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

Mexican Finds

Chulada is a little gem, reports Sandra W. after a lunch there. Carnitas are perfectly cooked, and chicken mole stars moist breast meat. It’s all cooked fresh, so there’s a wait after you order. Corn tortillas, also fresh, are fab.

hermit has gotten hooked on El Sauz, where the carne asada burrito is now a favorite.

Original Chulada Grill [Midtown]
5607 San Vicente Blvd, Hauser, Los Angeles

El Sauz Taco [East San Fernando Valley]
4432 San Fernando Rd., Glendale

Board Links: El Sauz
Chulada Grill–Miracle Mile area

Good Oaxacan Beyond Guelaguetza

Guelaguetza overshadows the scene of Oaxacan restaurants, but there are a ton of smaller Oaxacan restaurants out there–some even better.

After a meal at the oft-recommended El Fortin (including OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano, who says Guelaguetza is nowhere near as good), adamclyde says he only regrets that he didn’t have a big enough stomach to try everything.

Mole negro is awesome: thick, complex and flavorful. Mole coloradito: great rich sauce with just the right level of piquancy. The version with pork is beautifully minimalist, three large chunks of tender pork in mole with white rice on the side. Quesadilla is really good, and huge, filled with Oaxacan cheese. The botana, a mixed plate, is nothing fancy but includes tasajo (a kind of beef jerky) with a deep smoky flavor. The only thing that falls a teensy bit short is the tamal oaxaqueno, whose masa is crumbly rather than creamy, but still has great flavor (mole negro). No liquor license.

Antequera de Oaxaca is a little family-run place with all the usual moles, cecina, and Oaxacan specialties, but the real prize, says sku, are the botana plates including appetizers such as memelas, cheese, chicharron, chorizo, and guacamole. They also have some interesting beverages, like squash-pumpkin seed, and a good hot chocolate. No liquor license.

Juquila is a great choice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, says estnyboer. The mole negro is particularly tasty, and the coloradito is also darned good.

El Sazon Oaxaqueno is a board favorite. So is the epic taco truck La Oaxaquena, where Dommy loves the memelas much more than Guelaguetza’s. Still, she gives Guela points for their delicious horchata.

Guelaguetza [Koreatown]
3337 1/2 W. 8th St., Irolo, Los Angeles

Guelaguetza Restaurant [Koreatown]
3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Normandie, Los Angeles

Guelaguetza Palms Restaurant [Culver City-ish]
11127 Palms Blvd, Sepulveda, Los Angeles

El Fortin [North OC]
700 E Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton

El Fortin 2 [North OC]
10444 Dale Ave., Stanton

El Fortin 3 [Inland of LA]
5368 Riverside Dr., Chino

Antequera de Oaxaca [Hollywood]
5200 Melrose Ave, Wilton, Los Angeles

Juquila Restaurant [West LA-ish]
11619 Santa Monica Blvd, between Federal and Barry, Los Angeles

El Sazon Oaxacqueno [Beaches]
12131 Washington Place, Los Angeles

La Oaxaquena Taco Truck [Beaches]
on Lincoln Blvd at Flower, south of Rose, Venice

Board Links: ISO Good Oaxacan besides Guelaguetza and Monte Alban
El Fortin in Fullerton (oaxacan)

Shanghai Style Banquet at Claypot

Claypot can put together a great banquet if you balance your order well. Most dishes are hits, especially soups and cold dishes.

Shredded tofu and cilantro is among the best dishes; it has just a hint of heat in the tofu dressing that really brightens the dish, says vliang. Five-spice crispy duck is both savory and aromatic. Shredded fish and spinach soup has a subtle flavoring and very soft fish meat. It nails just the right proportion of spinachy flavor–enough to please Popeye but not so much to turn off spinaphobes, says Eugene Park. Nice hit of white pepper in the soup, too. Lion’s Head meatballs are dense, coarsely chopped, and flavored with lots of ginger and light on the five spice/anise.

