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Taquería Sinaloa, Oakland CA

Indoor seating, outdoor covered seating, two trucks on standby, ample parking, and catering services available, this is not the standard taquería.  Taquería Sinaloa, on the north corner of International Blvd and 22nd Ave, is a center of freshness.  Sure, the neighborhood might look run down, but excellent food is blind to socioeconomic status.

quesadilla de carne asada

quesadilla de carne asada

Our quesadilla was loaded with steak and cheese, folded in a crispy grilled tortilla.  The carne asada was finely chopped, so it was easy to take bites without pulling out large pieces of meat.  The juicy grilled steak’s flavor was rich, cooked with garlic, onion, and mild spices.  Of course, a quesadilla is nothing without cheese, but the cheese really made this item soar with gooey goodness.  Because it came out so fresh and hot, the cold crema on the side helped cool it down and add some creaminess to the textures.  Be careful with the garnishes, though, as they are unexpectedly hot.

super burrito de carnitas

super burrito de carnitas

For $10, this burrito is absolutely worth it.  We asked them to cut it in half so that you could see the insides for a photo, but normally they present it whole… and it’s over a foot long.  Zach estimates it could easily weigh two and a half pounds of rice, whole beans, sour cream, cheese, hot sauce, and meat.  You can choose any one of eight types of meat for any of the menu items, from chicken to cabeza (head), chorizo and tripitas (chitlins).  Zach chose carnitas, or fried pork, which was super flavorful.  Unlike most carnitas we’ve had before, this was crispy like it’s supposed to be but still tender and juicy, and it maintained its crunchiness amidst the steaming heat of the rice and beans.  We have to make a point of saying the beans are whole, because it would seem that very few places in Oakland offer refried beans, so don’t bother asking for them.

tres tacos distintos

tres tacos distintos

Three tacos are plenty of food for a meal on its own, and a benefit is the option of choosing a different meat for each.  All tacos come sprinkled with chopped cilantro and onions, both vibrantly fresh and zesty.  It was a nice detail that the onion was cut finely enough that we got no large chunks of biting flavor.  Closest in the forefront of the picture is lengua, or tongue, which was more tender than the typical tongue.  We’re no expert on cow tongue, but whether it was special seasoning or exceptional freshness, this tongue was great.  What’s more, it didn’t have a gamey flavor to it.  Instead of a chili red sauce like the other two tacos, this had a tangy green sauce.  The chicken was equally as tender as the tongue, and we thought the red sauce was used wisely because the green sauce wouldn’t have worked in the same way.  The al pastor taco was amazing, and August was glad she saved it for last.  We could actually taste the tangy pineapple needed for preparing this style of pork, making it a contender for one of the best she has had.

Please don’t let the neighborhood scare you.  There is a security guard on the premises, but everyone around the corner is friendly because they are either making, smelling, or eating the wonderful food.  Next time, because there will definitely be a next time, we’ll walk from the taco truck to the marisco truck and try the seafood items.  Plus, the chocolate drink called champurrado looked pretty tempting, but we already had eaten enough and even had leftovers for Bea the dog.  Another day, another savor.

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The Prickly Pear Cantina, Danville CA

Clayton is a Seasoning And Salt reader as well as a friend from well over a decade ago, who took up Zach’s offer to pick an eating challenge to tackle.  Zach would pay if Clayton didn’t complete whatever challenge of his choosing, but hopefully Clayton would win the glory and Zach’s wallet would be unaffected.  No matter the outcome, Clayton let us document his attempt for this article, and we got to enjoy our own entrees at The Prickly Pear Cantina while cheering him on.  We were excited for the evening, not just for Clayton but also to try Chef Rodney Worth’s take on Mexican fare.

Clayton is, by no means, a professional eater.  We only set this up about a day before it happened, and in inviting his friends to be witnesses, three managed to make it on short notice.  He did what he could to prepare for the El Jefe Burrito Challenge, such as drinking as much water as possible to keep his stomach from shrinking without the calorie intake.  In the first few minutes we all thought, including the managers, that Clayton would be the fourth to win out of the 100 or so people who have tried this challenge.

jalapeño chimichangas

jalapeño chimichangas

While watching Clayton eat so quickly, the rest of the table thought he would finish before any of our food came out!  We were wrong, though, and we got to nibble on two tasty appetizers.  First was the chimichangas, which were totally different from the style we had the other day.  These were tortillas with a smooth cream cheese filling and roasted jalapeños, fried and served with cilantro crema (essentially a Mexican-style ranch dip).  The flavor of the jalapeños was stronger than their mild heat, so even those with sensitive palates can enjoy these chimichangas.  From the frying process, the tortillas became slightly flaky and crispy yet still tender and easy to bite through.  The cilantro crema provided an extra creamy coolness and refreshing cilantro aftertaste that completed the plate.

carnitas bean dip

carnitas bean dip

A crispy tortilla bowl is the clever carrier for the cheesy bean dip with pork carnitas.  Bean dips are fairly familiar and known for the creaminess, but the carnitas brought a little meaty tenderness, plus it acted like a thickener so that the beans didn’t just dribble off the fresh, home made chips.  The dip was very creamy, cheesy, gooey, and above all rich.  A savory and deep red sauce was blended into the dip, and some diners couldn’t get enough.

almost done!

almost done!

