Saturday, October 31, 2009

El Pique Taco Truck - Video

The Chef is a trickster -- about to scare you up a frightening tasty taco review on this Halloween day - made with shocking and chilling cuts of meat! My final video on moveable feasts for the month of October features a taco truck from the "old school".

Pile on the salsa roja on tacos served at Highland Park's El Pique Taco Truck -- their fiendishly fiery salsa can raise the dead! Let your little ghouls and goblins have their bag of candy; this Chef prefers to feast on a platter of Tacos de Cabeza (head), Tacos de Lengua (tongue), and let's not forget the slow cooked Tacos de Buche (intestines)! The chunks of lengua are a little chewy, the buche is light and delicate and the cabeza meat is fall-off-the-forehead tender.

Walking down York Boulevard on Halloween Day in this East L.A. community, I walk past a sidewalk Day of the Dead altar loaded down with skull candles, fruit, flowers, plates of food and airline bottles of tequila. But the altar of epicurean delights known as El Pique Taco Truck is a block away, at the corner of Avenue 53 next to a car wash, and The 99 Cent Chef genuflects at the ordering window.

Have you ever tried tongue or head? Don't be a scared-y cat! Cabeza is surprisingly tender -- meat scraped from a cow's skull, and lengua is gamy but tasty. Of the two, tongue takes some getting used to. I still recoil from the first spongy bite, but quickly settle in and enjoy -- one must face their dining demons head-on!

The Chef first heard about El Pique Taco Truck from reading Jonathan Gold's column in The LA Weekly and decided to finally try it. This Chef has been around the block a few times taco truck dining, so, while not disappointed, I have had as good. The carnitas & carne asada are fine, while the al pastor (bbq pork) takes getting used to. I like the pork charred and crunchy; here it is damp and saucy -- different for sure, but an interesting variation. I prefer mine shaved off a fiery spit and crispy. The buche (intestine) is not deep-fried like I am used to; again, I miss the chewiness. Sorry Jonathan, your praise is misdirected -- as right down the street, on Eagle Rock Boulevard, is Rambo Taco Truck, which prepares al pastor and buche my favorite way (see my short video for info by clicking here) -- to each his own.
El Pique Taco Truck - Video

Play it here. The video runs 2 minutes.

The locals are lucky to have El Pique. The tacos are tasty, and garnished with slices of radish and wedges of lime. I would stop there any time I was in the hood.

Click here for a map. Hours are all day and late into the evening.
The address is 5300 York Boulevard in Highland Park, CA 90042.
Tacos are $1.25 including tax. You can ask for salsa toppings mild or hot.

Click here to embed or view video on youtube.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nom Nom Truck Rainy Day Video & Banh Mi (Sandwich) Recipe

A rainy day in Los Angeles will not keep this penny-pinching Chef from a lunch truck run for a 12-inch Banh Mi (sandwich) from Nom Nom. Now, that is literally a mouthful of a sentence -- good luck finishing one of these whoppers in a single sitting.

The 99 Cent Chef picked a damp day to shoot his latest lunch truck video and was amply rewarded with a huge and tasty $5 sandwich.

This ain't no Subway - it's a whole lot better. L.A.'s latest addition to its booming taco truck culture is the neon green Nom Nom Truck, specializing in a Vietnamese sandwich called Banh Mi, pronounced "bun me." The truck was started last month by three UCLA alumni who were fans of, and inspired by, Kogi Korean BBQ Taco Truck (which the Chef video reviewed earlier-- click here).

These French-influenced unique and tasty sandwiches are filled with a bountiful mix of unusual ingredients including: sweet pickled slivers of carrot and diakon, sliced cucumber, jalapenos, and bbq pork, all on a crunchy baguette slathered with pate, mayo and butter. A standout is the rice flour baguette.

Make sure to spread the sandwich's paper wrapping wide because your first bite will scatter shards of crunchy crust in all directions. The bread is incredibly light and springy - a satisfying start to a complex sandwich journey: from crunchy tangy veggies and tender sweet bbq pork, to spicy slices of jalapeno and rich earthy pate.

You can get Lemongrass Chicken along with a Vegetarian Tofu and, of course, they carry tacos, Vietnamese style, with the same fillings for $2.50 each, or 2 tacos for $4.

