Illustration by Anika Orrock

Love Letters

Antojitos Unite Family and Friends in Comfort, Deliciousness, and Cultural Pride

By

One of the most memorable nights I can recall in the past two decades occurred in Aguascalientes during a trip where I reconnected with my grandmother’s side of the family, which I hadn’t seen since I was eight or nine years old. We parked near the Jardín de San Marcos, a local public garden, and escorted my grandmother’s first cousin, Chelo Romo, with two generations of cousins, and walked over to their favorite cenaduría for pozole rojo, a typical antojito in the state of Aguascalientes.

Antojitos, or cravings, are mostly masa-based dishes like sopes, gorditas, enchiladas, tamales, tacos, tortas, and even pozole – these are the bites everyone gets excited to eat. They are also the foods that most clearly define a provincial gastronomy throughout Latin America; in Mexico, they are different in each state, and often in different towns. That evening was beautiful, being so welcomed by long lost relatives, and was the closest this Pocho ever felt to being a true hidrocálido (a person from Aguascalientes). For Mexicans, as well as all Latin American communities, antojitos give us comfort, deliciousness, and pride in our cultures during our happiest and most troubling moments. 

And there have been many occasions this past year to order my favorite antojitos in Los Angeles, often to eat at home as a form of self-care during the pandemic, because a great, warming bowl of pozole always comes through.

There are only a pair of restaurants in L.A. I go for pozole, one of them being Antojitos Los Cuates, a food truck that became a brick-and-mortar just before the pandemic; it still takes me back to that night 18 years ago in Aguascalientes. There, Fernando Gonzalez Zuniga prepares his own nixtamalized hominy, in a rich pork stock, dressed with lettuce, radishes, purple onions, and halved limes, just as they do in Ciudad Guzman, Jalisco. Gonzalez also has the best pork foot, and pork skin tostadas raspadas in town, where house-pickled pork cuts are topped on a large coarse tostada (a raspada) imported from Ciuda Guzman, as is the accompanying salty queso seco (dried cheese). The small menu of Gonzalez’s antojitos is a joyful stroll through a small town square in Mexico.

The same can be said about Tamales Elena y Antojitos, where my other favorite bowl of pozole is served. Maria Elena Lorenzo and her daughters are Afromexicanas from Guerrero, a land of pozoles. At their restaurant in Bell Gardens, you’ll find red, green, and white pozoles garnished with a bounty of condiments: radishes, chicharrones, avocado slices, cabbage, onions, chiles, and queso fresco. I’ve been a customer for 13 years, often making special orders of their banana-leaf tamales, especially Lorenzo’s pork snout tamales, the pozole verde, and other specialities from Guerrero’s La Costa Chica. I will eat anything she makes: Her menudo is one of the best in the city, her moles are world class, and her pescadillas (deep fried fish tacos) recall many a sunny afternoon in Acapulco. 

If friends hit me up for some late night Mexican food, we almost always start with Super Tortas DF, where Justino Gress puts on a master class on how to assemble a Mexico City-style torta cubana, a torta with more than a dozen cold cuts, dairy products, meats, and veggies. Honestly, I hardly ever order tortas in Mexico City because Gress is that good. He does all the classics: the suisa, hawaiiana, rusa, italiana, and cubana, among others. It’s one of the few places that has the same quality telera roll you’ll get in CDMX, and Gress’s tight construction gives you flavorful bites throughout the sandwich. 

All of these spots make delicious antojitos, but more than that, they offer quality comfort food, the kind I’ve found in neighborhoods all over Mexico and in L.A., where the cuisines bring communities, families, and friends together. And as a regular customer, I’m greeted with warm smiles, and attentive service, the same way my family was treated that night in Aguascalientes, with love, antojitos, and hometown flavor. 

Antojitos Los Cuates: 1811 N Long Beach Blvd, Compton (562) 469-9944.

Super Tortas DF: 1098 E 41st St (at Central Ave.), South LA

Tamales Elena y Antojitos: 8101 Garfield Avenue, Bell Gardens

***

Bill Esparza is an award-winning writer based in Los Angeles. Follow him at @streetgourmetla. Follow @resy, too.

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