I don’t know what heaven looks like but, if I were a gambling man, I’d put my money on it looking a lot the way La Plaza de Culturas y Artes did this past weekend. A sell-out crowd of over 3,000 persons arrived at the museum and cultural center in Los Angeles for the 2014 edition of the Taste of Mexico Festival. Attendees spent the day tasting all types of delicious Mexican delicacies from various restaurants in the city, all of it free, while taking in some music and dancing. Again, if that isn’t heaven, I don’t know what is.

There was plenty at the fourth edition of the event to be wowed by. Below are my personal favorites, both food- and non-food related, of the event.

Two Parties In One Event

The festival was setup in such a way that gave attendees two options to experience and appreciate the event. The daytime event was a Farmer’s Market Picnic that utilized the smaller lawn/park area of La Plaza. The alcohol selection was limited with the focus placed on the food and a relaxing, family-friendly vibe where most in attendance spent the day lounging on the lawn after sampling plenty of tacos and tostadas.

The plaza shut down for a few hours in the late afternoon and reopened in the evening for Dinner and Agave Night. The relaxing atmosphere of the day was nowhere to be seen as it was replaced with a festive vibe filled with dinner, drinks, and dancing. The event was also extended with the majority of restaurants switching from tables on the front lawn to larger tents in the back parking lot and the liquor vendors setup on the lawn near the stage. It was a great way to start a Saturday night.

Pulque Has Arrived

Mezcal and tequila may have been the focus of the latter half of the event but it was the discovery of pulque that had me jumping for joy in the daytime. Restaurant chain El Borrego de Oro is famous for its barbacoa de borrego and consomé (which I can vouch for, that was some great birria) al estilo Hidalgo.

Its Montebello location will soon also be known as the place to buy pulque, that delicious aguamiel from the maguey plant. The owners didn’t divulge any details on the logistics behind importing it…but who cares?! Now we don’t have to wait until our annual trip to Mexico City to score some pulque!

Mezcal As Far As The Eye Can See

The popularity of mescal continues as was evidenced by the number of companies hawking their brands at the festival. Mestizo, Los Javis, Ilegal, and Montelobos were there serving their own versions of the rough and smoky liquor. One of the tables even ran out of mezcal and had to call it a night early. Luckily, other tables were prepared and the event ran without a mezcal-drought pandemonium.

 

The Overlooked World of Mexican Seafood

Tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc. are great and all but we need to give equal time to the world of Mexican seafood. I’m not the biggest fan of ceviche but I couldn’t resist a few tostadas de ceviche from Coni’Seafood. The fried shrimp tacos from Mariscos Jalisco are a unique creation. The tacos are folded and cooked into a hard, non-crispy shell, smothered in salsa and topped off with a slice of aguacate. I ate one…then I ate four more. Not to be outdone were the delicacies provided by Ceviche Project, El Coraloense, and Sinaloan-seafood spot Mariscos El Faro.

Two Words: Tortas Ahogadas

Why is it so damn difficult to find a good torta ahogada around these parts? Are they that difficult to find or have y’all been withholding information on the legit torta ahogada spots from me? Whatever the case may be, I finally solved that riddle with the help of Tortas Bravas. The spot in Downey serves tortas ahogadas that are as delicious as any great spot in Guadalajara. They also serve Carne en su Jugo, which just so happens to rank in my Top 5 list of favorite Mexican dishes.

Spicy Everything…Including The Alcohol

Naturally, there were plenty of dishes complemented with salsa and/or chile. What no one expected to find at the event, however, was a chile liqueur. Ancho Reyes is a liquor that uses the chile ancho of Puebla as its main ingredient. The owners served it in a punch that was sweet and provided a nice kick of chile in the aftertaste. I didn’t get to try it straight but I was pretty enchilado by then anyway.

Iced Café De Olla

There were those of us who decided to skip breakfast for this event in order to maximize tripa size. However, we still got our breakfast on that afternoon thanks to La Monarca Bakery who provided plenty of pan dulce and other pastries. Monarca also served some of the best café de olla I’ve ever had, served on ice to keep cool on the last hot day of the year (we’ll see about that) in L.A.

Non-Stop Music

DJ trio Metralleta De Oro provided the tunes both day and night for the crowd, switching from cumbia to sonidero and back. The daytime crowd were regaled by son jarocho group Conjunto Tenocelomeh. The nighttime crowd danced their panzas off to the cumbia work of A Poco No!, a cumbia project led by Eduardo Arenas of Chicano Batman.

 

Never-Ending Churros

There’s a scene in the movie trailer for The Book Of Life where an underworld character shows his love for “all you can eat chuuuuurroooooooooos” that are presumably available in the afterlife. Someone should’ve told him he could’ve gotten the same deal here thanks to Mr. Churro.

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