Downtown Los Angeles’ Mercado Olympic is the stuff of Mexican food legend. With weekend-only hours, the largely unregulated stalls that pop up along Olympic Boulevard just west of Central Avenue pump out delicious tacos, tortas, burritos, sopes, quesadillas, aguas frescas, and even—deliciously enough—fish sticks. Churros, chorizo, and chicharrones are hawked from stall to stall as you make your way down the cluttered sidewalk, stopping to sort through cheap trinkets or boxes of dried chiles. And since this is the heart of downtown’s Piñata District, you’ll find plenty of, ahem, close resemblances to popular children’s characters, all in destroyable piñata form.
The soft barbacoa tacos arrived first, drenched in a red chile arbol that left the whole thing tinted red, but lacking any semblance of its chile-laced heat. Instead, the tender meat inside provided all of the needed flavor, with plenty of juice and stewed spices to go along with a handful of crisp white onions. The tortillas, which had softened considerably from their splash with the salsa, had been warmly griddled and laced with tasty, fried edges with every bite. For basic barbacoa tacos, the high execution is readily apparent.
Next in line on the menu board are the tacos dorados de papa, or fried potato tacos. Rather than drenching them in a thin salsa and lots of guacamole, you can actually order these with a heap of carnitas right on top. Soft and salty, you won’t find much crispy pork to speak of. Instead, the whole thing is swamped up with a thin tomato-based salsa, some shaves of cabbage and slices of raw white onion. The idea is to grab a little bit of all the ingredients in every bite, for a starchy, meaty, crispy, slightly spicy forkful.
Clarita Trujillo may not be a household name anymore, but she certainly enjoyed a dose of small fame after her cooking caught the attention of an L.A.-based Spanish language morning show a few years back. And while patrons used to flock to the Boyle Heights version of Clarita’s, a leasing issue forced the restaurant to close up shop in 2010, according to an L.A. Times article on Trujillo from 2011.
Now, Clarita’s is up and running again in El Sereno, a few miles from the original location, but often with a fraction of the customers. Still, Trujillo floats around the sparse dining area and outside, haranguing passersby into trying a tamale or coming in for a sip of horchata. Truth be told, a lot of folks walk on without taking Trujillo up on her offers, but they’re missing out. Tacos Clarita is serving up some of the tastiest handcrafted Mexico City tacos you’ll find in the area.
Minutiæ #9 GIVING is out right now. Go download and read the issue with revolutionary hard-hitting pieces about a company that makes the t-shirt cannons, a gun giveback program in Houston, different ways to give The Finger around the world, and much much so much very much more.
Also, don’t miss all the exciting events happening around the city for the next two months.
The latest issue of the greatest magazine is now on digital shelves everywhere. GO FORTH!
Minutiæ is back. This issue has some amazing undercover journalism, highlights the best of what to do in your city as we approach the fall, and dissects some more Minutiæ history as we continue to look back at 150 years of the greatest magazine the world has ever known.
32 pages of jaw dropping coverage of your world: The Monocle is Back, What Really Happened to Princess Anastasia, Discarded Olympic Designs, The Most Luxurious Hotel Ever, Your Frozen Food Aisle and more. Do not…
Operation Porch Drop
When I was 17, I moved out of my father’s place and into an unfinished room in an unfinished house that my brother had bought for $22,000. I slept on a canvas Army cot for over a year, and in the winter it would get so cold that I would sleep fully clothed, wrapped in a blanket, inside a sleeping bag, with a hat on. I had one other blanket, which I used to protect my $400 Dell computer from frost. It was for years the most expensive thing I owned.
In the summertime, there would be six or seven of us living in this unfinished house. My friend Tom slept in a walk in closet, Nate slept on the couch and used to wear old flight suits around the house. He’d get drunk at parties and yell “WHITE POWER!” to no one in particular. I don’t think he’d seen a black guy in years. Cameron had his own room, but usually got so high that he’d sleep in the recliner. Once, he ate a hardboiled egg that had sat in the sun for four days - for $5.
Because it’s no easy feat to keep the attention of six or seven young guys cooped up in a house that largely only had outer walls, we spent one of these summers throwing as many parties as possible. The image above is a crudely drawn map with directions to ‘THE HIZOUSE’, in case you couldn’t already tell how cool I was. There are curved arrows leading you from the highway (complete with stop signs) or from the rural state route that passed the front of the house. In case people didn’t get that the color gray meant ‘a big rock’ or that dark green meant ‘trees’, I even included a handy key in the upper right-hand corner. Written directions were below in case people couldn’t understand the arrows. But, come on, this thing is pretty flawless.
In the lower left corner, there are a few points of interest. First, the words “outside, mostly. / it’s not costly.” You know, because young country girls looking for a party in a previously abandoned house need a little more slant rhyme in their lives. Below that: OPD for life. This, of course, being the acronym for this summer of parties - Operation Porch Drop - because our first party had attracted so many people that the rickety back porch ripped away from the house and threw everyone into a pile of cinder blocks and rubble about five feet down. We burned the porch pile that night, and vowed to have so many parties that summer that we’d collapse the front porch, too.
The final bit if imagery in the lower left hand corner is three seemingly innocuous Greek symbols. When pronounced phonetically, they loosely translated to Iota Eta Pi. Or: “I ate a pie”, a sleek reference to the amount of sex that exactly none of us were having in this drafty demolition project. In the year that I had that Army cot, I actually managed to sleep with a girl on it, which probably says more about where she was at in her life than I was in mine.
My friends and I would pool our money to make postcards with this map printed on the back, and we’d drive around handing them out to girls. We’d go to the mall and accost large groups of chatty female teens, dishing each of them a flier like we were trying to pack the house for an open mic night. As a pretty girl standing outside of American Apparel, there is probably nothing more unappealing than a group of dirty young men hunting you down and shoving a pre-made MS Paint party invitation into your hand. But free beer is a hell of a charmer.
By the end of that summer, we had done so many stupid things that the house was basically unlivable. Tom drank a cup of his own urine to pay off a $20 debt he owed me, we borrowed some heavy equipment and dug up the back yard to make a sand volleyball pit, two partywide fistfights broke out, and we stole so many wooden pallets from local grocery stores for our bonfires that the cops would hide behind the Price Chopper on Saturday nights, looking for us.
We made a potato gun out of PVC pipe and a few cans of accelerant and spent summer afternoons catching projectile spuds like they were pop flies. We invented a backwards baseball / kickball hybrid that we dubbed Ghettoball. Cameron lit the house on fire and we had our front door kicked in by firemen. And at the end of the summer, having turned down NYU and enrolled in Jefferson Community College (a scant twenty minutes from the hizouse) so I could keep working full time just to stay alive, I stood on the front porch with fifty other kids, scared as hell about what it meant to be an adult, and doing everything they could to just forget about it for a while. With one final heave, the rusty old screws that kept the porch upright gave way, and we all tumbled forward into the rest of our lives.
Vaccinate your children, because we’re going to be gettin’ sick with it.