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What: The al pastor taco

Where: Taqueria Tortilla Factory, 35270 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City

How much: $2.99

Contact: 760-324-6505; taqueria-tortilla-factory.business.site

Why: It outshined the main course.

Sometimes, the supporting player outshines the star.

Such was the case during a recent lunch I enjoyed at Taqueria Tortilla Factory, located in a busy little strip mall in Cathedral City. I was trying to get over that terrible cold that’s been going around, and I was craving soup—specifically, that fabled cold remedy known as menudo.

I understand that menudo isn’t for everyone—the main ingredient is tripe, aka cow’s stomach—but when it’s done right, I think it’s delicious. I’d never had the menudo at Taqueria Tortilla Factory, and I’d heard good things, so I decided to give it a shot. I ordered it at the counter—and decided to add on an al pastor taco, because, well, tacos are delicious.

The verdict: The menudo was pretty darned good. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had—while the tripe, hominy and other ingredients were perfect, the broth could have been more flavorful—but it was enjoyable, and it was a welcome salve for my sniffles. After downing most of the bowl, I turned my attention to the taco.

Wow.

It was fantastic. The pork meat was delicious and just a little crispy—as good al pastor should be. Some might balk at the $2.99 price; while you can get cheaper tacos in town, those tacos likely won’t come with this amount of meat.

In addition to making its own fantastic tortillas (as the name makes obvious), Taqueria Tortilla Factory cooks up a wide variety of delicious food, from breakfasts to seafood plates to all the Mexican-restaurant standards one would expect. I am not sure what I’ll order on my next visit … but I am sure that I’ll add on an al pastor taco.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Prime barbecue season is upon us—and barbecuing lends itself to Mexican food.

I’ll never look down my nose at Mexican mass-produced beer—it’s better overall than American mass-produced beer, in my opinion—but an even better sensory experience can be had with Mexican cuisine if you step up the beer game. To put it bluntly: You can do better than beers where the ads instruct you to put a wedge of lime in the bottle. (Why didn’t they just add that when they were brewing?) But I digress.

Instead of just listing pairings of entrées and beer styles, it would be more helpful to summarize some of the most-common ingredients in Mexican cuisine, and explain why they might be better partners with certain types of beers:

Corn: This is a staple in both Mexican food and beer. That distinct corn flavor and sweetness make Mexican beer styles an obvious choice for pairing. A lot of Mexican beer (excluding the brews from the excellent Mexican craft breweries burgeoning at the moment) consists of German-style pilsner with corn; the darker stuff is Vienna lager with corn. Corn adds sugar to a beer with almost no body, making the finished beer drier, and usually imparting at least a hint of corn flavor. The Belgians have been doing something similar with candi sugar (made from beets) to dry out their stronger beers and make them devilishly drinkable.

Pork: German beer was basically designed around the stuff, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find more natural pairings than pork and most German styles. This has to do with malt: Many German styles call for malt to be kilned in such a way as to create melanoidins. Melanoidins are what give you that distinct browned-bread character—the same flavor you can get from searing pork or beef (not to be confused with caramelization). I think you can see why, say, a German bock is a no-brainer for pairing with pork.

Cheese: I mention cheese more for its texture than anything. (This is not to say that traditional Mexican cheeses are necessarily mild.) This one is more about mouthfeel, and crisper or higher-strength beers (or both in one, perhaps) will help scrub the palate. This is equally important with the next ingredient …

Beans: Frijoles are a massive staple, and mouthfeel is again the most-important factor to consider here, as there are also likely to be other flavors to deal with in any particular dish that includes or comes with beans.

Chiles: I am a huge fan of spice, and there are some very noteworthy things to take into account when pairing beer with spicy food. The first is that alcohol accentuates capsaicin (the stuff that makes chiles burn), and so do hops. This does not mean that you should never pair a triple IPA with spicy chicken tinga, but it does mean you should be aware that you’re throwing a bit of gasoline on that fire when you do. Malty, less-crisp beers help here, so consider English styles when up against spiciness. It works for Indian cuisine, too.

