Being from LA, I have a natural affinity toward Mexican food and culture, but mine goes deeper than my native city to my family tree. When my uncle moved to the U.S. from Thailand he fell in love with a woman named Dora Lucero and married her almost instantly. Soon there were Thai/Chinese/Mexican cousins running around. My first exposure to real Mexican home cooking came when Aunt Dora would watch and feed us kids.
- Antojos DF
- 3430 E Tropicana Ave., Las Vegas
As I grew and started working at the family restaurant, the daily family meal was accented by homemade beans, rice and tortillas brought by our two prep cooks, Felipe and Chon. After my grandmother, these two gents were some of the most influential culinary guides to a young boy who spent countless hours at the restaurant. Over the hundreds of hours together prepping meat and vegetables, peeling shrimp, and making stock I learned the distinct differences between regional Mexican cuisines, from Puebla’s mole poblano to conchinita pibil from the Yucatan region.
In my teen years, my father started growing Chinese vegetables in Mexico. A lot of folks don’t know that most of the Chinese fresh greens we consume in the U.S. during winter are grown in Mexico. From November to March, most of the Chinese broccoli, bok choy, choy sum, long beans and Chinese squash on your table are all grown in central Mexico.
Soon after moving to Las Vegas, my colleague, Alex Stratta, pointed me to Los Antojos for some excellent Mexican food. I know Alex, Max Jacobson and all the LV foodies eat there and it’s been reviewed to death, so I won’t go there. Instead, I went back to one of my cooks who is from Mexico and told him about my meals at Los Antojos, and he mentioned another similarly named restaurant that might be related to it where he eats. I was intrigued! So on his recommendation, I found Antojos DF.
Unlike the tiny hole in the wall that is Los Antojos, Antojos DF is a very large, well-appointed restaurant. Its colorful tables and walls pair with a full-service staff that make this place a warm and inviting spot to bring friends and family. For folks that might fear hole-in-the-wall restaurants, this place fits the bill. There is a live two-piece band on weekends and you always get service with a smile. Every time I’ve visited, I was literally the only chinito in the house. I get the sense it’s a local spot loved by the Mexican community.
So, what to eat? Many things are good here, but the dish that I have to get every time is the gordita stuffed with chicharrón prensado. It is so out-of-this-world that I find myself craving it all the time, the same way one might get a hankering for pizza or BBQ or any other deliciously unhealthy fare. And the one at Antojos DF always satisfies.
A gordita is a fried dough pocket stuffed with your choice of fillings. Anything you would top a taco with can be stuffed into a gordita. It’s like a pita from the heavens, because it’s usually made with corn meal and wheat flour, so it has that sweet gritty crunchiness of corn-dog dough and the pillowiness that only gluten in wheat flour provides.
Rule #1: Always get it with chicharrón prensado! Qué es eso? Well, I’ll tell you! Chicharrones are pork rinds or skin from a pig. Yum, I know. Take that skin, render the fat out of it by frying and you have these airy crispy pork snacks called chicharrones. Now comes the prensado or pressing part. The rendered skins are now pressed into wheels of pork goodness. Think of a wheel of compressed fried pork skin that looks something like a giant Parmesan wheel - this is chicharrón prensado.
The magicians in the kitchens of Antojos DF shave off this chicharrón prensado and cook it in a rich red sauce of dried chilies and tomatoes. After they fry off the corn-dough patty, they cut a pocket in it and stuff it with the chicharrón prensado, some crumbly fresh cheese, cilantro, and onion and — OMFG! — Mexican sandwich crack! The chicharrón hits your blood stream, your heart starts to race, your eyes dilate, your adrenal glands spew and you get that feeling like when you’re about to go into freefall on a roller coaster! OK, now that might be a little dramatic, but I swear, this is one of my favorite eats in Las Vegas, period... full stop!
Also notable at Antojos DF are the sopes and cochinita pibil, and the refried beans with anything are crazy good. Of course, the restaurant will also gladly make you a chicken or plain cheese gordita, but the chicharrón is hands down ridiculous. You’d be a fool not to give it a try.