In the Chef's latest taco truck video, Nom Nom co-owners David Stankunas and Misa Chien will entertain you by describing their Bahn Mi Sandwich and also take your order. It is a real hands-on operation. Rain or shine, this Chef will pull over for their Banh Mi Sandwich anytime.

Nom Nom's truck hours vary - they are usually closed on Sunday. Visit their Twitter feed here to learn their current location, and to see the website for a complete menu and more - click here.

Nom Nom Vietnamese Truck - Video
 Play it here - 4 minutes 

As a bonus, The 99 Cent Chef shows you how to make your own Banh Mi at home. Now, it will not be as good as Nom Nom Truck's, but it will be quite tasty. What makes this sandwich unique is the julienned vegetables soaked in vinegar and sugar. They retain their freshness and add a sweet slaw flavor to this sandwich.

Banh Mi can come filled with many types of meat, even cold cuts. I made a simple marinade that works for sauteing sliced chicken and pork cutlets, ground pork, beef, chicken or turkey - all are inexpensive cuts of meat. Instead of pate, I used liverwurst, which tastes similar. Carrots and cucumber are inexpensive at any market. Go totally vegetarian and substitute the meat with sauteed tofu (and leave out pate, of course). Regular French rolls work well; if you have access to a local bakery, even better.

The one tricky ingredient is diakon radish, usually found at Asian Markets. If you can find it, use it. What I did was spoon out the seeds from a cucumber, and thinly slice the white flesh as a substitute for diakon. It works quite well. Cilantro adds a coolness to contrast with a few slices of jalapeno - I've made these sandwiches without both, though.

Once you have the veggies in the marinade, it is just a quick stir fry for the meat, and everything is ready to simply assemble.

Ingredients (4 sandwiches)
  • 12 oz. or 1 lb. breakfast sausage - OK to substitute chopped chicken, pork cutlets, ground chicken or turkey; for vegetarian, saute 1 package of tofu. And for a "no cooking" method, just use your favorite cold cuts.
  • 4 French rolls -each about 6 inches in length.
  • Liverwurst or pate (optional) - enough to smear on one side of French roll.
  • Mayo for bread.
Stir Fry Sauce
  • 1/4 onion - chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic - from jar or fresh
  • 2 tablespoon lime or lemon juice - fresh or from bottle
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oil - for sliced chicken or pork cutlets, or ground turkey and chicken.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Sweet Pickled Veggie Topping  
  • 1 large cucumber - shredded or thinly chopped. Use white flesh (scoop out seeds with a spoon), and OK to leave green skin on.
  • Diakon - optional from Oriental market. Thinly slice, to add to sandwich last, like you would with a sliced tomato.
  • 1 large carrot - shredded or thinly chopped
  • 1 bunch of cilantro (optional) - remove larger stems
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (any vinegar will do)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water - enough to just cover shredded veggies.

Directions for Veggie Topping
Chop or shred cucumber, carrot and diakon (optional). In a large bowl add veggies with sugar, vinegar and water - mix well. Let set for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Drain out liquid before adding to sandwich.

Directions for Banh Mi (sandwiches)
Saute meat, onion and garlic until meat is done, about 10 minutes. Pour in lemon or lime juice, soy sauce and sprinkle with 1 tsp. of sugar, mixing well. Cook a few more minutes to evaporate liquid. You may need to drain meat mixture of grease, depending how lean sausage is (tofu, chicken or pork cutlets are lean and ready to serve on French rolls, once cooked).

To assemble sandwiches, first split French roll, leaving it connected on one side. Tear out some of the bread on the inside of the round top side, so it will hold the sausage. Smear mayo and liverwurst (or pate) on inside of rolls. Add meat and top with picked sweet veggies (make sure to drain them first) and cilantro. Finally sprinkle in a few slices of jalapeno, if you can take the heat.

Click here to embed or view video on youtube.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MacArthur Park Food Carts of Los Angeles - Video

A cake left out in the rain, to quote a key lyric from the song "MacArthur Park" by Jimmy Webb,  is not the only food item in L.A.'s infamous MacArthur Park. On weekends, a cornucopia of carts featuring Mexican-style cuisine line the sidewalks of this park.

Everything from hot corn on the cob slathered in butter, to grilling bacon-wrapped hot dogs, cups of fresh sliced fruit, and to quench your thirst: sweet tropical juice over fresh shaved ice. With these tasty treats in hand, sit on the expansive lawns under shade trees and watch the kids in colorful uniforms kick around a soccer ball.

