Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Queso. Taco. Heaven.

Recently, my friend Matt introduced Ryan and I to a FAB taco joint in San Diego - Lucha Libre Taco Shop. And it is spectacular. You may have seen them on Man vs. Food.

One of my absolute favorite things is kitchy theme decor, and this place has it in spades. From the entrance to the back wall, the dining room is slathered in bright colors and lucha libre artwork. It is an homage while still being appropriately tongue-in-cheek. Even the bathroom (one of the key signs of a good restaurant, in my opinion) is decorated in old photographs and is brightly colored.

The food is no different. They add distinguishing character to a majorly prevalent series of dishes by introducing their own unique flare.

I was feeling particularly ravinous, and ordered both the lauded Surfin' California burrito (as touted on Man vs. Food) AND, at Matt's recommendation, a queso taco.

The former I highly recommend watching the video for - it is a drool-worthy, shrimp-and-steak-laden burrito with a magical sauce and FRIGGIN' FRENCH FRIES. Be still my heart. (No, really, I'm sure the cholesterol is stopping things up inside of me).

But what I really want to talk about today is the amazing queso taco, the hidden star behind the image above. What this is, is a crispy, grilled cheese patty that is put on a taco with your favorite fixings. It is everything good in this world as far as texture and taste. It was SO good, that the next morning we had to make breakfast tacos and try it ourselves. And then a week later on dinner tacos. And then write about it now. It is that pervasive.

Look at that crispy goodness. Here are what these beauties are comprised of:

  • Flour tortillas 
  • Grilled queso
  • Pork chorizo
  • Avocados tossed with fresh cilantro
  • Shreded Iceberg lettuce mixed with diced tomatoes (a "gringo taco" favorite in Los Angeles)
  • Quick pickled red onions
Here are some quick breakdowns of how to make the queso and the quick pickled red onion. Enjoy!

Grilled Queso

Jack cheese (or a jack/cheddar blend), grated

To prepare, heat up a nonstick skillet. You won't need any oil or fat, as it will come right from the cheese. Start by heating up a few grated pieces of cheese so test the temperature. You want it hot, but not smoking.

Once to temperature, drop approximately 1/4 cup cheese into the center of the pan and shape it into a desk with a spatula. It will be gooey at first, so test the firmness by lifting up the edge slightly with your spatula. It should not crush into itself, but lift up like a pancake. This time varies dramatically based on cheese and heat of pan, so keep your eye on it.

As soon as you can lift the edges, slip your spatula under the cheese in as close to one fell swoop as possible and flip. Grill it a few more minutes on that side and remove to cool on a plate. The final texture should be a light yellow (or white, if using white cheese) color, not brown, and crispy but not super hard and cracker-y. You'll know when you taste it. Heaven.

Note: I tried this with just cheddar, and it was far too melty to form. I highly recommend including, if not using all, jack cheese.

Quick Pickled Red Onions

1 red onion
1 cup red wine vinegar (white will work in a pinch), thinly sliced
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Grab a jar with a lid or otherwise close-able container and add vinegar, sugar and salt. Close the lid and shake them up so the sugar dissolves a bit. Then, add the onions, close the lid again, and shake once more. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes, or as long as you have available. I turn it over every once in a while to help the undissolved salt and sugar distribute more evenly.

Open up and BAM! Pickled onions! Use on absolutely everything.

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