Taco Madness 2015: Let the Madness Begin

TACO-2015

Welcome L.A. Taco lovers, it’s that time of year again, when we band together as a community and argue passionately over what is our city’s best taco. This year we’ve shaken things up a little bit, let us walk you through the basic changes.
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A Beginner’s Guide to Offal Tacos by The Offalo ~ Part One

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We’ve long admired the food writing and reviews of “The Offalo,” an Angeleño who loves food and especially cuts of meat that others may be unfamiliar with. We asked him if he would be interested in exploring the offal side of our city’s taco scene, and he jumped directly into the job, as you can read below. We hope this guide will help the uninitiated be bold and try some delicious tacos they ordinarily wouldn’t have ordered, while also guiding those who do walk on the offal side some suggestions for where to get their fix….

Offal. The word itself doesn’t sound that great. Depending on how you pronounce it, it could come suspiciously close to “awful”. However, as “awful” meant “awesome” once upon a time, “offal” wasn’t a four-letter word with Americans until recent decades (see “Liver & Onions” in many an old-fashioned diner menu). But with factory farms bringing affordable beef steaks and chicken breasts to the masses, the need, and thus the demand, for organ meats has declined in the last half century-plus.

 

However, like the maligned boiled-grey Brussels sprouts of yore reborn as one of the past decade’s hottest vegetables, offal is making a comeback of sorts.   High end restaurants around the country are highlighting dishes made with pig ears and tails, beef and lamb hearts, and housemade terrines of headcheese. And roasted bone marrow might be just as ubiquitous as roasted Brussels sprouts these days.

 

Of course, offal has never really left the tables and taste buds of immigrant communities. In Los Angeles, offal can be found more easily than Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in New England. Just look for the nearest stand, truck, or trailer slinging tacos!

 

On most taco menus around town, the more ubiquitous al pastor (spit-roasted marinated pork), carne asada (grilled beef), carnitas (pork slow-cooked in fat), and pollo (um, chicken), are often accompanied by other choices such as buche (pig’s stomach), cabeza (cow’s head), chicharron (pork rind), lengua (cow tongue), and tripas (cow intestines, not tripe). It is this side of the menu, and more, that we will be dig into in this series of posts.

 

Disclaimer: I called this A Beginner’s Guide to Offal Tacos, not only to introduce those readers who have yet to venture to this “other side” of the taco menu, but also because I myself am a beginner at tacos (though not offal), since I’ve only been an L.A. resident for a dozen years. So, this guide is not meant to be definitive, and I will not attempt to expound on the historical or cultural significance of the different ingredients or cooking methods. For a deeper dive into all things tacos, check out Bill Esparza’s Tacos 101 series.

 

Assorted Offal Tacos at El Chato Taco Truck:

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In Part One, we will burrow into beef bits. In Part Two, we will pick through porcine parts. In Part Three, we will review some of the “variety” in variety meats and see what other types of offal tacos can be found in Los Angeles.

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Offal Tacos: Part One, Beef

 

For many Americans, “taco” means ground beef. In Los Angeles, many should also be familiar with carne asada, thin steaks ideally grilled or roasted over open flames. But there’s a world of tacos filled with various cow parts. Below is a brief overview, in rough order of how often I encounter them on taco menus around town:

 

Cabeza/Cachete: Literally “head” in Spanish, cabeza can be a mixture of the various types of meats found on a cow head, including cheek, tongue, eyeballs, brain. However, generally I’ve found that it’s mostly just meat from the muscles all around the head of a cow, braised until they fall off the skull. In more beef-centric taquerias, you may see cachete on the menu, which is meat from just the cheek muscles, also braised until tender, with a very concentrated, beefy flavor. Super-accessible for beginners–some offalphiles may not even consider cabeza to be offal.

 

Taco de Cabeza at Tacos Al Vapor El Canelo:

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Lengua: One of the more commonly found cuts of beef offal on taco menus is lengua, or cow tongue. Often cubed, but sometimes sliced or shredded, the tongue is relatively unchallenging from a taste-and-texture perspective, especially since the outer layers of the tongue, with the taste buds and other potentially cringe-inducing parts, will generally be removed during prep. The meat is very tender, without the stringiness of large muscle fibers found in most non-offal cuts of beef. Conceptually, however, it may still be hard to swallow for some people.

 

Taco de Lengua at Santa Rita Jalisco Taco Truck:
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Tripas: Though it would be natural to conclude that tripas translates to tripe, parts of a cow’s multiple stomachs, it’s actually the small intestines of cows. As such, when cut up, they can look like tube pasta, about a dime’s width in thickness, flat. Texturally, they may be a little rubbery, but a common request is when ordering tripas is to have them cooked extra crispy. While they are cleaned of their usual intestinal contents before cooking, they do retain a funkiness that may be an acquired taste.

 

Taco de Tripas at El Chato Taco Truck:

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Sesos: Found at taquerias that specialize in beef, the challenge of sesos, or brain, is definitely in one’s head. Depending on preparation, it can range texturally from creamy and fluffy, to firm and almost crumbly. Taste-wise, it is relatively mild; you will more likely taste the salsas and toppings on the tacos more than anything else.

