Meat Me in Hell

A guide to great food

Menudo has nothing on the rejuvenating miracle of sopa de pata, El Salvador's national dish. It ain't pupusas, contrary to what almost all restaurant critics assert. It's a cow's foot, various veggies, and broth. Surrounded by starch (Salvadorans love potato and yucca the way Mexicans venerate the tortilla), injected with lime juice, and boiled so that the feet meat drops off the bone like John Kerry's presidential ambitions, sopa de pata, with its pungent, detoxifying essence, could convert José Cuervo into Carrie Nation on scent alone. After you've sopped the bowl dry with Pupusería San Sivar's discus-thick tortillas, the only thing left will be the cow's strange, knuckle-shaped foot bone—if you're lucky, there'll be some marrow inside the bone that's begging for some scooping. 1940 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-2952.

NOT AT ALL CHILLY

Red Rock Chili in Fashion Island boils six types of chilis daily, but its signature Hot Rock variety must originate from the fiery crater of Mount Etna. Stewed with the infamously hellish habanero pepper and vanilla-by-comparison jalapeños and chipotles, the ground meat included in the Hot Rock chili somehow retains its juiciness—you'd logically expect it to develop into obsidian pebbles. The beans, meanwhile, are what chili beans should be: firm, a cooling counterpart to the magma they accompany. Nevertheless, gobble a spoonful of the chili, and visions of your intestines exploding into mushroom clouds and emergency tongue amputations will shortly dominate your waking hours. 401 Newport Center Dr., Ste. A106, Newport Beach, (949) 760-0752.

UPSIDE-DOWN HINDUISM

Argentina is infamous for its worship of cow—a kind of upside-down Hinduism—but the cult of parrillada at Regina's Restaurant warrants a takeover by federal storm troopers. Housed in a steel tray as long and deep as a kiddie suitcase, the parrillada is four different piles of beef recommended for two but fit for a group of surly gauchos. Thin-skinned morcilla (blood sausage) oozes out a mushy, herbed gunk that's the equivalent of sticking a straw into a longhorn and sipping. Easier to digest are mollejas (sweetbreads), oily hypothalamus glands glistening with more grease than a bucket of Vaseline. For fans of "normal" meat—though if you don't take at least one chew of the morcilla and mollejas, you're a carajo—there's also well-done chunks of flank steak, short ribs, and, in a bit of beef blasphemy, an entire chicken. You can request a side of stale french fries to equalize the protein, but that's like using a water balloon to cool a volcano. 11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-9595.

A GREAT BARRIER REEF OF NOODLES

Pho is so mainstream nowadays that you can find the hearty Vietnamese beef noodle soup far from the safety zone of Little Saigon. The best is at Pho Quan Thanh in Irvine. Although Pho Quan advertises six types of pho, follow their advice and order the pho dac biet tai, which translates as "house special pho—rare." The helmet-size bowl is brimming with a Great Barrier Reef of noodles upon which juts a promontory of rare beef that you can dip into the bubbling, anise-flavored broth for a well-done finish, or you can leave it be if you like meat undone. Throw crisp bean sprouts and mint leaves into the pho, along with a dab of tart hoisin sauce, and the madness of Bolsa vanishes as the pho gently overwhelms your senses. 14120 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 559-1838.

THE MEAT RIDES SHOTGUN

Located on a nondescript corner of inland HB, Lou's Oak Oven Barbeque is a small restaurant with a big purpose. Unlike most other barbecue eatoriums claiming that good barbecue begins and ends in the American South, Lou's stands as a reminder of California's proud Santa Maria-style barbecue tradition. Lou's rotisseries its tri-tip, chicken, pork, spicy linguica sausage and ribs over genuine Central California red oak, ensuring that the flavor of the meat rides shotgun, enhanced—but never overpowered—by sauce basted on the meat or served on the side. Native Santa Maria pinquito beans come with entrées along with a variety of sides, including a stellar sweet potato baked with sugar and cinnamon, and seasoned potato wedges that compare to a good back scratching. And you'll be happy when the check arrives, not only because you're paying less than you expected, but because it's delivered with warm cookies. 21501 Brookhurst, Huntington Beach, (714) 965-5200.

RIVER OF LARD

The chicharrones (pork rinds) fried at Sarinana's Tamale Factory are cholesterol H-bombs, gnarled cylinders of hog fat baked for hours until each looks like a Precambrian fossil. The first time I chomped into one of them, I could only withstand that one bite—the coal-hard chicharrón immediately transformed into a river of lard upon entering the muggy warmth of my mouth. I gagged. "Obviously not a regular," said my companion. The people who frequent the 70-year-old Sarinana's frequently purchase chicharrones by the pound and eat the entire bag right there, adding only a sprinkle of lime and salsa as garnish. Angioplasties never sounded so worthwhile. 2218 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-8650.

FOOD COMA

The phrase "food coma" was invented for the visceral carnality that clogs your pores at Green Field Churrascaria, a palatial A-frame structure just off PCH specializing in the terrifying meat onslaught known as churrascaria, or Brazilian barbecue. Listen to us, please: skip the sides, skip the salads, dodge the dessert cart, forget the bread, and don't dare sip any beverages. Just eat the meat. Green Field offers gastronomic nitroglycerine that sends caloric counts to levels approaching Brazil's skyrocketing foreign debt. The only thing updated at Green Field since churrascaria's origins in the early 20th century—back then, gauchos on Brazil's sertão(Great Plains) chopped up some animal, stuck it on a stick, and held it over a fire—is the sides. You got your red beans; rich, dark-flavored oxtails; zesty collard greens with garlic; and the black beans-and-rice jumble known as morros y cristianos. They all constitute a good meatless meal for any vegetarians who foolishly enter Green Field. But try to eat solely sides, and Green Field's management is liable to toss you out onto PCH. The Golden Rule applies to Green Field: do not do unto the Brazilian barbecue, lest it do unto you. This is why the proud man in the bow tie, the guy with the gentle Portuguese accent, is called a meat runner—if there were less meat, he'd be a meat walker. (And if there were any more, he'd be on roller skates, like a wizened old car hop. We'd pay a little more than the going $23.99 a head to see that.) He walks around with a real-life sword jammed to the hilt with meat chunks in one hand, another blade to carve off however much you want in the other. If it were up to him, he'd deposit the entire sword, and come back with another. And another. And another. Churrascaria is pricey, but here's what you get: Brazilian sausage, tightly packed and burnt to nirvana, like a nonsweet Chinese sausage; a chicken thigh, good but perhaps too dry; and beef loin, best ever, rare but hot clear through. That's the first go-round, if you will. The only thing preventing you from suffocating in meat is a tricolored wood cylinder, painted red-yellow-green, your gustatory stoplight for the evening. Green means go with the meat; red means stop. When you're ready for the check, flip it to yellow, and they'll bring the bill. Caveat comedor: even if you place your cylinder on red, the meat runner will ask if you want meat. And ask again. And again. The folks at Green Field will not be satisfied until meat starts poking out of your ears, apparently. Your second orbit, if you dare—and even if you don't, it'll still be hurled toward you—brings more chicken; dry-looking beef ribs; tender, savory lamb; and beef kabab sandwiched with onion slices so it won't dry out. The beef, just rare enough, keeps the onion from burning to a cinder while it also takes out all but the slightest sting. MIA on our visit were quail, rabbit, turkey wrapped in bacon, chicken hearts, and the ominous-sounding Various Games. This means there's an imminent rematch between the churrascaria and our small intestine. We can hardly wait. 5305 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 597-0906.

A WARSAW PACK OF WIENERS
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