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Ever wonder how Mexican cuisine features in a foreign culture such as….say, Japan?

During my brief stint in Tokyo, I was craving a taste of my favorite cuisine from home.

I looked up local mexican restaurants in my Lonely Planet guide, and out of the two (more than I thought there’d be!) listed, I chose the restaurant with this colorful review:

You’d be forgiven for thinking you were eating Tex-Mex somewhere in America after walking into this cavernous Ebisu institution. Although the jumbo margaritas, enormous bowls of nachos and sizzling hotplates of fajitas are reason enough to stop by, there’s something endearing about Japanese waiting staff in cowboy boots and hats.”

Waiters in cowboy hats? Sounds fun.

First step into the restaurant and you feel like you’ve stepped into a strange Spaghetti Western. The decor was pretty impressive, with tall, antler decorated (I think those were antlers) chandeliers and rustic wood railing everywhere.

The menu was eclectic. Beef Jambalaya, Buffalo Chicken Wings, Enchiladas, Taco Rice. I’m not sure when Beef Jambalaya counted as Tex-Mex food, but okay.

I ordered the enchiladas, and some “Fresh Guacamole” as a starter. The guacamole came, and surprisingly, it was decent. The enchiladas would not have passed muster back in San Diego, but after having no Mexican food for the past two months of travel, they hit the spot.

To wrap it up–my experience with Mexican Food in Japan hits along the lines of the conclusions drawn by the article below:

”  1. It’s expensive
Even if it weren’t for the awful dollar-to-yen exchange rate, Japan is expensive. So, it’s not surprising that a cuisine as rare as Mexican would be super-expensive, though the price tag was still a shock given Gustavo’s no-true-taco-should-cost-more-than-a-buck maxim. Two beef tacos clocked in at 840 yen, which, Google says at press time, is $9.85. A burrito combo meal? $20.99.
2. It’s stereotype-y
elpanchostereotype.jpg
Screengrab from El Pancho website…
Did I spot images of guys in giant sombreros, sleeping under a saguaro? I did. El Pancho actually occupied a pretty cool space above ground level in a Shinsaibashi skyscraper, a dimly-lit, cantina-of-comic-books room. There are Mexican flags, maracas, and, more than anything, lots of cactus-related paraphernalia. All of this may be played out to our eyes, but keep in mind this kind of imagery is awfully foreign in Japan. One lady we dined with–not Japanese but not American–asked what a taco actually was. We’re spoiled in OC.
3. It’s Japanized
I half-expected nothing but corn-and-mayonnaise burritos and pickled ginger tacos from Japanese chefs taking on Mexican food, but instead the differences with the homeland’s–or at least Southern California’s–cuisine were more subtle. The chips and salsa portion was dinky, a far cry from the hefty and constantly replenished baskets of obese America. The burrito combo came with not beans and rice but rather beans, a quesadilla, a taquito, grainy mashed potatos and yes, corn. Rice was nowhere to be seen on the plate, which is a shock given that Japan loves its rice–white rice.
4. Weirdness aside, it’s okay
A week-and-a-half into the trip, I was craving the flavors so abundant here in OC: cheese, fat, tortilla, heat. Japanese food isn’t heavy on those things. And El Pancho mostly delivered the soul-satisfyingness we want from Mexican food.”
Article by Spencer Kornhaber
Read the original article here.

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This recipe combines some of my favorite ingredients in a tasty twist on chicken salad. Plus, presenting in these awesome, easy-to-make tortilla bowls is the best way to fool your diners into thinking you’re a master chef.

Mango-Jalapeño-Chicken Salad in Cumin Tortilla Bowls

Time to Make: 50 Minutes

Vinaigrette

1/2 cup cubed peeled mango*

2 tablespoons mango nectar (from 12.5-oz can)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup CRISCO® Pure Canola Oil

Bowls

4 Old El Paso® flour tortillas for burritos (from 11-oz package)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt

Salad

4 cups cubed cooked chicken breast
1 1/3 cups cubed peeled mango
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 1/2 cups cubed peeled avocado (from 2 medium)
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped seeded jalapeño chiles (2 medium)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Heat oven to 400°F. Spray insides of 4 ovenproof 2-cup soup bowls with CRISCO® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray.** Set aside.

