Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Los Angeles' Best Eats: Eastside Edition, Part 5
See the ever-growing list of our best Eastside Eats here!
Who doesn't want a big, meaty sandwich for lunch? On L.A.'s eastside, we have some very list worthy sandwiches, starting with a tasty, messy pastrami.
Not far from downtown, the first city you run into headed east is Alhambra. Back in 1951, Johnny Brown started an open-air lunch counter at the corner of Garfield and Valley Boulevard. It became very popular, especially for the massive pastrami dip sandwiches served there.
It's still there, under a different set of owners today, and still serving those delicious pastrami sandwiches. It grew over the years to a chain of eleven locations from Simi Valley to Murrietta...all across the outer regions of the local area.
The Hat is as legendary locally as In 'n Out. Locals rave about the pastrami here, as they should. This is not the finely crafted, Jewish deli pastrami that you'll find at find establishments like Langer's, here in L.A., but the swimming in juice, piled dangerously high, gut bustingly delicious, fatty, thin sliced pastrami that you wish every burger bar could make.
Sadly, very few can compete with The Hat's version. Order at the right end of the counter then move to the left when the order taker attaches it to a clothes pin and slides it over to the assemblers. Watch as they grab an amazing amount of meat into their tongs and plop it on the bottom part of the bun. Watch again as they do it a second time...you're thinking "really? They expect to get that much meat on that thing?" Then the top half of the bun is dipped in the juice before being placed atop the meat (which has been dosed with pickles and mustard in the meantime). Somehow, the meat is squeezed in place long enough so that it can be wrapped in deli paper before being served.
Taking it to your table, you unwrap the sandwich. Be careful because now a good portion of that pastrami will start spilling out. You grabbed one of those plastic forks at the counter to be able to eat all those scraps, right? Stretch your jaw muscles out and take a bite. Oh, how that peppery, juicy, pastrami taste just envelops your taste buds. You tell yourself you're just going to eat half the sandwich now and save the rest for later but then your stomach overrules you and you end up gobbling the whole thing since it's just that good.
Oh, how you'll waddle out of there. Especially after having a small order of fries, too, which will feed a nuclear family and still have some left over.
Besides pastrami, they have good burgers, an assortment of other sandwiches and chili to go on anything. Take a small bag of pickled peppers and help yourself to one of the great condiment bars in the fast food kingdom.
Whatever you do, you'll not leave The Hat hungry.
While The Hat makes a legendary pastrami, another San Gabriel locale makes one just as good and even a few cents cheaper. We have a couple of very good Italian delis in the 'other' valley but Capri Deli is the one who makes a pastrami to rival The Hat (picture at top).
You'll have to go to Covina, on industrial San Bernardino Road between Grand and Barranca Avenues to find this one because Capri is just one location, not a chain like The Hat.
Again, you'll be amazed at the piles of pastrami piled on the dipped bread (they dip the cheese here, too, if you add it to the sandwich). You'll also be amazed at the amount of napkins you go through trying to keep the fatty juice from escaping onto your clothes.
To me, it's almost a carbon copy of The Hat's pastrami. It is very delicious plus you can get a wide selection of wine, beer, and hard-to-find sodas to go with it.
No fries here but you can add chips, salad, or any of the deli side orders that are sitting in the deli case. They also serve great pizza here, several pasta dishes, an outstanding salad with chicken, and antipasto. The menu may be a bit to decipher as you stand in line. A main board is behind the counter but on another wall is the pasta menu, which is not the same wall as the pizza menu plus you might find a couple of signs advertising other entrees behind the stack of soda cups.
It's a good thing the long lines will give you time to find them all. You can also browse the small shop for Italian treats, groceries, and the separate cold deli to get cold cuts, cheeses, and arrange for catering jobs.
Not far from Capri Deli is a tiny little street called Shoppers Lane. It's a throwback to a time when you'd go to Main Street, find an appliance repair shop, a shoe store, a couple of bars, and any number of specialty shops that you just don't see anymore.