Now that we are armed with some fundamentals, let’s tackle actual pairings with specific dishes. One thing I haven’t covered yet is seafood. Ceviche is one of my favorites; while refreshing on its own, it can be exponentially so when paired with the right beer. A Belgian witbier and a German hefeweizen are both great choices. A citrusy pale ale is also not a bad idea, but beware of oily fish, as hops turn that flavor combination into metallic unpleasantness.

Carnitas is another beautiful thing to behold; I already mentioned one pairing (bock), but a Munich dunkel lager will do just as well.

Good chicken mole is hard to come by locally (if I am missing out on a place where they do it right, please contact me), which is a shame, because a nice porter or dry Irish stout will do wonders with it. Craft breweries have long caught on to Mexican chocolate flavors; you can try pairing with one of those, but instead, I recommend supporting the mole flavors and letting them do that work with your beer. Along those lines, if you’re looking to try something lighter that can still match the intensity of this dish, try a German schwarzbier: It’s a black lager that shares some darker beer flavors of chocolate, coffee and dark fruit, but without any roasty quality, and with a bit of a fire-extinguishing effect if the mole is up there in spice.

A few parting thoughts, before I send you on the path to sabor. One is that it is generally a good idea to match intensities with beer/food pairings. Another consideration is whether you want to complement, contrast or combine. This takes much more explanation, and the best way to do that is to read up on the subject. I wrote a column a while back on pairing beer and food that covers some of it, but if you want more depth, I would highly recommend Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide From the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley, or The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver, one of the very few master cicerones. Both are great guides and are very good at getting you to be more mindful when it comes to pairing any beverage with food, never mind beer.

The next time you have a chance to enjoy a Mexican dish, forget the typical Mexican lagers, and swing for the gustatorial fences. And, hey: Even if your pairing lets you down, you still have beer and Mexican food to comfort you. ¡Salud!

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

What: The chicken chiles Agave

Where: Fresh Agave Mexican Bar and Grill, 73325 Highway 111, Palm Desert

How much: $12.50

Contact: 760-836-9028; www.freshagavemexicanbarandgrill.com

Why: The sauce ties it all together.

It wasn’t supposed to be my entrée.

I was having my monthly meeting with Independent contributor Kevin Fitzgerald, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted for lunch. I hadn’t been to Fresh Agave before, and I wanted to give the place a try, given how well it does in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll every year. I intended to get a couple of items to try; because of my unfamiliarity with the menu, I asked the server for advice.

She recommended the chicken chiles Agave as a starter, along with a handful of entrées. The appetizer recommendation—yellow peppers stuffed with chicken, tomatoes, cilantro and onions, with chipotle sauce on the side—sounded good to me, so we ordered it and asked for more time to decide on our entrées.

The chicken chiles Agave arrived fairly quickly … and it was a good thing I hadn’t yet ordered my main course, as it was immediately obvious that I would not need one, given the size of what was on the plate—six not-small peppers stuffed with tasty goodness.

Kevin only wanted one of the six peppers, and the remaining five were enough of a meal, even for a hearty eater like me. And what a delicious meal it was; it was a perfect example of how ingredients when combined can become more than the sum of their parts: The stuffed peppers by themselves were just OK, and the chipotle sauce on its own was unspectacular. But when the two were combined … yum. The creamy, peppery and just slightly sweet sauce brought out all sorts of fantastic favors in the moist chicken.

I’ll definitely order the chicken chiles Agave on my next visit to Fresh Agave … but I’ll need to take more dining companions with me, so we can share it—meaning I’ll have enough room for an entrée.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The big guac burrito

Where: Guacamoles, 555 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs

How much: $9.25

Contact: 760-325-9766; www.guacsps.com

Why: It’s one of the tastiest burritos around.

Guacamoles does not get the respect it deserves.

The Mexican restaurant is an undeniable success—it’s been open now for 28 years, since the Sesma family launched it during the first half of George H.W. Bush’s presidency. Yet when I hear people talking about their Palm Springs-area Mexican-food favorites, Guacmoles rarely comes up.

Perhaps this is due to the space Guacamoles occupies: It’s small and tucked away in the middle of the shopping mall at the southwest corner of Sunrise Way and Ramon Road. Perhaps it’s due to the restaurant’s no-frills vibe: You order at the counter, and the food is delivered on disposable plates with plastic utensils. I admit that until fairly recently, I rarely dined at Guacamole’s; over a five-year period, I ate there once, maybe twice—and that was it.

