If you think Mexican food just means tacos, burritos and enchiladas, get to North Hills and sample the offerings at Dos Arbolitos Restaurant.
Run by Jose Abugayda, Dos Arbolitos serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to a loyal clientele including laborers, students and white-collar types who elbow up to the counter to place their orders.
Abugayda came here from the Yucatan about 40 years ago and worked for nearly 30 years for a liquor distributor. But he grew restless and decided to strike out on his own. He rented a former drive-in hamburger stand in the parking lot of a strip mall near Woodley Avenue and Parthenia Street, cleaned it up and opened in 1991.
He still occupies the same place, and what Dos Arbolitos lacks in fancy furnishings, it makes up for with authentic Mexican food--including a host of dishes rarely found north of the border or, when found, rarely done well.
Abugayda credits his first chef for the authenticity of the food.
"Everybody knew him as 'Yayo,' just that," Abugayda says. "It was a nickname; his last name was Yeo, and he was from Michoacan, and people called him Yayo. Everybody who came here knew it was his food.
"He was a customer of mine when I worked for the distributor. He worked in another restaurant, and one day I just asked him how things were going. He was very unhappy, so I told him I was working on opening my own restaurant, and maybe he should take a look.
"He was a very special man."
Yayo knew Mexican cooking intimately, and he created a menu notable for its adherence to tradition. When you order a bowl of frijoles al ollo, for example, you get the real thing--delicate beans in a simple broth, with a little chopped onion and cilantro.
Similarly, when you order mole poblano, you don't get the sweet stuff you find in some Los Angeles places, but the rich, slightly bitter sauce they serve in Mexico.
Yayo died some months ago, and now Mauricio Navarro, also from Michoacan, runs the kitchen, serving the same dishes.
Among the dinner plates:
* Pollo alcaparado--chicken with tomatoes and capers;
* Costillitas en salsa de tomatillo--baby back pork ribs in a rich sauce of green tomatoes;
* Camarones rancheros--shrimp with a ranchero sauce.
Prices top out at $6.50 for the dinner plates.
You can also get tortas and burritos with barbecued meat, charbroiled steak, deep-fried pork and shredded beef with eggs, all for prices under $3.50.
* Dos Arbolitos serves breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and closes at 2 p.m. on Sundays. It is at 16208 Parthenia St., just west of Woodley Avenue, in North Hills; (818) 891-6661.
Avi ben Harouch has opened a kosher market and deli in Agoura Hills called Kosher Connection. Next door, Fine's Family Bakery has gone kosher too.
Kosher Connection is now the only strictly kosher market and deli in the Conejo Valley, since Landmark Kosher Meats in Thousand Oaks closed last year. And Fine's switch makes it the only kosher bakery in the Valley.
Kosher Connection offers a variety of deli and grocery items, including soups, salads and sandwiches. The salads include one with roasted eggplant, a California-style avocado dip, Moroccan salsa with red peppers and tomato, chilled carrot slices, a Mediterranean cabbage salad and, of course, egg salad and potato salad. Most cost less than $5 per pound.
The sandwiches include hot or cold pastrami, corned beef, smoked turkey, roast beef, salami, chopped liver, bologna, tuna and chicken salad, for $6.95 or less.
You can also get a whole roasted chicken for $12.95, or, for market prices, a barbecued herb-roasted whole turkey or lamb roasted with garlic and herbs.
* Kosher Connection is open daily except Saturday. It is at 30313 Canwood St., just west of Reyes Adobe Road, Agoura Hills; (818) 706-1255.
Next door, Jill and Andrew Fine decided to go kosher in part because they saw so many members of the large Jewish community in the Conejo Valley, including many Orthodox Jews, trooping into Kosher Connection but bypassing their place. So they shut down for a couple of days, scrubbed the place clean of all dairy products, replaced all the pots and pans, and, their kosher certification in hand, reopened two weeks ago.
Jill Fine says, "People started lining up out the door the first day, and they still are."
* Fine's Family Bakery is at 30313 Canwood St., Agoura Hills; (818) 707-3463.
Juan Hovey writes about the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley and outlying points. He may be reached at (805) 492-7909 or, via fax, at (805) 492-5139 or via e-mail at email@example.com.