 

Taco de Sesos at Tacos Al Vapor El Canelo:

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Labio: Another cut likely only found at beef-centric shops, labio, or cow lips, are similar to lengua in taste, but, due to a fattier and more gelatinous texture, may present more of a challenge for unadventurous eaters.

 

Taco de Labio at Tacos Al Vapor El Canelo:

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Nervio: Resembling tendon or cartilage, I have not come across nervio, or nerves, much, and have only had it at one beef taco specialist. Not particularly flavorful, its snappy texture will likely be an acquired taste.

 

Taco de Sesos at Tacos Al Vapor El Canelo:

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Other: There are others parts of the cow that are served in tacos, but I haven’t had the chance to try ojos (eyes) or molleja (sweetbreads), for example. Though, I did try bull pizzle (penis) tacos at Bill Esparza’s Tacolandia event last year! (Taste like chicken. Okay, not really.)

 

Bull Pizzle Taco at Tacolandia 2014

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Where to Try Beef Offal Tacos: For some of the harder to find cuts like labio, sesos, or nervio, you’ll want to seek out a beef specialist like Tacos Al Vapor El Canelo in East L.A. They also serve excellent excellent cabeza, and cachete. For tripas, I usually hit Mid-City’s popular late-night taco truck, El Chato, though I need to try Jonathan Gold-recommended La Carreta in South L.A. Even though they don’t specialize in beef, I really enjoyed the lengua (and tripas) at Santa Rita Jalisco in East L.A.

 

Tacos Al Vapor El Canelo, 6168 Whittier Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90022

El Chato Taco Truck, 5300 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

La Carreta, 1471 E Vernon Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90011

Santa Rita Jalisco Taco Truck, 3900 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90063

 

If you have any suggestion for other great places for beef offal tacos, please let me know!

 

Coming Soon: Part Two, Pork

The Intro opens March 28th ~ Beverly Hills

Exclave Gallery is proud to present its inaugural exhibition THE INTRO. This showing will signify the birth of Exclave Gallery and mark its position as Beverly Hills’ premier outpost of artistic subculture. THE INTRO is on view from March 28th to April 27th. The exhibition will be Exclave Gallery’s first public show and will feature 11 uniquely themed paintings by different artists.

Exclave Gallery was conceptualized from the raw and underexposed iterations of artistic expression generated from the narrowing chasm between the classical foundations of fine art and the contemporary explosion in street art. This burgeoning creativity that has been looking for it’s place in the art world now has a home in one of the most prestigious locales in the United States.

Featured artists for this opening: Sunny Phono, Steve Martinez, SINER, MACHO, Anthony Cox, TANK, BREK, PUNCH, Nathan Smith, DREYE and Teddy Kelly

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Taco Run: Day Two of Paint Phoenix 2015

Sunday morning was check out time. Leaving the hotel we headed to the go-to taco spot in Phoenix, Taco Mich on McDowell & 16th. Listed as Best Tacos Phoenix 2014 in the PhoenixNewTimes.com website. I highly recommend the al pastor, sorry readers no pics. After a great lunch we have a little under 5 hours to check out the artist still going strong for Paint Phoenix 2015.

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Flip & Kween 897 made the trip from Texas.

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From right to left: Tato Caraveo, JB Snyder and unknown artist.

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Keith Harring x ANICE collab that could make it’s way to LA so be on the look out.

While exploring 16th street, a throughway for street art & murals in Phoenix I was able to capture painter, printmaker and LATACO friend Douglas Miles’s contribution to Paint Phoenix 2015. Catching up with Douglas we discussed the importance of art in his city. By inviting artist from other cities and countries this influences local artist to push their own creative process.

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From left to right: Hawaiian artist Mung4Chun and Hong Kong based artist Caratoes flew in to Paint Phoenix. They both painted at Pow! Wow! Hawaii 2015 last month.

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This wall in the alley behind Barrio Café features various muralists in the city of Phoenix.

As the clock reached 4pm we decided to make the trek back to Los Angeles. We said goodbye to our host Niba DelCastillo and Breeze One and thanked them for their hospitality. We met allot of great people and hope to see them again next year for Paint Phoenix 2016.

Preview: C.Finley at Superchief Gallery ~ Opens March 21st

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Superchief Gallery is very proud to present The Divine Distractions- a solo show by C. Finley, running from March 21st – April 4th.

The entire warehouse gallery will be taken over by her large scale, vibrant and beautiful psychedelic images of women in classic, divine poses. Paintings that are 12ft tall and one that is 48 feet wide, we’ve never shared something on this scale, you’d be foolish to miss this installation.
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The Photography of Rick Rodney

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Rick Rodney is a Los Angeles native who grew up in the Valley and toured the world as the frontman of hardcore band STRIFE. He began documenting the moshpits, stages, and people he met on his travels and back home in Los Angeles. The quality of his compositions and his ability to find something special everywhere he looked led to photography taking over his life and becoming both his passion and his job. We’ve long admired his work for its tenderness, attention to detail, and no-compromise style no matter who he’s shooting for.  Plus it’s always a lot of fun to see the madness and brotherhood of a really good mosh pit. Please enjoy this interview along with a selection of recent works. 

