5.17.2018

Los Tres Potrillos for Tacos - Phoenix Oregon near Ashland

                         The Three Ponies Talking About Tacos
While on a trip to Ashland in  S. Oregon, to visit my mom for her 75th birthday, I had a serendipitous foodhist experience.

There are many Mexican food restaurants, cafes, etc. in the state of Oregon. Some of them famous, many of them authentic. Very different from the Cali-Mex or Gourmet-Mex of places like LA and San Francisco (still favoring Burritos! - forehead slap)

I've been excited to try a few new places on prior visits, but the Mother of the Mother of Tacos does not enjoy Mexican food! Her favorite food is salad. Is that a food? Well... sometimes there's lettuce on a taco, so.... To be fair, she's extremely healthy and peppy for her age!

Still, I felt the need to drag her to something 'hip' and so we found ourselves in a tiny, boutique, authentically DELICIOUS, Indonesian restaurant early on a Friday night. Blue Toba reminds me of my very own Bistro Magico because it's tiny and it's pretty much a one-man-band of a cool dude cooking up creative, clean, affordable food. The dude and a helper, that's it. 3 tables. I wonder if Jonathan Gold has eaten here.

Pastor Taco with Crudite Salsa
Wait... isn't this a taco review? It is! I promise. We enter Blue Toba at 5:30pm on a Friday, we are a party of 3. Two tables are taken and the third is for 2 people only. What to do. The two guys at the bigger table were very friendly, shared their table, their food and their taco tips! It turns out they are two actors from LA up in Ashland performing at the OSF - the big theatrical attraction to this tiny town 12 miles N. of the California-Oregon border!

I could tell from talking with Christopher Salazar that he knew his tacos. Like me, he wasn't terribly impressed with the stuff near the theater, but he recommended Los Tres Potrillos which happened to be on the way to the airport in Medford. He explained that potrillos means ponies; a word I'd never come across in 5 years of studying Spanish and 5 years of living in Mexico and I'm a total horse lover and recently wrote a YA Novel about horses! What the heck. HAD to go and so I did.

It was raining on the way to the airport. The unassuming taco joint was on a very short main drag of the 99 that goes through Phoenix. It's on the corner, well-marked and plenty of parking! I got my food to go and could only order two items on the run but I loved what I had.

Undressed Pastor - Lots of tender meat
The pastor wasn't your traditional LA/Baja trompo with pineapple affair which I truly adore. It was very tender, nicely grilled pork - it wasn't red, I'm not even sure there was any achiote present, but it was still so fresh and tasty. Tortillas, fresh and tasty. Price: $1.35. The revelation was the salsa bar. I actually saw a salsa I've never seen before! What? Yup. I'm calling it Taco Salsa de Verduras in Spanish and Crudites Salsa in French/English.

The salsa was a finely chopped mix of carrots, radishes, peeled cucumbers, tomato and cilantro. I'm pretty sure there was no onion...  but you could add onions and chiles for a spicy version. It was fresh and crunchy but not marinated in that vinegar way at all - maybe some lemon, oil and salt. Delicious on carne asada as well. I'm working to perfect the recipe and when I do, you'll see it here.

Tasty Tostada of Carne Molida
The second item I ordered was a comfort food indulgence - a ground beef tostada. Look mom! It's a salad. I was trying to create a crispy taco vibe - it got soggy pretty fast and the tortilla tasted a little funky and was probably too thin BUT the rest of the ingredients - very fresh.

Honestly - judge a place by it's tacos. Very clean and comfy inside. Extensive menu plus breakfast all day. Lots of people have blogged and written about this place but it's also a popular name for a taco spot so check to be sure which one you're reading about!

The day after we met the boys, my mom and her cousin saw the other actor at the table, Eduardo Enrikez in Destiny of Desire. He was so humble at dinner, he did not boast that he was one of the leads. Extra bonus, extremely cute AND had his shirt off for some of the show - making two 75-year-olds giggle and say 'We know him!!!!'