Other dishes, like sauteed eel, braised pork, and drunken chicken, are a disappointment because sauces are too similar and quite sweet. Order them separately, and only get one per meal. Skip Squirrel Mandarin fish–the head has too little meat, and the fried preparation would work better with black sea bass.

All in all, you can get very good food with unhurried service. A recent meal of around ten pre-ordered dishes cost $25/person including tax and tip.

Clay Pot Seafood House [East Bay]
809 San Pablo Ave., Albany

Board Links: Claypot in Albany Chowdown

Around India, Around The Bay

Had enough CTA (chicken tikka masala)? Bored with dosas? Done with the Pakwan/Shalimar/Naan’n’Curry standards? Then it’s time to branch out and try other Indian regional offerings!

Fijian-Indian: To some, Fijian-Indian can be full of bones with little meat and thin gravies, and few of flavors we’d expect from Indian cuisine, says Sixy. But Curry Corner could change your mind. It’s the first Indian food rworange really liked: strong flavors, freshly ground spices, and critters still in the shell or on the bone, just as God or the evolutionary impulse intended.

Desi-Chinese: Masala Grill has a good selection of Indian (a.k.a. “Desi) -Chinese food. They’ve received mixed reviews in the past, but from the high quality of non-Desi dishes she’s recently had there, Caitlin McGrath thinks it could be a good bet for Desi-Chinese items, as well.

Gujarati: Gujarati food is known for fried snacks called farsans, and chutneys that are both sweet and salty. Sultan will prepare a Gujarati meal if pre-ordered; their Gujarati dishes are not on the regular menu. Shayona and Krishna also have Gujarati food, but more snacks than full meals; Krishna also has a thali at lunch that’s very good and inexpensive.

Andhra: For red-hot Andhra thalis, try Tirupathi Bhimas. Quality, variety are both terrific, and they do beautiful, brilliantly fresh vegetarian curries, raves Melanie Wong.

Curry Corner Takeaway [East Bay]
26657 Mission Blvd., Hayward

Sultan [Tenderloin]
339 Taylor St., San Francisco

Masala Grill [East Bay]
39158 Paseo Padre Pkwy, in Gateway Plaza shopping Center, Fremont

Shayona Snacks and Catering [South Bay]
in Bochasanwasi Swaminarayan Hindu Temple
25 Corning Ave., Milpitas

Krishna Restaurant [East Bay]
40645 Fremont Blvd #1, Fremont

Tirupathi Bhimas [South Bay]
1208 S Abel St., Milpitas

Board Links:
Curry Corner Revisited – Mom’s cooking & Tales of Indo-Fijian Food

Bob’s Red Mill

Bob’s Red Mill carries all kinds of high-quality provisions: flours (some gluten-free), grains, beans, seeds, oats, nuts, and other baking needs. Lots of raves from the hounds for these guys.

Their hot cereal mixes can be used in in breadmaking, and taste perfectly good microwaved with just added water. Bob’s steel cut oats are terrific and cheaper than McCanns. Their coarse-ground cornmeal makes a fine pot of grits or polenta.

It’s best to buy these sorts of products from stores with good turnover, or else order online.

Board Links: Bob’s Red Mill: any good??

Wild and Farmed Salmon

There’s no question that wild salmon tastes better and contains fewer contaminants (industrial chemicals) than farmed. “Consumer Reports” magazine recently produced an article revealing that it’s difficult to know which you’re buying, regardless of labeling. And you can’t tell by the color, because the farmed fish are fed food that gives them a “real” salmon color.

Mislabeling is said to be most common during the off season for wild fish. So buy wild salmon during the season (May through September), when their labeling is most likely to be accurate.

Board Links: Consumer Reports on wild salmon [Moved from Home Cooking]

No-Cook Pasta Sauce

Summer is the time for hot pasta with an uncooked, room-temperature sauce made from excellent tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. It’s not the sort of thing you need a formal recipe for; ingredients and ratios depend on personal taste. Here are some pointers.

