Monday, October 1, 2007

let them eat tacos: west coast food tour 2007.

(admittedly, we took this trip at the end of september 2007, but to be fair, we did eat a LOT of bacon, and that takes a lot out of us.)

this trip was a celebration of life, lauren quitting her job and food porn. we photographed everything we ate (except for an apple, some figs, an ice cream bar, and several lackluster beverages). accordingly, we started out, as most trips often do, with nate, in portland.

lauren: taqueria santa cruz has the most amazing habanero salsa in the universe. and the tacos are really good. and the vegetarian burrito has like, two avocados in it. and they have rice pudding ice cream bars in the tienda in front that i can't even begin to describe.

max- i use hyphens. i had an exceedingly delightful burrito (al pastor) at this establishment not two weeks previous to this excursion and most every visit had been positive so i felt secure in ordering a 'veggie' (bean) burrito. the thing is this - i am something of a mexican food snob because of a southern californian upbringing, so upon my first visit to this 503 eatery i was taken aback at the crispiness of the tortilla surrounding the, uh, guts of the burrito. it had been grilled? after being stuffed? not to worry though, the gut pocket is both delicious, adding a textural variety to an otherwise mushy venture, and structurally sound. never have i found the physical integrity in question at the santa cruz eatery. yes. so- this veggie burrito (not pictured) was 'dee-lish'. yes- a great many avocado is crammed into this mexican cornucopia and i grant approval. santa cruz--- yes! you may continue to disburse your foodstuffs!

lauren: thai basil is a food cart in portland that nate "kinda turned us on" to, like bret michaels is "kinda turned on" to every single thing in existence, except this is just thai food. everything costs five dollars, and each (huge) entree comes with spring rolls (as many as you want, i think, if you want two or less), peanut sauce, thai tea (or a soda) and an almost overwhelming portion of rice.
i had a spring roll, a diet coke and the pumpkin curry. coming from an asian foodless existence in central new jersey, pretty much everything i eat in the vicinity of the pacific rim is completely mindblowing. this was full of pumpkin, not at all greasy (as i believe most food that comes out of a window of a van typically is), and unfortunately, not as spicy as i would have liked. luckily, all the other flavors pulled through, especially after being inspired by max to use the rest of my peanut sauce as a thick, crunchy blanket for my excess rice, and i left portland confident in our decision to spend the next 1200 miles scouring the west coast for the best meal of our lives.

max- after thai tom does any other thai food really exist? no, a thousand times, no! i would gladly drop a neutron bomb upon the country of thailand, permanently cutting myself off from 'the real deal' following the first bite i took from thai tom in seattles university district. why should i eat thai basil, sir? once again however, my fears were assuaged by one nate schmoe (not his real name) as i partook, all vacuum cleaner like, of a green coconut curry in a park by a river. i must break with my partner at the mention of greaselessness. it is greasy, but, like, in a good way. this is a public service announcement- with two(2) free spring rolls! how can you give me fresh vegetables from a van window, maam? there is peanut sauce (salty/sweet) from a plastic cup on my food. but really, not that spicy. tom has you there! but quite good. and cheap.

lauren: i'm starting to come to terms with the fact that i don't really like sausage. it grosses me out, i'm constantly picking gristle out of my teeth, and i'm living in fear that my casing is actually an intestine. taylor sausage temporarily assuaged me with a jalapeno dog, that was spicy enough that if i had known that first, i wouldn't have slathered it in enough horseradish mustard to give myself a headache for the rest of that day. taylor sausage had a lot, a lot of meat in the store, more meat than i had ever seen, which i liked. what i didn't like was the sausage i had later at justin's house in arcata, which is grossing me out even more in hindsight than at the time, as i build it up in my head as some kind of monster, full of miniscule inedible sausage vittles and cased in saran wrap. i can't get it out of my head, and thus, am currently "off sausage."

max- good god. i am most decidedly 'on' sausage. taylor sausage filled the bun+dog shaped hand food hole in my george foreman seared jet black heart. yes. a warehouse, an eden, of meats. one half an assorted cornucopia of meats that runneth over, the other half devoted only to ground pig and spices in a casing. oh, its intestinal casing? good! am i picking gristle out of my teeth one hour later? fantastico! i relive the glory of my delicious, mind altering meal anew!!1!!(.) i recieved a louisiana hot link and the eponymous taylor dog after clogging the line, stammering and clammy staring at the menu. delightful and refreshing, both. i broke a sweat, as i am wont to do with startling frequency, when i cut my teeth on the hot link. crunchy snap of casing, tickle to burn spiciness, mounted with peppers, onions, mustard. and glory be- the jerky of cow meat blew my mind all over again. pepper encrusted trail beef snack. heres me full mouth mangle translation- 'im gonna save the rest of this for tommorow'. then i finished it. and stopped for more at a roadside stand (with taylor affiliation, natch).

