Story and photos by Valentina Silva
With the Breed Street food vendors now dispersed, you really have to drive around Boyle Heights to find the best stuff. My tactic is to search out the stands with a bit of a crowd, the thinking being that most people won’t stand in line for bad food.
That’s not a foolproof theory, but it proved accurate when I spotted Balbina on a recent Friday night. Just off First Street, at the corner of Soto Street and Michigan Avenue, Balbina serves a full menu – which includes flautas, pambazos, huaraches, sopes and quesadillas – to a steady stream of regulars and newbies like me. The promise of thick, hearty tortillas handmade on the spot is a big part of the allure.
We chose a quesadilla filled with with huitlachoce, a.k.a. corn smut. If you haven’t had it, don’t fear, it’s more delicious than scary. Yes, it’s a fungus, but its earthy flavor and mushroom-like texture has earned it delicacy status since the days of the Ancient Aztecs. For good reason, too: it added a savory sharpness to this quesadilla that was balanced perfectly by a drizzle of crema.
A good flauta can be hard to find, but these were made to order, crispy and lighter than you’d expect. We mixed it up, ordering one with chorizo and potatoes, one with chicken, and another with champiñones (mushrooms, chopped and marinated in this case). They were finished with crema, salsa, lettuce and a sprinkle of cojita cheese. Better than any restaurant flauta I’ve ever had.
Next time, I’m going to order a flauta with huitlacoche and definitely a pambazo. What would you go for?
Valentina Silva is a regular contributor writing about food and restaurants. You can also find Valentina’s reviews and stories on her new blog, Eastside Food Bites.