Saturday, July 23, 2011

East LA Meets Napa and a Love Letter to Mexico

Dear Mexico,

Remember me? I’m the gringa who loved you as a schoolgirl in Texas, a college girl in Arizona and as a working girl in California. I’ve been all over your regions (it’s not as dirty as it sounds), and frankly, you had me at hola. Maybe it was your vibrant bougainvilla and calla lilies. Your earthy chiles and moles. Your briliant Kahlos and Riveras. Or perhaps it was the spirited mariachis and rancheras. Those red-tiled roofs and Mayan ruins. And who could forget the warmth of your sun, your smiles and your tequila? You know how some people close their eyes and picture soft, ethereal music with unicorns flying in slo-mo? That's not what I see. You, dear Mexico, are my happy place.

I’m sorry that your streets have been infiltrated by those notorious drug lords. But they won't stop me from visiting. And I’m sorry that some people still think of you as the land of refried beans and cheap booze with a worm. Haven’t they been to a tiny village in Oaxaca and tasted a real handcrafted smoky mezcal? Their loss. Or sat under a palapa in the Yucatan and unwrapped a steaming banana leaf filled with a gift from the corn gods? That's a shame. Or relaxed on the zocalo in Patzcuaro with the dreamiest, creamiest tres leches cake? Oh well. More for me. And if they haven't savored a delicate huitlacoche soufflé in Mexico City's Zona Rosa or Condesa district, well, what can I say? That’s a gringo for you.

But thanks to the East LA Meets Napa premiere food and wine tasting event that was held in downtown's Union Station a couple of weeks ago, I got to meet some of your culinary disciples in LA. The event celebrated the food of Michoacan and wineries of Latino vintners in the Napa Valley. It was a benefit for AltaMed, a nonprofit organization that provides healthcare for underserved Latino communities in Southern California. So when my blogging buddy Lynne of Cook and Be Merry and I scored an invite, I was not only excited over the 60 food and wine pairings, I was happy that a good cause would be served too.

And now, Mexico, after all that food, wine, tequila and music, I really need to see you—bad. This long-distance relationship is hard. We tried Skyping once, but you're a big country. But at least I can get a little fix of you here in LA. You should see what some of these restaurants are doing. It's really sexy stuff. And I wouldn't be cheating on you if I have your permission to go to their place once in a while. If you think of them as your children and not your rivals, I know you'd approve. I bet they'd even make you proud. And Mexico, just 'cause I'm seeing other chefs, it doesn't mean I won't be thinking of you.

Until we eat again, mi amor,

Lentil Breakdown

Colorful antojitos, La Casita Mexicana

Cold avocado and shrimp soup in mini bamboo bowls, Setá

Shrimp taquito with guacamole and salsa brava, Yxta Cocina Mexicana

Pineapple & prickly pear + lime, chia & cucumber aguas frescas, Lotéria Grill

Chicken in green mole mini sopes, Lotéria Grill

Black quinoa and squash blossom sauce over corn custard, Rivera Restaurant

Handmade tortillas, La Parrilla Restaurant

Handmade jellos, Attila the Flan

Passion fruit cream with mango jelly, raspberries and passion fruit pearls, Porto's Bakery

Warming tequilas (shot after too many shots): Tributo Tequila

To find out more about Latinos' contributions to the U.S. wine industry, read AltaMed's new book, In Their Own Words, which chronicles 17 vintners' stories from the Napa Valley, some of whom began as farm workers.

My photos from Mexico (at top): Calla lilies, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas; Diego Rivera mural, El Pan Nuestro, Ministry of Education, Mexico City; Palenque ruins, Chiapas; Family on motorcycle, Mexico City

Related Links:

Ode to a Farm Worker

Travel Bite: Street Snacks, Mexico City

Travel Bite: Market Day, Chiapas, Mexico

Travel Bite: Xochimilco Snack Vendor

Cultural Musings on Dia de los Muertos

Nopales Cactus Salad (with Cahones)


  1. I'm so, so disappointed I couldn't be there for the event. It sounds like it was quite the gastronomic experience.

    As for your letter - now amiga, tu sabes que hay nada como Mexico. We should look for a culinary tour to go on together in Mexico?

  2. What a great post, Adair, it captures our culinary adventure so perfectly.I had so much fun going there with you. Good photos, they made my mouth start watering all over again. Oh, and I also want to go on the culinary tour to Mexico, ok?

  3. I have loved Porto's Bakery for many years and have eaten (countless) pastries, meat pies, cakes, and..well, you see- I love that bakery. Thank you for sharing all the other wonderful restaurants!

  4. Well now I want to visit Mexico. I've been but something tells me I haven't seen your Mexico. Sounds lovely...and delicious.

  5. I, too, am in love in Mexico. The people, the food, the weather...oh my.

    I broke down in a small town one time and this sweet old man (he had to be 90), jumpstarted my car and refused to take the pesos I tried to give him. Instead, he invited me in for dinner with his family! I fell in love with the place right there and then....

    I just love your take on this amazing country....

  6. I share your love for Mexico but could not write such an eloquent and heartfelt post on this fascinating country and culture. Wish I could have been there, sounds like it was fun! Just discovered a great Mexican joint here on Henderson "Alma"; will have to go do lunch when you hop on over to the big D.

  7. ugh! I wish I could've been there. And I have the exact same sentiments... a little part of me will always be in Mexico :) I would still love to try the churro place-- you up for that any time soon??