However, that all changed one night not long ago. I was stuck at home alone, with work deadlines looming; I was hungry and had no time to cook. So I got on one of the delivery apps and perused my options, one of which was Guacamoles. A burrito sounded good, so I decided to order a chicken big guac (aka a burrito with the works).

The food was delivered quickly. And even though the burrito weighed in at around a pound, it was devoured quickly: It was delicious, and gluttony won out.

Since that fateful night, Guacamole’s has become one of my regular takeout or delivery options. (Although whenever I get the big guac now, I cut it in half and put half away for later, to avoid further gluttony.) The food is fresh—with no MSG or lard—well-prepared and tasty.

Cheers to the Sesma family for their success. Here’s to another 28 years—and Guacamoles hopefully getting the respect it deserves.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The roasted suckling pig

Where: Alebrije Bistro Mexico, 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $28

Contact: 760-537-1279; www.alebrijeps.com

Why: It’s a surprisingly refined dish.

Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week brought both disappointments and delicious finds at the handful of participants I was able to visit—but my most delicious find of all was Alebrije Bistro Mexico.

It was so delicious that Alebrije was the only place I visited twice during Restaurant Week.

Alebrije went above and beyond by offering four courses—not just the requisite three—for $39, and the food showed a level of sophistication rarely found here in the Coachella Valley. A couple of examples: The octopus ceviche ($14 on the regular menu) respected the star ingredient while wowing the taste buds. The creamy poblano soup ($8) with roasted corn and caramelized peppers was a nuanced, creamy revelation, with the spice and earthiness of the pepper enhanced and improved by the sweetness of the corn.

Either of these dishes was worthy of an endorsement—but the entrée I had on both Restaurant Week visits, as well as a follow-up visit, came out on the top of my list: the roasted suckling pig. There doesn’t seem to be all that much to the dish: There’s a pile of shredded meat with onions on top; some corn puree spread around the plate; and small dishes of black beans and salsa verde, with homemade corn tortillas on the side.

The magic happens when the ingredients are combined: Once a portion of that moist, delicious pork is placed in a delicious tortilla with a little bit of each of the other ingredients … wow.

On all of my visits so far, Alebrije has been far from busy. This, folks, is a shame: This Palm Springs restaurant is offering an upscale dining experience like no other in the Coachella Valley. Go. You will be very happy that you did.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The huevos rancheros

Where: Tacos Gonzalez, 80120 Highway 111, Indio

How much: $9.99

Contact: 760-347-6858

Why: It’s delicious, meticulous simplicity.

It shouldn’t be difficult to make great yet simple food … but it most definitely is.

For example, consider the amazing huevos rancheros at Tacos Gonzalez, a popular hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint in Indio. There is nothing fancy or complicated about the dish: It consists of eggs, and tortillas, and sauce, and salsa, with beans, rice, lettuce and guacamole surrounding it.

Simple ingredients all, correct? Well, this leads to a question: If all of this is so simple, why don’t all restaurants serve such splendid huevos rancheros?

The answer: Not all cooks pay attention to the details like they do at Tacos Gonzalez.

The tortillas were tasty and well-prepared. The eggs were a perfect over-medium—just as I ordered them. The ranchero sauce was delicious with just a hint of spiciness. The salsa fresca was fresh and vibrant. All of the accompaniments were spot-on—especially the guacamole, which made me regret not ordering more as an appetizer.

If just one of these ingredients had been amiss—if, say, the eggs were overcooked, or the ranchero sauce was bland—the dish would have fallen into mediocrity. But the people in Taco Gonzalez’s kitchen made sure that did not happen. As a result, the huevos rancheros were fantastic.

This attention to detail was also apparent in the street tacos ($1.89 to $2.29 each) my husband ordered. He got six tacos, each with a different meat, and there was not a bad taco in the bunch. I liked the chicken best, while Garrett’s favorite was the carnitas.

The aforementioned meal was our first at Tacos Gonzalez—and it most certainly won’t be our last. All cooks—from restaurants at every price level—could learn a thing or two from the attention to detail on display at Tacos Gonzalez.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The chile relleno plate

Where: Cardenas Market, 31655 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City

How much: $6.99

Contact: 760-422-1330; www.cardenasmarkets.com

Why: It’s a delicious bargain.