Favorite taco spot?
I love the homie Steven Arroyo’s spot Esquela for the restaurant vibe. His food is insane, authentic Angeleno, and he has the best taste aesthetically. And the refried beans are the best I’ve ever had… Seriously. There used to be a truck called Tacos Tamix right by my building near Macarthur Park that make my favorite Al Pastor but they had to split (I think they’re down near Pico/Union now).

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There is a Battleship in the L.A. River

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Artist Wild Life has an obsession with the Los Angeles River. He and collaborator Calder Greenwood hung a spider from the Sixth Street bridge so it stared down at the river below. Also with Greenwood, he put a surfer in the river which thousands came to gawk at. And now Wild Life has (allegedly) created a unique mural of a battleship, which should be dubbed USS Wildlife. It sits at the base of the 6th street bridge and was rumored to be done completely freehand.

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Taco Run: Day One of Paint Phoenix 2015

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Driving through Palm Springs at 5:20 am on Saturday morning I’m wide awake, excited about making it to Paint Phoenix 2015 in Arizona. I found out about this event via Instagram through some desert friends I made here in Los Angeles. Sent a few direct messages and made some phones calls to get more details, and suddenly I was making plans for a two day road trip.
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Free Palestine by ABCNT

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These posters by ABCNT are up in the streets, but also for sale on his print shop.
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Preview: Mear One “Urban Analog: The Monotype Collection 2003-2009″ ~ Opens Saturday at C.A.V.E. Gallery in Venice

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This Saturday at C.A.V.E. Gallery, artist Mear One will present monotypes from 2003-2009. You could call this a retrospective, but the themes Mear focused on in that period are just as relevant to Los Angeles today. Unlike many in the street-art world, Mear’s success hasn’t changed his political outlook or desire to make change in the world through his art. Keep reading for some more preview images, the artist’s statement, and a video of the process.

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Artist Statement
This series of monotypes titled Urban Analogue by MEAR ONE was created over a seven year period between 2003-2009 with the late great Southern California master printer, Pat Merrill. Each work from this series is unique. They are based on the artist’s subconscious exploration of his everyday structural and psychological environment growing up on the streets of LA. The spontaneous and liberating process of experimentation and execution inherent in this art form allows ad-libs of thought and subversive irony to flourish and which feature prominently in these works. Though more like his Live Art (see Live Art Retrospective) than his Graffiti or Tagger Art, MEAR ONE draws from both practices to bring to this series a certain energy, speed, and fluidity from the streets that translate into remarkable movement, texture, and abstraction onto the surface.

“As an artist one of the many interesting aspects of this personal journey is the ability to explore different mediums, and a great teacher recognizes these abilities and helps you do exactly that. Pat Merrill understood my natural affinity for the graphic arts and language that resonated seamlessly with monotyping. In printmaking you have to think outside of the normal realm of color, shape, shadow, and light gradients because everything becomes limited and decisive. Pat confronted me with several technical challenges, stripping me down of my traditional process, providing a new palette and tools, which in this case gave birth to the discovery of mark-making by scraping and removing as opposed to adding and applying. Through this reductive process I recognized in this medium something special and unique unto itself that even my studio paintings could not achieve.

Art In Response To A World Gone Mad

It was only when I accepted it couldn’t be like my paintings, that I decided to make my printing reflect my process. With finished works you don’t want to show people your process, but if the intention IS the process itself then it suddenly makes the work far more exciting. And that’s exactly the point. If I’ve created something new and unique that no one was expecting, and that isn’t necessarily referenced by me, then I’ve done my job. Otherwise everything becomes a monotonous montage of what you are used to and nothing sticks out, nothing is spectacular. But Pat was insistent that I get outside of myself, find new ways of doing what I already knew so well, if only to renew and refresh the spirit.

Pat Merrill was a master printer, artist, curator, teacher, scholar, philosopher, Vietnam veteran, a critical mind, an advocate for the peace movement. We shared similar worldviews that allowed us to vibe off one another throughout the creation of this series, and in many ways that dialogue is captured in this work. The end result, what it does for me as an artist, when I come back to my paintings it amazingly improves my realism, my structural design, or my understanding of the physical form so that there exists a symbiotic relationship wherein one supports the other. When Pat passed in 2010 he left behind this legacy of discovery. With the recent passing of another great master printer, Richard Duardo, a huge hole in Los Angeles culture was exposed and it is to these great teachers I dedicate this exhibition.” – MEAR ONE

Abracadabra

Tune of the Day: Ruckazoid – Money

You know the Trapgod, but do you know the Scratch God? This track by Ruckazoid is created only using turntables. Be amazed, it’s also a free download.