El Abajeño is a special place for the Foodsmiths. It would be no exaggeration to say we eat there several times a week, every week. Sarah’s dad has been patronizing the establishment regularly since the late 1960s and in all that time has never had cause to complain to management. If you knew John Jones you’d understand the magnitude of this endorsement.
There is an over-abundance of good Mexican cuisine in Los Angeles. If you search around long enough you’ll probably find a really good authentic spot in almost every neighborhood.
In the years before we met, Dan had already established another taqueria, Tacomiendo, as his local favorite. Coincidentally, Tacomiendo and El Abajeño are located directly across from each other. Getting Dan to try El Abajeño took a little prodding. He can be quite stubborn about these things. On that first visit though, El Abajeño won him over with their taquitos – won him over forever.
When you hear “taquito” you probably think of the more common rolled-up corn tortilla filled with meat, and then deep fried to a crisp. At El Abajeño though, a taquito means something completely different: It’s a gooey, oversized soft taco. They fill sweaty corn tortillas with a heap of succulent meat of your choosing, then cover it with grated cheese and a slice of avocado. The whole thing is wrapped up in aluminum foil where the heat from the meat and tortillas quickly melts the cheese. That first time, as you hesitantly unfold the aluminum package, you’re completely unprepared for this thing to make love to your mouth. But the best things are often a surprise.
We have eaten these taquitos for days. We never even considered trying to replicate it ourselves, until we tried the pork shoulder recipe from David Chang’s Momofuku, a book with which we are currently enthralled. The slow-roasted meat fell apart in tangles of juicy, tender salted pork. The taste instantly brought to mind the carnitas at El Abajeño. So we came up with this take on the El Abajeño taquito.
If you like tacos, meat, and cheese we insist you try this out. After you climb back down from heights of cheesy pork-addled ecstasy feel free to thank us with small gifts of cured meats.
tortillas: We had originally planned on using handmade corn tortillas made from sprouted corn flour, but they came out stiffer than what we wanted. It’s a shame, since we love our tortilla press. As a last minute compromise we popped over to our local mercado and bought some freshly-made tortillas consisting of corn (probably GMO), water, and lime (as in calcium hydroxide used to nixtamalize corn, not citrus). We steamed them briefly to get them properly soft and sweaty before assembling the taquitos.
If anyone has a method for making corn tortillas that come out soft with no sketchy ingredients, we’d love to try it.
meat: We slow roasted pork shoulder a la Momofuku with sea salt and Rapadura – an unrefined cane sugar that can be found at most “natural” food stores – instead of white sugar. The process is a breeze but lengthy – right up our alley. The end result is juicy and crackly, with deep salty caramel flavor. After pulling it apart and mixing the juices throughout, the pork resembles the most respectable of Mexican carnitas.
cheese: We grated raw jack cheese to pile over the meat. We’re not sure what El Abajeño uses, but this assumed the flavor and texture to our liking.
toppings: In addition to the small wedge of avocado with which El Abajeño adorns their taquitos, we opted to add some pickled ginger carrots for a bit of acidity and bite. As in the recipe for pickled ginger carrots in Nourishing Traditions (the holy grail of nutrient-dense cooking and never far away in our kitchen), we usually shred our carrots and pound them with salt, whey, and ginger until they release enough juice to form their own brine, but for this we decided to slice them with a mandoline and culture for a few days in a brine of filtered water, sea salt, whey, and fresh ginger juice. Although pretty, Dan was not a fan of the less intensely-flavored sliced carrots, and we’ll stick with our normal method next time.
assembly: We laid out rectangles of aluminum foil and stacked two steamed tortillas atop each, followed by a heap of meat and a little pile of cheese. We topped them with avocado and ginger carrots, then rolled them up in the foil burrito-style. Don’t worry if the tortilla doesn’t cover its contents completely – That means you’re doing it right!
We popped them in the oven to ensure they’d be all hot and melty and ate them by the fistful. These would be great for a party situation, as a large quantity can be made ahead of time and heated up when required.
Have you ever seen a line of recovering addicts outside a clinic waiting for their fix of methodone? Before this recipe, that’s kind of how we envisioned our post-LA life. Devoid of the rich landscape of Mexican cuisine, we’d be desperate for a fix but settling for ghostly memories of that former high.
We take a lot of comfort in knowing that when the day comes that we no longer have El Abajeño just down the road, we’ll still be able to satisfy our hunger for damn good Mexican food.
This post was contributed to Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Real Food Wednesday, Healthy 2day Wednesdays, Allergy-Free Wednesday, Gluten-Free Wednesdays, What’s Cooking Wednesday, Whole Food Wednesdays, Pennywise Platter, Simple Lives Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Friday Food Flicks, Fresh Bites Friday, Freaky Friday, Food Friday, Wellness Weekend and Weekend Gourmet.