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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

How to Make Vinaigrette

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Pimp Your Burger

Pimp Your Burger

Mix-ins, not toppings, turn ground beef into the best burgers. READ MORE

Graveyard Picnic

Graveyard Picnic

Traditional Day of the Dead treats from Mexico. READ MORE

The Mouse, the Man, and the Sandwich

This month’s edition of Cook’s Country reverse-engineers and scales up the Monte Cristo sandwich, an old-school Disneyland favorite.

As someone whose only vivid memory of going to Disneyland as a wee kid was loving the bread bowl clam chowder at the Pirates of the Caribbean restaurant (You can eat the bowl! Holy crap! This entrée is seditiously awesome!), this struck a sympathetic chord. And in the fine tradition of Cook’s Illustrated, the deconstruction of the Monte Cristo is both painstaking and crystal clear, resulting in a recipe that practically begs the home chef to implement it immediately.

Moreover, Cook’s Country took the time to identify the Monte Cristo’s Achilles heel—for a sandwich, the damn thing takes a long time to make. The CC version is scaled up so as to allow chefs to crank out six at a crack.

The magic of the Monte Cristo is that it’s a unique marriage of the classic grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich and, well, French toast. With ingredients that include powdered sugar, Gruyère cheese, raspberry jam, and cayenne pepper, it sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen, but it’s maintained 40 years of popularity at the theme park’s Blue Bayou restaurant.

Then again, there’s no accounting for American taste …

Cocoa Bar: Luxe Chocolate Under Wraps in Hell’s Kitchen

Behind the unpromising facade of a Tasti D-Lite outlet in Hell’s Kitchen, there lurks a classy chocolate salon called Cocoa Bar, reports Peter Cuce. Hot chocolate, made from the good stuff like MarieBelle and Schokinag, can be stellar, depending on who’s behind the counter. Also available: espresso drinks from Lavazza coffee, teas and tisanes, and fancy candies (Blanxart from Spain, Dolfin and Cote D’Or from Belgium). Nice comfortable chairs and couches, too.

The Cocoa Bar [Clinton]
630 9th Ave., between W. 44th and 45th Sts., inside Tasti D-Lite, Manhattan
212-265-4977
Map

Board Links
Naked City Cafe? Any other Starbucks alternatives in Hell’s Kitchen

Salvadoran Plantain Empanadas

We usually think of empanadas as pastry shells filled with good things, like beans or sardines. Salvadoran plantain and sweet milk empanadas–sometimes called empanaditas–are a whole other beast, as katya will testify. Instead of pastry, the outside layer is composed of caramelized plantains. Inside is molten sweet milk. It’s a tasty dish, and the version at Sabor Salvadoreno is very, very good. A pupusa and a plantain empanada will run you $3.75.

Sabor Salvadoreno [South Bay]
2045 White Oak Lane, at Poinciana Dr., Santa Clara
408-985-6464
Locater

Board Links
Santa Clara’s Sabor Salvadoreno: I’m a Fan-tain of the Plantains

Southern Fried Quail at Boulevard

Southern fried quail at Boulevard is an exceptional experience, says DCarbonaro. Juicy little quail are the perfect size for southern frying–the meat cooks through before the skin is burnt. The coating is crunchy and substantial, and the flesh is juicy and tender. Buttery mashed potatoes and biscuits with haunting, buttery honey sauce are served on the side. At $15, it’s the least expensive entree on the lunch menu.

Boulevard [Embarcadero]
1 Mission St., San Francisco
415-543-6084
Locater

Board Links
Southern-fried Quail at Boulevard—-Amazing

At Yvonne’s in Pelham, Pig’s Feet with Soul

Pig’s feet at Yvonne’s are messy, bony, and thoroughly glorious, says Pat Hammond. Collards and black-eyed peas are smart picks among the sides.

There are misses as well as hits on the menu at this popular Southern spot in Pelham. Cornbread is too sweet and fried chicken is just OK, according to Pat. For a broad survey of the menu, check out the Tuesday and Thursday buffet spread, which they lay out starting around 6 p.m.–and get there early while the chow is fresh.