While there are some great little restaurants here...like the classic Georgia's Bun 'n Burger diner and Fonda don Chon...there is another great Italian deli on the other end, Old World Deli.
Like Capri Deli, it's got a separate cold deli and small Italian grocery store. It also has a vast selection of sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, and some of the best Broasted Chicken you'll find in the area.
While the location is sparkling, clean, and almost brand new, Old World Deli is a long-time anchor in the area. The original location was a couple of blocks away at the Eastland Mall, next to the San Bernardino Freeway. When the mall was modernized, the landlords didn't think a non-chain, family run deli fit into their vision and evicted Old World Deli.
The owners decided they didn't want to be at the whims of a landlord purchased the building they now reside it, and opened up a very spiffy new location.
We like the sandwiches, pizza, and chicken, but what makes this location stand out is their extensive salad bar. On Tuesdays, we can get two slices of thick, Sicilian pizza and an unlimited plate for the salad bar (or, like I do, get the half sandwich and unlimited salad bar). Starting off with the usual iceberg lettuce mix, then there's a spring salad mix, or spinach. Half a dozen dressings are on standby (I usually just go with their 'house' dressing which is a garlicky ranch), toppings range from bacon, ham, cheese, sprouts, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, sunflower seeds...my mind's memory is running out but there's a ton of options here.
Of course, there are croutons, eggs, garbanzos, and beets to continue on. Oh my, there's just so much stuff.
I'll go back again for the fruit selection with always has tasty, fresh strawberries and they know how to get some very tasty honeydew, which is rare around here. Cantaloupe, orange slices, watermelon, grapes, and pineapple all find a way onto my plate. It's all so delicious.
My wife chooses the pizza and, since we're talking about pastrami, I go with half a pastrami sandwich. The pastrami here is the kind that has a more greasy taste to it, like the orange-sauced pastrami that used to call me to the long lost and lamented Kosher Burrito in downtown Los Angeles.
A slice of melted provolone and mustard on top make for a very tasty counterpart to all that healthy and salad that makes up the rest of the meal.
Along with the Covina location on Shoppers Lane, there's another Old World Deli on Mountain Avenue in Upland in the Inland Empire a few miles east.
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Los Angeles, California: The Gold Line Pub Crawl, Version 2.0
Yes, we already did a pub crawl along the Gold Line, the east side light rail line in Los Angeles. That was just a small trial run for the real thing, an all-day, complete end-to-end, deep exploration of the line. With an added visitor, my bother in law, and no driving to be had, we're not holding back.
Watch the Video!
The Gold Line runs 31 miles from the edge of Monterey Park in the south to Azusa in the northeast end of the San Gabriel Valley and makes a loop through downtown L.A. and Pasadena along the way.
We start off at Atlantic Station, the south end of the line in East Los Angeles and make our way a couple of stops to the Indiana Station. This is a nutrition and fortification stop to prepare for the rest of the day-long journey.
Breakfast is red pork tamales and chicharonnes at Lilliana Tamales before getting back on the train.
Little Tokyo/Arts District Station is next where we take the short walk over to Traction Avenue. Two breweries are here and two breweries are closed today. We thought they might be open on their earlier weekend hours since it was a holiday (Memorial Day) but, no.
Lucky for us, Fritzi...which shares the building with the Arts District Brewery...is open and pours brews from the back of the building.
To go with our backyard dog and pastries, it's a Nitro Red Ale, their Belgian style wit, and a pilsner. They were good, not the greatest beers we've tasted but decent, and the hot dog messy.
Back on the train it's a two-station jaunt to Chinatown. The newly built Blossom Plaza apartments have finally opened up the sidewalk adjacent to the station so it's much easier walk over to Gin Ling Way, the heart of the area.
