Green apples wrapped in tamarindo are a spicy and delicious Mexican-inflected take on a fall treat.
After writing about my trip to Tijuana, I was seriously in need of some out-of-the ordinary Mexican food. Pig uterus carnitas at Highland Park's Metro Balderas might have been a possibility on a weekend, but as it was only Friday, we went a little more upscale at Cacao Mexicatessen in Eagle Rock. Only three months old, Cacao combines fresh, homemade food with distinctive flavors not often found in casual spots.
Succulent duck carnitas are hidden under the radishes in homemade tortillas.
Wrapped in tortillas made as soon as you order, tacos go beyond the usual carne asada, carnitas and cochinita pibil to squash blossoms with poblano strips, duck carnitas, shrimp in chipotle citrus sauce or bacon with Cacao salsa. Crispy, rich carnitas de pato -- duck confit -- would be an amazing way for for a non pork-eater to experience the lusciousness of carnitas. Shrimp enchipotlados, made with meaty, good quality shrimp, could have used some garnish but had a great spicy tang. Fresh chips are some of the best I've had, with an addictively zippy salsa. Why is it called a Mexicatessen? In addition to tables indoors and on the front porch, the housemade tortillas, guacamole, salsas and chips are all available in bulk to take home, as well as menudo on weekends and aguas frescas by the gallon. Larger entrees like mole, rellenos and tortas fill out the menu along with a good selection of artisanal Mexican chocolate and unusual coffee drinks like mocha with chile or coffee with cajeta. On weekends, there's brunch. Somewhere between the taco trucks and Downtown's new haute Mexican spots, there's a sweet spot like Cacao, where the lively cooking comes as an excellent surprise.
Update: Now I've also tried tacos of cochinita pibil and squash blossom, and the squash blossom ones in particular are really wonderful (get them with cheese, unless you're vegan, of course.)
1576 Colorado Blvd. (right next to Trader Joe's)
(Closed Monday, no alcohol)