Located at the intersection of Alvarado St. and Wilshire Blvd., this park has been upgraded and is now filled on weekends with families picnicking and socializing. A bustling sidewalk vendor culture thrives here. The food carts are hand-made: the signs hand-lettered, and the cart wheels are a little wobbly.

You won't see $100,000 groovy lunch trucks parked around here, that's for sure. Now we're not talking healthy food fare, but the cuisine is well prepared and tasty for an every-once-in-a-while splurge -- and the prices are right for this chintzy chef.

Before bacon became hip -- before it started turning up in everything from bacon brownies to garnishing a martini -- sizzling bacon was the smell that drew you to a Mexican sidewalk vendor browning bacon-wrapped hot dogs, on the way to your parking lot after a wine-soaked musical evening in The Hollywood Bowl.

Sidewalk chefs in MacArthur Park saute and sell a jumbo bacon-wrapped hot dog with grilled onion and bell pepper, topped with a huge green chile, for $2.50; and the chaser is a large cup of sweet mango nectar over hand-shaved ice for $2.

That is what I filmed on a Sunday afternoon visit. A perfect caloric diversion for a balmy and warm L.A. fall afternoon. The hardworking vendors, out to make a buck, may not pass the health department's muster, but no matter to me, as I'm here for the taste and have always stopped in my tracks to taste street fare.

 Sit back and watch The 99 Cent Chef's video visit to lively and colorful MacArthur Park.
MacArthur Park Food Carts - Video

Play it here. The video runs 3 minutes.

To see the Chef's "cake left out in the rain" reference mentioned in the intro, click here for Donna Summer's version of Jimmy Webb's 8 minute, 40 second song opus "MacArthur Park", just click here.

Address: 2230 W. 6th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Click here for map - Corner of Alvardo St. & Wilshire Blvd.
Phone: (213) 368-0520
Open 7 days a week during daylight hours - 8:30am to 6pm

Click here to embed or view video on youtube.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Night & Day with the Kogi BBQ Taco Truck - Video

L.A. served on a taco shell -- this is what Kogi Korean BBQ Truck has come up with. Peppered along Olympic Blvd. between Western and Alvarado are smoky Korean BBQ joints, and all over Los Angeles are Mexican restaurants and taco stands. Can we all get along? Well, Kogi's culturally blended combination of two cuisines proves we can!

This mash-up of Mexican stylings and Korean flavors typifies the L.A. culinary experience. This is food served curbside - literally street food. The Frank Gehry - like architecture of the Kogi's trademark BBQ Short Rib Taco, loaded with crazy cubes of smoky and sweet marinated beef short rib meat and piled precariously high with tangy, shredded cabbage, onion and sprinked with sesame seeds, is designated a historical landmark by this epicurean critic.

Kogi BBQ Truck is ground zero for L.A.'s nouveau taco truck renaissance. It all started last November, and now every month a new food- themed truck is popping up: including The Grilled Cheese Truck and Fishlips Sushi Truck. Hey, I love it -- the more the merrier for this cheap chef. And Kogi has added more trucks to total four, that roam L.A. streets past midnight.

A Kogi taco cost $2 plus tax, a great deal for such a unique taco. It is quite juicy from the meat marinade and slaw topping, so make sure to grab a couple of napkins. They serve tofu, chicken and spicy pork tacos along with fat burritos and even cheesy quesadillas with kimchi in the $5 range.

The taco shredded veggie topping is not traditional kimchi (normally fermented cabbage with salt, garlic and fish sauce; smelly-pungent and kick-ass hot) but a mildly hot and tangy slaw sprinkled with sesame seeds -- a cool crunchy contrast. In Korean "Kogi" means "meat" and the short rib taco meat was tender and flavorful. I loved it! The "barbecue" is not like in the South -- it's grilled, but the sauce is a marinade more like a light and spicy teriyaki.

If you want kimchi get a Korean Quesadilla. A unique mix of pickled cabbage and melted cheese folded into a grilled flour tortilla. An acquired taste for sure, but this cheap$kate found them strangely tasty. It is a complex flavor profile, and very salty - perfect bar food, if only taco trucks sold beer!

Another hit are their huge burritos. I had the Short Rib Burrito. It is built the same as a taco, double in size though, in a flour tortilla, and with the addition of shredded cheese -- it appeared to be a yellow and white mix (chedder and jack?) These burritos are guaranteed to satisfy anyone's big appetite after a booze-fueled night of Karaoke.

