Saturday, December 27, 2008

Taquería Los Ocampo - Spicy Chicken Taco

If you've been in any large public place in the last few weeks, you know that cold and flu season is in full swing. I can spot co-workers and friends popping decongestants and cough syrup, but when I feel like I'm getting plugged up, I go for more of a natural cure: good old-fashioned spice. Let's just say that I have a different type of over the counter cold remedy in mind.

I got worried when I felt a bit stuffy the other day, so I wanted to make sure I did everything possible to prevent a cold, not only because I'll be off to Mexico soon, but because if I get plugged up, I'll lose my sense of smell, and even worse, deplete my sense of taste. Now, I just can't let that happen. I decided to break out the big guns and headed over to Los Ocampo for a nice spicy taco. Now, I know this blog is all about sandwiches, but I feel like tacos are close enough to my definition of a sandwich, and at the end of the day, it's my blog, so back off!

I ordered a taco as a quick snack before I shopped at the Midtown Global Market and was shocked at the variety of fillings I had to choose from. I wanted something with some nose-knocking spice and went for the spicy chicken filling. As I waited for my taco, I marveled at the sheer amount of offerings they could crank out of their little kitchen. Everything looked and smelled great and all of a sudden my wait, which was only a few moments, seemed as if it lasted an eternity. Finally, my number came up and I bolted to the counter to grab my taco.

It was a work of beauty. The taco came on a perfectly authentic tortilla and was piled high with spicy shredded chicken. The taco was topped with tons of fresh cilantro and a nice fine dice of fresh onion for some brightness and a bit of kick. The small plate is also overloaded with fresh radish and some lime wedges to provide some crunch and punch. I loaded my taco up with as many toppings as the tortilla could handle and dove right in.

It was a serious treat. The chicken was perfectly spicy with a nice burst of heat, and the accompanying toppings added some serious flavor to the dish. The freshness of the cilantro, onion and radish provided a really nice texture and contrasted the abundantly spicy chicken. The lime juice made the flavors sing, and provided a nice tang at the end of each bite. I don't know if it was the speed of which I consumed this frugal little piece of paradise, or the heat provided by the spicy chicken, but when I finished my last bite I could breathe easy and felt no more pressure in my sinuses. Either the spice truly worked, or the satisfaction of the meal provided just the relief I was looking for. Look out NyQuil, I've got something much, much better in my flu-fighting war chest.
Sandwich Rating: Killer. I'll be back for the tacos soon, but will expand my ordering as well. The food was authentic, flavorful and well worth the trip. I can't imagine going any where else for a quick, authentic Mexican fix.

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cossetta's Italian Beef Sandwich

I had to run into St. Paul to grab a few goodies for Christmas and managed to avoid the temptation of the newly created St. Paul versions of the Bulldog and Pop!! to head to an old favorite, Cossetta's. Cossetta's is a St. Paul institution, and is always jammed with folks digging into hearty Italian pasta classics, sandwiches and pizza. Cossetta's also has an extensive Italian grocery and deli as well as a frozen take-away section. The Italian grocery has a ton of great stuff including olives, breads, imported canned tomatoes and a whole array of Italian meats and cheeses.

Although I did breeze by the grocery to inspect the goodies, I was at Cossetta's in search of immediate relief for a sandwich jones, and couldn't be distracted for long. I passed the pizza line and decided against the mostaccioli (both of which are favorites) for the allure and promise of an authentic Italian beef sandwich. Besides, the lines in the cafeteria-style Italian eatery are always wicked long for the perfect pizza and decadent pasta.

The sandwich starts with a nice fresh roll and they pile it high with thinly sliced Italian beef that has been soaking in a pool of it's own rich jus for what must have been some time given the delicate consistency of the beef. I ordered mine with hot giardiniera, and they really piled it on! I tore into the sandwich and immediately ran into a salty jolt of the beef jus and was then quickly bombarded with the spice of the giadiniera. Both flavors were bold and were greeted warmly by my now desperate taste buds. The only issue was that the salt and the heat really masked the beef, which should be the heart and soul of the sandwich. I found the roll a bit dry as I like my beef sandwiches "wet," or fully immersed in the jus. However, that isn't for everybody and most people would have found the roll just fine, but that's just my own personal taste. I feel a good slice of provolone would have helped mellow out the hot peppers, and added quite a bit to the sandwich, but it didn't stop me from wolfing the sandwich down.

Sandwich Rating: Tasty. It was super satisfying and really filling, but I felt like the Italian Beef and it's delicious blend of spices was buried underneath the mound of hot peppers and salty jus. I would consider ordering the sandwich again if I went back, but would likely give the Italian Sausage or Meatball hoagie a shot if I can resist the delicious pizza and heavenly, ricotta spiked mostaccioli.

Happy Eating,


Monday, December 1, 2008

Manny's Tortas - Pollo Torta

I've been meaning to get out to the Midtown Global Market for quite some time and for no reason other then the fact that I had a lonely stomach and was craving something different, I decided to finally pull the trigger last Saturday. The market is a loud and vibrant place with a healthy pulse and food everywhere. It's pretty much my own personal heaven. You can get just about every type of ethnic cuisine and take care of your grocery shopping as well. There are some very good meat, seafood and produce purveyors, and I know exactly where to go next time I need to go get some already ripe avocados.

I've been obsessing over pictures of Manny's Tortas for quite some time so after making the rounds and evaluating my food options I decided to look no further than their sandwich booth. There was no line when I arrived and I breathed a huge sigh of relief because after a quick lap and observing all the tempting food I was ready to do some work.

I shot through the menu quickly and settled on the pollo, although there were several combos that looked like they would be right in my wheelhouse. I would have easily gone for the eggs and chorizo, but the overindulgence of Thanksgiving was still fresh on my mind, so I played it safe. Plus, I just knew I was going to dig this shop, so I figured I could experiment further on a return visit.

The sandwich came out fast and I was more then ready to finally sink my teeth into the heaping construction. This particular beauty was built for flavor and not for function or style. I could tell I was in for a sloppy ride, but I was up to the challenge. I took a huge bite and the sandwich was a bit slippery, but it was really freakin' good. The bread had a nice crunch on the exterior, but was soft and chewy on the inside. A layer of chipotle mayo was a nice vehicle for spice and added a smokiness to the sandwich that played well with the other ingredients. The chicken cutlets were breaded and heated up so that they were crispy and flavorful, yet a bit oily. The real kicker for the sandwich was the fresh toppings. Fresh ingredients make for great tacos, and the same idea is applied here. A nice smash of avocado added a degree of tongue cooling richness that makes for a killer sandwich. The fresh jalapeno added a smooth layer of heat that mingled really well with the fresh lettuce, tomatoes and snappy onions. The textures made this sandwich feel completely substantial and fulfilling. It was so fresh and so flavorful, that it was a true pleasure to down. Before I knew it, it was all over. My only complaint was that it all ended too soon. The sandwich (served with chips) was only $8, and made those $5 footlongs look like a tragedy of a deal in comparison.

Sandwich Rating: Killer. Too flavorful and too fresh to be anything else. I'll be heading back to the market just to pick up these delicious tortas in the very near future for sure. It's pretty far out of the way for me and parking can be a pain, but it's a small price to pay for the excitement of a fresh sandwich loaded with layers of flavor.

Happy Eating,