The basic drill is: chop tomatoes, mix with olive oil, chopped fresh basil, mint, or parsley, season with salt and pepper and a bit of chopped garlic (or a bruised garlic clove or two–remove before serving). Let sit at room temperature for a half hour or so to let flavors meld. Cook pasta in well-salted water, drain (do not rinse!), combine with sauce, and toss well. Add cheese (most common: Parmesan or Pecorino Romano). Toss again, and check seasoning. It’s best served on warm (not hot) plates.

Other ingredients chowhounds like to add for variation: kalamata olives, capers, arugula, scallions, fresh fennel, toasted pine nuts, fresh mozzarella, brie, goat or feta cheese. Softer cheeses melt into the hot pasta, making for a luxurious texture.

Board Links: HOT PASTA with COLD SAUCE

Cooking Less Bilious Beans

Here are some tricks for cooking beans that hounds say will minimize unpleasant intestinal effects.

Put beans in rapidly boiling water and let them boil for two minutes; take off heat and let them sit for an hour. Discard the water and continue cooking with fresh water (rworange).

Add a tablespoon of baking powder to your pot of beans and water; bring to a boil; rinse, cover with fresh water and simmer (*Candy).

Add a strip of kombu (a thick seaweed sold at Japanese markets) to the cooking liquid (it leaves no discernible flavor).

Add a tiny pinch of the Indian spice asafoetida (“heeng” in Hindi), a pungent tree resin in powdered form (careful–a little goes a long way!). It aids in digestion.

Board Links: How to “de-gas” beans?

A Trio of Tantalizing Tiramisus

Tuscan trattoria Col Legno closes the deal with superior tiramisu, says Pan. Unlike lesser versions, it boasts deftly balanced flavors–not too much espresso, not too much sugar, cocoa, or rum, etc.

Others recommend the tiramisus at Da Umberto and Trattoria Trecolori, which is temporarily closed while it moves to new digs in the Theater District.

Col Legno [East Village]
231 E. 9th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves, Manhattan

Da Umberto [Chelsea]
107 W. 17th St., between 6th and 7th Aves, Manhattan

Trattoria Trecolori [Theater District]
to open at … 254 W. 47th St., between Broadway and 8th Ave., Manhattan

Board Links: Best tiramisu in Manhattan

Burmese Home Cooking, for a Day, in Queens

Good Burmese food is hard to come by in New York, so chowhounds always look forward to the home cooking at the summer fair put on by a Burmese church in Queens. This year’s is August 12. (Read about last year’s fair.) “It’s a great time, and the food is equal to or better than anything I’ve had in Burma,” says el jefe.

Typically there are up to 10 tented booths, each with “a mom or grandmother busy making interesting food,” says MORE KASHA. Few booths, if any, have English signage, though the vendors are unfailingly friendly and helpful in answering questions. They may hold back on spicing for non-Burmese customers, so don’t be afraid to ask for more chiles, lime, and other seasonings. Pay for your food with tickets bought at a table near the entrance. Some things to look for based on last year’s lineup:

- Noodles are likely to appear in various forms. One winner is fish noodle soup–a substantial, intense yellow broth studded with fish cake and thick white noodles.

- Oily, flaky, hearty Burmese-style parathas, filled with mashed yellow beans, fried fresh to order and topped with fried onions.

- Fish salad, also made fresh to order, seasoned with spices and lime.

- Potato samosas, bean fritters, and other fried items, which you can doctor with hot sauce.

- For dessert: colorful, refreshing shaved ice topped with peanuts, dried fruits, and coconut milk. Also, faluda: a hot-pink, berry-flavored cold soup with agar, tapioca balls, vanilla ice cream, and bits of custard. “Surprising and addictive!” marvels Spoony Bard.

- And to take home, an intensely flavored, spicy-nutty condiment–in fish or pork flavors–that goes great with rice.

The event runs from noon to 6, but you don’t want to get there too late. Last year some highly praised bites–including chicken and yellow rice brought from a Burmese church in Boston–sold out early.

Myanmar Baptist Church Fun Fair [Briarwood]
Saturday, August 12, noon to 6 p.m.
143-55 84th Dr., between 143rd and Smedley Sts, Briarwood, Queens

Board Links
Burmese Food Fair–Agust 12