When we moved here five years ago, the initial plan was to buy a house not too far from the Cathedral City Cardenas. I remember first walking into the huge Mexican-focused supermarket and being utterly wowed by the amazing selection of prepared foods on offer there.

However, the sale of that house fell through, and we wound up living in Palm Springs. Therefore, I had little reason to go to Cardenas—and somehow, I forgot about all that amazing food. Well, I recently rediscovered Cardenas, and this rediscovery has been a very good thing (for my taste buds, if not my waistline).

Since the joyous rediscovery, Cardenas has become one of my go-to places whenever I need to pick up some food for a party. The selection of Mexican goodies available is, frankly, stunning: more than a dozen different types of ceviche, a variety of salsas, tamales, tacos, burritos, breakfasts, cooked meats by the pound, and a whole bunch of yummy entrées—it is all available, and then some.

Beyond parties, Cardenas has also become a place to go when, well, I am simply hungry. One recent day, I was in the general area of the store after a doctor’s appointment, so I decided to drop in and pick up an early dinner to-go. (Eating at the store is also an option; Cardenas has a large, comfy dining area.) My only problem was choosing what to get, given the bevy of options. However, I eventually decided on the chile relleno plate—and I’m so happy I did.

The egg-battered pepper was cooked perfectly, and swam in a delightful, cheesy red sauce. It came along with beans, rice and tortillas—a damn fine meal for $6.99.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Dear Mexican: Sooooo...your boy René Redzepi is moving to Mexico. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

From Lagos

Dear Loco: Unless the acclaimed Danish chef behind the world-acclaimed Noma is into tamborazo and Antonio Aguilar, he ain’t my compa. But the Scandinavian very well could be nowadays: It was recently announced that he’s opening a pop-up Mexican restaurant in Yucatán, charging an extraordinary $600 a head. So much to unpack here, ¿qué no?

Redzepi is the latest gabacho to fall in love with Mexican food—and the latest to gentrify and exotify it. He’s the latest gaba chef to get media attention for his love of Mexican food, while Mexican chefs get ignored—when the fuck is the culinary press going to go on late-night pho runs with Carlos Salgado of Orange County’s Taco Maria, which is only the most important Mexican-American restaurant in the United States? The gringo is even bringing his entire staff from Europe to man the restaurant. Local talent? According to The New York Times, the Mexi Noma will employ “four local cooks to produce fresh tortillas”—an attempt at “authenticity” that goes back to the earliest days of Mexican food in the United States, and is as trite of an ethnic marker as a shamrock tattoo on an Irish girl’s nalga.

That’s the Zapata in me. The Benito Juarez in me, however, takes the longer view: another gabacho Reconquista’d by our cuisine. Redzepi has been promising to anyone who’ll listen that he wanted to open a restaurant in Mexico, so entranced he is by nuestra cultura. And to his credit, Redzepi’s partner in the Mexican safari is Rosio Sanchez, Noma’s longtime pastry chef who runs a bona fide taquería in Copenhagen and is the child of Mexican immigrants. Sanchez was raised in Chicago’s Little Village barrio, which gives her more cred than that pendejo Rick Bayless by a Mayan minute. So let Redzepi and Sanchez do their cosa!

If you really want to yell at someone for Noma Mexico’s appropriation, yell at foodies and food writers, who’ll always focus more on gabachos doing Mexican food than Mexicans doing Mexican food—and guess what your letter did?

Dear Mexican: As a güero crossdresser, I’m jealous that the Mexican cha-chas are so hot. Are they hot for the same reasons Mexican women are hot? Most güeros look like middle-aged stockbrokers in dresses, probably because we are, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m talking about the mamacitas! In Mexican culture, are you either macho or the girlie-girl you’ve always wanted to be, with no in between?

