Nearly hidden by surrounding buildings but still in broad view on a busy street, Los Potros Restaurante Mexicano at 508 E 11 St. attracts a big crowd. After we ordered at the counter we learned that we also could have sat down at one of the (few remaining) tables to review menus with more details than a bulletin board. Had we not been at the counter, though, we wouldn’t have seen the horchata and jamaica beverage fountains. Zach’s younger brother Willie joined us for dinner and we shared a glass of each agua fresca among the three of us while we waited for our plates to be brought to our table. Since Willie hadn’t tried jamaica before and he enjoyed it, we took that as a good sign that our coming meal would be deliciosa.
Willie got the classic Mexican sandwich with steak. He reported that the tender beef didn’t pull out and was easy to bite through. The fresh quality bread was soft inside and crisp outside, from just the right amount of grilling. Creamy, fresh avocado and rich, light, and tangy crema balanced the jalapeños resulting in a fair amount of heat without being overwhelming. None of us knew from the bulletin board that this would come with fries, and even though they were prepared from a frozen state, Willie said they were “golden to perfection.”
We’re accustomed to seeing chimichangas as a side or appetizer. There are many theories to the origin of the stuffed and deep fried flour tortilla, but it is commonly agreed that it is a truly American dish, in the sense of embracing the Americas as a continental culture from Arizona to Sinaloa. With a nice amount of rice and beans, this pair as an entree was very filling. Crispy and fried yet absent of grease, the tender chicken inside was moist and savory. It was stewed with “tons of spices” like Mexican oregano and chile. Los Potros sends this from the kitchen usually with crema, cotija cheese, and guacamole, but Zach requested no guacamole; otherwise the picture would have been prettier.
Nearly a quarter of the menu is dedicated to mariscos (shellfish), so it would be a disservice not to try something from that section. August was not disappointed with her choice of shrimp cocktail; she initially asked for the one with shrimp and octopus, but then the camarero at the counter asked if she’d like the one that also had clams and abalone. Well now, who would say no to that? The peeled shrimp, massive octopus hunks, bed of clams, and abalone pieces were remarkably fresh and meaty, swimming in a chalice of tomato and lime juice with abundant vegetables. Onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cilantro were “fresh, fresh, fresh,” providing crunch and acidity to contrast the sinking bite of the seafood and the creamy avocado pieces.
We made it here just in time for dinner, as Los Potros opens at 8 am but closes at 8 pm. If we find ourselves in the area during the mañana, we might have to stop in to try breakfast. The happy patrons around us validated our opinion that this is a great place for made-to-order comida mexicana.
A white van with “La Poblana” emblazoned on the side passed us at an intersection, advertising authentic cemitas. Zach, as the passenger, quickly got on his smart phone to find out what cemitas are. These are sandwiches that originate from Puebla, a region of Mexico. La Poblana turned out to be a food truck, and like the cemita, everything served is based on recipes from Puebla. Despite being run out of a food truck, nothing is “typical” for this Mexican mobile food eatery. In fact, a lady walked up and asked for tamales, but you won’t find anything like that here. We had the opportunity to try every item on the menu, and each was savory, rich, and flavorful.
Of the groups of people that came through while we were here, there was at least one in each party who ordered either a cemita or a pambazo (see below). The beef in this sandwich with a soft brioche-like roll was breaded and very, very tender and juicy with the slightest crispiness on the outside. Its seasoning was more bold than spicy, so August absolutely loved being able to taste Mexican flavors without the heat. Also, this version of a sandwich had two kinds of cheese, including special Oaxacan cheese shipped in from Mexico, along with the familiar queso fresco. With roasted red peppers and Bolivian coriander to round it out, this was a multi-layer sandwich in both flavor and texture. Most of the items like this one came with side finger vegetables, such as grilled nopales, peppers, and spring onions, all tasty additions to the plates.
“Pambazo” technically refers to a specific style of bread, often dipped in red guajillo pepper sauce before becoming a sandwich. Most typically, the pambazo sandwich is made with chorizo and potatoes, which was how we tried it. The bread is crispy and buttery, and while it’s usually a tougher texture, dipping it in the special sauce makes it softer and flavor-packed. The chorizo used was great because it wasn’t as fatty as others that we’ve found before.
Quesadillas, when written in English, don’t have to be qualified with italics anymore. Pretty much everyone in the United States recognizes a quesadilla as a tortilla folded around melted cheese. Today, though, we tasted quesadillas with italics, because these are likely how they should be done. These are with cheese, of course, but not Jack – instead, authentic Mexican cheeses with light, creamy flavors are used. The tortillas are particularly impressive because they are made by hand, on site. They are denser and way tastier, making the quesadillas absolutely deliciosas. On the left is a quesadilla with pumpkin blossoms, which tasted a little green and somewhat floral, very spring-like. On the right is a quesadilla with corn smut, aka huitlacoche. This ingredient is a pathogenic fungus, but it is good. Somewhat nutty, somewhat eggy, and somewhat mushroomy, this was an interesting flavor that we’re happy was introduced to us.
