I'm Back From the War: Now Where Can I Get Cemitas?
the invisible restaurant critic
Dear Mr. Gold:
My brother called me last night to say that his deployment is almost over, and he can't wait to taste the cemitas from Pal Cabron again. He's been talking them up to his friends, and has built them up in his head as the perfect cure for months of aircraft-carrier cafeteria food. I hated telling him that Pal Cabron has closed, and I was hoping you might be able to suggest some alternatives.
--Christina Baker, via Facebook
Dear Ms. Baker:
We all miss Pal Cabron, I think, for its cemitas, its giant Oaxacan pizzas called tlayudas, and for the racy pictures in the men's room. Well, maybe you aren't nostalgic for that, but some of us are. It captured Los Angeles in a special way, and I suspect that in time Pal Cabron may end up enjoying the kind of iconic status now enjoyed by ghosts like Gorky's, the West Hollywood Oki Dog and the Atomic Cafe. Bricia Lopez, the owner, will make sure of that legacy -- and the tlayudas at Guelaguetza, her family's restaurant on Sunset, are almost identical to those at Pal Cabron. If you want her food in a slightly wilder setting, she often sets up a table on the patio of the tequila bar Las Perlas on weekends.
And the Poblano cooking, while wonderful, was never dissimilar from what you could get at a lot of other places in town, and if it's the sandwiches your brother missed while at sea rather than the paintings of women bursting out of their skimpy tank tops, substitutes are easy enough to find. The cemitas are particularly good at Elvirita's, on First Street across from the cemetery in Boyle Heights, made with properly crunchy seeded rolls, stuffed with things like slippery bits of pickled pigskin, pounded-thin sheets of fried beef or chicken or luscious braised carnitas, plus avocado, papalo, chipotle chiles and wads of shredded quesillo. (Elvirita's hand-shreds its quesillo, and on weekends it seems as if one of the cooks in the back does little else.) An Elvirita's cemita, a taco arabe with carne adobada and a cold bottle of Boing -- it's what I'd want after several months at sea.
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