lauren: as soon as i moved to seattle, justin stayed with us and taught us how to make gravy so we could make disco fries. i never impressed myself, and it took a long time, and i hate cooking, and wah wah wah, next thing you know, we're back to pouring from a can. justin, however, in the wee hours before i even entirely awoke, stirred up some pepper gravy, slopped it over home made still warm biscuits, and finished off the plate with perfectly scrambled eggs, before sending us off to san francisco.

max- yeah.

lauren: on the way to san francisco was the first in'n'out of the trip. we were deep into california at this point, and had been starving ourselves waiting. a grilled cheese, cheeseburger, strawberry shake and fries later, i was sated temporarily, my fullness only a reminder that soon, i would hunger, and soon, in'n'out would cure me once more.

max- santa rosa, ca. first coastal purveyor of i'n'o. double double, fries, grilled cheese. standard order. also, lemon water. we filled our water bottles here too. of course- consistent, great fast food, untouchable by any other chain, very affordable, etc. the first of the twin joys of california eating in my greasy mitts.

lauren: one of the first blogs i started reading regularly was, the story of a man on a search to thoroughly evaluate every burrito known to the bay area. this man is tenacious and persistent, routinely going back to places he doesn't even enjoy just as to solidify an accurate rating, including such burrito facets as filling, spiciness, and even burstage abatement. on the top of his list was taqueria cancun, and thus, i knew my first adventure to san francisco would have to include their al pastor super burrito. my. god. first of all, chips with a meal is a constant plus in my book, especially at a wait-in-line vs. sit-down place. the salsa fucked up my world with its sheer heat, and the al pastor. oh, the al pastor. this was unlike any pork i've ever had, in that it was sweet. it still had those delicious crunchy bits, and tender inside bits, and all the other good bits that come from spit-roasting meat, but most remarkably, it tasted as if it was glazed in heaven with brown sugar molasses ambrosia. set against a large amount of creamy avocado, cool sour cream, and spicy salsa, this could well be one of the best burritos i've ever ravaged in all my days. i was sad to see it go, but our host, owen, was to chauffer us to big sur that very night and time was of the essence.

max- the other half of the duo of california highlights is obviously mexican food. if this concept is hard to grasp, i feel sure a phrenological exam would reveal trepanation the only cure for your foolishness. we began our unending intake of mexican at cancun burrito in sfs mission district. i have sampled their wares on previous occasions, so i felt i had a good grip on a standard order- carnitas super burrito. however, the structural integrity of my burrito was compromised when i removed it from its paper holding case to thouroughly examine up close the beauty of its construction. alas, gluttonly turned to frustration as i turned to a fork to eat this goliath. this is no way for a human being to eat a burrito, sirs! the fault, of couse, was mine, but the whole excursion was soured for me with improper handling of my own food stuff. oh, the shame! really, i know how to eat a burrito. i was out of practice. so humiliating. perfectly cooked carnitas- tender, juicy, it handles itself well in my food hole. very hot salsa verde, quite good.

lauren: big sur has probably the most beautiful beach in the world, aside from the dead seal rotting near a cliff that greeted us once on shore. regardless, it's perfect for a picnic and also perfect for a picnic is a tomato, mozzerella and balsamic sandwich from a local cafe, paired with chocolate milk and yogurt covered pretzels. the only stand out thing probably was the sandwich was on this amazing crusty west coast style sourdough that's still relatively new to me. good, but the good taq. cancun left big shoes to fill indeed.

max- my black forest ham and swiss on sourdough (mine not crusty) was adequate. diagonal cut. anti climatic. the sea whets my appetite and i find it shall only be sated by i'n'o or mexican food. forgive me, my vessal. i had forgotten. ( hangs head, single tear drops in slow motion onto fine white sand at bare feet, curtain falls, fade to black, etc ['suck it'- ed.])

lauren: moving on from big sur, we headed south to LA and again ventured into the sacred land of in'n'outs. what an addiction i've developed: crisp fresh fries, thick creamy shakes, epic grilled cheese, and most impressive, the only fast food restaurant that won't give you a massive food hangover. this place is quality, and i know this in my soul.