2. In food processor bowl with metal blade or blender, place all vinaigrette ingredients except oil. Cover; process until smooth. With food processor running, slowly pour oil through feed tube until mixture is thickened. Set aside.

3. Spray 1 side of each tortilla with CRISCO® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray. Sprinkle cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt evenly over sprayed sides of tortillas. Press tortillas, seasoned sides up, in bowls. Place bowls in 15x10x1-inch pan. Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove tortillas from bowls; place upside down on cooling rack. Cool completely.

4. In large bowl, mix chicken and 1 1/3 cups mango. In small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon lime juice and the avocado. Add avocado and remaining salad ingredients to chicken mixture; mix well. Add vinaigrette; mix well.

5. To serve, spoon chicken salad into tortilla bowls. (Bowls will be full.) Serve immediately.

originally posted on pillsbury.com

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Once you’ve had a bite of this delicious, fried treat dipped in rich chocolate…you’ll never look at churro carts the same way again.

Until three years ago, I had never known what a real churro was. Or that it is traditionally dipped in chocolate.

My experience with churros had always been the theme-park version– carts with those uniform, probably re-heated from frozen, not-quite-crunchy-yet-not-quite-soggy churros. Figures that while I tried those churros a couple times in my life, I was never impressed.

Enter Spain.

My first night in Sevilla, it was 6 pm and I was hungry. Since dinner in Spain isn’t served until late at night, the only option for my growling stomach was a snack at the local café. Can you guess what I ordered?

The churros arrived, looking like textured french-fries (I am SUCH a gringa). Then the glass of chocolate. Taking a churro, I dipped it generously in chocolate and popped it into my mouth. This churro put all the other churros I had had to shame. Crunchy on the outside, hot melt-in-your-mouth dough on the inside–it was a dream. Paired with the chocolate made it even better (if that is even possible).

The history of the churro is ancient and revered, lending the snack an almost mythical status. It begins not in Spain but in China, where Portuguese merchants first tasted youtiao, strips of golden fried salty pastry traditionally eaten for breakfast.

When the Portuguese recreated this delicacy in Iberia, adding sugar rather than salt and introducing the now-familiar starred shape of the strips, the churro was born. In China, youtiao translates as ‘oil-fried devil’; the snack was original served in pairs, symbolising Song dynasty official Qin Hui and his wife, the ‘devils’ who brought about the demise of the respected general.

In Spain this folklore was lost, and the churro takes its name from the churra sheep, whose horns it is said to resemble.

It was Spanish shepherds who popularised the dish, working as they did in the isolated terrain of the mountains for weeks and months at a time, they did not have access to fresh bread and so used the youtiao idea to cook their own substitute using no more than flour, water, oil and an open fire.

While the conquistadors took churros to South America, they brought back chocolate and plentiful sugar, turning dull dough sticks into a sweet sensation.

Once in South America, the churro continued to evolve from a plain, thin stick to a more rotund stuffed speciality, varying according to region.

While the Brazilians prefer a chocolate filling, the Cubans like their churros with Guava stuffing, Mexicans with dulce de leche or vanilla. In Uruguay, a savoury combination arose: cheese stuffed churros, and indeed, in South Eastern Spain they are still eaten with salt rather than sugar, closer relatives of the original youtiao. Mexican churros are said to act as the bridge between dessert and savoury churros as salt is added to the dough before kneading, while the filling is tooth-achingly sweet.

Unfortunately, now stuck back in San Diego, I don’t have access to those wonderful fried treats. Someday, I’ll try to recreate them myself. Here’s a recipe if you’d like to as well:

Recipe makes 1 1/2 dozen churros.

1 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1/4 tsp lemon extract
1 cup corn or canola oil
1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon

In a medium sized saucepan, combine water, salt, sugar and butter and bring to a full boil over high heat. Add flour and remove pan from heat. Beat mixture with spoon until smooth and it comes away from the sides of the pan. Add eggs, one at a time and beat well after adding each egg. Stir in lemon extract and cool for 15 minutes.

