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

A Brief Guide to Rolling Street Vendors, and Their Associated Honks

Some of the best food in this town comes right to your door. Poke your head out when you hear the honk of a horn or a tinkling bell, and you might fine homemade tamales, Mexican popsicles, or any number of other oddball delights, sold from a hand-pushed rolling cart. The popsicle vendors typically sell popular brands of Mexican and American treats, but a lot of the other vendors are offering homemade tasties. The less official-looking the vehicle, the more likely the food tastes homemade. Best of all are shopping carts, likely selling what grandma and mom make in the kitchen at their house.

For some reason, people are scared to buy food from a little lady pushing an icebox around. Do not be scared. This is somebody’s home cooking. It does not get more personal than this. Do not think, “terrifyingly unofficial.” Think “beautifully homey and unadulterated.” And they are bringing it to your door!

Offerings vary depending on the season. Winter brings tamales. Right now, there’s corn on the cob. Vendors tend to circulate most in the evenings, and around schools at lunchtime. Check around parks in the afternoon.

rworange offers a guide to the rolling vendors of San Pablo and Richmond. You can try to catch these folks, or else just be inspired by her account to find your own picks.

CART #1: the best street vendor find for potato chips ($1.50) is a guy selling potato chips, corn on the cob, fruit, and raspados. He has a grocery shopping cart with one cooler filled with ice, another filled with fruit, and another with hot ears of corn. There are little bags of chips attached to the sides of the cart. He always announces himself with six brief horn blasts.

Chips are handmade and so thin they’re nearly transparent. The oil and the chip are one. Holding up one chip is like looking through spuddy stained glass. Order them with everything–salt, a dollop of hot sauce, and a squirt of lemon. Or order them plain, to appreciate the pure beauty. Many, many vendors seem to be selling these exact same chips, so there must be a single supplier. Vendors sell them in pint-sized food storage bags.

Also good from this same vendor: pale corn on the cob, $1.50, speared on a stick, brushed with margarine, rolled in powdered cotija cheese, and sprinkled with chili pepper. It’s very good. There’s also mango ($2.50)–a big bag of dead ripe sweet juicy mango, mixed up with chili powder, salt, and a squirt of lime. It’s delicious and smoky, and better than the mango from Fonda. Raspados ($1) are pre-crushed ice doused with bottled syrups in bright colors. The green syrup is as satisfying as a lime popsicle. These are not as good, though, as the raspados from the vendor on the corner of MacDonald and 22nd.

All of the above snacks–corn on the cob, mango with chili powder, and raspados–are very common among Mexican street vendors, and can be found from rolling vendors in any neighborhood with a decent-sized Mexican population.

CART #2: A nice, grandmotherly lady with a folding grocery cart, who uses a braying type of horn. She sells corn on the cob, chicharrones, and mangos. Her corn on the cob is larger, but not as sweet as those from Cart #1. Her chicharrones de harina are awesome–big, crunchy sheets of faux-pork skin, made from flour.

CART #3: The ice cream guys. No matter what they sell, they all have the same silvery bells. Although they all have La Michoacana stamped on their carts, they sell very different varieties of ice cream and paletas (Mexican popsicles). There are lots of paleta brands, though, like American popsicles, they almost all taste the same. Average price for a paleta is $1.25.

karoline sends us to 23rd and Mission, where there’s a little cart that’s sometimes by the Walgreens and sometimes by Factory 2 U. Sometimes it’s next to La Copa Loca. They sell corn on the cob with fixings. Their specialty: chili mayonnaise.

There are many stationary fruit and Mexican corn vendors in Oakland along International, mostly between Fruitvale and 39th. Please note: for almost all these vendors, the only thing visible is the fruit. You have to ask for corn–“elote”–and they’ll produce it from a cooler hidden underneath the fruit. “It’s the street vendor ‘secret menu’: hidden corn,” notes Ruth Lafler.

Raspado Cart [East Bay]
2131 MacDonald Ave., outside La Raza Market, Richmond

Corn on the Cob Cart [Mission]
23rd St., and Mission, San Francisco

Many Vendors [Fruitvale]
International Blvd., mostly between Fruitvale Ave. and 39th St., Oakland

Board Links: The bells of San Pablo – Street Eats a la cart

Golden Era Vegetarian 2 Better Than the Original

Golden Era 2 is now open, and it’s significantly better than the original Tenderloin branch of Golden Era. This is, for those not in the know, a vegetarian Vietnamese place featuring all sorts of fake meats made from soy and suchlike. alohatiki doesn’t think well of the original Golden Era; she vastly prefers their sister restaurant, Golden Lotus. But, much to her surprise, she found Golden Era 2 utterly pleasing. Both veggie chow fun and bun hao noodle soup are excellent.

Golden Era 2 [Richmond]
832 Clement St., between 8th and 9th Aves., San Francisco

Golden Era [Tenderloin]
572 O’Farrell St., San Francisco

Golden Lotus Vegetarian Rest [East Bay]
1301 Franklin St., Oakland

Board Links: Golden Era 2 Vegetarian Sighting —Clement Street

On Benchmark Wine Prices

warrenr offers good advice on figuring out the wine pricing structure of various restaurants: don’t use benchmark wine prices.

