Guisados

guisados menu board
Living in southern California, it’s next to impossible to not eat a taco once in your life. There are the countless taco trucks along Ceasar Chavez and Beverly Blvd; they were a thing before food trucks became a thing. While Guisados is a brick and mortar restaurant instead of a mobile taco truck, it has the taco truck mentality. Order at the counter, watch your taco being assembled fresh after you order, stuff your face with it, and then order another.

Where Guisados differs from the taco truck experience is that it doesn’t just have your run of the mill carne asadas, carnitas, and cabeza tacos. Instead, it has exotic-sounding things like calabacitas and mole casipoblano. What might surprise you is that this humble little taco spot also has an amuse bouche and even a chef’s choice sampler platter.

The amuse bouche, a small cup of whatever soup they’re featuring that day, is enough to whet the appetite while you’re waiting for the food to be assembled. The first time I went, it was a rich, fresh-tasting cilantro soup with just the right touch of acidity. The second time, it was a wonderfully spiced chicken broth. A hot bowl of that soup would be perfect on a chilly day.

First-timers willing to try anything should definitely go for the sampler platter. It’s a plate of six miniature tacos each piled high with the first six taco fillings on the menu. On one particular day, the six tacos were chicharron, tinga de pollo, steak picado, mole poblano, chuleta en salsa verde, bistek rojo, and cochinita pibil.guisados

My favorites on that day were the chicarron and cochinita pibil tacos. The chicharon had that perfect chewy but tender texture with that guilt-inducing richness. The cochinita pibil was juicy, spicey, and definitely gives Yucas, my previous spot for cochinita pibil, a run for their money. The tinga de pollo has a chile pepper drawing next to it, indicating that it’s spicy and yes, it is definitely a not-foolin’ around spicy. I usually save that one for last or else I can’t taste the other tacos after it.

What’s icing on the cake is that Guisados also offers a couple of vegetarian and possibly vegan tacos (if you ask them to leave off the cheese). The vegetarian options aren’t as plentiful or as exciting sounding as the meat options, but it’s always nice to have. The days I was there, they had a grilled mushroom and cilantro taco as well as a zucchini taco. Unfortunately, most of the time, the amuse bouche of soup is not vegetarian.

On a street in Boyle Heights that boasts of hundreds of other places to get tacos and tamales, it’s hard for a new restaurant to stand out. What Guisados has to offer is a regionally different taco filling, and attention to ingredients. After one chat with the owner, it’s apparent that he really cares about the quality of his ingredients, how his taco fillings turn out, and his customers. One of the times I visited was in the middle of Lent and he admitted to having more fish and vegetable options on the menu to cater to his Catholic customers who still want a delicious taco. How’s that for customer service?

Guisados
2100 E Cesar Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 264-7201

The Luggage Room Pizzeria

The Luggage Room in Pasadena on a Friday night is crowded, loud, and guaranteed to make you wait 15 minutes for a table unless you want to stand a constant vigilance at the bar. (For those unwilling to wait, the pizzeria is actually attached to Le Grande Orange Cafe which as a less pizza-oriented menu.)

Is the 15 minute wait worth it? For a nearby pizzeria with good pizza and a good wine list, yes.   The pizzas range from the ubiquitous margarita to the very Californian avocado pizza.  I ordered the mushroom party pizza ($13 – cremini mushrooms, onion, sweet fennel and an added egg at no extra cost) while Will ordered margarita ($12) with black olives and a rocket man ($12 – fresno chiles, broccolini, roasted garlic, and oven dried tomatoes ).

The Luggage RoomThe Luggage Room

The pizzas came out 10 minutes later with a crust featuring lots of big bubbles on a wooden serving board.  My mushroom pizza was earthy and savory, but I think it could have used a more pungent or sharper cheese to balance the musky mushrooms.  The topping wasn’t as good as Mozza’s funghi misti, but the crust was great.  It was crispy, with just the right amount of chew.  Once I got to the outer crust, which I usually discard at lesser pizzerias, I noticed a complex, tangy taste, thanks to their naturally leavened dough.

