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

Tacos Behind the Orange Curtain

Although there aren’t many great taco places in Orange County, El Granjenal makes a damn good grilled fish taco, says Professor Salt. And hey, it’s Gustavo Arellano’s favorite. Don’t forget the salsa verde, and maybe a licuado.

For meats, El Toro Bravo is his go-to hole-in-the-wall tortilleria-taqueria. Their associated carneceria is across the street “The chile rojo kicks ass, as does the oniony carne asada, carnitas and pollo rostizado. The chicharron here are cubes of crunchy, crispy skin-on pork belly fried to a dark Crayola Brown. A combo plate of these is your ticket to a triple bypass, yet you’ll still be licking your chops in the ambulance on the way to the ER. Totally worth it when you’re in the mood for a really rich pork fat indulgence.” The house-made salsa roja and salsa fresca are awesome, but the straight-from-a-can salsa verde isn’t worth your time.

For fish tacos, SouthOCHound hears the ones at Los Cotijas are hard to beat.

Taqueria El Granjenal [South OC]
899 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa

Taqueria El Granjenal [South OC]
140 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana

El Toro Bravo [South OC]
745 W. 19th St. #G, Costa Mesa

Los Cotijas Taco Shop [South OC]
642 E. 1st St., Tustin

Los Cotijas Taco Shop [Little Saigon]
11951 Euclid St., Garden Grove

Board Links
ISO of Tacos in the OC

Taco Run

The find of the week for The Oracle is El Super, the kind of place you might drive past for years without ever stopping in. The chicken is juicy and delicious, the asada solid, and the menu has plenty of tempting items from quesadillas to enchiladas to posole. One chicken and one asada taco comes to $2.60.

A South Pas favorite is La Estrella, especially for the fish. Shrimp for tacos are very lightly fried–they’re perfect. Ceviche is good too, but al pastor and carnitas are nothing to write home about. There’s also a no-name market (or more probably, a no-one-remembers-the-name-market) nearby that mr mouther says is better than anything else around. Pastor is especially good, and so are their prices–about $1 a taco.

El Parian is practically synonymous with “carne asada,” and it’s definitely good stuff, says The Oracle. But you’ll need a roll of paper towels–it’s that juicy. Birria taco, on the other hand, is much too oily and flavorless. On top of that, the tortillas and the chips had both seen better days. Tacos here are $2.25 each.

*WBGuy * recommends El Taco Llama for a more satisfying birria taco.

El Super Burrito [Pasadena-ish]
3631 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

La Estrella [Pasadena-ish]
502 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

La Bodeguita Mini Market [Pasadena-ish]
1135 N. Summit Ave., at Hammond, Pasadena

El Parian Restaurant [Downtown]
1528 W. Pico Blvd., at Union, Los Angeles
Amazon Locater

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
10501 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
12101 Saticoy St., North Hollywood

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
7344 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
8111 Van Nuys Blvd. # 109, Van Nuys

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
15708 Vanowen St., Van Nuys

El Taco Llama [West San Fernando Valley]
8709 Corbin Ave., Northridge

El Taco Llama [West San Fernando Valley]
7559 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park

El Taco Llama [Santa Clarita]
24374 San Fernando Rd., Santa Clarita

Board Links
Last week’s taco report —el parian (los angeles), el super burrito (pasadena), and a random taco truck (pasadena–fair oaks/california)

Potato Salad as Main Dish

It’s easy to take potato salad to main dish territory–just add some protein and complementary flavors. bigmackdaddy seasons potato salad with dill, then adds chunks of ham and special magic beer shrimp. (To make these magic beer shrimp, soak shrimp in beer for an hour, then fry in olive oil and salt.)

Terrie H. likes to combine potato salad and sausage with a mustardy vinaigrette. Try adding grilled, sliced kielbasa; or, simmer slices of sausage in white wine and a pinch of sugar until glazed, and add.

You can combine potato salad with pretty much any leftover meat or poultry. Make a salad of potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and leftover meats, dressed with vinaigrette.

Hard-boiled eggs and toasted cashews are great in a vegetarian potato salad.

Board Links
Potato Salad as entree? Ideas?

Secret Ingredient: Pickle Juice

The juice from the pickle jar is a secret ingredient in many chowhounds’ pantries. Here are some favorite uses:

A little kosher dill pickle juice is great in potato salad. Pickle juice also enhances tuna salad and deviled eggs.

Adding pickle juice to braised short ribs or pot roast gives a nice deep taste to the gravy.

Pickle juice is great for marinating carrot sticks and sliced cucumbers. You can also use it to pickle sliced onions. Leave them in for a few days, then toss them on some burgers.

pdxGK even recommends a recipe for dill pickle soup!

Board Links
Do You Re-Use Pickle Juice or the Liquid from Canned Veg.?

Flour Matters

Will Owens finds that Gold Medal and other generic supermarket flour brands seem gritty; that’s because they’re made from hard wheat. The generic stuff is fine as a thickening agent, or for dusting, but mediocre for serious baking.

For baked goods that require strong gluten content–like bread and some pastas–the hands-down favorite is King Arthur unbleached all purpose flour. It has the highest level of gluten protein of any name brand, says Nancy Berry. You can get it online, at Costco, and in some supermarkets. Here’s a list of stores that carry it.