Checking back in with Clayton, somehow he had managed to consume roughly 75% of the burrito in about 20 minutes!  He surely had this in the bag, since to win the challenge one needs to eat the whole plate in 45 minutes.

taco salad

taco salad

The ingredients for August’s taco salad seemed completely benign: romaine lettuce, tomatoes, pinto beans, sour cream, avocado, shredded jack cheese, cilantro ranch dressing, and in this picture chicken for the meat.  It was the proportion and presentation that blew away the people at the table.  The thin, crispy, airy tortilla shell was somehow shaped and then mounted on a spoonful of refried beans to keep it in place, cradling the mounds of fresh vegetables, cheese, and other fixings.  The chicken was very moist and flavorful, as it was spiced but not spicy.  This is a taco salad to serve as a comparison for future taco salads for a long time.

the mexican flag enchilada platter

the mexican flag enchilada platter

Who doesn’t love a cheesy, gooey enchilada?  How can it get much better than having three kinds, each with its own sauce?  The green on the left was a salsa verde with a chicken and cheese filling; to the right was the red sauce with shredded beef; and sandwiched in the center was plain cheese with mole.  The green enchilada was very bright, tangy, and refreshing with a blend of cilantro and tomatillo.  The red enchilada was “super cheese filled,” with tender and well-spiced beef in a mildly spicy sauce.  The mole had a hint of sweetness with a rich toasted sesame flavor.  Whole sesames were supposed to be sprinkled all over this dish but Zach had to request it without.  The mole, though, was so finely blended that the texture was creamy and smooth with no sesame chunks for Zach to worry about.  Since he can’t have whole nuts and seeds, it was nice to enjoy the flavor of toasted sesame seeds in this form.  This is an ideal item an indecisive diner who would like to try un poco de todo.

churro fritters

churro fritters

We didn’t check the menu for desserts when we first sat and made our appetizer and entree orders, since we were so jazzed for Clayton.  After having the dinner dishes cleared, our server listed off the various sweet items and churro fritters stood out in August’s mind.  She asked the server what the most signature and popular dessert was, and when the server said churro fritters, that sealed the deal and we had to try them.  We’re so glad we did, too, because they were a hit at the table.  About a dozen perfectly bite-size fried dough, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, sat amidst dark caramel and Mexican chocolate sauces with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.  With many arms reaching across the table, this dessert disappeared rapidly.

One of those reaching arms was Clayton’s.  He only went about three bites past the last picture you saw up there.  Even with nearly 10 minutes remaining, he could not finish the burrito.  In describing the challenge, he said that it got to the point that “it hurt, like a third through it hurt, but then I got half way and it was like the same pain… Each bite hurt the same until the very end, then it got a little worse” but that was just enough to have to call it quits.  We heartily applaud his efforts, because he accomplished so much more than anyone else in the dining room could fathom – there were plenty of well-wishing onlookers rooting for him, but we all understood that it is a tough challenge to take on 1 lb. of carnitas, 1/2 lb. of chicken, 1 lb. of rice, 1 lb. of beans, 1/2 lb. of jack cheese, rolled in five tortillas, with enchilada sauce, sour cream, and guacamole.  Here’s to Clayton, who braved El Jefe; may he join us again for another challenge soon.

2013 Asparagus Festival, Stockton CA

asparagus fest 061

For three days, 129 non-profit organizations of San Joaquin County kept the 2013 Asparagus Festival exciting and active.  After our experience yesterday, we were so happy to attend a festival today that heartily celebrated the food in the event’s name.

Asparagus is part of the lily family; if not harvested, eventually the tip of the stalk flowers.  It is a liver protector, we learned, and an excellent hangover cure because of that – important information for many of the revelers out today.

Multiple stages with big bands (like Gin Blossoms!) and local talent, shopping vendors, children’s activities, dog agility competitions, paddleboats, and a sea lion exhibit were some of the non-asparagus things entertaining the masses, just like there was lots of non-asparagus food.  But there was plenty of asparagus-loaded food, and we eagerly tried it all!