Yvonne’s Southern Cuisine [Westchester County]
503 5th Ave., near 6th St., Pelham, NY
914-738-2005
Locater

Board Links
Pigs feet in Pelham

Chowing Highland Park

Highland Park is full of great places to eat (mostly Mexican), with a few sit-downs and a few takeout-only joints. Most are cash-only.

La Fuente is the best restaurant in the ‘hood, say a couple of hounds, with a mean shrimp burrito in a small but comfy atmosphere.

The newly renovated My Taco has great lamb tacos and goat, says Maria C, who likes everything she’s tried there.

Villas Durango has great breakfast deals, and for goodness’ sakes, get the poc chuc, says mancina. Cochinita pibil is really good too, and they now take credit cards.

The ceviche at Mariscos Sinaloa is the best in town, says slowrider, but the shrimp cocktail sucks.

Hounds are loving El Metate these days for Michoacan-style enchiladas, rubenadas (a kind of sandwich with tortillas) and burritos.

Get top-notch huaraches at El Huarache Azteca.

Chico’s has great chile rellenos and even greater red pozole, says Maria C.

Follow your nose to the outlaw taco cart on the south side of York, a block or two west of Figueroa, where they do killer al pastor. They’re usually there after 6:30 pm.

The El Pique taco truck also has great pastor and asada.

Tacos Sinaloa, another truck, has thoroughly addicting carnitas in oversized tacos. Get the vampiro or charreada, says oro3030–you’re not likely to see them anywhere else.

A couple of Salvadoran places are the places to go for handmade pupusas. Try El Buen Gusto or La Arca de Noe.

As for the recently renovated El Arco Iris, *Chris O * says it’s now much more crowded and noisy, with much less friendly service. It feels more like a sports bar than a friendly restaurant.

La Fuente Restaurant [Highland Park]
5530 Monte Vista St., Los Angeles
323-258-6109
Locater

My Taco [Highland Park]
6300 York Blvd. # 4, at Figueroa, Los Angeles
323-256-2698
Locater

Villas Durango Restaurant [Highland Park]
5672 York Blvd., Los Angeles
323-255-1491
Locater

Mariscos Sinaloa [Highland Park]
5633 York Blvd., Los Angeles
323-258-6823
Map

El Metate [Highland Park]
5305 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles
323-478-8383
Map

El Huarache Azteca [Highland Park]
5225 York Blvd., Los Angeles
323-478-9572
Locater

Chico’s [Highland Park]
100 N. Avenue 50, Figueroa, Los Angeles
323-254-2445
Locater

Outlaw taco truck [Highland Park]
(formerly at Figueroa/Meridien)
South side of York, a block or two west of Figueroa, Los Angeles
Map

El Pique taco truck [Highland Park]
at the carwash on the corner of 53 and York
5305 York Blvd., Los Angeles
Map

Tacos Sinaloa taco truck [Highland Park]
(formerly at Figueroa/59th)
Avenue 53 or 54 and Monte Vista, Los Angeles
Map

El Buen Gusto #3 [Highland Park]
4306 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles
323-225-1805
Locater

Restaurant Y Pupuseria La Arca [Highland Park]
5570 N. Figueroa St., at Avenue 54, Los Angeles
323-340-8528
Locater

El Arco Iris [Highland Park]
5684 York Blvd., at Avenue 57, Los Angeles
323-254-3401
Locater

Board Links
Highland Park–Mexican

Tofu Treats

You think you know tofu? You think you know soy milk? Not until you’ve had the super-fresh stuff like at Vinh Loi.

Fried tofu with lemongrass and chile has fantastic flavor, says westsidegal, and the tofu is fried just right with just a thin layer of crispiness. The salad is a vegetarian’s dream–herbs, greens, cucumbers, bean sprouts, veggie chicken and veggie beef slices. Usually it comes with a coconut dressing, but even with a substitution, it’s sublime.

Pandan soy milk is delicious, and so is plain–which makes a knockout ice-blended mocha.

Vinh Loi Tofu [East San Fernando Valley]
18625 Sherman Way #101, Reseda
818-996-9779
Locater

Board Links
vinh loi tofu—vietnamese restaurant and tofu factory