The chorizo in this sope is the same as what was in the pambazo – not extremely greasy, and not ground up like dog food. It was nice to see firm chunks of meat on top of a handmade sope shell. The beans were tender and flavorful, and the plentiful cheese always helps to cool down the mouth once the Mexican Coca Cola has run out.
Chalupas at Taco Smell are nothing like the authentic chalupas. As a vegetarian dish, these are fried, crisp mini rounds of dough, much like thick tortillas, with a special sauce. Spicy, fresh, simple, and at four for $1, this is the most filling and delicious bang for your buck you can probably find on all of International Blvd!
Every year when August gets to a certain point in her teaching curriculum, she tells her students about the two food groups in the world: foods that are enhanced with garlic, and foods that are enhanced with chocolate. Chicken is one of the few items that goes both ways, and when her students look mortified about the thought of chicken and chocolate, she tells them about mole. The most recognized and classic mole is the mole poblano, from Puebla, which is dark red-brown and tastiest served over meat. Despite having the smallest bit of chocolate, and chocolate usually makes us think “sweet,” this sauce is not at all sweet but rather savory, for the chocolate serves to counteract the heat of the peppers. With beans, rice, queso fresco, and more grilled vegetables, the mole tasted great over everything on the plate.
Pipián is technically a type of mole, since mole is a Nahuatl word for “sauce.” But what puts pipián in its own category is the main ingredient. Seeds are pureed for the base, mixed with rich cilantro, garlic, and tomatillos. Pumpkins seeds, sesame seeds, and peanuts are commonly used for making the base. This was one of the spiciest items we tried today, but it was equally refreshing with cilantro and tomatillos. If you love spicy food but still enjoy the flavor behind the heat, you have to try this dish.
Tacos árabes, inspired by Middle Easter shawerma, are tacos wrapped in cone-forms around crispy meat; here we have tacos árabes al pastor. The pork had a mild tanginess and hint of sweetness from being grilled with pineapple and onions, and with no other garnishes besides ripe avocado and juicy lime, we got to savor the simplicity in this well-composed plate.
We are so fortunate to have found this food truck by chance and Victor, the owner, originator, and gracious host, is an amazing chef. We were overwhelmingly impressed by the flavors and care taken in preparing our food. With a comfortable seating area, blooming flowers, and food so good, it doesn’t matter that it was prepared in a food truck; in fact, once you sit down and start eating you’ll feel like your at an international cafe instead of a stretch of one of Oakland’s most infamous streets. Businesses like this one help to erode the stigma of street food.
August was stuck at school for Open House, so Zach went out to dinner with his little brother Will. Coincidentally, August took herself to a Mexican restaurant close to her campus, and Zach and Will found Otaez Mexicatessen on Internatinal Blvd. Zach and Will, though, had the better experience.
Strips of carne asada were perfectly cooked for this torta. Will says it was tender enough that he could bite through without pulling out the strips. The lettuce was crisp, and the tomato and avocado were ripe and fresh, and because of the freshness there was no veggie juice soaking into the bread. The bread was soft on the inside with a firm crust, giving but heavy enough to maintain the sandwich. Zach and Will didn’t expect to find scratch-made french fries because A) it’s a Mexican restaurant, and B) few restaurants make fries from scratch; according to Will, “If you like In-N-Out’s french fries, you should definitely give this mexicatessen a shot because they tasted fresher and more flavorful.”
A sope is like a thick tostada, and this one came piled with stewed chicken, made with onions, peppers, and chile. Topped with fresh lettuce, mozzarella, and grated cotija cheese, this must be eaten with a knife and fork. The tostada-like shell was crispy and crunchy on the outside, with a somewhat chewy and tender center. The sides of tangy sour cream and fresh, rich guacamole were excellent.
Both sweet and spicy with nice heat and a smooth, rich texture, the mole was delicious. Tender white and dark meat chicken was great for pairing with the mole, and the thick tortillas that came with were ideal for pinching mouthfuls. The savory rice and beans, like the tortillas, were scratch-made and tasty. Will even made a mini burrito with the mole and the sides of rice and beans.
The “golden taco,” or taco dorado, is fried for a crispy shell. However, it wasn’t at all greasy. Flavor-packed steak, fresh veggies, and two kinds of cheese (mozzarella and cotija) filled it. This is everything you could want in a steak taco, and Zach wants to return specifically for these.
Crispy, tender, gooey are the strongest adjectives for the chile relleno. The pepper was mildly spicy, not overpowering the combination of textures. Gooey cheese gushed from the tender pepper with a crispy fried exterior. The sauce was thick, whereas most restaurants’ sauces are watery, so it was great to have some substance that didn’t soak through the pepper.
To finish the dinner, Zach and Will got fried ice cream for dessert. It was a scoop the size of a women’s softball lightly coated and deep fried, then placed over a scratch-made deep fried tortilla. The strawberries were sweet, fresh, and ripe. Huge, simple, delicious and inexpensive, this was one impressive postre.
For very fair priced, authentic, and sumptuous Mexican food in an unexpected place, come to Otaez Mexicatessen. Based on the boys’ experience and this writeup, August can’t wait for her own opportunity to try the comida sabrosa.