La Dama Loca

Dear Crazy Dame: Transgendered, crossdressing, genderqueer and genderfucking Mexicans have historically looked better than their gabachos counterparts because we have better cisgen stereotypes to play with. Men who want to look like mujeres (whether transitioning or not) draw upon the spicy señorita archetype; many Chicanas that I know who are fluid with their gender identity inevitably go the Pendleton or rockabilly look. (All credit goes to Morrissey for the latter one.) And you’re right: Mexican society, despite its historical machismo, has also had a surprisingly tolerant streak for trans folks or flamboyantly LGBT mariposas. But that was the catch: You couldn’t act “normal,” or else risk getting brutalized (and even that Faustian bargain wasn’t much protection against homo- and transphobia).

I won’t make the insult toward gabachos crossdressers you did, but I need to end with a joke here, so try this one: Rick Bayless.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

What: The Queso Bonita Tacos

Where: La Bonita’s, 330 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $12.99

Contact: 760-318-8883; www.labonitas.com

Why: Crispy cheese is an amazing thing.

Ah, the taco. It’s the perfect food—delicious, potentially nutritious, easy to make and effortless to eat. Plus, it singlehandedly elevated the status of Tuesday, formerly the most boring day of the week.

It’s not easy to improve on supposed perfection—yet that’s exactly what the good folks at downtown Palm Springs Mexican joint La Bonita’s have done to the taco.

The queso Bonita tacos have all of the good stuff one would expect in a taco—fantastic carne asada or chicken, plus salsa, onion and cilantro, all placed on a fresh tortilla. Then comes the unexpected: The tortilla is coated with crispy, melted-and-then-cooked-on cheese.

Oh. My. God. The sharp flavor of the cheese adds a whole ’nother flavor level to the tacos. There’s nothing particularly special about the accompanying beans, rice and salad—but these tacos are special enough, thank you very much.

The queso Bonita tacos are just one of the much-raved-about dishes this year-old Mexican restaurant offers in the weirdly narrow Palm Canyon Drive space that previously housed several short-lived Asian joints. Friends of mine have spoken highly about the chimichangas and the burrito bowls, for example, and one of my dining companions would not stop talking about the California burrito ($11.99), which contains either carne asada or chicken, the usual burrito fillings and … French fries. Yes, inside the burrito.

If you’re reading this shortly after its posting, and these words have made you hungry, I have some bad news: The restaurant, like too many others around town, is currently in the midst of an August closure. (“Small remodel,” explains the La Bonita Facebook page.) Expect La Bonita to reopen on Aug. 27.

There is a lot of fine Mexican food in Palm Springs (as well as some not-so-fine Mexican food). And that queso Bonita taco plate is among the finest.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Chile Relleno de Camaron

Where: Felipe’s Fine Mexican Food, 400 S. El Cielo Road, Palm Springs

How much: $13.50

Contact: 760-318-9277

Why: It’s creamy, spicy deliciousness.

I do not care for Yelp. The quality of reviews is suspect, and many businesses accuse the website of what amounts to extortion: Yelp’s advertisers get preferential treatment when it comes to highlighting good reviews, and burying the bad ones, according to several lawsuits (which Yelp has disputed). Blech.

Still, Yelp has its useful qualities. I disregard the negative reviews (you never know what motives the reviewers have) but use the positive ones to research oft-raved-about items at unfamiliar restaurants. I also check Yelp on occasion to find out about newly opened restaurants.

In this vein, I must tip my figurative hat to Yelp for letting me know about Felipe’s, which opened around the first of the year in the space that previously housed El Cielo Bakery. Even though I’ve driven past the strip mall that Felipe’s calls home many dozens of times since the first of the year, the restaurant escaped my notice until I stumbled across its Yelp listing. The five-star cumulative rating of Felipe’s caught my eye—as did the frequent raves about the chile rellenos with shrimp.

So off I went to Felipe’s during a recent lunch. While the menu offers a wide variety of intriguing breakfast, lunch and dinner fare, my mind was set on the chile relleno de camaron. I sat at the small bar area during my lunch, and was waited on with care by Felipe himself.

Now I know what all those citizen reviewers are raving about: The dish was fantastic. The perfectly prepared peppers and the ample shrimp were brought together by the creamy chipotle sauce—it was flavorful, with just enough spice. I was tempted to pick up the square plate and lick up every last bit of that sauce.

I didn’t, but I was tempted. If you try this dish, you may be tempted to do so as well.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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