To explain: some folks check the prices of three or four very well-known wines and champagnes, to figure out the house’s markup. The problem is that sommeliers anticipate this, and will frequently mark down the price of, say, Veuve Clicquot, just to fool consumers.

And some have variable pricing structures: a lot of places mark up non-vintage champagnes heavily, while offering bargains on prestige cuvees.

The moral: the only way to figure out the markup is the hard way–knowing the retail prices of lots of individual wines.

Board Links: ISO Price Benchmark Wines

Trader Joe’s Chocolate for Baking

Chowhounds generally agree that Trader Joe’s “Pound Plus” (500g) 70% Belgian bittersweet chocolate bars work very well for baking (not to mention nibbling!). And they cost a mere pittance compared to high-end brands. Because this chocolate tends to have a slightly grainy texture when melted, it’s not well suited for preps like ice cream or mousse, which call for a lusciously smooth mouthfeel. But baked into brownies, cakes, or chocolate chunk cookies, you’ll discern no graininess whatsoever, assures adamclyde.

Board Links: Trader Joe’s Chocolate

Manzanilla Sherries

Manzanilla sherries are gossamer-light. Each has a unique character that comes partially from place of origin, and partially from the thick layer of flor yeast that blankets the wine during fermentation, protecting it from oxidization. Fino and amontillado-style sherries have spent time in contact with flor, developing their characteristic aromas, while oloroso styles are not matured under flor at all.

Melanie Wong loves La Gitana brand Manzanilla sherry for its refined nose and its crisp, clean finish. It’s a good example of the Manzanilla fino style–pale, bone dry, and very light.

Spoony Bard likes La Cigarrera even more than La Gitana. Where the latter is all attack, no finish, the former sticks around–blossoming in the mouth from nuttiness to rich lusciousness to a hint of the sea, and back again, with a long finish. La Cigarrera is a Manzanilla pasada–a rarer style between fino and amontillado in age–and it has a powerful aroma and rich texture, and is just slightly sweeter than bone-dry La Gitana.

Melanie’s favorite Manzanilla pasada is Hidalgo Pastrana’s. She also likes the elegant Hidalgo Napolean cream. She once had it in a blind taste test and thought it was either an oversweetened amontillado or a high-grade oloroso. She was stunned to find out that it was a $12 Manzanilla cream sherry, as most cream sherries aren’t well made. It’s definitely at its best when first opened; the bouquet fades in a few days.

She advises to check for the bottling date on the lot when buying sherries (information that you’ll need to get from the importer, or there might be a coded date on the label that you can decipher), as the aroma declines rapidly after bottling.

Check out an article on sherries

Board Links
La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sherry vs. La Gitana–brief notes

Candied Salami

Diane in Bexley has invented a unique sweet-and-sour candied salami appetizer, which she reports has been a great hit with guests. Here, for the daring, are instructions:

1 lb. whole kosher salami, peeled
12 oz. bottle chili sauce (Diane likes Bennett’s)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 T butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Using a sharp knife, make vertical cuts along the entire salami three-quarters of the way through, leaving the bottom quarter intact. Heat all remaining ingredients in glass measuring cup in microwave until melted and hot. Place salami in narrow, shallow baking dish. If there’s a lot of room around the salami, ball up aluminum foil to fill in space (this will keep sauce from burning). Pour sauce over salami. Bake for 45-60 minutes until all sauce is absorbed and salami looks candied. To serve, place on cutting board or serving tray with knives, along with some rye or pumpernickel bread.

Board Links: Your Most Requested Dish Recipe

Think Outside the Bubble: Pearl Tea Discovery at Taco Bell

Not far from the heart of Flushing’s Chinatown, there’s a Taco Bell/Pizza Hut outlet where you can wash down that Crunchwrap Supreme with better-than-you’d-expect tapioca tea drinks. They’re sold toward the back of the shop, from a window wedged in next to the Crown Fried Chicken counter that shares this space.

Run by a veteran of the Taiwanese chain Ten Ren, this stealth boba operation uses high-quality tea, says chrismkwok–who adds that a bubble-head buddy swears by the place. Also on the menu: shakes, smoothies, fruit and vegetable juices, and Taiwan-style shaved ice (with taro, tapioca, gelatin, red beans, and other toppings).

A couple blocks south, Quickly shows just the right touch in sweetening its milk teas, shakes, slushes, and other drinks, says chashaobao. Not surprisingly, this outpost of the Taipei-based chain Kuai Ke Li delivers something close to the authentic Taiwan boba cafe experience.

Just up Main Street, longtime favorite Sago still has its fans, but the bubble may have burst–or at least shriveled. The place apparently changed hands in the past year or so, and eatingpal complains that the tapioca pearls are now smaller and less satisfyingly chewy.