Unfortunately, we couldn't find any bars open so we hit up Phoenix Bakery for some treats and jumped back on the train.
It doesn't take long until we're at the Del Mar station in Pasadena. This is the historic train station for the city and the old Santa Fe station now houses a fancy restaurant. Next to the southbound platform itself is a branch of Escondido's Stone Brewery, famous for its Arrogant Bastard ale.
We set up a row of tasters and dig in. We find a couple that aren't bad but most are a little too hoppy for our taste.
Tim suggests we check out of Stone and atone for our sins at the church across the street. At least you'd be forgiven for thinking it was one. It's Congregation Ale House, the Catholic mass themed drinking hall in the former Crown City Brewery space at Del Mar and Raymond Avenue.
Letty has a nifty blackberry sour ale while I have a St. Bernardus 12...a very tasty and strong Belgian quadruple ale. Tim's done with beer and switches to soda while we all soak it up with a pretzel and beer cheese (pic at top).
So far, we've made four stops on this voyage across eastern L.A. county...breakfast in East L.A.; the Arts District and Little Tokyo; Chinatown; and Pasadena...it's time for the last leg of our journey.
The Gold Line ends across the street from the campuses of Citrus College (a public community college) and it's next door neighbor, Azusa Pacific University (a private Christian university).
Just to say we've been from end-to-end on the 31 mile line, we go to that eastern terminus before heading back one station to the downtown Azusa station. It's here in this unlikely area that has one of the most lively station-adjacent areas for fun on the entire route.
It's just a little over a block south of the station to our next stop, Max's Mexican Cuisine, where we'll fill up our bellies on that great Mexican food and have some margaritas (you might remember Max's from our 'Southern California's Best Margaritas' video).
Since we've been drinking all day, I opt for the drinking man's Mexican friend, a nice steaming bowl of menudo.
This goes perfectly with a Cadillac margarita.
After our time with Max and his minions...with a hearty "See you tomorrow, WHY NOT?" as we leave...it's golden hour out on Azusa Avenue.
Halfway to the station, we spot a Mexican Dive bar...Maria's...and it's happy hour. I glance at my brother-in-law, we shrug our shoulders, and head inside while Letty and Tim roll their eyes and try to figure out how they got in this mess.
It's one more Pacifico for the road (or rails, in our case) before we stumble back up to the station and head back to our home station and walk or wobble back to our house.
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved
Friday, October 20, 2017
ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Lake Arrowhead, California
In a region teeming with over 10 million people, you need a place close by to escape to now and again. In the summertime, when the heat inland can easily top 100 degrees, many people head to the ocean. Many, many people. This causes major traffic jams, making the drive last hours instead of minutes, and then you have to deal with finding a parking spot.
No easy task when it seems several of those millions have the same idea you do.
We like the beach, too, but we're happy to go off-season when the crowds are staying away. Instead, we might head up to the mountains.
Southern California is blessed with an abundance of mountain ranges, something you might expect in a region riddled with earthquake faults. A lot of it is wilderness or open space (President Obama set aside a few hundred thousand acres of it to create the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument) with few roads but many trails. Some of these mountains are quite big with San Jacinto (near Palm Springs), San Antonio (also called Mt. Baldy, near Upland), and San Gorgonio (rising up 11,503 feet above Big Bear) all cresting over 10,000 feet tall.
Just a handful of communities reside in these mountain ranges...Mt. Baldy, Wrightwood, Idylwild, Big Bear, Crestline, Running Springs, and a few others. All have their charms but we've come to enjoy Lake Arrowhead the most, even though most of the lake is off-limits to the public since it's privately owned and maintained for the property owners that surround the lake.
Fortunately, there is a village on the south shore that is open to the public and it makes for a great little getaway from the heat below. Everything you need to have a fun day is here and, as a bonus, it's all within walking distance once you find a place to park.