Wherever you may roam, follow the authentic food and/or the tacos! You will always have an adventure and meet wonderful people.

Los Tres Potrillos
102 S. Main Street, Phoenix, Oregon 97535
Open Everyday 8am - 9pm
541-897-4373

3.01.2018

Taco Roundup # 6 - Todos Santos Tacos as of February 2018

Todos Santos remains a plucky little town. Great taco places come and stay, and others come and go. I always love to try something new!

Three fun, new places I ate at on this last trip down to Baja in February were:

El Santo Chilote
Patrick's Fish Market and Cafe
La Palapa del Sabor

Santo Chilote is at the end of the same street as Hotel California. Walk downhill, away from La Paz, toward the Centro de Salud. You will see this cheery outdoor cafe right across from the beautiful fountain that marks the courtyard of the Hotel Hacienda - a lovely place to stay!



Chilote is sometimes used as a naughty word in Spanish for male private parts. The owner is a local musician named Pepe, who rocks the drums and is a great band leader. He has done a lot for the quality of entertainment in our town. He really has. And now he's bringing the tacos - and specifically a breaded coconut shrimp taco - which not too many people make. It's yum. Friendly staff too. Give it a go! Tacos come desnudo (naked) and you do the fixins yourself.

La Palapa is a delightful BLD spot (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) on the same side street as the Banorte bank and the Gabo Art Gallery. It's also right next to the Bahia Fish Market which is a long-time 'go-to' fish taco spot. Run by the lovely Cristina, formerly of Rancho Pescadero, La Palapa is very fresh and delicious. I've had great eggs and great enchiladas there.

This time I had simple shrimp tacos but they were so tasty and well-priced - on blue corn tortillas, no less. It's also a very clean establishment, which is an important consideration ALWAYS. I went light on the toppings, but YOU don't have to. :)



Patrick's Fish Market and Cafe is the brain child of the amazing chef Patrick Mullen. For several seasons he was the man behind the sublime sushi at the Todos Santos Inn restaurant and his menu for them had many other fun items like sliders and garlic greenbeans. Trained in San Diego, Patrick knows fish! He also has a great palette. I've never had to add seasoning to anything he has ever cooked.


Stop by the market for amazing fresh fish cuts (you won't find elsewhere) and then grab a taco. Once a week, while it's in season, he does a sublime lobster taco. I was so lucky to have stopped by on the right day! It was incredible. The cafe menu also has delicious fish tacos and other daily specials and he too is making his own blue corn tortillas.


It's located in the area called 'el otro lado' which is toward La Esquina and the Las Brisas neighborhood. From the main part of town, turn left down Topete (near Ezra Katz' Gallery) and follow it down and then up, past La Esquina (on the left) and the little elementary school (on the right) to Los Pinos Market (also on the right.) Patrick is right next door.

If you find yourself in this part of Mexico (and really you should, ASAP) please give these new places a try.

Taco Maven out
:)

6.22.2017

Balam Mexican Kitchen, Lynwood CA


I finally made it to Balam today, after being reminded about their existence by the LA Taco 2017 March Madness contest. I tried to go two months ago, but a rare case of 'bad taco luck' delivered me on a Monday, the one day they are currently closed.

I thought about taking a mini posse with me, but it was very spur of the moment, during a heat wave, and I was in the mood for a quiet, observant, taco experience. Lynwood is 25 miles from Pasadena. It's also 20 miles from the heart of Hollywood. If you're lucky enough to still live on the Westside, it's only 20 miles from Westwood. This place is definitely worth the drive. Make it an outing!

I recommend going for lunch, when traffic is lighter all around. Their hours are 10am - 8pm (6pm on Sunday.)

They just celebrated one year in May, which means they missed last year's competition. Always good for a newcomer to score well, and they did, making it all the way to the quarterfinals. The contest was eventually won by Sonoratown's perfect carne asada street taco.

