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

Balls of Joy

Pani puri, crisp little pastry balls filled with potatoes, onions, and chickpeas, are a bit of a rarity on typical curry-laden Indian menus. They're more of a chaat, the small snacks meant to be ordered a few at a time. But they've been featured lately (both as a special and on the buffet) at the Kebab Factory, making ScubaSteve curious about where else they're available.

Chaat is best found at "the sketchy window in the back of an Indian grocery store," says gujubond. Try Indian Food and Spices in Trolley Square in Framingham. They also have housemade jalebi (an Indian fried sweet) , "one of the best snacks I've had all year," says galangatron.

Indian Food and Spices [MetroWest]
855 Worcester Road, Framingham

Board Link: ISO Pani Puri

Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"After cleaning up garlic purée off every surface in the MW, I figured out how to tame the beast. I now put the head in one of the veggie bags that you get in the produce section of the supermarket, and the explosion and flying garlic is confined therein ... Great way to get quickly cooked garlic for addition to things that you don't want the sharp uncooked taste. And it is fun ... BAM!"

"When it's getting cold outside, my mind automatically turns to Shan brand Haleem."

"We had a Southern Feast at a restaurant last night. For the three of us it was less than $30 ... and it was slap-your-mama fantastic!"

How to Make Holiday Punch with Erick Castro

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Keep it fresh and festive. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

The Deepest Truck in LA

Antojitos de la Abuelita "is the most serious Mexican kitchen in the Valley, and one of the deepest trucks in LA," says our resident Mexican-cuisine expert streetgourmetla. The owners are a family from Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, just outside of Mexico City.

Abuelita looks a lot like a weekend mobile restaurant in Mexico City. The owners set up a tent and tables, and customers order at the truck then take their food and sit. There are the usual antojitos: huaraches, pambazos, sopes, as well as more esoteric filled masa snacks. Try the guisados (meat stews) delivered in grilled quesadillas. Other excellent fillings: outstanding huitlacoche (corn smut), flor de calabaza (squash blossom) with cheese, and mushrooms with cheese.

Abuelita also has excellent soups, with two real stars. The first is "a sublime menudo served in a genuine curbside setting," says streetgourmetla. And the second is caldo de gallina (chicken soup), the most common streetside soup served in Mexico City, but one that is incredibly hard to find in Los Angeles.

Other orders: the most satisfying tlayuda in town: huge, pizza-like, and crisp, with real, full-tasting meats. And tacos: "The cooking of meats here are deft in flavor and texture. On weekends they do barbacoa cooked in maguey spines, moist and elegant flavors of mutton," says streetgourmetla.

The truck shows up Wednesdays through Fridays from around 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Antojitos de la Abuelita [San Fernando Valley - East]
6135 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood
No phone available

Board Link: Antojitos de la Abuelita: Straight Outta Neza

Veggie-Friendly Mexican Food

Los Chilangos is a new place specializing in the antojitos of Mexico City: huaraches (sandal-shaped stuffed masa dough), quesadillas (cheese-filled fried tortillas), tlacoyos (small, oval, stuffed huaraches). There's also the heart-stopping alambre: carne asada, ham, bacon, onions, and red pepper griddled together and topped with melted cheese.

The pambozas (rolls dipped in chile sauce and griddled) are beautiful. They're "surprisingly light, like a chile-head's twisted idea of French toast, with a nice spread of beans, potato, and chorizo," says Das Ubergeek.

Los Chilangos makes great nopales, too. "It takes talent to cook nopales, because they ooze like okra, and you run the risk of serving a pile of green snot to your guests," explains Das Ubergeek. They work very well in a huarache with al pastor.

Los Chilangos [Orange County]
1830 West Lincoln Avenue, Anaheim

Board Link: REVIEW: Los Chilangos, Anaheim

Like a Hybrid Pecan-Mincemeat Pie

Avanti has exceptional baked goods, according to one hound's report. "This place rocks," says meltedcheese. "Their cookies, pies, date bars, and tapiocas are more SF than OC and it's appreciated."