Our weather at home is supposed to get near 110 degrees today as we get ready to escape up to the lake, where it should be a decidedly more pleasant 75 or so. A 90 minute drive, with the last half hour along a mountain road, will get us there. About the same as going to the beach on a hot weekend.
Not as bad as the beach but plenty of people have the same idea as us. We get lucky and find a great handicapped spot in front of the Pendleton Outlet store by the McDonalds (the village is like a small outlet mall with a few outlet stores from companies like Coach, Bass, Jockey and more). If there's no parking at this lower lot, we know we can find more in the upper lot, a short block away, where we can get back down via a handy elevator.
The main part of the village is just above us, up a short flight of stairs. Letty thinks there's an elevator along the lakefront side of the path. I don't remember one but we'll go that way (there isn't one, by the way). It's a very pleasant stroll, feeling the cool breeze off of the water and watching people speed by in their boats.
It is the long way around but it still isn't that far. We make it to Lollipop Park, a micro-sized amusement park out on the point.
You can ride on the bumper cars, a couple of kiddie rides, or even drive go-karts on a tiny waterfront course. A miniature golf course and carousel are also somehow squeezed in along the sidewalk.
Here, we can make the wide turnaround to access the main part of the village in the wheelchair. A pedestrian walkway winds through the outlet stores, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. A stage with open air seating is at the far end. A U2 tribute band will be playing a free concert there later.
A break for ice cream is called for before we continue into the village at the Village Ice Cream Shoppe, just after we clear the amusement park and across from the Bass Outlet.
My wife wants to do a little shopping but after driving up and walking around the far way, I want a drink first.
The Lakefront Tap Room supplies the chaser, a nice craft brew on tap, while the outdoor patio at Papagayo's...about ten feet away...supplies the shot, a chilled shot of tequila with a lakeside view and breeze.
Letty goes on to browse the Famous Footwear Outlet, Wilson's Leather Outlet, and a few others while Tim and I knock around outside. We meet up at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate shop where they get some sweets and even I get in on the action with a selection of delicious sugar-free options. Good, but expensive at $22 a pound.
We cap off a day with a meal at the Belgian Waffle Works back on the edge of the lake where a nice dish of waffles awaits us.
After filling our tummies, we head back down the mountain to the heat below before it gets dark. It was very nice to escape from it for a few hours.
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved
Friday, October 13, 2017
MEDICAL TOURISM: Yuma, Arizona - 2010
We came for the eyeglasses but there are many other medical options in town, especially dentists who seem to operate an office every twenty feet or so. Touts will sit out in front of practically every business but instead of offering strippers and other unsavory fare, they will be trying to get you in for a low-price dental or optical exam. Many pharmacies also line the streets selling brand name drugs for less than their U.S. counterparts. Other medical services abound here from normal general practitioners to plastic surgeons but opticians, dentists, and pharmacies pretty much rule the roost here.
Watch the video for this trip!
It’s 2 ½ hours until we need to go back to Algodones Optical to pick up our new glasses. Another thing we like about Mexico is the abundance of really premium tequilas at low prices. Although there are many liquor stores here in town, we end up at twin purple stores of the Liqui’s empire.
On the east side of the street, the largest of the two stores offers a literal supermarket of booze attached to its pharmacy. Across the street, a smaller version of the purple monster offers a slightly more relaxed version along with its own pharmacy and furniture outlet.
Tasting bars are set up in each store and the staff is more than happy to pour out a few drops of any tequila in the store to taste so you can know if you like it before you buy it.
The uncles, Heliodoro and Hector, are two of the finest tequila aficionados I know. I’m getting there, beyond a novice, but not quite there yet. Tim’s just starting out.
Before you think too judgmentally about me, know that a fine tequila is as tasty, smooth, and delicious as a fine cognac. It is not to be guzzled in quick shots down your throat before the gag reflex sets in for a quick buzz. If it is really good, it is best enjoyed by itself…no lime or salt…sipped slowly for the smooth warmth of its taste. Try a shot of Cuervo Gold followed by a shot of Hornitos Reposado…both similarly priced mid-range tequilas…to see what I’m talking about sometime.