max- uh huh

lauren: ah, morning in LA. we stayed in a motel near the airport and obligatorily headed down to the contintental breakfast, snacked on cornflakes and subpar juice, and headed out to our REAL breakfast, at Toast. i read about toast in, sarah gim's personal food blog (hi, my name is lauren, and i'm a slashfood addict), and felt a strange, strong urge to make a pilgrimage. my eggs florentine were excellently prepared: perfectly poached globules of egg atop a crusty sourdough and slathered in thick mushroom spinach sauce. on the side, an elaborate exotic fruit salad topped with slivers of starfruit. delicious, and the second time the internet had help up for me in delicious reccomendations. satisfied, we headed off to la brea tar pits.

max- surrounded by perrenial blondes and affected light talkers, we braved the califor nai ay los angeles. la has always been a very spiritual place for me, and as a pair of reality tv show hopefuls, we knew we had found our mecca. perhaps i over estimated this tost butbasil hollandaise sauce over salmon mounted croissants seemed like a good idea at the time. unfortunately, my breakfast was neutered by overly fishy flavors, successfully negating any semblance of delisciousness. how distracting! oh, cruel fate, you have failed me again. perhaps i had failed myself. but the sourdough toast was fine.

lauren: it had been almost a full day since our last mexican meal, so again, back to the internet to sniff out some tacos. again, another blog to which i am faithful (literally, "full of faith"), the great taco hunt, did not disappoint. the second place we went to, el parian, had large fresh grilled flour tortillas and incredibly steaklike carne asada, but lost points with canned salsa, bagged chips, and general not-my-thing-ness. but the first place! oh, el taurino. el taurino, at first bite, leaped into my top two meals of all time. tiny little corn tortillas bursting with crispy and tender al pastor, and juicy shreds of carne asada, topped with salsa roja, cilantro and onions; huge cups full of thick, cinnamony horchata obviously made fresh daily; even max's quesadilla, just cheese between tortilla, was somehow just a little bit more than perfect with every oozy bite sauced with thick guacamole and fresh tomatillo salsa. this was an indescribable experience for the most part, and the best i can do is encourage the world to make a special trip.

max- el taurino- shitfuckpisscunt- real mexican food at last. sure, you can just get by in the northwest, but why? el taurino bestowed science upon me and i knelt at its altar to recieve it. my carne asada taco dripped its juice, anointing my fingers and i crunched into crispy wet edges of al pastor taco dat drips da juice too. salsa unnecessary, but if youre ready to beatify your taco i vote yes. my quesadilla detached from its styrafoam prison with skeins of cheese still shackling it away from my taste buds. i freed it with a tug and dipped it into the salsa verde that burned flavor into my mouth. uh, ok. my horchata was milky with sediment and powder so when the ice melted, i gave it a mix with my straw and had a new drink all over. el parian is supposed to be the shit, i guess. its been around for 40 years and they make their own tortillas on the premises so uh, yeah. but you get pussy footing pico salsa and store bought chips and i already had el taurino so what the fuck? but super tender carnitas and unremarkable carne asada.

lauren: next was breakfast again, in san diego this time. we went to cafe on park, somewhere max knew about from having grown up there. i got a gigantic pancake, eggs, and bacon, all good, but why bother with pancakes? why do *I* bother with pancakes? the world may never know.

max- cafe on park is a cafe on park (avenue). good breakfast, but not mindblowing. some kind of poached egg with hollandaise, probably. why i not eat mexican (rivas) or not eat i'n'o, i dunno? fuck

lauren: lunch in san diego. obviously, mexican food, so we stopped in at pokez. everyone there was hipster trash, and really unsettlingly rude to us. it made my already below average meal worse. god!

max- i used to eat routinely at pokez when i was a student at the nearby prestigious institution of san diego city college (13th grade of coronado high school- ed). i was accompanied by a 'friend' who was cream of the hipperati crop so service was always friendly, prompt, etc. the food was good, as far as i can recall, but my palate had yet to develop into the efficient and finely tuned instrument of joy it is today. on this occasion, i was humiliated. after trumpeting the joys of 619 mexican food to lauren for so long, we breached the surface with a choice based on convenience to our location at time of hunger. the service was rude, dismissive, brusque, overbearing, snappy, and flawed. our order was botched, my beer was never provided, we recieved service long after others who were seated after us, who were clearly compatriots of the hipster employees. my huge taco was flavorless, a directionless jumble of 'mexican' mexican food components. my veggie quesadilla floundered in the shallows, vainly trying to provide culinary entertainment based on its massive size rather than the quality, care, soul of its construction and components. look, normally getting A LOT of food is enough for this reviewer, but the service just amplified the mediocrity of the meal. bullshit. dear pokez- suck it. love, max

