Archive for January 22, 2010

I’m Just Here for the Food: El Antojito

You can keep your crunchy shell: if it ain't a street taco, it ain't a taco.

I love Mexican food.

Growing up in Southern California, you’d be surprised at how hard it can be to find good authentic Mexican — not because great Mexican restaurants don’t exist, but because it’s hard to spot ’em in a landscape of whitewashed wannabes.

But, as I got older, I learned how to spot the really auténtico places.

5 RULES FOR SPOTTING A GOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT FOR NON-MEXICANS

Rule #1: It should be staffed entirely by Mexican dudes. A friend of mine once got in trouble for saying that he bets that the reason those taco trucks are so good is because they “make it with their dirty hands.” We all laughed at him because it was such a racist thing to say, but you know what? I think he’s right. If they’re speaking anything but Spanish to each other, I turn around and walk right out.

Rule #2: The clientele should be mostly Hispanic. This actually holds true for all “ethnic” food. If everyone dining in a supposedly Korean joint is white, then get out. Get out while you still can. Likewise, if I walk into a Mexican place and no one can understand me because I’m speaking perfect English, then I know I’ve got the right place.

Rule #3: If you’re there after dark, you should feel a little uncomfortable. If there’s a TV in the place, it should be tuned to Telemundo or a soccer game or, best of all, a soccer game on Telemundo. People should be looking at you funny. If they don’t, then that means that they’re used to seeing non-locals hanging about. You want a place that caters to the locals, not to the visitors.

Rule #4: There shouldn’t be cheese on anything that’s not supposed to have cheese on it*. Americanized Mexican food is covered in cheese. Now, I have nothing against cheese — I think it’s delicious, and it certainly has its place, even in Mexican cuisine. But no self-respecting taco joint will send you a plate buried in melted cheese.

*I will make an exception for carne asada nachos because they are so darned tasty, even if they’re not authentic.

Rule #5: The basics should BLOW. YOUR. MIND. Whenever I try I new Mexican place, I always start with what I call “The Taste Trifecta Test”. That’s three tacos: carne asada, carnitas, and al pastor. If they can get those three right, then they’re probably legit.

So, with that said, let’s take a look at El Antojito, shall we?

Rule #1: Check. The guy had to ask me twice what I wanted because my Mexican accent is awful (that’s right, Mexican. Spanish is the language, but there is an accent specific to Mexico).

Rule #2: Check. It was raining, so there weren’t many people, but I was definitely the only Asian in the place.

Rule #3: Dark parking lot? Bad neighborhood? Nothing but beat-up old pick-up trucks, vans, and Cadillacs in the parking lot? Check, check, and CHECK.

Rule #4: Check. Not a single shred of cheese in sight.

Rule #5: OH, MY GOD, CHECK!!! I ordered my Taste Trifecta, and HOLY FRIJOLES, it was amazing. I know I’ve raved about lots of other Mexican joints, and my reviews of King Taco, El Taurino, Taco Sinaloa, and Tacos San Pedro still stand, but they must now all bow to the KING OF AL PASTOR: El Antojito. Man ALIVE, that is some quality meat!! The carne asada and carnitas tacos were also excellent, but the al pastor was what really blew my whistle.

And the clincher: tacos are only a dollar each. You just can’t beat that price.

So, if you’re up for some comida auténtica, I would highly recommend that you take a trip under the 110 overpass, head on over to the wrong side of the tracks, and hit up El Antojito.

El Antojito
Corner of 168th & Figueroa
Gardena, CA 90247

I’m Just Here for the Food: Young Dong Sullungtang

It may not look like much, but wait 'til you taste it.

I love rain.

We get it so rarely in Southern California that nobody really minds all the traffic it generates (even though everyone still complains loudly about it). And we’re currently in the middle of the biggest storm we’ve seen ’round these parts in a while, so I’m pretty happy.

The only thing I love more than rain is sullungtang. Put the two together and you’ve got the best winter experience you can get in California.

Sullungtang is a hot Korean beef soup to which you add noodles, green onions, radish kimchi, and sea salt to taste.

But that description, while accurate, really doesn’t do justice to the dish. It’s just one of those things that doesn’t sound like much until you put it in your mouth and the heavens part and the angels sing and you wonder whether your life until then was real or just a dream because, sister, this is living.

That said, the portions are generous, and there’s really nothing better on a cold winter day, especially if it’s raining.

And Young Dong in Koreatown is hands-down the best sullungtang I’ve ever had. The broth is flavorful, the kimchi is amazing, and you can pick what kind of beef they put in it for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go daydream about the leftovers I’m eating for lunch tomorrow.

Young Dong Restaurant
3828 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 386-3729