For The 99 Cent Chef's Kogi BBQ Taco Truck Video, I mashed-up night and day footage to create a tasty and arty short film. Ride along with the Chef from Manhattan Beach to Koreatown, from Hollywood to The Brig on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach, for a midnight sidewalk meal and a midday lunch break. I hope you like my out-there video as much as I liked the fusion of Mexican/Korean cuisines. Warning, you will be hungry after watching this!

Kogi  BBQ Taco Truck - Video

Play it here. Video runs 3 minutes, 10 seconds.

Kogi Website:
Kogi Twitter - follow twitter to find truck locations daily:

Kogi Taqueria - restaurant
3500 Overland Blvd.
L.A., Ca. 90038
phone: 424) 326-3031

Truck menu:
Kogi Short Rib Taco: $2.50

To view video or embed from YouTube:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fish Tostada Recipe & El Sabroso Taco Truck Video

El Sabroso, on a side street just north of LAX, has the best budget Ceviche Tostada in town. It's only $1.25 for a large tostada heaped to overflowing with chopped lime-cooked red snapper, raw onion, tomato, cilantro, and jalapeno, and it's topped with slices of avocado and a wedge of lime. The roar of low-landing airplanes directly overhead is not enough to distract from these tart and tasty crunchy platters of marinated fish.

Picking up these overburdened crisp discs, you fear they will break under the weight. Along with the signature Tostadas de Pescado, are Tostadas d' Cameron (shrimp) for 25 cents more -- delicious. Regular Mexican taco truck fare is available; I recommend the succulent pork carnitas tacos.

El Sabroso parks on the same strip of chain link fences and industrial complexes along Arbor Vitae Street every day during daylight hours. Just look for the large plain white taco truck. No fancy murals here - just good cheap fare.

So give yourself a reward for being generous enough to drop off your out-of-towner at the airport, and pull over for a quick, cool crispy seafood treat.

The  Cheap$kate Chef briefly mentioned my favorite seafood taco truck in this past video post, and it's time for a return visit, along with a 99 Cent Chef recipe for Tostada de Pescado.
El Sbroso Taco Truck - Video

Play it here. The video runs 38 seconds.

Lately I've seen quite a selection of 4-6 oz. frozen filets of mahi-mahi, salmon, flounder, tilapia and tuna at regular markets, like Albertsons, for a dollar, and at 99c only Stores for 99.99 cents. El Sabroso taco truck uses red snapper --harder to get at these prices -- but any firm fish will make a decent Ceviche. Four ounces is enough for about four tostadas. For this recipe I used thawed frozen tilapia from this 99c only Store.

The trick to lime-cooking fish is chopping it up so the lime juice penetrates thoroughly. It takes about 4-6 hours of "cooking" in the refrigerator. You'll know when it's done by the increased firmness, and the fish turns from semi-transparent to an opaque white/gray.

After the fish is "done" you add chopped tomato, onion, jalapeno and cilantro. Substitute fish with chopped and "cooked" shrimp for a Tostada de Cameron.

I had a few corn tortillas hidden in the back of the fridge, and fried those. You can get crispy tostada rounds at most grocery chains and especially Latin markets. It's easy to fry corn tortillas - just heat enough oil (1/2 inch deep in a wide shallow pan) and fry a minute or so on each side until browned, then drain on a paper towel.

You can prepare them well in advance. Or, simply set out a bowl of ceviche, along with your favorite guacamole, and a bag of tortilla chips, for a cool tasty party tray.

My Tostada de Pescado takes a little chopping but is big on flavor.

Ingredients (4 tostadas)
4 oz. frozen or fresh firm fish - including red snapper, tilapia, halibut, or mahi-mahi
3-4 limes - enough juice to almost cover the chopped fish.
1 medium tomato - chopped
3/4 of a whole chopped onion - add as much or as little as you like.
Handful of cilantro chopped - again, add as much as you like (I've made it without cilantro and it tastes fine).Jalapeno - a couple of slices, add a small amount at a time and taste for desired heat.
4 fried corn tortillas or packaged tostada rounds - a bag of tortilla chips is fine.
1 cup of oil - if frying soft corn tortillas - oil is reusable.
Avocado - optional, add a few slices as a topping.

