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Downtown L.A.’s “Ciudad”

On their very cool website, Ciudad invites one and all to “experience the bold and seductive flavors of the Latin World” and last night, we took them up on it!

Located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, Ciudad is the brainchild of world-renowned Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger and though a little pricier than their fare at the similarly-themed Border Grill in Santa Monica and Las Vegas, Ciudad is worth every penny you pay. Seriously…it’s kind of magical.

Although Christine has eaten at Ciudad a number of times over the years — her workplace, downtown’s Central Library is practically across the street from the restaurant — I had only been there on one other occasion, but the memory of that meal has stayed with me ever since.

So after enjoying the sunset from the rooftop bar of The Standard nearby, we hiked on over to Ciudad for a late dinner with some of Christine’s co-workers. And seeing as the late night happy hour at Ciudad had begun just minutes before we walked in — incredibly enough, they have house mojitos, sangria and a number of other rocking good cocktails for only $4 a pop from 9-11 on Friday nights! — we could not have planned it better!

The only hitch to the late night happy hour is that you have to enjoy your drinks literally at the bar and cannot move to your table until after you’ve settled your tab. Fine by us! So we drank ourselves silly at the bar, settled the tab and stumbled to our table around 10-ish.

And the food? Wow…word’s cannot do this place justice. Fusing delicious new and classic authentic dishes from Spain, Mexico, South America, Central America, Cuba and even Portugal, the menu is almost as rich, colorful and varied as the crazy hip decor and art work inside.

We started with some incredible tapas-style dishes. And though the Peruvian Ceviche with plantain chips and Argentine Empandas (with wild mushroom, warm chipotle sauce and swiss chard!) were fantastic, I gotta say that my favorite of the three appetizers we shared was the Fried Spanish Brie. Dios mio, that stuff melted in your mouth…it was incredible.

And this from a man who is not a huge fan of the Brie…don’t get me wrong, I love me some soft cheeses, but Brie has never been my favorite. Until now!

And dinner was even more amazing! Not only were the hip, mid-century dishes super groovy to look at, but the plating of this food was out of this world. Beautiful culinary art on every plate…just gorgeous!

I had the slow-roasted Niman Ranch Carnitas with mashed yuca, organic black beans, fried plantains and grilled corn salsa. Wow, even just typing those words is making me drool. It was probably the best carnitas I’ve ever had anywhere…and that mashed yuca is something I wanna make at home, like, every night. I loved it!

Christine had a huge crusted pork chop from the “Specials” menu that not only tasted like heaven, but rivaled the Brontosaurus bone on “The Flintsones” in heft. That thing was enormous!

And that lovely pork chop was not alone in the size department, because, unlike other hipster haunts downtown, the portions at Ciudad are authentically gigantic. That’s right, they don’t eat dainty in any of the countries listed above, so why should we do it here? Sí se puede, indeed!

I don’t have any pictures to back this all up of course — Christine forbid me to photograph my food in front of her work friends — but you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that even the heartiest eaters out there will not leave this joint hungry. It’s just not possible…

So next time you find yourself downtown on a Friday night between 9-11PM — gotta hit that happy hour, I mean, come on, regular-priced Supremo Mojitos are $15! — check out Ciudad! Sure, it might cost you and arm and a leg, but I swear to God, the food you eat here will flash before your eyes when you die.

Yep, it’s that good!

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Taco Truck Night, 2008

Two weeks ago, Los Angeles County Supervisors, led by the apparently self-loathing-Latina, Gloria Molina, passed a law that could spell the end of an era for our city’s world-class taco trucks. According to the new law, taco trucks must change locations every hour or face misdemeanor charges carrying a $1,000 fine and/or jail time. Jail? Wow…that bruja must really hate tacos.

Or maybe Molina is in bed with the East L.A. restaurants that pushed so hard for this ordinance in the first place. Either way, last night was declared “Taco Truck Night” throughout the city of Los Angeles. And judging from our firsthand experience, the event was a pretty rollicking success.

Embracing the simple yet profound credo that “carne asada is not a crime”, the save the taco truck movement was started by Highland Park residents, Aaron Sonderleiter and Chris Rutherford. Former college roommates, the pair say they often sought comfort in the steamy embrace of a piping hot street taco while in college, and continue to do so now.

Their point is that taco trucks are a part of the very fabric of life here in Los Angeles and rather than being pushed aside by some greedy restaurant owners, they should be embraced, if not for their cultural significance, then surely for their rocking good food!

So, in honor of Sonderleiter and Rutherford’s burgeoning movement — their petition to save the imperiled taco truck has received upwards of 5,000 signatures to date! — Christine and I enjoyed a tasty taco truck dinner last night with our friends Patty and Mike.

Using the map feature on the guy’s website, we were able to locate a taco truck in North Hollywood called Tacos La Fonda.

And while the tacos were fantastic and totally comparable to our usual taco truck in Hollywood, the real star here was the gigantic quesadilla (pictured above). Stuffed with Mexican cheese, a meat of your choice — we very wisely picked carnitas, which was amazing! — and lightly fried, that thing must have weighed at least a pound and, man alive, it tasted like heaven…delicious!

And the atmosphere at this taco truck could not have been better. Located in the far corner of a car wash parking lot on the busy intersection of Vineland and VanOwen, the place was so close to the airport runway that you felt like the planes were literally landing on top of you. Kind of scary, but kind of cool too.

So, while the official Taco Truck Night 2008 has come and gone, there is no reason not to make every night Taco Truck Night. All you gotta do is check out the saveourtacotrucks.org website, sign the petition while you’re there and use the handy mapping feature to find a taco truck near you.

And if you see Supervisor Gloria Molina out there, tell her to back the “f” off and for the love of pico de gallo, buy that bitch a taco already!

Que viva los taco trucks!

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