It was Baja Night in Los Angeles and I overdressed for the occasion. I was wearing a simple black dress that has been my evening staple. I downsized its glamour with a wide leather belt and a pair of favorite sandals. By the time my date had parked in the crumbling asphalt lot next to the taco stands, I was excruciatingly aware that I should have worn jeans instead. Ah well, c’est la vie. The lot at 1st and Beaudry in Downtown Los Angeles was next to the roaring arterial freeway that I’ve known for many years of my life, from childhood until this moment. As a Los Angelenos, I have had many a shuttling up and down that freeway intersecting the 110 with the 101 and the exits into downtown streets, 6th, 4th, and 3rd. The charm of this Baja Night came over me.
But did I ever imagine eating outside next to the freeway? Baja Night in Downtown Los Angeles was a true El Lay experience featuring two supreme taco vendors: Ricky’s Fish Tacos and Mexicali Taco & Company. Enjoying street tacos by the freeway gave a whole new perspective and meaning to me as a native Angeleno. As I was there because a certain delicious man invited me, surprising me yet again with another one of his food adventures. I was waxing into a newfound appreciation for my city of birth. I have bashed around Los Angeles for a good many years— disdaining it, agonizing over its faults like an old relationship gone sour, and leaving it a few times for another city. But now, this feeling of affection for Los Angeles and its ethnic technicolor channels of flavor and culture was ignited by the fish taco. Ricky’s Fish Tacos were my initiation into the sensual abandon of street seafood pleasures.
While standing in line, I met Starry Kitchen‘s Nguyen Tran decked out in a large sombrero, wearing it with all his unassuming charm. But I was struck with my social awkwardness that had so plagued me as a young girl. Then and there I felt like a silly teenager attempting to socialize, limiting myself with one-liner comments and barely audible replies. My eyes google around and look away. So Nguyen introduced himself and I mumbled something about him looking very dashing in his sombrero.
I clung to my date’s arm like a little girl. The churros were beckoning, sugary in their splendor nearby, curled into cinnamon roll-like shapes, consoling me with their decadent spirals. I longed for their hot whorls of wonder, dazzling my eyes within the chafing bins full of cinnamon sugar. Cinnamon. Canela. My mind whirring into childhood reverie of hot-to-fingertips-in-waxed-paper churros.
The churros were made by Churro Borough of Los Angeles. I couldn’t wait to try them— both the churro ice cream sandwiches and the churro ice cream nuggets. Among the selection of ice cream flavors were horchata, vanilla custard, blueberry-port-creme fraiche, mexican hot chocolate, to name a few.
I had three plates overflowing with lobster, fish, and shrimp tacos. The lines weren’t very long and the sense of community with other foodies was a pleasure, all of us sitting around on folding chairs and picnic tables. The wonderful smells rising from the grills, the table full of churros tempting the eye as I stood in line, the hungry flutter in my belly, excited to be experiencing fish tacos done by Ricky’s. I am new to the world of other things to eat besides vegetarian options. When it came my turn, I heaped on the pico de gallo salsa and shredded lettuce a little too eagerly, squirting the sauces in squiggly drizzles, overwhelming my tacos with condiments.
Ricky and company were frying up their marvelously golden batches of fish, shrimp and lobster, while Mexicali Taco & Company‘s stand was blossoming with a line of hungry foodies.
As I sat alone for awhile at the table, taking in the moment, I was in urban bliss. I was very hungry and could not wait to dive into my plate, but I did so slowly, savoring the fish and shrimp tacos, observing the skyline. Crunch of shrimp and the melting flesh of the fish bitten into, from the tongs of my plastic fork, the tang of salsa and hot sauce, all singing in my mouth. Each bite was filled with a warm richness, voluptuous upon my tongue with freshly fried batter, pops of chile and tomato. My date was in line at the Mexicali stand for the Vampiro quesadilla that oozed with an unctuous sexiness of garlic sauce and queso, sans the carne asada for me. He also lovingly removed (and ate) the bacon that wrapped itself around the sooty little chile relleno, which I bit into, the lingering greasy smoke mingling with the flavors in my mouth. The garlicky quesadilla. Orgasmic. My senses were swooning with the pleasure. He watched my face and took delight in my reaction. The evening skyline was now glowing over the bank of concrete and blur of freeway. That was when I was offered a refreshing glass of iced pandan green tea made by a friend of my darling, and we reveled in the tastes of both types he brought along in a large cooler. Our Snapple drinks pushed aside, the cool refreshment of iced pandan green tea reminded me of something I could not name, but a certain familiar taste nonetheless. Certain taste memories can remind and yet elude you.
I ate just enough of the tacos and quesadilla to feel sated, but the churros called out, for I love churros— hot churros. Can you imagine then, churros as ice cream sandwiches? The delicate warm churros and melting ice cream, tasting freshly made and not store bought. Churros— sugary with cinnamon spice, sparking my memories of street food fairs and summertime. The cinnamon sugar was burning on my lips a little; fresh and magnificently good. Ice cream cold and bursts of sweet creamy heaven.
After enjoying the iced pandan green tea, I decided it was a recipe worth trying. As I compose this posting, I am brewing up some in a big stainless steel pot, cooling it down, and preparing it for a pitcher full of sweet iced deliciousness. It’s really so simple. The only challenge is finding the pandan leaves, which can be found in Asian markets. I found mine at Simpang Asia, a charming Indonesian grocery store in the Palms neighborhood of West LA.