A glorious pork butt makes this new torta ahogada from Carnitas El Momo a must-eat
Torta ahogada and mulitas from Carnitas El Momo
The torta ahogada at the new Carnitas El Momo in Monterey Park is a beautiful, massive sandwich. The dish is near and dear to chef and co-owner Vanessa Hermosillo, who grew up in Juanacatlán, Jalisco, the Mexican state where the sandwich is from.
“I wanted to bring a little bit of my hometown to Carnitas El Momo and make it with the fabulous pork butt,” she said. “In Guadalajara, that’s how you eat it.”
The sandwich had a short run at Smorgasburg six years ago and is now on the menu at the new location. Hermosillo serves her sandwich on a split bolillo salado roll, bulging with chopped maciza and slivers of raw onion.
The maciza, like all the proteins at Carnitas El Momo, smacks of pure, glorious pork. The sandwich is drowned in a thick tomato sauce that drips aggressively down your arm while you eat it. I started calling it the ahogada’s magic sauce, because it’s reminiscent of a really good arrabbiata, tomato soup and salsa roja all at once.
Hermosillo said the torta is traditionally served with two sauces: the milder tomato and a darker, chile de arbol sauce that packs a lot more heat. To control the spice, get it dunked in the tomato, with the chile de arbol on the side.
The mulitas are just as irresistible. They arrive looking like the sun, with rays of crisp cheese that jut out and circle the tortillas. Hermosillo said the restaurant is now offering mulitas drenched in that same ahogada sauce. I’m telling Siri to navigate me there as I type.
From food trucks and a weekend restaurant in Boyle Heights, Romulo “Momo” Acosta and his family serve what are arguably the finest carnitas in Los Angeles.
Fried chicken special at All Day Baby
All Day Baby in Silver Lake has everything you want in a neighborhood restaurant: A friendly staff, a full bar with boozy milkshakes, a bakery case full of pastries, a consistently good playlist and a dependable fried chicken special. I stalk the Instagram account, waiting for information on the next fried chicken and bubbles night. It’s a monthly series introduced by co-owners Lien Ta and Jonathan Whitener, offering chicken with various sides and flights of wine. The chicken styles differ each time. On a recent Wednesday evening, there was Whitener’s take on hot chicken, served over thick slices of white bread with plenty of sweet pickles and a cup of coleslaw. It was much milder than the stuff you’ll find in Nashville. The deep red oil hummed with paprika more than chile, and my lips and sweat glands remained undisturbed.
We added one of chef Thessa Diadem’s biscuits to the order. They rise higher than most and manage to crumble and flake. Those you can order any night, but they pair especially well with fried chicken.
Pork katsu and tempura combo plate at Otomisan
“Midnight Diner: Tokyo Series” became an obsession during the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who haven’t watched, the Japanese series centers on the patrons of a tiny restaurant that operates from midnight to 7 a.m. Special requests are encouraged, as long as the chef-owner, called Master, has the ingredients on hand. There is an actual printed menu at Otomisan in Boyle Heights, but the restaurant counter, the quiet woman with kind eyes behind that counter, and the various knickknacks arranged around the counter, all give serious “Midnight Diner” vibes.
The restaurant, which has been around since the 1950s (it originally opened under the name Otemo Sushi Cafe), was officially deemed a historical-cultural monument in January and is recognized as the oldest, continually operating Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles. While I eat my pork katsu and tempura combination plate, alternating between slabs of fried, panko-crusted pork and bites of shrimp tempura, I like to make up stories about the guests seated at the other booths and the counter. The couple that burst through the screen door, ravenous for only California rolls, are really secret agents, in a hurry to finish their sushi and go fight crime.
The woman sitting at the bar, sipping her miso soup in full-face makeup and a wig, is really an actress who just finished a long day on the set of a 1950s period piece. And me, I’m really a food writer who finds solace in a plate of hot, crispy fried things and who likes to make up stories in my mind about the people in the booth next to me.
Chicken parm at Tommy’s Beverly Hills
I like my chicken parmesan drowning in sauce. There should be a thick layer of melted mozzarella that if stretched would reach the length of the dining room. The blanket of cheese should threaten to slide right off the top with the smallest nudge of the table. The cutlet should be thin but not too thin, somewhere between a Milanese and a proper steak. And the top should be hidden under a snow-white cloak of fresh-grated Parmigiano.
According to cookbook author Katie Parla, and any Italian grandmother, you won’t find chicken Parmesan in Italy. It’s the orange chicken of Italian food. But at the new Tommy’s in Beverly Hills, Vartan Abgaryan is making the Italian orange chicken of my dreams. It hits all the points above, served in a beautiful dining room on the second floor of the former Bouchon restaurant, overlooking a courtyard with a very Instagrammable pink Beverly Hills sign. This is not an Italian American restaurant, and you won’t find a red and white checked tablecloth anywhere in the vicinity. But the chicken Parm is the gold standard. For dessert, there’s a tableside soft serve sundae cart.
Carnitas el Momo, 1470 Monterey Pass Rd, Monterey Park, (323) 627-8540, instagram.com/carnitaselmomo
All Day Baby, 3200 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, (323) 741-0082, www.alldaybabyla.com
Otomisan, 2506 1/2 E 1st St, Los Angeles, (323) 526-1150, otomisanrestaurant.com
Tommy’s Beverly Hills, 235 N Canon Dr, Beverly Hills, (310) 492-8868, www.tommysbeverlyhills.com
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