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

Standout Taco Trucks

The cemitas (a kind of Mexican sandwich) at a certain truck that parks in front of a Smart & Final in West LA one-up the rest, being made with Mexican-style cream cheese instead of panela, says Dommy. (She probably means Angelica Cemitas Poblana.) The sturdier panela goes better with tortas, a heftier kind of sandwich. Cemitas can have a variety of fillings–milanesa (thin, breaded and pan-fried beef) is popular, and this truck does carnitas and milanesa de pollo really well.

The mariscos truck on Figueroa (the blue one, not the white) is more like a gourmet seafood restaurant on wheels, says socal–only super-fresh shrimp, scallops; and fish. The tostada mixta features all of those, piled on a hard tortilla with avocado, lemon and hot sauce. It’s friggin’ great.

The best taco trucks aren’t trucks at all, Dommy points out–they’re taco tables. These more stationary setups usually feature something that looks like a hubcap, which actually gives the ingredients out-of-this-world flavor. As meats cook on the raised middle part, onions, jalapenos, and other meats cook in the juices that collect in the sunken center. Check out the one on Vermont, near Venice.

Angelica Cemitas Poblana [Culver City-ish]
Venice Blvd west of Clarington, Los Angeles

Blue Mexican seafood truck [Highland Park]
North Figueroa Blvd & Avenue 49, Los Angeles

Taco stall [Koreatown]
Vermont and Venice, Los Angeles
(in the driveway of a business on the west side of Vermont, south of Venice.)

Board Links: Best Roach Coach in L.A.?

Awesome Small Plates on Third

Tasca, a new joint in a small space on Third Street, specializes in real-deal Spanish-style tapas. They don’t have their wine license yet, so in the meantime, there’s zero corkage. And the food? While none of it is risk-taking, almost everything is well-balanced and delicious, says PoetKitty. This chef’s got talent.


Heirloom tomato gazpacho–topped with crab and avocado, it’s incredibly delish, with a refreshing citrusy twang.

Braised short ribs with butternut squash ravioli–these boneless meaty morsels dissolve in your mouth, and the ravioli is just decadent.

White asparagus gratin–with mild cheese and a drizzle of balsamic, it’s a must for white asparagus lovers.

Arancini with fontina in tomato sauce–fluffy and comforting, they’re a little taste of Sicily.

The interior is warm and cozy, lit by candles. It’s woefully understaffed, though. The average tapa costs about $11, but it takes quite a few to fill up (remember, tapas aren’t meant to be dinner!).

Tasca [Fairfax Village]
8108 Third St., Crescent Heights, Los Angeles

Board Links: Tasca–PK’s Review

Heat These Meats for a Treat

Summer, with its weekends of barbecues and picnics, turn a chowhound’s fancy to sausages, and two artisan producers are currently garnering raves.

Fatted Calf makes a mean mortadella–pork sausage with lard, spices, and pistachios. Sliced and grilled, it achieves a loose, creamy, and soft texture when hot, says Melanie Wong. Heating does similar wonders for their pork rillettes (which can be underspiced and overly creamy eaten unheated). Fatted Calf sells at the Berkeley and San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers’ markets.

Fra’Mani is the new sausage/salami company started by Paul Bertolli, ex-head chef of Oliveto. The factory is located in Berkeley with a retail storefront due to open soon. For now, products are available at gourmet groceries around the Bay. Fans of Fatted Calf should definitely check them out, says Morton the Mousse. They do Italian sausages in two varieties: Classic and Spicy. Both taste strongly of fennel (and could be juicier, says Alexandra Eisler), and come in a 12-oz package (3 links connected with twine and garnished with a bay leaf) for around $6-8. They’ve been spotted at Colusa Market, the Pasta Shop, Golden Produce, and elsewhere around the Bay.