We taste a few samples, some good, some not so good, and a couple of outstanding examples. Since each adult can bring back a liter of alcohol duty free, we buy six bottles of various platas, reposados, and añejos (see our Cocktail Hour for October 17th…Tequila Tasting with the Tios…to see how they turned out). Since the bottles are 750ml and we’re allowed a liter, we fill in the gap with 100 and 200ml bottles of various brands.
An example of how much you save is the Clase Azul reposado I bought. This is the unanimous pick for the best tequila we tasted today. At Beverages and More, a 750ml bottle is $90. I got two 375ml bottles for $30 each, or $60 for 750ml…2/3 the price of BevMo.
After our tequila shopping, we continue on for a few blocks because Letty wants to buy a galvanized bucket at the local hardware store. Nearby is a nice, little town park with a few taco carts along the perimeter. We take a seat at a nearby table and the cook comes over to take our order. Some fresh cooked-on-the-spit al pastor, quesadillas, and the delicious Mexican Coke take the edge off of our appetite.
On the way back to the downtown area, we make one more stop at Liqui’s so we can pick up a supply of various prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs at deep discounts (if your prescription is not a controlled substance or easily abused, it’s not a big deal to bring back a few months worth of drugs – otherwise you’ll need an ironclad prescription from your local doctor. Check the U.S. Customs web site for more information).
With that, it’s time to go back to pick up our glasses. Once we’ve got them adjusted properly, we head back across the border. Luckily, it’s the off-season for the snowbirds (who should be starting to arrive as you read this) so there is no line at the border. One time we came here right after Thanksgiving and the walk-across line was over 4 hours. The line for cars went way beyond our vision.
Today, there’s no wait and the border guards are friendly (that is not always the case). A quick glance at our passports (mandatory now), tequila, medicine , and we’re waved through.
At the exit of the checkpoint, a hundred feet or so north, is an old canal. It’s worth noting that 105 years ago the levee on the side gave way and it flooded for two years. The waters settled 70 miles away and created the Salton Sea which, of course, is still with us today.
The uncles want to do a little gambling, so we make a stop at the Quechan Resort back up the road.
It’s a big casino, mainly slots and poker. I take the time to go have a cup of coffee in their café while the rest of the group feeds the slots and plays a few hands. Gradually, one by one, we gravitate to a nice little sports bar, watching baseball playoffs while waiting for the others to finish.
It’s a nice little casino and an even better looking hotel. I’m not much of a gambler so the games don’t leave too much of an impression on me.
After the casino break, we run to the border. Crossing over the Colorado River, we head to Yuma’s big historical site, the old territorial prison.
In use in the era before Arizona became a state in 1912, the prison was the facility for many of the West’s outlaws. If you remember the move 3:10 to Yuma , this is where they were heading.
It’s $5 to get in and, no, there is no discount for the disabled. Seniors, military, students and kids do.
Once inside, there are great views of the Colorado River back across to California, a nice little park, a guard tower (inaccessible to wheelchairs), and a time line of the prison leading up to the old Sally Port.
What we look like now...
The museum inside has many displays about prison life, how they were processed, punishments, prison crafts, and so on. One display explains how when prisoners were processed, they had their mug shots taken in front of a special mirror so that both a front view and a profile of the prisoner could be captured in one shot. There is a mirror on display that visitors can use to make their own mug shots…
...and what it would have looked like back then.
Outside of the museum is the actual remains of the prison. Heavy iron doors are mounted on 4 foot thick walls made of either iron reinforced adobe or rock. One cell is unlocked so visitors can go inside. Although the path along the cell block is accessible, wheelchairs cannot get inside of this cell.
