I think even the most adamant, will-not-go-east-of-the-405 Westsider knows, deep in his/her heart, that the Eastside is not really Silver Lake and Echo Park. Because to actually think that is to be far more provincial than the sprawl of Los Angeles permits: this is a very big city that, yes, goes way, way further east than Echo Park Avenue (and Downtown, for that matter). To get to East Los Angeles, you have to cross a bridge. And that bridge is not named Franklin.
The Cesar Chavez Avenue Viaduct is one of the oldest bridges in the city, and if you’re headed to Boyle Heights from the west via Sunset/Cesar Chavez – which is where we’re going on this edition of Menu Mining – you’ll cross this bridge when you get to it. After the bridge, you’ll pass a King Taco. Then you’ll also pass Breed Street, one of the many birthplaces of this city’s street food. Antojitos Carmen grew up as a vendor on Breed Street, making and selling antojitos (street snacks by way of Mexico; if you prefer, think of these as small plates a la tapas). When she saved enough money, Carmen moved out of her home on Breed Street, but, like any good daughter, she didn’t move too far away: no, Antojitos Carmen, formerly warming fresh tortillas on a little hot grill on Breed Street, has a small but more than serviceable storefront a few blocks away on Cesar Chavez. Her parents must be so proud.
There are two menus at Antojitos Carmen: one in English, the other in Spanish. I can’t read Spanish very well, so I’m forced to settle for the English side. In either language, there is a whole lot of awesome/asombroso choices on this menu – sopas, tortas, huaraches, etc. I was very tempted to write about their pambazo – two giant hunks of torta bread soaked in enchilada sauce and stuffed with your choice of meat, sour cream, and cheese – but the deep fried quesadilla has a special place in my heart. It so totally was not what I was expecting when I ordered it, but so exactly was what I wanted that I get it every time I go, even if I’m not even particularly in the mood for something fried.
When you order the quesadilla, you’re asked whether you want it pan fried or deep fried. Deep fried is the correct answer, and it’s not because you want to re-live any particular LA County Fair experience. No, it’s the correct answer because it’s the best one. I usually get it stuffed to the brim with cheese and squash blossoms (if your server seems confused when you say “squash blossoms,” try “flowers” instead – I learned this after a pretty funny I Love Lucy moment a few months ago) (the servers here are one of the nicest, most patient people you’ll ever meet). The quesadilla comes out, bigger than you’d expect for only $2.99, piping hot and lightly deep fried, if there was ever such a thing. It’s almost like an empanada, but it’s not, because it’s a deep fried quesadilla. Lettuce, cheese, and a few slices of tomato top it off.
Because this is a house of antojitos, you can split the quesadilla with a friend and have room for at least one other plate to snack on – a pambazo perhaps?