My new favorite food truck is making fried quesadillas, Mexico City-style

Quesadillas fritas from El Capitalino MX food truck in Inglewood.
Quesadillas fritas from El Capitalino MX food truck in Inglewood.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

This week’s column comes with a warning and an apology. Half of the stuff I’m about to mention is 2,800 miles away. I’m sorry. But you now have a short list of places to try on your next trip east.

I was in New York last week for our annual Coast to Coast party that brings together Los Angeles and New York chefs for a collaborative tasting event. The team from Anajak Thai made rou bao and papaya salad with Brooklyn’s Win Son. The chefs from the Arts District’s Damian and New York City’s Cosme turned out potato tamales and fish flautas. Lafayette Grand Cafe in Manhattan brought trays of its chocolate Suprêmes, the circular, filled croissants that went viral last year.

A dinner at Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi at Lincoln Center introduced me to what I’m confident is the best okra in the universe. Dry-roasted, fried then doused in honey and “peppa sauce,” they were crisp, light and addictive. I ate them like French fries. I ate them like candy. I ate them like I wanted no other snack for the rest of my existence. We finished one order, then asked for another.


I ate too well not to talk about it. But first, we’ll start with a dish you can find in front of the Jet Strip club in Inglewood.

It was a short list that ignored a swath of cuisines and neighborhoods. No tacos, Chinese, Thai, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Japanese or anything beyond sandwiches and fried chicken.

April 24, 2023

Quesadillas fritas from El Capitalino MX

Have you ever had a quesadilla frita? While I was eating microwaved tortillas with a clump of shredded cheddar cheese in the middle, Ivan Gomez was eating his mom’s quesadillas fritas in Martin Carrera, a small area of Mexico City in the Gustavo A. Madero borough.

The quesadillas look like tacos, overflowing with carne asada, chicharron prensado or chicken tinga, a mound of shredded lettuce on top, and a zigzag of crema and crumbles of cotija cheese. But they’re quesadillas, thrown into hot oil, then split open and filled.

“There was a lady who would sell them where we used to live,” Gomez said on a recent call. “My mom would make them and I just really wanted to bring this authentic taste of Mexico City food to L.A.”

An exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Tito’s Tacos’ crunchy tacos, from the tortilla factory to the commissary kitchen to the actual restaurant.

Sept. 15, 2022

He also wanted to give his mother, Norma Ramirez, a chance to make the foods she’s proud of. Ramirez used to sell quesadillas fritas, pozole, pambazos and toastadas in front of a cousin’s house in Lennox when the family moved to the U.S., but the city shut down the operation in the late 2000s.

Gomez, who already runs the Birrieria Gomez trucks, launched the El Capitalino truck in January. He specializes in the fried quesadillas, but also offers pambazos, sopes and tostadas.


“I can’t take credit for introducing the quesadillas fritas in L.A.,” Gomez said. “Most of the places are run by older people who are not social media savvy. I’ve been involved in social media and it helped us get it out there.”

Ramirez is the one making the quesadillas on the truck, preparing the masa and the fillings. Gomez divulged that his mother’s secret masa is combined with water and two other ingredients to make the quesadilla dough, setting it apart from a more traditional tortilla. “It ends up being about the same texture and thickness of a pizza dough,” Gomez said.

Ramirez flattens the dough with a tortilla press, adds enough shredded mozzarella cheese to create a sizable bulge, then presses the edges with her fingers before dunking the quesadillas in a vat of hot vegetable oil.

They puff up into pale golden pockets. Some are so stuffed the cheese oozes out of the edges. She removes them from the fryer, uses a knife to unseal the pockets, then fills them with your choice of filling and toppings. I’m partial to the chicken tinga, made by simmering chicken until it collapses in a sauce of pureed chipotle with sweet, slow-cooked onions.

Underneath all the fillings is a pool of melted cheese that clings to the walls of the quesadilla. The dough is crisp around the edges but soft in the middle, thicker and softer than a crunchy taco shell and with an obvious corn flavor.


Gomez said he’s finalizing terms for a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, wanting his customers to have more time and room to sit down and enjoy his family’s food. Inspired by his latest trip to Mexico City, where he spent a month in December, he plans to introduce more foods he loves, including gorditas.

We tallied a list with scores of classic Mexican restaurants across the region. Here are our top picks.

Sept. 15, 2022

MSG martinis, salt and a cha siu mcrib from Bonnie’s in Brooklyn

MSG martini with three olives
MSG martini from Bonnie’s in Brooklyn, N.Y.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a push-up bra for food. It enhances the goods that are already there.

A little sprinkle on some wok-fried string beans will lift the limp vegetables to new heights. The reason you can’t stop eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos? Well, there are probably many. But MSG is one of them.

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you added this flavor enhancer to alcohol, Bonnie’s, a Cantonese American restaurant in Brooklyn, is serving MSG martinis.

You choose Grey Goose vodka or Botanist gin and the bartender adds olive brine, Shaoxing wine and MSG. I chose vodka, not wanting the other elements in the drink to be overshadowed by any juniper or flavors in the gin. It’s served ice-cold in a coup glass with three olives.


That first sip is eye-widening. A total shock to your mouth. The heady, sharp taste of the Shaoxing wine floods your tongue, the salty brine rushes in and there’s a hit of spice from the vodka. It all seems heightened, like I’m momentarily sipping drinks as the Daredevil.

You feel the MSG more than taste it, with the sensation of something or someone dancing on the roof of your mouth.

My colleagues and strangers on the internet rave about the MSG martini. To be honest, the first sip was so intense, I couldn’t tell if I loved or loathed it. By the fifth sip, I loved it. I think.

A many-layered sandwich with a knife in it.
The cha siu mcrib from Bonnie’s in Brooklyn, N.Y.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

If the MSG martini takes the classic martini to the extreme, the restaurant’s cha siu mcrib applies that same ethos to the McDonald’s sandwich.

It arrives with a knife plunged into the middle. Both dramatic and functional.

This is what a McRib could be if you replaced the pressed and formed pork patty with a properly charred, boneless slab of char siu-glazed rib so juicy that it trickles down when you take a bite. And tossed the dry, split bun in favor of a lightly toasted milk bun. Added a smear of Chinese hot mustard somewhere. Enough for just an echo of that distinct nose-tingling spice. And plenty of pickle chips and slivers of raw white onion to cover the entire sandwich. The cha siu mcrib is the real McRib. The one that will squash all other imitators, hopes and aspirations.

Where to eat now

El Capitalino, 10624 Hawthorne Blvd., Inglewood,
Bonnie’s, 398 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, New York, (914) 875-3709,