Fatted Calf
Orders only, no retail: 510-301-9279

Orders only, no retail: 510-526-7000

Berkeley Farmers’ Market [East Bay]
Center St. and Martin Luther King, Berkeley

San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market [Embarcadero]
The Ferry Building
Foot of Market Street on the Embarcadero, San Francisco

Colusa Market [East Bay]
406 Colusa Ave., Kensington

Pasta Shop [Rockridge]
Market Hall
5655 College Ave., Oakland

Pasta Shop [East Bay]
1786 4th St., Berkeley

Golden Produce [Noe Valley]
172 Church St., San Francisco

Board Links: Fra’Mani at Colusa Market (Kensington)
fra’mani is SF?
Mortadella from Fatted Calf

Summer Thai Sweetness: Sticky Rice and Mango

Where to find Thai sticky rice with mango approaching the gold standard of Las Vegas’s legendary Lotus of Siam? The Berkeley Thai Temple offers both white and purple sticky rice, and the texture of the purple rice is especially good, says LJR. In fact, make it a whole Thai dessert party–the temple’s kanom krok (sweet coconut pancakes with green onion) are even better.

Champa Garden offers sticky rice with coconut ice cream. Their rice is sweeter than usual (and the usual is pretty damn sweet), but the portion is generous, says jiongliu.

In the city, Jitlada Thai uses black sticky rice with mango and offers coconut ice cream on the side–delightful and divine, determines Cynsa.

Down the Bay, Krung Thai tops their sticky rice with sprinkles of crispy rice, just like Lotus of Siam does.

Many places only offer sticky rice when mangoes are in season. The time is now!

Thai Buddhist Temple Mongkolratanaram [East Bay]
1911 Russell St., Berkeley

Champa Garden [Lake Meritt]
2102 8th Ave., Oakland

Jitlada Thai Cuisine [Japantown]
1826 Buchanan St., San Francisco

Krung Thai [South Bay]
640 S. Winchester Blvd., San Jose

Krung Thai [South Bay]
580 N. Winchester Blvd., San Jose

Krung Thai [Peninsula]
194 Castro St., Mountain View

Board Links: Best sticky rice and mango

Groceries and Kebabs

Super King is like a nicer and cleaner Jons, with nine kinds of feta (including Italian and Hungarian), a zillion salamis and bolognas, ropes of cheese, and an impressive butcher department, says Briggs. And in addition to doing your grocery shopping, you can also get terrific chicken and beef lule kebabs.

Super King Market [Eagle Rock]
2716 San Fernando Rd., Edward, Los Angeles

Super King Market [South OC]
10500 Magnolia Ave., Cerritos, Anaheim

Board Links: Super King–Northeast LA’s Zabar?

Pizza Tailored to Taste

Fratelli’s is an old-school Italian place with old-school pleasures–Stella Artois and Sierra Nevada beer on tap, a nice garlicky spit-roasted chicken, and a highly satisfactory pizza, says Donny Mac. You can customize the toppings, crust, and even the sauce. Arrabiata sauce, for example, is excellent, spicy and garlicky. Extra-thin crust has nice flavor and texture, although it could be a bit crispier. Individual-sized pizzas tend to have thicker/puffier crusts, and the regular sauce is pretty bland.

Fratelli’s Pizza & Deli [East San Fernando Valley]
2064 Verdugo Blvd. #B, Park Place, Montrose

Board Links: Brief Review: Fratelli’s–Good Pizza in Montrose/Glendale/LCF

You Want Fries with That? Ja, Oui, You Bet!

Loreley, the Lower East Side biergarten, makes near-faultless fries–crisp, super-thin, and seemingly greaseless, sighs pkallan. “Heavenly with some good German beer.”

Belgian mini-chain Petite Abeille also comes through with excellent fries, topped by a sprinkling of coarse sea salt.

Other favorites: Florent, Balthazar, or the downtown Les Halles for top-notch frites, J.G. Melon for cottage fries, and Pommes Frites for Belgian-style fries with a boggling choice of sauces (Vietnamese pineapple mayo, anyone?).