The Luggage RoomThe Luggage Room

The BF’s pizzas were decent, but I found the tomato sauce to be too tangy and zesty.  According to Will, they tasted like tomatoes from a can, but not in a good way.

For a place close to home with a good wine list, The Luggage Room is pretty good. If it were less busy on a Friday night, I’d definitely make this a regular.  A good pizza and glass of wine, a drink afterward at 1886 on Fair Oaks, and I’d call that a successful date night.

The Luggage Room Pizzeria
260 S Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 356-4440

Yu Shan Ge (Taipei)

Taiwan RestaurantYu Shan Ge is a high-end vegetarian restaurant close to the Shandao Temple MRT stop.  Even though we took a taxi to it from our hotel, we realized it was actually a walkable distance and walked the way home. After the filling meal we had, walking was a smart choice.

The restaurant itself is nicely decorated and just stinks of money, but luckily not in a tacky way. There are glassed walls decorated by rocks strung on wire, beaded partitions, and dim lighting. While we were doing research on vegetarian restaurants in the area, we read that this place is frequented by celebrities but alas, we didn’t recognize any.

Yu Shan Ge serves food influenced by Japanese cuisine which is evident in the meticulous presentation of each dish and the little speech that our waitress gave before setting down the food. Everything we ate had some florid, touchy-feely, spiritual story behind it. While it’s typically a turn off for me, I was surprised that most of the food was tasty enough for me to overlook the over-the-top presentation.

Taiwan Restaurant

The first thing the waitress brought us was this dish of water with rose petals and a lemon slice floating on top. I was immediately reminded of the story of the boorish American who thought the finger washing dish was some sort of cold soup.  It felt strange rinsing my hands in this bowl of cold water while the waitress smiled and looked on, but at least my hands were clean.

Because Will doesn’t eat dairy or eggs, we had to ask them if they could modify the already vegetarian menu to his restrictions. Luckily, the waitress seemed happy to accommodate.

Taiwan Restaurant

The first dish we were presented was a cold appetizer plate of vegetarian sushi and salad.  The bite-sized piece of fake salmon was actually some sort of agar preparation. It didn’t have the same texture as real salmon, but tasted good nonetheless.  The custardy tofu on a cracker was also nice.

Taiwan Restaurant

One of the soups we had that night really stood out because of its mouthfeel.  The broth was rich, thick, and coated my mouth the way a slow-simmered pork broth would.  I think it was a vegetarian rendition of shark fin soup and it was one of the best I’d ever had.

Taiwan RestaurantTaiwan Restaurant

We also had a taro root porridge type dish which was presented in such a thoughtful way.  It was brought out to us on a straw mat with an orchid plant on the side and some rocks.  Even though we were sitting in a dark restaurant, it was cute that the chef wanted to bring a little nature to his dishes.

Taiwan Restaurant

The only letdown of the dish came in the form of what I assumed was the main course. I think it was supposed to be a vegetarian play on steak and gravy and it certainly looked nice, but the taste just wasn’t good. The texture of the steak, which I think was made of chopped mushroom was actually decent, if not a little weird at how accurately they mimicked the fibrous texture of real steak. What broke the dish was the sauce. It was too peppery, sweet, and sour. It made me think of gravy made out of Chinese spices, which might have been what it actually was.

Taiwan Restaurant

No Chinese meal would be complete without rice, and this meal was no exception. Unfortunately, by the time the savory, sticky rice came out, I was beyond stuffed. I could barely manage to finish half my bowl of rice.

Taiwan Restaurant

Dessert was a good breather. I was dreading that it would be something really sweet and filling like a pastry, but then that would go against the restaurant’s whole message. Instead, we were brought out some cut up fruits and a bowl of sweet soup filled with white woodear mushrooms, dates, and papaya. It was sweet, but just the perfect amount of sweet.

Taiwan Restaurant

Yu Shan Ge is certainly not priced as a casual place to stop by and eat, but it is worth going there at least once for the experience. Their mini-speeches before each dish is a little hokey for me, but it’s worth sitting through just for the food.

Taiwan RestaurantTaiwan Restaurant

Yu Shan Ge
14, Bei Ping Dong Rd (at Shandao Temple MRT)
tel: 02-2394-5155