Tuesday, December 30, 2008

La Colmena

If you drive down Milpas just past Montecito Street there's the obvious 'weird' building sitting between two equally weird streets. For many years it was the home of Pavlako's, a Greek restaurant which I never saw anyone eat in, never ate there myself and was fully convinced was a front for some sort of large narcotics operation. Well, eventually Pavlako's went under and The Cajun Kitchen moved in, under the guise that what this neighborhood really needed was a restaurant that has no parking and serves really, really average food. Not surprisingly, there weren't enough cops in the neighborhood to keep the place up and running so it went under rather quickly. The building then sat empty for a while until a couple months ago when La Colmena opened it's doors with a small menu of tacos, alambres and quesadillas.

Now I was pretty happy about this place opening up, mainly because it would be the closest Mexican food to my office that's not El Bajio. You see, somehow I ended up with a job just off the Mexican food haven of Milpas Street but 200 feet away from this fine city's worst over-priced taqueria. (This posting isn't about El Bajio so I'll bag on them another day). But the idea of a new place that was almost the same distance away was very exciting. So I went a few times right off the bat and unfortunately, it just wasn't anything great, although definitely not bad, and a shitload better than El Bajio at a fraction of the price. I've been sticking with the tacos, trying different styles, but it's so hard to rave on a place that's obviously trying to be a sort of "East Side Lily's" and is so far from it. The tacos at Lily's are like a gift from the gods, sent down to the mortals and blessed by Argentinean supermodels. The tacos at La Colmena aren't really a gift from the gods, they're just a gift from whatever animal sacrificed their flesh for me to get some calories at lunch.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Gift of the Maestro

I wasn't supposed to be working today, but I had to take care of a couple things and then swung by the office when I was done. It turned out to be one of the better decisions of the waning year as when I was heading back to my car Felipe came up to me with a plastic bag in which there was something heavy and hot wrapped in tin-foil. Felipe is again on the list of favorite people for the coming year. Tamales...chicken mole. Usually Felipe makes his tamales Oaxacan style (the state where he's from), which are wrapped in banana leaves. These tamales, along with beer and a set of 34Cs are amongst the greatest things ever created on Earth. Lacking in banana leaves this time of year, Felipe opted to make his Christmas batch of tamales in the more common corn-husk style, still fantastic. But of course, you'll have to take my word for it, cause you can't have any.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas To Me

We do most of the Christmas celebrating at our house on Christmas Eve, so Christmas Day is usually spent not doing much of anything. This year, I got up late, had some coffee, and headed down the hill to El Buen Gusto for some breakfast. Unlike a lot of the taquerias around here El Buen is always open Christmas Day, I know this because I'm often dining there. It's always packed and this year was no exception. I had a burrito, not what I generally get for breakfast, but I was feeling like a special treat. It was so good I went back with Deb later that afternoon and we ate again, this time I had a few tacos al pastor, which are one of my favorite things to eat on the planet. So really, while most of the gifts were exchanged the night before, I kept getting them all day.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chef de Hierro

I've eaten a lot of Mexican food in a lot of different places around this country (and others) and I can honestly say that my hometown of Santa Barbara has some of the best grub that there is. What a lot of people don't know though, is that Santa Barbara is also home to the finest Mexican cook that I've ever come across, a guy who's food is so good it defies description with mere words, generally because I'm too busy shoving it down my throat as fast as I can before anyone else can get their grimy hands on it. Unfortunately all two of my readers, you'll likely never get to taste this fine cuisine (unless you decide to somehow make a career change and become a plumber), because he doesn't own a restaurant.

Felipe Carmona Diaz knows plumbing supplies like Donald Trump knows bad combover haircuts, but more importantly he is a fuckin Iron Chef times a thousand, and twice a year at work we host huge barbeques where this master of fine food gives everything he has to make sure 30-40 plumbing industry honchos are well fed with carne asada tacos. This is hands down the BEST carne asada anyone will ever eat, complete with homemade pico de gallo, guacamole, rice and beans, etc. etc. Felipe marinates the meat in some sort of magic potion (a secret recipe that I'm sure will be buried with him) and when you put it on a warm tortilla and take a bite into your mouth it tastes like the taco version of what a Victoria's Secret model orgy looks like...that is, there's a lot of shit going on here, and every single bit of it is really, really good.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rudy's - Upper State

I had some business to take care of on Upper State this afternoon so I swung into Rudy’s Taqueria which happened to be a couple doors down from my meeting. For the uninitiated, Rudy’s is one of two local chains, along with El Sitio, that has small burrito shacks scattered around SB/Goleta. I tend to like El Sitio more than Rudy’s, but that has more to do with my preference for a less gringo-ized meal than what Rudy’s has to offer, which is more along the lines of what people think of as “Fresh-Mex” (the literal translation of Fresh-Mex is: “Mexican food that white people from Cincinnati like”). That said, whenever I go here, it’s never a bad experience, never a great experience, it’s not even an experience. Just pretty good food. I had a chicken burrito that was totally fine, the salsa bar is totally fine, it’s not ridiculously overpriced. But I just can’t rave about the place because if it wasn’t next door to where I was already, I’d never go there.

