5. El Mar Azul – Tostada de Camaron ($2): Mexico City native Felipe “El Campeon” Cejudo and his wife, El Paso native Rosie, prepare scintillating seafood tostadas in a truck alongside Highland Park’s Sycamore Grove Park. All of their tostadas are good, but my favorite is the most basic, topped with creamy cole slaw, relish and “secrets,” then fanned with plump shrimp and capped with slices of fresh avocado. A few squirts from a squeeze bottle of spicy salsa add yet another boost of flavor. Grab a seat at a picnic table, squeeze lime on your tostada, and luxuriate.
6. Feng Mao – Lamb Heart OR Lamb Kidney ($2): Owner Jin Chun-Hua and her husband hail from China’s Jilin province, which borders North Korea. Their Koreatown space features fluorescent lighting, tabletop grills, stainless steel hoods, Korean power ballads, and an unlikely cartoon of the New York skyline. Plenty of skewers cost $2 or less, including Soung’i Mushroom, Chicken Ribs, and the rather mysterious Big Backstraps Paddywack, but let’s focus on lamb, since that is Feng Mao’s marquee meat. Lamb Heart comes in cubes that are rosy inside and become crisp outside. Lamb Kidney reduces in size by half, gets crispy, and isn’t especially funky. Better yet, the menu promises plenty of “health benefits of eating lamb,” including selenium (prevents asthma attacks), iron (builds red blood cells), and Vitamin B3 (prevents Alzheimer’s disease and promotes healthy skin). With both skewers, fat drips into charcoal, causing flames to kick. Dip the blistered meat in a flame-orange spice blend with cumin, sesame and caraway seeds.
7. Kaboom Jamaican Flavor – Patties ($2) [CLOSED]
This family-run Jamaican restaurant from Roy “Kaboom” Hewitt and Agnes Viacrucis-Hewitt dates to late 2011 in a former Ethiopian restaurant near the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. Red, yellow and green stripes evoke the Jamaican flag, and booths join chairs with palm tree cutouts. Order at a corrugated metal counter. Patties include curried goat or beef (yellow) and plain veggie with steamed green beans and carrots. That last pattie isn’t as flavorful, so add vinegary Grace hot pepper sauce. Kaboom features three other hot sauces: K for Kaboom, a spicy burgundy paste; H for Hot red sauce; and a sweeter, darker unmarked sauce.
8. Karabagh Meat Market – Lule Kebab Sandwich ($2): A Little Armenia side-street next to the 101 freeway has been home to Karabagh, a meat market and bakery that’s named for a place in Armenia, for over 25 years. They stock tantalizing pastries near the register, and a tray rests on top of the deli case. Ask and ye shall receive a house-made chicken lule “sandwich,” wrapped with red onions, parsley and lavash, for a shockingly low price. A single wrap would be enough for a snack, and two wraps could easily be lunch.