The best thing there, especially right now, is the raisin walnut pie. It's like a mincemeat pie crossed with a pecan pie, and it's incredibly good. "If you bought a whole one and put some fresh whipped cream on it you would be the king of a party," says meltedcheese.

Avanti Cafe [Orange County]
259 E. 17th Street, Costa Mesa

Board Link: Walnut Raisin pie at Avanti today... amazing OC Costa Mesa

Overheard on the Los Angeles Boards

"This is a common confusion in LA, which just doesn't get the burrito."

"A few summers ago, Bouchon Yountville's moule frites set the benchmark ... Bouchon BevHills delivered huge with the iron boat full of cooked mussels and garlic confit. This time around, I paid attention to every bite and what popped out was the slightly sour garlic confit."

"Figueroa Produce In Highland Park is now stocking grass-fed free range beef from Open Space Meats. We had a rib eye last week and it was excellent."

Crack-Coated Crack

Crack-Coated Crack

This week's mission: Oreos go on a fudge-themed holiday getaway. READ MORE

When Five Meats Are Not Enough

When Five Meats Are Not Enough

This week's mission: a fast-food pizza laden with flesh. READ MORE

The Beer with the Green Label

The Beer with the Green Label

Sierra Nevada tries to reclaim its cred

By Roxanne Webber

Beer aficionados could hardly do better than the Monk’s Kettle, a bar and restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District. The beer list is five pages and nearly 200 choices long, including a coconut and macadamia nut porter and a beer made with crushed Chardonnay grapes. Would those two Google engineers at the corner of the bar—the ones drinking challenging Belgian sour ales—ever order a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale?

“You’d deserve to be made fun of by the proprietor!” scoffs one. “It’s just very mainstream.” The other one considers for a moment: “I’d drink it if my choices were that or Bud.” But even if they wanted to, they couldn’t order a Sierra Nevada at the Monk’s Kettle—Pale Ale has never been on tap here, because you can get it anywhere; it doesn’t have enough cachet with drinkers like the Google guys.

And here’s the irony: Ask a craft brewer which other brewers he most admires, and he’s likely to mention Sierra Nevada. The Chico, California, brewery is considered to be sacred ground, and its beers expertly crafted. “When you die as a brewer, you go to Chico,” says Matthew Brynildson, brewmaster of Firestone Walker in Southern California.

One of the reasons Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione got into brewing in the first place was because he so loved the taste of a Sierra Nevada holiday beer called Celebration Ale. The esteemed brewer Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company never lets his home fridge run dry of Pale Ale. “It’s a perfectly balanced beer,” he says.

But “perfectly balanced” is having a hard time competing with macadamia nuts. Now that hundreds of small-batch and wacky beers are being made (often trying to outhop each other with extremely bitter flavors), the moderately hoppy, medium-bodied ale seems boring by comparison. You can get it at any corner liquor store. It’s on tap next to MGD at nearly every bar. It’s too mainstream for somebody who wants exotic, and too ubiquitous for somebody who equates quality with rarity.

When it debuted in 1980, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the extreme. Almost all beer in America was like Bud: bland, light lager, easy to drink, thirst-quenching, and inexpensive. Anybody wanting the grainy, malty tastes, bitter hops, or fruity yeast flavors of European beers was out of luck. Sierra Nevada came along and with a handful of other adventurous small breweries created a market for craft beer, educating consumers and future brewers about how good beer could be.

Other than Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, which was making craft brews in the early ’70s under Fritz Maytag, the craft beer movement didn’t really get rolling until the late 1970s, when laws prohibiting home-brewing were relaxed. A generation of people started to make beer in their garages, hobbyists opened up their own little breweries, and the craft beer movement was born. Among the hobbyists was Sierra Nevada’s founder, Ken Grossman, who had opened a home-brew shop in Chico in 1976.