Snapshots from ‘Taste of Mexico’

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If you were walking on Main Street in downtown Los Angeles on Friday night, you might have heard a velvety soprano belting out traditional Mexican tunes accompanied by a mariachi band that was just as loud and boisterous as she was. You’d hear the prominent strums of the guitarrón mexicano and maybe make out the faint chatter of the crowd beneath the stage. You’d think it was a concert of some sort, but if you took the time to really investigate, you’d notice that the musicians were secondary: The true performers were on plates.

The third annual Taste of Mexico event was held this past Friday at the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles. Nearly 25 restaurants surrounded the perimeter of the grounds underneath a canopy of stringed lights, handing out bites until an hour before the clocks struck midnight.

The line-up was an impressive showcase of regional Mexico flavors which spanned from Baja California to Chiapas to Oaxaca. Tacos, naturally, were aplenty but the flavors were so diverse that taste buds never got a chance to get bored. Yuca’s cochinita pibil (slow-baked roasted pork) came side-in-side with their chirmole (chicken served in blackened chilies) in taco form — an homage to the Yucatán Península in southeastern Mexico. A heaping of pickled red onions and salsa added a welcome respite and subtle tang to the meat.

The well-established Mexicali Taco & Co., famous for their Baja-style tacos, was handing out finely cut slices of seared steak, medium-rare, paired with a single upright chip with crumbled cheese and a jalapeño for good measure. Right next to them was newcomer Duro Tacos — a taco dorado specialist on Sunset Blvd., holding their own weight with massive dorados stuffed with pickled pig feet and mashed potatoes.

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Seafood was done especially well. The Ceviche Project had a wonderful snapper ceviche, tastefully sweetened with a miniature dollop of tangerine sorbet. Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos was doing lightly seared swordfish belly, topped with herb chili and baby heirloom tomatoes. El Coraloense of Bell Gardens, whose owners both hail from Mexican coastal cities, served up a repertoire of sea-centric offerings, including halibut and butter shrimp drizzled with creamy aiolis.

But while food was the headliner, the event was much more than a celebration of food. It was a celebration of culture, tradition and community.

Women in full Dia de Los Muertos garb took photos with curious bystanders and free-flowing sangria and craft mezcal motivated people to dance in place.

At the tents right next to a large bags of traditional Mexican candy, a group had congregated around a small television set, fixated on the Mexico vs. Panama soccer game. The stakes were especially high, as the results would determine whether Mexico would advance to the World Cup.

People clutched to their sugarcane-flavored sodas in anticipation, momentarily forgetting that there was a buffet of food around them. Finally Raul Jimenez’s 16-yard bicycle kick won Mexico the victory and cheers exploded all around. Within minutes the crowd quickly dispersed.

They were celebrating their country’s victory in the most appropriate way possible: with more food.

Originally posted on LA Weekly. See more photos here.

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