When you want light and tender biscuits, cakes, and pie crusts, a lower gluten content is desirable, advises Nancy Berry. She recommends White Lily all purpose flour. The difference in your biscuits will be amazing. Be careful not to pick up their self-rising flour by mistake! The sacks look almost identical. It’s not available everywhere, but you can order by phone or online.

Most of the time, bleached flour is not recommended, but Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of “The Cake Bible,” takes different tack. She says, “The reason that it is essential to use bleached flour is that unbleached has particles that are smooth and round and the butter slips right through them and lands in a gummy layer at the bottom, causing the cake to fall in the center while cooling. The bleaching process, however, roughens these flour particles enabling them to hold the butter in even suspension.”

Here’s an article on choosing the best flour for the job.

Board Links
Any notable differences in All-Purpose Flour brands?

Coffee: Highly Beneficial?

This week, at least, they’re saying that coffee is good for us. Coffee, apparently, contains chlorogenic acid, which affects blood glucose levels in a happy way. Chlorogenic acid is equally present in regular and decaf. The NY Times writes that “a typical serving of coffee contains more antioxidants than typical servings of grape juice, blueberries, raspberries and oranges.” This is supposed to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and liver cirrhosis.

There are still plenty of studies about how coffee is bad for you; one such study says that more than two cups decreases blood flow to the heart, especially during exercise at high altitude.

Read more at the NY Times.

Board Links
Coffee–the next health drink

Down-Home Prosciutto

Down-Home Prosciutto

The country ham is our native prosciutto or serrano, though most Southerners wouldn’t dream of throwing an uncooked leg on a deli slicer and shaving some to go with the asparagus. Most Northerners, meanwhile, have never heard of it. READ MORE

The Night Before

Note from CHOW managing editor Davina Baum: Many of you know that Jim Leff is on the road, traveling the country in search of “edible treasure.” Here’s his first post—not quite from the road, but pre-road.

We’ll be building a bigger CHOWTour area shortly, so check back for more action. Take a look at the CHOWTour board and get the discussion going. Now, on to Jim …

I’m sitting in my living room in Queens, New York, gnawing celery sticks and sipping diet soda in anticipation of the gastronomic punishment to come.

Here’s the plan: Armed with a camera, a recorder, a notebook, and endless joie de manger, I will spend two months on the road, following my intuition and putting years of chowhounding experience to the test. My goal is to find edible treasure cooked with heart and soul, prepared by the holdouts, kooks, and geniuses who aim for much more than maximal profit from minimal effort.

As a dedicated chowhound, I have an insatiable desire to soak up experiences outside the slick bubble. I refuse to be distracted by the shiny bauble of hype. Even in this plastic era of pandemic soul-stifling chains, there are still compellingly unique destinations. It’s just a matter of drilling down to find the local gems. I will Photoshop out the Applebee’s and Denny’s from my chowscape.

There’s no cheating allowed. I won’t call local food critics for tips, I’ll carry no guidebooks, and I won’t even scour through the Chowhound message boards (reliable though they are for excavating under-radar deliciousness).

There are risks, of course, in dropping in to strange places and expecting to eat superbly. That’s why the crashes might be the most interesting parts. There may be stretches where I fail to score, perhaps even resorting—in moments of extreme deprivation—to victuals that are merely adequate. But don’t bet against me. You see, I’m on quite a streak. (I’ll podcast about that shortly … keep following along!)

The trip won’t all be pure chowhounding. There are people to meet—I can’t wait to introduce you to my friend Rob, a Navy SEAL commander/wine expert who gushes in floridly poetical terms on food and drink—and there are some specific events and venues I plan to check out. But mostly, I’ll aim to get lost.

Right now, though, I’ve got gear to pack and about two thousand sit-ups to do.

Which One of These Is Fake?

When you buy a bottle of Coca-Cola, you expect it to be bottled at a Coca-Cola distributor and not be a rinsed-out “genuine Coca-Cola bottle” filled with a “cola-like carbonated beverage." READ MORE

There oughta be a law

Jack in the Box has joined the modern fast-food trend of vast, caloric “ultimate burgers,” with the introduction of the Outlaw Burger and Outlaw Spicy Chicken Sandwich line.

Though Jack hasn’t responded yet to a request for nutritional info from watchdog blog Fast Food News, with Outlaw toppings including bacon, onion rings, KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce and two slices of cheese, these calorie bombs look to be junior members of the new devil-may-care burger crowd, which includes Hardee’s 1400-calorie Monster Thickburger and Carl’s Jr.’s Pastrami Burger, which the company touts as “the original meat-as-a-condiment hamburger.”

Okay, so the Outlaw is supposedly so named because of its “Western” flavor, not because of any inherent sinfulness in the combination of so many fatty elements. But does KC Masterpiece (that’s Kansas City, yo) really even evoke Westernness? Tasters for Consumer Reports gave KCM the top ranking in a recent test, and it has long been one of the top-selling sauces in the States. But the geographic inspiration for most commercial barbecue sauces these days is pretty much indistinguishable.

While aficionados know that Texas barbecue is as different from North Carolina ‘cue as a monkey is from a desk lamp (or something)—not to mention all the regional differences within each state, which are subjects of heated debate—the stuff in grocery stores usually contains some combo of tomato puree/paste, molasses/corn syrup, and liquid smoke, the lowest common denominators of backyard grilling. Maybe if J in the B slapped some mesquite flavoring on the Outlaw, the Western theme would be more immediately evident… Any ‘cue-hounds want to weigh in?