Down the path to the end of the cell block is the dark cell. Here, prisoners served discipline time when being punished in this interior, windowless cell. With a little effort, wheelchairs can get inside here. It is very dark and the remains of an old iron cage are on the floor…watch where you roll or step!
At the end of this building, a low passageway leads to the exercise yard and some newer cells. We noticed iron rings in each cell that prisoners could be chained to.
Outside on a rocky hillside are piles of rocks marking the graves of prisoners who are buried here in the cemetery.
After our prison tour, we head back to the hotel and hang out in the patio having hotel pizza and beer, along with tasting a few samples of our newly acquired tequila (see the video of that here).
One more night of rest and it’s back on the road back home, stopping for date shakes in Mecca.
Our sight restored, medicines and liquor well stocked, and our bodies rested up, we end our trip early in the afternoon when we arrive back home.
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Monday, October 9, 2017
MEDICAL TOURISM: Los Algodones, Mexico - 2010
If you’ve got a full tank of gas and don’t stop, it’s just over three hours to Yuma, Arizona from Pomona, California where we started our trip. That’s if you go by the desolate Salton Sea on the southside via Highway 86. It’s four hours if you go on the other side on Highway 111 but you do go past Oasis Date Garden…where you can get free samples of delicious dates and a date shake, and Calipatria…the lowest elevation town in the Western Hemisphere (184 feet below sea level).
Watch the Video for this trip!
Date Shakes at Oasis Date GardensWe’ve got a full van today as two uncles and an aunt are traveling with us. Our hotel is the La Fuente Inn and Suites, just off Interstate 10 at 16th Street. We have two junior suites, one for us and another for the aunt and uncles.
There is a free breakfast buffet in the morning with eggs, sausage, bacon, breads, toaster waffles, cereals, fruit, and yogurt. From 5-7pm there’s a happy hour with food (BBQ’d burgers one night, Pizza Hut pizza the next), beer, wine, limited cocktails, popcorn, and soda.
A very nice pool and spa are the centerpiece of a comfortable and pretty courtyard and there are 4 gas grills available for guests to use.
A nice, comfortable place to stay but partiers in the courtyard kept us up a bit the first night. A call to the front desk put an immediate stop to it though.
After checking in, we have dinner at the adjacent Cracker Barrel and spend some time chatting and hanging out together at one of the many tables in the courtyard before heading in for the night.
Yuma’s a decent town and it does have its amenities and even some very interesting places to see but no one would really call it a tourist mecca. Although we will see and do some fun, tourist type things while we’re here, there’s really only one main reason we came to town…medical tourism.
With medical costs so high in the U.S. and fights with insurers for coverage are common, many people take to crossing the border for medical care that is either not covered, hard to get insurance to pay for, or expensive. Communities have sprung up across the globe to cater to this type of traveler.
Los Algodones, just across the border 7 miles from Yuma, is just such a community. Why out here…basically in the middle of an empty desert? Each winter, thousands of people from colder climates like Canada, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, pack up their RV’s, trailers, and campers and spend their winters in the warm deserts here. These “snowbirds,” often elderly retirees, will need someone to take care of their medical needs. Algodones fits the bill almost perfectly.
It's also nice that the border towns of Mexico are the most wheelchair friendly of the cities of our neighbor to the south. Plenty of curbcuts and ramps abound for wheelers but do watch for the occasional pot hole.
If you’re in Yuma, you’re going to backtrack across the Colorado River into California about 5 miles to Algodones Road. There’s a large Indian casino, the Quechan Resort, at this exit. Go south two miles. You can drive right into Mexico but we prefer to park in the large lot right next to the border run by the Quechan tribe. From the handicapped spaces, it’s less than 100 yards to walk across the border into Mexico. The cost is $5 per day, more for RVs and larger vehicles.
The lot is open 6am to 10pm (same as the border crossing hours). Your car is subject to towing if you leave it overnight.
