This year’s Taste of Mexico event seemed both bigger and smaller than last year.  While I didn’t count the number of participating restaurants, they seemed slightly fewer in number compared to 2015.  But the crowds still packed into LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Downtown Los Angeles near Union Station and Olvera Street. I didn’t eat quite as much as I usually do, but I sampled enough to get a good feel for the event.  The breadth and depth of Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine were on full display. From artisanal chorizo and pozole to traditional pan dulce and flan, Taste of Mexico had something for everyone.  And without further ado, here are my Top 5 Bites of Taste of Mexico 2016:

5.  Tacos Punta Cabras‘ Grilled Galbee (Korean marinated short ribs), Chile Morita Guacamole, Masa Puffs: Chefs Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal always bring something interesting to the party, whether it’s sweetbread tacos with foie gras tortillas for Tacolandia 2015 or their pork rillettes sopes for Taste of Mexico last year.  This year’s dish was quite simple and delicious, and it was very popular with the crowds, with attendees grabbing 3-4 plates at a time, causing TPC to run out of food a little faster than anticipated!

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4.  Ceviche Project‘s Tuna & Sea Urchin Ceviche, Corn, Seaweed, Jicama, Cilantro, Serrano Chile, Onion, Radish, Pineapple:  Quite a number of participants broke out the erizo, but chef Octavio Olivas really let the sea urchin shine, while still providing a solid, meaty base with the raw tuna.  The only unfortunate aspect of the dish was the lack of utensils to eat it with, a problem that many of the participants faced at their booths, a rare but notable hiccup in the otherwise well-run event.

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3.  Salazar‘s Beef Tartare, Sea Urchin, Cheese Crisp:  I didn’t get a name or full description of the dish, but you have all the information you need, really, in those three terms.  As I said, uni was very popular at the event, and it goes surprisingly well with raw beef.  Esdras Ochoa, the chef of this ultra-popular Sonora-style eatery, didn’t skimp on the ingredients or on flavor here.  I just wished the portions were a little bigger, but that’s because I’m selfish.  As it were, the dish another victim of running out early as it was such a big hit!

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2.  Chichen Itza‘s Yellowtail Ceviche Tostada, Topped w/Fresh Sea Urchin or Conch:  Chef Gilberto Cetina, Jr. gets an automatic A+ from me whenever he brings his salbutes, ground beef short ribs and pork shoulder served on a puffy, fried tortilla.  It was my top pick for last year’s Taste of Mexico.  And of course the restaurant is also known for its cochinita pibil, another food festival favorite.  So seafood isn’t necessarily what comes to my mind when I think of Chichen Itza, but they have another hit on their hands.  The thing that put the dish over the top is the live sea urchin or conch that topped each tostada!

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1.  Chef Javier Plascencia‘s Taco-Crepa de Pancetta, Platano Macho:  The Baja chef manned the Toma Leche (the Spanish-language version of the Got Milk campaign) booth and produced a heck of a great taco!  Everything in this dish, from the meat to the plantains to the aromatics, and down to the crepe-tortilla hybrid, was just packed with flavor.  This was one of the longer lines at the event!  If you missed it, fortunately you no longer need to cross national borders to try chef Plascencia’s food; he opened Bracero Cocina in San Diego last year.  But from everything I’ve read and heard, his Baja restaurants are well worth the trip!

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Another year, another Taste of Mexico, and already looking forward to the next one!  Perhaps I’m a creature of comfort, but I just realized that 3 of the restaurants in my top 5 this year was also in my top 5 last year.  I like what I like!  For more great food around L.A. and beyond, check out my blog and Instagram.  Offalo out!