In a nutshell, you go to the place because it’s there, you don’t go there because it’s the place.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Triple Play

“The month of Decembre means bueno food!”

La Gloria Taqueria
I hit up one of my semi-regular lunch spots, La Gloria this afternoon, mainly because I ran into the lovely Bridget at Trader Joe’s the other day and she remarked how she and Micah had not had such a great food experience here a few days before. Now let me clarify that La Gloria is a place that several years ago I did not care for at all. My main memories of it from way back when were primarily of the biggest Mexican dude I’ve ever seen that they had working behind the counter (picturize Andre los Gigante) and the excellent verde sauce they had at the salsa bar. The rest of the joint was take it or leave it. But in the last year or so, I’ve found myself at La Gloria quite often since it is one of the many burrito joints within a block or two of my office (how lucky am I?). And I have to admit I like it a lot more than I used to, even though there’s no longer a gi-normous Mexican and the salsa verde isn’t quite what I remembered.

What I don’t like about the place is that they are slow. And when I say slow, I mean, if you’ve got something to do, make sure you do it first. Generally, I’ll avoid the lunch rush, go a little after 1pm, order my meal, sit down for a while, watch my nails grow, trim them, then pick up my food and take it back to the office. If you go during lunch, bring a shaving kit and some deodorant, you're in for the long haul and these people take their time. Which, I have found is a good thing. My burrito today was outstanding. I got the chicken super burrito, and the beauty of La Gloria is that they fill it up with fresh veggies along with meat, salsa, sour cream, cheese, avocado, etc. This is a QUALITY burro, and quite a step up from the basic Super Burrito you’ll get at a lot of other places. And today, I was sitting there waiting, got out my nail clippers….and my food came out before I could get started. I was back at the office in no time. And a final note to Bridget and Micah, give it another try.

Lilly’s Taqueria
I swilled some beer last night with my good friend Jesus and since I always rave about this joint we decided to rendezvous tonight for a quick taco session after work. He hadn't been here before and when we walked in the door he immediately started laughing at the menu when he noticed you could eat everything on it for about 10 bucks. I got my usual adobada tacos, because I’m a creature of habit and think they’re some of the best things I’ve ever had, but Jesus strayed out and scored himself some adobada, asada and ….cheek. I haven’t had cheek before, but I had a bite of his and it was quite tasty. I’ll certainly order one up in the future.

Jesus gave me some good natured ribbing for writing a food blog while being such a conservative eater (at a place that has a fuckin eye taco)….and he’s right. I gotta start branching out. But the truth is that when I find something I love, like say, Lilly’s adobado tacos, it’s damn hard to see anything else on the menu, in fact, I don’t even look at the friggin thing.

Los Agaves
So less than 2 hours after leaving Lilly’s, I find myself pulling up a chair at Los Agaves again with Deb. PACKED on a Friday night, as it rightfully should be. I pass by this joint every day numerous times and every night this week it has been filled up, but when I talked to the owner at the register tonight he said, “Oh,. It’s been so slow this week except for tonight.” I call bullshit on that. This guy’s drumming up support for his tip jar I think. More power to him, cause he deserves it. I'm still loving this place.

Anyways, we got the Tacos de Tingas and a chicken Molcajete….oh yeah, that’s right, you remember the molcajete. My Lilly's companion tonight, Jesus, a native English/Spanish speaker told me that ‘molcajetes’ is the word for the volcanic type bowl that the food comes in, but I assure you that he is 100% wrong. I don’t know who the hell taught him Spanish, but ‘molcajetes’ means: “Super Fucking Hot”. People probably thought I was exaggerating on the last posting about this dish, but let me tell you this: when we left the restaurant tonight with a little food still in the bowl, it was still boiling, and it's not like we were there for 15 minutes. We ate a friggin full meal. Regardless, I liked this version better than the sea and land one we had last time, but I think Deb would disagree, as it was quite a bit spicier (even I was beading up on the browline). The chicken was excellent, and I’m pretty sure thast they just throw a live chicken into the vat, the feathers melt away, the meat breaks into chunks and it cooks perfectly on it's way to table.

But I figured out that the strategy in eating this dish is to scoop it out on top of a tortilla laying on a bed of dry ice, order up a sixer of Corona, drink it, then eat your taco. Repeat. You’ll be righteously full of seriously tasty grub and seriously hammered by the end of the next night when you finally stumble home with sweat dripping form every pore.