lauren: max had to redeem himself, so he took me to this great italian deli/restaurant, mona lisa. wowowow. i had another caprese sandwich, but this was on a really crusty semolina dusted with sesame seeds and liberally doused in balsamic vinegar, and was lightyears beyond the big sur sandwich of days past. furthermore, they had these little amaretto ice cream cups with toasted coconut and a cherry on top that i remember devouring as a kid and haven't seen in about 15 years, and a broad selection of novel italian sodas; and thus, i stuffed my face and contentedly fell deep into a food coma early in the evening.

max- yes, mona lisa. a fantastic and authentic (i would suppose?) deli in little italy near our hotel. we decided to forgo the odd attitudes of staying with the kinfolks and so strayed from our motel six accommodations for an evening stroll. we happened upon the kindness of the italian people in the form of a salami, ham, and coppa sandwich slathered generously with olive oil encased in a crusty sesame seed bread. the amaretto ice cream cup was a perfect complement to my two 24 ounce coors banquet beers as we watched another riveting episode of law and order: special victims unit back in the room. ding ding!

lauren: we gave mexican another shot, this time at la fuente, where max had claimed one of his top five meals of all time (a garlic shrimp burrito) was consumed. my fish burrito was good, but, and even though i despise shrimp (its cell vacuole texture repulses me), max's was better. tons of fat little shrimp bursting with flavor in a garlic cilantro sauce that seeped into every bite. we topped it off with some cinnamon sugar tortilla chips and began the trek north back to seattle.

max- i have eaten at la fuente, a hillcrest mexican mainstay, many times before over the years. on one such excursion, and after listening to a lot of hawkwind, i had my mind blown apart by a shrimp burrito. i never really was able to fit the pieces back together. i almost lost it there for awhile. i decided to come back later the next day (natch!-ed) and get the real shit on the place and yes to my great astonishment, it was still astounding. the shrimp was softish and tasty, the sauce was a buttery, peppery, lemony, garlicky concoction that perks up the tastebuds and although you lose the structural integrity of the tortilla about halfway through, you are provided a fork for just such an inevitable situation. since experiencing this revelation. i had not ordered another item off the menu, and in fact, the taste memory of the other options had faded into the fog of the past, duh. so it was with trepidation that i brought a shrimpless freak to this establishment. she dug it ok. my burrito was as expected- the shit. the deep fried chips with cinnamon and sugar were good car companions on our return trip.

lauren: basically, we drove staight from san diego to portland, with one stop for in'n'out, and one stop for cobbler at a pie stand. both will not be soon forgotten. a thousand hours and many sleep deprived hallucinations later, we pulled into nate's house where he declared he would buy us weary travellers breakfast. it had been many hours and miles since our last meal, and we were more than delirious at this point, but nate always knows best. more than sleep, we needed the cricket cafe. there was nothing more i wanted than, on that chilled rainy northwestern morning, to crawl into a warm bed and sleep for the better part of a millenium; that not being on the menu, i settled for the pancake embodiment of that: oatmeal apple cakes, with bacon. i have no idea if this meal was actually good or not. i have no idea if i even ate this meal or it was a strange fever dream guiding me northwards. honestly, i barely know that i was definitively in portland. the only thing i'm sure of, is that if these pancakes were real, they might as well have been a dream, albeit a dream saturated with butter and syrup (though most of mine are, anyway), but a fitting end to our eating adventure.

max- nate schmoe is perhaps behind all cycles that bind together the cosmic reality we have been known to call life, and i would not be surprised to find him in flowing robes as the great scorer when it comes time to tally up my count in the book of life. i both fear and respect him, mostly. so, when it came time to breakout of my sleep diet visions in p-tizzle , i turned the wheel over to the captain. he would not steer us aground. my plate at cricket was simple, but fiendish in its conception. to wit: an omlettish concoction of eggs, sausage, cheese, mushrooms, laced atop with bacon and covered in gravy. yes. there is nothing to dislike here and the meal took me in its porky arms and enveloped me in the joy of weary food travels and as ben says 'you take pictures of your food, right?'. yeah

you can see more pictures of our trip food here, though be warned, many are of bacon and very few look as good as they taste.

stay tuned for our next (much shorter, i promise) entry, a state by state blow by blow of b b q as we know it.

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