Boyle Heights

On a mission to experience more fine Pueblan tacos árabes, Carmen and I journeyed again to the Eastside for a tasty treat. I liked Elviritas a lot – the small Boyle Heights restaurant has a breezy, tropical feel to its casual interior.

The tacos árabes were not quite as good as those at La China Poblana, but they were still very good. Chunks of meat wrapped in a tortilla like a burrito. I am someone long accustomed to ordering foods “plain” and an enthusiast of the “all meat” burritos at old-school California Mex restaurants. I cannot go wrong with tacos árabes. The tortillas were beautifully turning golden-brown around their edges.

Posted: December 15th, 2011
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2011.08 Cemitas La China Poblana

2011.08 Cemitas La China Poblana

October 30, 2011

3568 Whittier Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90023

Boyle Heights

I have been moderately obsessed with Pueblan tacos árabes since I first heard about them late last year – cousins of the al pastor taco, the arab taco is also made from marinated pork with grilled onions and spices, and ideally roasted on a vertical spit. The chopped meat is served on a big and preferably handmade tortilla. Unlike conventional tacos, the tortilla is flour, and raw onions, cilantro and salsa are not part of the plan, but there is a heavy provision of a smoky, barbecue-like chipotle sauce.

The tacos árabes at La China Poblana are the best I have tried yet. Oh man, the pork was tender and flavorful and the smoky chipotle sauce made my head swim. I was self-conscious of my own human pleasure as I ate them.

The environs contribute to the pleasure, as the entire dining area is an indoor-outdoor hybrid space. The place has a distinctly informal character. Don’t be creeped out by the chef in the photo – it’s just a statue.

Posted: December 15th, 2011
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59 Cemitas Poblanas Juquilita

59 Cemitas Poblanas Juquilita

December 12, 2010

532 S Lorena St, Los Angeles, CA 90063

Boyle Heights

My coworker Diana offered a few suggestions for Eastside Mexican food. Diana has bona fide roots in the Mexican state of Puebla, so I took her recommendation of Pueblan specialist restaurant Cemitas Poblanas Juquilita seriously. Juquilita had a taco truck parked across the street, a classic signifier of Street Cred in this business.

After reading a few reviews of Eastside Pueblan restaurants on Yelp! I learned that many offer an item called “tacos árabes,” which according to online speculation is a seasoned al pastor-style pork cut from a spit and served on a thick flour tortilla, and so called because this shawarma-inspired item was originated by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. Sounds pretty good, Puebla, with your old-timey “fusion” cuisine.

Carmen and I went to Juquilita today for lunch – only 15 minutes away by the freeway – and became overwhelmed by meat. We did not know how to order, and consequently ordered way the hell too much food. We saw no written menu, but only a series of photos with images of their items and names, and no prices listed. I ordered a taco with barbacoa (goat) and an arab taco, and Carmen ordered a taco ranchero with steak and an arab taco, and with two Mexican sodas the total was $28. That was the first sign that we had ordered too much food. We’ll be in leftovers for days.

On this heaty 85-degree December day we found a table in the pleasant indoor-outdoor hybrid space out back, bounded by walls on three sides and a roof, and open to a compact and pigeon-filled parking lot.

The enormous tacos arrived, bringing on an immediate sense of “scalefuck,” a term taught me by a professor in architecture school for the disorientation experienced when something appears grossly out of normal proportion. Look at the photo and see how the Jarritos bottle looks like a half-size miniature and the plastic fork looks like a pretend toy fork. Here I can be seen on the internet pretending to eat this taco like a taco, but in truth this is less a taco than an ENORMOUS meat plate that happens to have a giant handmade tortilla lining the plate. This “taco” makes the Grand Central Market taco look like a Yorkshire terrier. I was picking it up because I had eaten as much as humanly possible and was about to insert it into that undersized take-out container.

Next time I go to a Pueblan restaurant, I will order with more care.

The giant barbacoa taco you see in the picture, the one that looks like Zoidberg, featured a black bean slurry coat first, then several goats-worth of magical goat chunks, and topped with smoky red salsa (per my specification), avocado slices, and a big sliced paddle of chewy cactus. The goat was slow-cooked carnitas-style and had the same textural variation and delights as good carnitas, with blackened crispy bits contrasting with melt-in-your-mouth tender and juicy bits. The flavor is intense and gamy. I hardly made a dent in this bad boy and I have still been tasting goat all afternoon.

In the background you see the plate with the two tacos árabes, which only look small because they appear next to the Gargantua and Pantagruel of tacos. They are really the size of small burritos, like the kind you get at Taco Bell or Del Taco. I had asked for pork and Carmen asked for beef, but we believe that they both came with the beef. Fine with me, because it was deliciousness from the first bite. The meat was cut into long thin strips and marinated in a profound and complex admixture of spices, familiar-seeming but not like anything I have encountered in a taco. I applied a measure of the chipotle-smoky red salsa and ate it like a burrito, and it was pure delicious within a pleasant flour tortilla.

I look forward to visiting more Pueblan restaurants and trying more varieties of tacos árabes. The taco universe is ever-expanding, and the more of it I see, the farther away the taco horizon gets.

Posted: December 12th, 2010
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