The Asparagus Festival takes up a HUGE part of Stockton, and we were lucky enough to find the last parking spot in a private lot that was close(ish) to an entrance.  All the same, it required a little bit of walking to get to the booth to buy food and beverage tickets ($1 per ticket, and most items were 3-6 tickets).  Not long after getting our first batch of tickets, and well before making our way to Asparagus Alley where all the non-profits were working to serve up asparagus fare, we found a stand of margarita machines.  These weren’t typical, of course; why are we here again?  Yes, we tried an asparagus margarita brought by The Margarita Man!  Honestly the asparagus taste was very, very mild, as likely the alcohol helps to cancel out the chlorophyll.  But it was refreshing and quenching on this hot day in the valley.

asparagus sliders

asparagus sliders

Sweet Delights, which normally does standard event food, made sure to bring asparagus items.  The asparagus sliders were delightful, something that we would eat in real life if available.  The slider patties were essentially like asparagus fritters or mini veggie burgers with an asparagus base.  From being fried, the exterior was thin and crispy and the inside was a delicate texture.  Ripe, sweet tomatoes and fresh mixed greens were simple toppings, sandwiched in little soft French rolls.  An added bonus was the pesto aioli spread, a much better pairing than something like plain mayonnaise would have been.

asparagus gyro

asparagus gyro

Also from Sweet Delights, the asparagus gyro was served more like a pizza, even being sliced into four quarters.  It started with a pesto base covered in gooey mozzarella, then more of the same ripe, sweet tomatoes, and grilled asparagus that maintained just a little bit of natural crunch.  For how simple it was, it was a great vegetarian flatbread pizza.

asparagus lemonade

asparagus lemonade

Sweet Delights went above and beyond, even bringing asparagus lemonade.  We never would have come upon this idea ourselves because it just doesn’t seem normal, but folks, it works.  It was made with real lemons, wasn’t overly sweet, and had a nice, mild, asparagus aftertaste.

asparaburrito

asparaburrito

We made our way to Asparagus Alley, where groups of fraternity brothers, AT&T associates, and community members worked together under huge tents to accommodate the demand for asparagus.  Asparagus burritos were made with steak and refried beans, served with a side of scratch salsa.  The steak was freshly grilled, tender, and very flavorful; the asparagus was also grilled, and the beans were homemade.  It was a really good burrito, and if in a taquería, it’s something that we would order.

asparagus steak sandwich

asparagus steak sandwich

Like a hoagie and with the same steak as the burrito, the asparagus sandwich was just as tasty.  Instead of refried beans, it had grilled onions which were cooked just right.  Throw some cheese on here, and it would be an excellent version of a Philly cheesesteak.  August wanted more, but we had to be responsible and eat just a little so that we could try other things, as well.

asparagus pasta

asparagus pasta

The asparagus pasta was like the pasta salad August grew up with, except with asparagus.  Fresh tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cracked black pepper, and grilled asparagus made for a great mix that we’ll likely recreate at home.  Hearty but light, refreshing and filling, this would be good for a side dish or a main entree.

multiple stations for cranking out deep fried asparagus

multiple stations for cranking out deep fried asparagus

Deep fried asparagus, being the most familiar item, was undoubtedly the most popular, and the event planners knew it would be so they planned accordingly.  This is just a fraction of the area cordoned off for making batches of hot stalks.

deep fried asparagus

deep fried asparagus

So of course we tried some, but they fell a little flat.  We don’t blame the volunteers, we know it’s tough working like they were, but to be honest we got to try a stalk fried in lumpia, gifted to us by the Margarita Man at the start of the day, and that was awesome.

asparaberry shortcake

asparaberry shortcake

Like the asparagus lemonade, asparagus strawberry shortcake is not something we thought we’d ever see.  And also like the lemonade, it really works.  The pound cake (yes, there was a little bit under there) was fresh and rich, and we only wish there was more of it.  The strawberries were ripe and in a decadent syrup, the whipped cream was made with real cream, and blanched asparagus bits provided color and flavor.  In Zach’s opinion, forget that it’s asparagus – it’s no different than adding a little mint to your dessert.  Not saying that asparagus tastes like mint, but you get it.  It’s a garnish, and it was good.

asparagus ice cream

asparagus ice cream

Finally, what everyone wants to know about: we present the asparagus ice cream.  With a rich, creamy, vanilla base, this was light with asparagus flavor.  Don’t let the deep green color fool you.  It’s more of a novelty, but it was still yummy.  There were no unhappy children eating this!  If you have a hard time introducing your kids to new foods, this would be a great way to do it.

What a day!  We barely scratched the surface, since we came on Day 3 and with only two of us, we couldn’t be in enough different places to catch it all.  For example, it would have been nice to see the professional chef competition or the asparagus eating challenge, but now we know to plan for more time to dedicate next year.  With lots of kids stuff, many crafts booths, and plenty of alcohol stands, there really was something for everyone here.