Loreley Restaurant and Biergarten [Lower East Side]
7 Rivington St., between Bowery and Chrystie, Manhattan

Petite Abeille [Stuyvesant Town]
401 E. 20th St., at 1st Ave., Manhattan

Petite Abeille [Chelsea]
107 W. 18th St., at 6th Ave., Manhattan

Petite Abeille [Tribeca]
466 Hudson St., between Barrow and Grove, Manhattan

Petite Abeille [Tribeca]
134 W. Broadway, between Thomas and Duane Sts, Manhattan

Florent [West Village]
69 Gansevoort St., between Washington and Greenwich, Manhattan

Balthazar [Soho]
80 Spring St., at Crosby St., Manhattan

Les Halles [Financial District]
15 John St., between Broadway and Nassau St., Manhattan

J.G. Melon [Upper East Side]
1291 3rd Ave., at E 74th St., Manhattan

Pommes Frites [East Village]
123 2nd Ave., between E. 7th and 8th Sts, Manhattan

Board Links: Best French Fries currently?

Best of the West: Beef Tri-Tip at Trader Joe’s

Down at the bottom end of the sirloin is a smallish cut of beef called tri-tip, a.k.a. triangle or culotte. Cheap, lean, yet tender and flavorful, it’s revered by barbecue hounds out West. But in the East, it’s mostly overlooked–or just thoughtlessly ground up into hamburger. “Out here, I’ve never been able to find it. Ask a butcher and he’ll just look at you funny,” complains adamclyde.

So it falls to a West Coast grocery chain to spread the tri-tip gospel among East Coast meat lovers. adamclyde found it vacuum-packed at Trader Joe’s in Darien, CT, and TJ’s current newsletter suggests that other locations are likely to carry it as well. It was around $6 a pound, he adds, which is “just incredibly worth it. When grilled to medium rare, it truly is wonderful. Superb. Lovely. Splendid.” TJ’s tri-tip comes with or without “Santa Maria-style” marinade–adamclyde prefers to go without. As a lean cut, however, tri-tip takes well to marination, which you can easily do at home; Asian and Southwestern flavors work nicely.

In addition to Connecticut, Trader Joe’s has colonized Westchester, Long Island, New Jersey, and (most recently) Manhattan’s Union Square.

Trader Joe’s [Fairfield County]
436 Boston Post Rd., at Old Kings Hwy., Darien, CT

Board Links: Tri Tip in the NY Metro area: Trader Joe’s

Apriums and Pluots

Apriums and pluots are the Labradoodles and Cockapoos of the stone fruit world: they are, in other words, culinary crossbreeds.

They’re both plum/apricot hybrids. Apriums are more like apricots than plums; pluots are more like plums than apricots.

Pinstripeprincess says that if the fruit looks more like a plum on the outside with a deeper purple skin, it will taste more like an apricot inside! The reverse is also true: lighter colored skin means more plummy flavor.

Read about Floyd Zaiger, the “father” of apriums and pluots.

Board Links: Aprium vs Pluot

Duck, Duck … Soup!

Phoo D shares his recipe for a delicious duck soup making use of every last scrap of leftovers from a Chinese roast duck. It serves 4 to 8 as a first course.

Leftovers from 1 Chinese roast duck (skin, juice, meat, and bones)
Pinch of salt
Star anise
1” length of peeled ginger root, cut into thin matchsticks
3-5 mushrooms, sliced
2 bunches green onions. sliced
1/2-3/4 package of firm tofu, diced
6-10 leaves napa cabbage, sliced
White pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro leaves

Stock Preparation:

Place leftover duck meat, skin, fat, juice, and bones (making sure all large bones are cut) in a pan and cover with water. Add pinch of salt and several whole star anise. Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 2 hours (3 or 4 hours is even better). Add extra water as needed to keep scraps covered.

After letting the mixture cool slightly, strain to separate liquid from solids. After liquid has cooled some, store covered in the refrigerator.

Soup Making (about 30-45 minutes):

Scrape fat off of stock. Heat stock and add mushrooms, ginger, and the white parts of the green onions. After 20-25 minutes, taste stock and add white pepper to taste; then add napa cabbage. After a few more minutes, add some of the green parts of the green onion. When cabbage is tender, add tofu, cut into pieces, and return to a boil. At this point, the soup is ready. Serve with chopped cilantro as a garnish.

Board Links: Duck Soup Easy