So how is Balam? First of all, I love the name and the logo! Balam means Jaguar in Mayan. In Spanish, Jaguar is pronounced Ha-Guar. It's a very sexy word and so is Balam. It does sound slightly East Indian, but that's OK too as chef  Manuel BaƱuelos is definitely mixing his metaphors across a number of culinary ethnicities.


Okay, okay, the tacos! As I was alone, I could only pound down 3 on this first visit. But I believe I chose wisely Obewan. I was pretty much thinking about the coconut shrimp taco the whole way there. Why is that the greatest combo? Dunno, but it's a winner.

I have seen tacos served on a pliable, impossibly, thinly sliced, round of jicama for five years now. But alas, I can never find anyone doing it consistently.  I will go and they'll be out or it's seasonal or no one seems interested in it. I haven't tried it at home because where do I get a jumbo mutant jicama and how do I slice it without a meat slicer?

I love it because it's so darn light and refreshing that it allows you to eat more tacos, without getting filled up on corn. Speaking of corn, they make their own tortillas at Balam. I learned from a brief chat with the chef (more on that later) that the masa they use is organic for both the white corn and the blue corn. Now that's impressive and delicious.

The taco features a red slice of jicama 'tortilla', causing many to think it's served on a giant radish. It's red because it's soaked in jamaica water, (before the sugar is added to make the agua fresca) presumably. Jicama, jamaica. Jicama, jamaica. Say that 5 times fast before you have your 2nd beer. They have an excellent beer selection and I overheard el Jefe chefe telling an associate he would like to have draft beer and plans to soon.

Is this the most A.D.D review you've ever read? It must be the heat. I chose to sit inside, for the lighting. Most of the customers were outside and I was there early. I was lucky to catch the boss chilling in a booth. But not for long. Once it got crowded he was up and greeting regulars.

I did overhear him say he really wanted to try Sonoratown. (The Taco Snoop strikes again!) As I'd just reviewed them last month, I had to shout out across the cafe, 'You must! You must! It's awesome.' And then we got to chatting about tacos.

So that magnificent shrimp taco was battered in a tempura-like substance. I see from earlier photos on Yelp that sometimes it's the more traditional shredded coconut and bread crumbs. It had a wonderful, mild, mango salsa and that delicious 'tortilla.' They provide 3 different salsas to add on. I didn't use it, but I'm pretty sure I saw some habanero go by in a mini squeeze bottle. It is the perfect summer snack!


At LA's Tacolandia in June (curated by Bill Esparza) Balam won Best Taco Innovation for this fantastic shrimp taco. The trophy was proudly displayed on their counter, along with their LA Taco Madness medals.

I had to choose between the Chicken Tinga Masala taco and the Mole Almendrado. I went for the Mole. I really just wanted to say 'Almendrado' which rolled off the tongue in a way that made me hungry. It was delicious. The sauce was very thick and rich and it came with a scoop of yellow basmati rice on a blue corn tortilla, Full of flavor. I still got my East Indian on after all.


Between the beefs, it was choice of a Kogi Style taco or Barbacoa. I was getting pretty full by then. I went with the Barbacoa. It was flavorful and filling but I was wishing I had gone Kogi. I always fear the sauce will be too sweet on a Korean style taco, but I'll find out next time. The Barbacoa was a little chewy and a little heavy for such a hot day.


All in all, the selection was fabulous, service was efficient, the place is very clean. The chef appears to be very passionate about keeping this restaurant going strong into its Sophmore year. It's very hard work to keep a new place going, keep it creative, keep it consistent. It's exhausting work too. No one at Balam is complaining, but as someone who has done this at a professional level, I know how hard it is.

I applaud them for their skill and innovation and I can't think of one good reason why every Millennial 20 miles N. W. or S. of here shouldn't skedaddle their 30-year-old firm foodie arses down to this taco mecca. I'm serious. This place was delightful and I'll be back with a few hungry men in tow.

