Leading up to this year's Best of L.A. issue (due out Oct. 4), we'll be counting down, in no particular order, 100 of our favorite dishes.
93: Squash Blossom Quesadilla at Antojitos Carmen.
If you've ever wandered the streets of Boyle Heights on a sleepy Saturday afternoon, you've probably encountered the sights and sounds of street food: the sizzling carne asada on the plancha, the scent of hot oil and fried masa, the guys handing out samples of fresh orange wedges with dashes of chile powder.
Even though you still might be able to find the occasional barbacoa specialist or slinger of tacos al vapor along the boulevards, things haven't been the same since the Breed Street lot, a nightly gathering of up to 40 street food vendors in a parking lot just off César Chávez Avenue, was disbanded by the city a few years ago.
Yet out of this chaos rose Antojitos Carmen, a former Breed Street vendor, which converted its propane-powered griddle into a full-on restaurant located not far from the old lot. Their success was pretty unprecedented — matron and namesake Carmen Castellanos was essentially the Vito Corleone of Mexican street food — and the little snacks they were famous for, crisp gorditas stuffed with cecina or chicharron, oval-shaped huaraches smeared with ink-black huitlacoche, or a tomato-soaked pambazo studded with chorizo and potato, proved as addictive to customers sitting in plastic red booths as they were when everyone was standing on a street corner.
There is fresh masa pounded out by hand — you can hear the dull thud-thud in the kitchen — and a impeccable collection of salsas, including an earthy salsa de semilla made with ground dried chiles and spiced sesame seeds, and a throat-searing habanero cream mixture that looks innocuous until you dap a fingertip's worth on your tongue. You will love the quesadillas here, not the kind you used to make in the frying pan when the fridge was near bare, but the real version: dense and fried to a gorgeous golden-brown, infused with buttery Oaxacan cheese and a heap of garlic.
The flor de calabaza, bright yellow squash blossoms that are fixtures at every farmers market in town right now, are always pretty good when sauteéd long enough to yield their unique savory character. During this time of the year, however, their flavors reach even more angelic heights. The quesadilla arrives with a handful of lettuce and a drizzle of fresh crema, ready to be lashed with fiery salsa and consumed, ideally, fresh out of the fryer in a few finger-burning bites.
Check out the rest of our 100 of our favorite dishes. Suggestion? Write us a comment.
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