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Yes, bone marrow belongs in a taco. Find this truck to try my latest taco obsession

Sliced red onions top a bone marrow taco.
The bone marrow taco from Pepe’s Red Tacos food truck.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

This week’s recommendations from Jenn Harris will also take you to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Temple City.

Bone marrow birria tacos from Pepe’s Red Tacos

For a time, my Instagram and TikTok feeds were full of red-stained tacos. There were red birria and queso-filled tacos dunked five at a time into cups overflowing with even redder consommé. Stacks of red consommé-dipped tortillas warming on a flat top. Influencers with red consommé dripping down their chins for the perfect cheese pull of their birria-stuffed quesadillas. But I’d never come across a bone marrow red taco, until now.

Pepe’s Red Tacos is a truck with multiple locations around the Los Angeles area, including one perpetually parked at the sleepy intersection of Sierra Madre Boulevard and Altadena Drive in Pasadena. Pepe’s claims to be “L.A.’s first bone marrow taco truck.” It’s the only one I’ve come across, though I’m sure loyal readers will let me know in the comments if there are others. (Tuetano Taquería has been serving them in the San Diego area, but I haven’t gotten around to trying one.)

In 2019, Los Angeles’ bowls runneth over with birria, the Mexican confederation of recipes involving meat rubbed, roasted or slowly stewed in an alloy of chilies, herbs and spices.

Consommé is ladled onto the footlong split beef bones as they cook on the flat top, turning the already luscious marrow into something otherworldly. They are served with a cup of consommé, a birria soft taco and pickled onion and cilantro. You’re meant to scrape the marrow onto the birria and eat it as one chile-sluiced taco. It melts into the already tender meat to create a supremely luxurious bite. And when you’re finished, you can gnaw on the bone for any stray scraps.

The Pepe’s consommé tastes of chiles, garlic and tomato, but with a strong hit of allspice. It sips like a fine wine — and stains like one too.

A beetroot Reuben sandwich.
The beetroot Reuben sandwich from Loam DTLA restaurant at the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
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Beetroot Reuben from Loam

You could stick just about anything between two thick slabs of buttered, toasted Clark Street Apline bread and I’d eat it. Really. But after a recent lunch at Loam, the restaurant at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, smoked beets would be at the top of that list.

The restaurant calls itself vegetable-forward. I was pleasantly surprised to find that meant an actual vegetable patty for the veggie burger, versus an alternative protein, and a Reuben sandwich fashioned out of sliced beets. It is not intended to be a traditional corned beef Reuben that tastes like meat, but with beets. It tastes of actual beets, and that’s the point.

We tried more than 25 alt-protein burger, sausage, chicken nugget and fish products. Here’s a breakdown of the best and worst

Much in the same way that Josiah Citrin glorified the humble cabbage at Charcoal by roasting it whole until the smoky curling leaves turned into a cruciferous delicacy, chef Joshua Guarneri is giving beets the royal treatment. He roasts golden beets until tender, then cold-smokes them for an hour with apple wood.

The vegetable acts as a sponge for the smoke, amplifying its earthy core. They are sliced thin and piled onto the sandwich along with Guarneri’s purple sauerkraut. The Alpine bread, a whole wheat sourdough studded with coriander and caraway, is generously painted on both sides with a Russian dressing made with finely chopped cornichons, Calabrian chiles and house-made dilly beans. And, of course, there’s melted Gruyère cheese.

This is the beet in its breakthrough performance, emerging from a stale career of summer salads.

Fried mixed mushrooms with rice cracker bites from Bistro Na’s

A pile of fried mushrooms.
The mixed fried mushrooms from Bistro Na’s in Temple City.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles)

It may sound odd, but I’ve been on a bit of a fried mushroom kick for a while now. The crispy oyster mushrooms at Vege Paradise in San Gabriel are my new favorite Netflix snack. The mushroom roll from Plantae at Smorgasburg, stuffed with battered and fried mushrooms under a sweet teriyaki-ish glaze, is my go-to maki. And never forget the portobello mushroom fries from Bottega Louie.

The current obsession is a heaping plate of fried mixed mushrooms from Michelin-starred Bistro Na’s in Temple City. This is a restaurant that will give you serious order envy. You will find yourself swiveling your head throughout dinner, straining to get a look at the dishes on the tables around you, some plated beautifully in elaborate patterns. The Na’s secret tofu looks like green and beige tiles I’d like to turn into chevron-patterned wallpaper.

The fried mushrooms were a late addition to our order, after seeing multiple plates paraded around the dining room. The white beech mushrooms are fried until almost hollow inside, almost like well-done French fries. Scattered among the mushroom sticks are slices of shiitake mushroom. They’re just as crisp but retain most of their chewy middles. Everything is glazed in a sweet and sour sauce and tossed with tiny white rice crackers for extra crunch.

They are more of a snack than an entrée, perfect between bites of the cold spicy chicken, the crispy shrimp and the diced black pepper honey Angus beef (all must orders). Though you may find yourself eating them for dessert too.

Pepe’s Red Tacos, multiple locations at www.pepesredtacos.com
Loam DTLA, 927 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 235-9660, loamdtla.com
Bistro Na’s, 9055 Las Tunas Dr,. Ste 105, Temple City, (626) 286-1999, www.bistronas.com


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