Chop fish into small pieces, place in bowl, and squeeze enough lime juice to almost submerge fish. Best to lime-cook fish in a ceramic bowl. Cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours. Fish is "done" when it firms up and the color changes from semi-transparent to an opaque white/grey. When fish is done add chopped onion, tomato, cilantro and jalapeno. Salt and pepper to taste.

For frying soft corn tortillas, heat a cup of oil to medium/high (about 350 degrees). Tortillas will float in the oil and may bubble up in the middle, just press tortillas down for a few seconds to flatten. Tortillas cook fast, a minute or so for each side; they're done when light/medium brown and crisp. Drain and cool on paper towels or a rack.

It is simple to assemble --just lay out your corn tostadas and top with Ceviche and sliced avocado (optional). You can also chow down with tortilla chips. And don't forget the salsa picante!

El Sabroso Mariscos Taco Truck - Parked at about 5745 Arbor Vitae St. (just east of Airport Blvd. were Westchester Pkwy. turns into Arbor Vitae St. - confusing, I know, but worth locating). Click here for a map.

Click here to embed or view video on youtube.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Border Grill Truck - Video Review

Someone's in the kitchen with Mary Sue Milliken, and that someone is The 99 Cent Chef ! It's not every day this Chef get's to literally rub elbows with one half of the "Too Hot Tamales," but when you're invited to film with Mary Sue and her three chefs, that's the way we roll (in their shiny new Border Grill Truck). It was a real treat to hang out with everyone in this cool taco truck -- it is one well-oiled operation.

This month The 99 Cent Chef steps out of the kitchen then pulls out all the f-stops for a month-long film foray series introducing his readers to L.A.'s bursting lunch truck renaissance. Here's a way to taste gourmet-level street food for a price that even the chintzy chef and his thrifty readers can appreciate.

Future video posts include the truck that is spearheading it all, Kogi Korean BBQ Truck, newcomer Nom Nom Truck (featuring Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches) and a couple of stops at some favorite old-school taco trucks and food carts (in MacArthur Park).

The Border Grill Truck puts a modern and deliciously inspired spin on Mexican taco truck fare -- for an affordable price. I made a beeline to a Yucatan Pork Taco.

The corn tortilla tasted handmade with a soft light texture, and the chunks of braised orange-hued achiote pork are pungent with spice. I especially enjoyed the cool taco slaw topping of red pickled onion with jicama and orange.

How does it compare to a typical taco truck? Classic crunchy deep fried carnitas tacos are a true pleasure and my favorite every time, but Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Fineger's take on the taco are scrumptiously welcomed.

Other tacos at the Border Grill truck are made with chicken and carne asada, and two veggie ones feature avocado or roasted potato. The truck parks near where I'm working lately, so return visits are planned; I have my eye on Peruvian Ceviche served in a hard shell corn tortilla cone next.

I've been dining on Susan and Mary Sue's fine, tasty fare since the days of their original restaurant on Melrose Avenue, and I always look forward to killer margaritas and mojitos with imaginative appetizers during Happy Hours at their current restaurants including: Cuidad downtown, The Border Grill in Santa Monica and Street (from Susan Feniger) in Hollywood.

Border Grill Truck - Video
Play it here. The video runs 3 minutes, 12 seconds.

The Border Grill Truck menu is shown below and online here, and visit the website for latest menu and prices. Taco prices are $2-$3. Quesadillas and Peruvian Cevechi are $5. On the website, the ingredient list includes: organic rice, beans, coffee and sustainable seafood.

Keep your eye on Twitter to see when they're in your neighborhood. Hours vary but skew 10am -6pm. and later on Friday and Saturday (best to follow on Twitter - click here).

Coming up, join The Chef as he prowls through the noir nighttime neon-washed streets of Koreatown for a Short Rib Taco from Kogi BBQ Truck, and then on sun-splashed asphalt under Santa Monica palm trees, as he hunkers down to chew a crunchy- crusted Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich from Nom Nom Truck.

With The 99 Cent Chef as your culinary tour guide, you will see parts of L.A. not in any guide books! Zagat, forget about it - this is street food at its finest! So do keep checking back. Hey, I even throw in a couple of 99 cent taco truck recipes!

99 Thanks to the patrons and chefs of the Border Grill Truck: Dino, Vanessa, Anthony and Mary Sue.

Click here to embed or view video on youtube.
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