Balam Mexican Kitchen
11700 Long Beach Blvd., Lynwood
(424) 338-6762   @balamtaco

5.07.2017

Sonoratown, Downtown Los Angeles


Proud winners of the LA Taco Contest for Best Taco in LA. Literally, the best single taco. Not the best taco restaurant, but the best actual taco.

Of course I was intrigued! Thank you LA Taco for continuing to highlight all the amazing taco places we have in Los Angeles!!!!

I have to say I fell in love with Sonoratown from the minute I walked into the teenie tiny box of a taco waiting room.

The adorable server was so friendly and delightful, completely unruffled by the line that formed behind me and out the door, like a magic trick.

She answered all my questions - even my disbelief that the best taco in LA was only $2!!!!! That's right, $2!!!!!!!! Wait, this little, simple, carne asada taco? This street taco? Really?

It was so good, I would eat it totally plain. Just meat and the fresh, soft and tasty homemade flour tortilla. The only corn tortillas they serve are fried (for the Tostada.) RIGHT ON!



I ordered several things. Everything was delicious. Fresh, flavorful, nice spice, simply, just, delicious.

It was a unanimous agreement in our group that the humble $2 taco was the best and most addictive thing on the menu. I'm thinking I can eat 6 next time, no problem. Not because they're small, just because they are so stimulating to the taste buds.

Similar to the style of Mexicali Taco, the grill magic hails from Sonora itself. Is it the spice? The wood? The smoke? The marinade? The cut of meat? All of that and it's all that, people.

Run, hop, skip, jump, fly to 208 E. 8th Street, between the hours of 11-4, 6 days a week. They are closed Sunday.

Order at least 5 of those tacos. Just because.


4.27.2017

Taco Roundup #6 - California Central Coast Tacos SLO & Los Alamos 2017

Is it already the end of April? Ayiyiyi. Where does the Taco Time go? Rest assured friends, I have not stopped eating tacos. Nor have I stopped taking pictures of those tacos to the annoyance of all my friends and fellow customers. Does that count as an apology?

I spent a few months this winter up in San Luis Obispo. A lovely town. Very creative, very clean, a very well organized Tourist Board and a fair amount of mid-level Mexican food in every direction. I tried just about everything on Yelp and did not find any inspiring winners in the crispy taco category.

My favorite authentic street taco in the area was from Tacos de Mexico. They have two locations, but I preferred the location in nearby Morro Bay. Serious flavor and no nonsense service. They have a beautiful mural in the parking lot. The Chile Colorado taco was #($*(@)*#)@. Seriously.


A better than decent crispy taco required a drive South to Grover Beach. Technically in Oceano, Efren's Deli is a staple for those in the area and I enjoyed their tacos very much.



An honorary mention goes to Taqueria Santa Cruz. Fast, efficient, tasty, full of people, reliable, and popular in San Luis with the Cal-Poly crowd.

The most orgasmic food item I ate in SLO was ironcially a donut. The gluten-free donut at Bliss Cafe was a revelation. I tried multiple flavors (Hello Homer Simpson) and they were all so delicious, especially the Lavender. Their vegan food is great too. I didn't see any tacos on their menu but you never know. Hint, hint.

On the way back to LA, I stopped in Los Alamos. A mere 50 minutes S. of San Luis Obispo, Los Alamos has been growing for the last 3 years and is a delightful stop on any Central Coast foray.

Check out the list of the best local places at The Alamo Motel. Right down the street is Charlie's Restaurant. The tacos are not necessarily the thang as they boast great burgers, but dang people, those crispy beef tacos were a tasty treat. Grab two of those and then stop at Bob's Well Bread Bakery and you're good to go.


Fast becoming a weekend getaway for wine tasting from both SF and LA, I'm excited to see the Mexican food scene develop a little bit more in this scenic and relaxing part of California.

Taco Maven out.