Thursday, September 21, 2006

Juanita's Authentic Mexican Food

When I first moved to Silverlake a few years ago, I made it a point to explore the surrounding areas for the best mexican food. I had heard a lot about eagle rock so I decided to drive around the neighborhood and about 30 seconds after exiting the 2 Freeway - which I think we can all agree is the best freeway in LA - I came across a plain-looking storefront with new lettering called Juanita's Authentic Mexican Food. I was frequently unemployed at that time and Juanita's inexpensive homestyle mexican cuisine was just what I was craving several days a week.

More so than the food though, what truly drew me to Juanita's kitchen was the family atmosphere and people. A woman who I can only assume is Juanita is always cooking behind stainless steel counter, taking orders, and preparing the food. A man who I think is her husband often helps prepare the food or sits with a friend or two at the back table of the restaurant, preparing the raw cornmeal for saturday tamal├ęs. Their children, friends, and relatives help in the kitchen or just walk in from school and prepare a meal for themselves where Juanita is cooking for the customers. And along all the walls of the restaurant, portraits and tributes to Frieda Kahlo.

So the review:

I went to Juanita's for lunch on Tuesday with Stephanie. She decided to get chicken and vegetable soup and I chose an old favorite, the chile verdre burrito. At Juanita's you make your order at the counter, return to your table for service and then pay at the counter when finished. As usual, when I attempted to order "Chicken with vegetable soup," I was given a brief spanish lesson by Juanita: "Ah, sopa de pollo." She always corrects me and tries to provide a few new words to my pathetic spanish vocabulary, so for my half of the order I impressed her with "Un burrrrrito de chile verrrde." Rolling my R's is pretty much the only thing I do well with spanish. It got a cheeky smile from the veteran burrito artisan.

I know it may seem sacriligeous to do my maiden review on a wet burrito, but I want to make it clear that this is a blog about burritos of all shapes, sizes, and viscosities. The chile verde burrito is a delicious concoction filled with long-stewed pork in a green chile sauce. The meat is quite moist by the time it makes it into a burrito and it falls apart the way that carnitas or bbq pulled pork does. There is rice in the burritos at Juanita's, but it is homestyle spanish rice with small pieces of corn, carrots and green beans that really add an extra layer of comfort to the already hearty dish. The beans are tasty pintos, which is important because refried beans are a definite burrito no-no in my book.

The icing on the cake, or in this case the sauce and cheese on the burrito, is the sauce and cheese smothered over the burrito and then melted in the broiler...mmmm. Some restaurants drown their burrito's in overwhelming sauce and greasy cheese, but Juanita seems to get it just right, with enough stuff on top to heighten your enjoyment, but not enough to take away from the overall burrito experience. The garnish of a tomato slice, lettuce and a dollop of sour cream really ties the whole dish together, and adds that extra little flavor to take it to the limit one mo time.

Stephanie's sopa de pollo was delicious as well, filled with giant chunks of simmered potato, zucchini, carrots and chicken, a side of rice, chopped cilantro, chopped white onions, and warm corn tortillas, a hearty and VERY healthy meal any time of the day.


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