Once across, we cross the street, make a left turn and walk about another 100 yards to Algodones Optical. Here Letty and Tim will get their eyes examined and we’ll purchase new eyeglasses. The front door of the optician is about 30 feet from the border fence across the street.
Algodones Optical is only open Monday through Friday so you’ll need to plan accordingly if you want to use them. There are many other opticians in town and you can see some of them on weekends if you can’t make it during the week. We like it here because of the quality of the exams, the extensive selection of frames, and the professionalism of the staff. It also helps that prices are a fraction of what they are back home.
Letty called ahead and made appointments for her and Tim this morning. If you do that…and buy glasses…the exam is free. Otherwise it is $10. Tim is first in. The exam first measures your eyes and face, then a glaucoma test, then the normal vision test in the dark room with the lenses and eye charts. It takes about 20 minutes and if you have an appointment, you pretty much go right in.
While we wait for Letty, I help Tim try on several frames and pick a few candidates. When Letty comes out, her and the doctor go over the frames we picked and finds a good one. While Letty and her aunt browse for her, Tim and I go to find the uncles who are browsing the shops down the street.
After haggling with a local about a belt, we agree on a price when Letty and her aunt show up.
It’ll be 2 ½ hours before the glasses are ready for pickup. We end up with a pair of polycarbonate progressive lenses for Tim; another pair like that for Letty with the no-line bifocals, plus another pair for Letty that are polarized sunglasses. The entire bill is $500 for the three pairs (I got a pair last time and I have a pretty vanilla prescription so my exam, frames, and lenses were $20). That is what Letty would pay just for the sunglasses and her prescription at the optician our insurer sends us to back home.
Exams over with time to kill, we wander the streets of Los Algodones looking for food, tequila, and fun.
Stay tuned for that part of the trip coming up soon.
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: The Tamale Peddler
The other day, we were in a waiting room for a doctor's appointment for Tim. A Mexican man came in and talked to the receptionist. My wife looked over to me and whispered, conspiratorially, "He's selling tamales..."
Tamales are one of those wonderful Hispanic foods. It seems every Latin American country has their own version...Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Guatemalan, and on and on. Some are wrapped in banana leaves and many different varieties of fillings are used.
I'm a Mexican style fan, with the corn meal masa cuddling a meaty filling of pork or beef (preferrably pork), chicken, green chile and cheese...even pineapple and raisins. This is wrapped in corn husks while many are additionally encompassed in paper then steamed.
Here in Southern California, you can get them almost anywhere. Every Mexican restaurant sells them, you can get them in many supermarkets...ready made or available to take home and steam. They even sell canned tamales.
Some are good, most Mexican restaurants can at least make a passable tamale and a few excel at them. Some are not good at all...see the canned tamales above. If you see a tube of tamales labeled in letters coded to say it's "excellente," keep walking.
The best, however, are made by little teams of underground entrepreneurs. Getting together at someone's house and assembling these treats of soft, moist, filled masa, they gather up piles and piles of the delicious little packets and roam out looking for a sale.
Sometimes at work, you'll find someone who's mom makes them and you can send an order in. We'll exit our church after mass and, once in awhile, there'll be a couple of ladies with a bucket for sale or, as it was today, someone will go office to office delivering a delicious and cheap lunch.
Yes, my friends, it's also cheap. While I've had mediocre tamales at farmers market costing $6.50 a piece, good ones at our favorite Mexican restaurant and cantina for $3.75...it's these home-made beauties that are the best, tastiest you can find and they're usually dirt cheap.
Back at the doctor's waiting room, after my wife asks what varieties he has, I ask how much. $1.50 each or $17 a dozen.
I get 6 red pork and 6 chile and cheese tamales, conveniently wrapped in a plastic bag, slip him $17, and put the haul in the car for later.
With an afterglow of delicious tamale dinner memories in my tummy (the tamales we bought are pictured at the top of this post), I write these words to you after our latest adventure. As good as it gets.
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
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