Back when I used to spend my days as the Weekly's music editor instead of its restaurant critic, my favorite time to see a band was in the weeks just before it released its first major record, after it had scrubbed away some of the grime of the clubs but before it had endured 110 identical sets played on 110 successive nights. There is something to be said for a band that has learned its songs without having lost that smack of the street.
I was thinking of those shows the other night at Antojitos Carmen, one of the new breed of tweeting street vendors (find them on Twitter at @AntojitosCarmen), which only a couple days earlier had made the transition from a street vendor a few steps south of Cesar Chavez to a restaurant on the boulevard itself; from a makeshift taco table to a family place where photographs of the namesake Carmen's hometown line the walls. And if there is a restaurant closer to the street anywhere in the world, I would like to know what it is — when the waiter vanished for a few minutes before reappearing with a cup of walnut atole, a ruddy-red pambazo, or a little dish of dry toasted-seed salsa, I half suspected that he'd run around the corner to pick it up, even though the street operation on Matthews was on hiatus that night. The alambre was made with bacon, sautéed onions, peppers, bits of grilled beef … and chopped hot dogs. On the menu was the street stand's old roster of masa-based Mexico City–style snacks — giant huaraches smeared with huitlacoche; turnoverlike quesadillas available either deep-fried or pan-toasted; fat tacos assembled with everything from cow's head to chorizo with potatoes. “Regular tortillas or tortillas made to order?'' the waiter asks. I'm not sure I've ever been posed an easier question.
ANTOJITOS CARMEN: 2510 Cesar Chavez Ave., Boyle Heights. (323) 264-1451. Open Mon.-Thurs.,8:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sun., 8:30 a.m.-mid. Cash only. No alcohol. Street parking. Takeout and free delivery within two miles.
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