Taco Bell/Pizza Hut [Flushing]
136-15 Roosevelt Ave., between Main and Union Sts., Flushing, Queens

Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng [Flushing]
135-18 Roosevelt Ave., between Prince and Main Sts., Flushing, Queens

Quickly [Flushing]
41-40 Kissena Blvd., between Barclay Ave. and Main St., Flushing, Queens

Sago Tea Cafe [Flushing]
39-02 Main St., at 39th Ave., Flushing, Queens

Board Links: ISO best bubble tea in Flushing

Daphne’s New Digs and Other New York News

Daphne’s Caribbean Express–a neighborly spot for jerk chicken, rice and peas, and other homey Jamaican food–has traded its lived-in, cafeteria-like room for fancy new digs a few doors east. Reportedly hit with a backbreaking rent increase, it moved in with upscale sister restaurant Blue Mahoe and rechristened itself Daphne at the Blue Mahoe. Gone, for now, are Blue Mahoe’s “Caribbean Fusion” dishes (e.g., “Bouillabaisse Caraibe” for $28), replaced by the more down-home chow from Daphne’s. The menu is still being reworked, and some of the pricier entrees may return.

In other news, two hound hangouts have downsized: Korean dumpling specialist Mandoo Bar has closed its Village outlet; a sister location in Koreatown survives. And fish-and-chippery A Salt and Battery has closed its East Village shop; its mate in the West Village remains open.

From the Lower East Side, some positive news: hound-endorsed seafood house Tides has just begun serving Sunday brunch. jonnyk reports perfectly cooked seafood omelettes and lobster Benedict with light, tasty hollandaise. It’s a prix fixe deal–$15 to $18 (prices are still in flux), including two bellinis or mimosas. Besides the egg dishes, the menu includes the popular lobster roll (current seasonal dressing: lemon zest, oregano, mayonnaise) and should expand as the brunch crew gets its sea legs.

Daphne’s Caribbean Express [East Village]
233 E. 14th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves.,
Manhattan, NY 10003

Daphne at the Blue Mahoe [East Village]
243 E. 14th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan, NY 10003

Mandoo Bar [Greenwich Village]
71 University Pl., between 10th and 11th Sts., Manhattan

Mandoo Bar [Herald Square]
2 W. 32nd St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan

A Salt and Battery [East Village]
80 2nd Ave., between E 4th and 5th Sts., Manhattan

A Salt and Battery [Greenwich Village]
112 Greenwich Ave., between W 12th and 13th Sts., Manhattan

Tides Seafood Restaurant [Lower East Side]
102 Norfolk St., between Delancey and Rivington, Manhattan

Board Links: dinner for $25 for 2ppl
Tides Seafood Brunch
East Village!
jamaica in EV?

Hot To Trot – Pigs’ Feet in All Their Glory

The Korean sign pretty much says it all as far as the house specialties are concerned at Wah!. No word on the blood sausage, but if it’s pigs’ feet you want, doughnut highly recommends this place. Go for broke and get the pigs’ feet sampler–there’s something for everyone. Everyone who wants pigs’ feet, that is. For $20, the sampler (modeum jokbal) includes five dishes:

  • pigs feet (jokbal)–$10 (per single order)
  • pigs feet terrine (jokbal pyeonyuk)–$10
  • pigs toes (balgarak)–$10
  • five spice pigs feet terrine (o hyang jokbal)–$13
  • spicy grilled pigs feet (jokbal yang nyeom gui)–$13

The sampler also comes with condiments and extras: soybean paste (toenjang), brined shrimp (sae-u jeot), sliced garlic and jalapenos, and pickled radishes and jalapenos. There’s cool barley tea to drink.

The other house specialty, soondae (blood sausage) went unsampled, but it comes plain (small $6, large $10) and in soup (soondae gook) for $6.50. They also have basic comfort dishes like kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae) and potato soup (kamja tang). No alcohol, though.

The place has a homey feel, kind of rundown but clean. The people are friendly and efficient, but there may not be an English menu or even English speakers, so note the Korean names of things.

Finding the place can be tough since the sign is also only in Korean. Look for the strip mall with the sign for El Pollo Bailador.

Wah Joekbal [Koreatown]
3557 W. 3rd St., at New Hampshire, Los Angeles

Board Links: korean restaurant: wow! pigs feet * blood sausage

A Tasty Deal for Chinese Food

Tucked inside an office building, Tasty Express is hard to find even if you know the address. (Hint: The entrance is on a back corner of the building.) Aside from the rice, noodles, orange chicken, and broccoli beef, the selections here are unlike any other Chinese steam tray place, says Chandavkl–tomato with egg, brisket, roast chicken, and turnip dishes. There’s also a Shanghai-influenced menu. At $3.20 for three items (a fourth is 50 cents), it’s a steal. Good slushies are $1.75 with quantity discount. This may be one of the best bargains in town.

Tasty Express [East LA-ish]
9550 Flair Dr., at Fletcher, El Monte

Board Links: Inexpensive Chinese Buried In Office Park Complex