Put half the dough in a large pastry bag with a large star tip. Heat oil in deep skillet or deep fryer to 400 degrees. Squeeze dough into oil until you have a ribbon about 7 to 9 inches long. Cut it off with a knife. Fry 2 to 3 ribbons at a time for 6 or 7 minutes each. When golden brown, remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and serve warm.

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I stepped off the ramp, enjoying the feel of solid, non-swaying ground under my feet. After living four months on a ship, getting used to a routine of a week at sea, a week in a foreign port–I was going to savor this moment. Especially since this was the last port of call in my journey–and one of the best–Guatemala. The excitement to visit Guatemala has built since high school Spanish class, when we’d learn about the culture, dress, and more importantly, the food, of a Latin American country.

And now it was becoming a reality. Two days to explore the wonders of Antigua.

I caught a bus for the hour-long trip from the port to Antigua. My face with glued to the window looking at the lush, green fields and surrounding mountains. About half an hour into the drive, our bus pulls over for an unscheduled stop. “The volcano is smoking!” Tourists, that we are, there’s a mad dash out of the bus and a grab for cameras as we look in awe at Volcán de Fuego spewing in the distance. It was quite a spectacular sight, and we all knew it would be an indicator of great things to come.

When we arrived in Antigua, our first thought was food. My friend and I walked around until we found La Fonda De La Calle Real, a little cafe that boasted traditional Guatemalan cuisine. I ordered the El Antigüeño. It was a tamale (a red festive tamale, to be exact) wrapped in banana leaves, freshly baked bread, and sweetbread. While we were waiting for our meal, we sipped on the best sangria I’ve ever had. It was so delicious–perhaps also because we were tired and hot—the perfect drink. Since that day, I’ve been on the search for the best sangria recipe I could find. I wanted to share with you all my favorite recipe so far. Cheers!

Ingredients

  • Red wine — 2 (750-ml) bottles
  • Sugar — 1/3 cup
  • Oranges, sliced in rounds — 3
  • Peaches, peeled and sliced into wedges — 4 to 6
  • Lemon, zest only — 1
  • Cinnamon sticks — 2

Method

  1. Pour wine into a large pitcher or earthenware bowl. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Lightly squeeze some juice out of the orange slices into the wine. Then add the orange rounds to the wine, along with the peaches, lemon zest and cinnamon sticks. Adjust sugar to taste.
  2. Chill well before serving, preferably for several hours to allow the flavors to meld

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We all know that the best Mexican food is home-cooked. There’s nothing (and I really mean, nothing!) like fresh tortillas on the press, and the satisfaction that you yourself created a culinary masterpiece. But there are definitely days where I just want to go home and kick up my feet. I certainly don’t feel like pulling out the griddle and cooking.

And from time to time, it’s nice to sample another cook’s take on a classic dish. Living in San Diego, there’s an abundance of options when it comes to Mexican food. Turn a corner and there’s a Del Taco. Amidst the Cotixan’s, Del Tacos, and Taco Bells that spring up everywhere, though, I can’t help but wonder where’s the really good Mexican take-out gone? Enter SanDiegoBestMexicanFood.com. Genius. I first came across this gem when I googled “Mexican Food, San Diego” (I know, not really creative, but I was too hungry to care!) This site is dedicated to a collection of reviews on San Diego’s Mexican food offerings “from food trucks to fancy sit-down dining”. I’ve made it my personal mission to read the website, and try out the reviews myself. Perhaps together, SanDiegoBestMexicanFood.com and I can find the best Mexican take-out in San Diego!

I wanted to share this with you all. When I try out a place, I’ll let you know the review from the site, and give you my own personal review as well.

First up, Tacos El Poblano:

Tacos El Poblano

217 3rd Ave
Chula Vista, CA 91910
(619) 863-741

“Tacos El Poblano says that it’s an authentic TJ style taco shop. And since they actually run several taco shops in TJ, we can accept that as fact. Of course people will still argue about it, much like people will argue that Guinness tastes better in Ireland, but I suggest just relaxing and not worrying about it. The tacos here are really good.

The menu here is simple. Asada, goat, adobada in either tacos, tortas, or burritos, and not much else. And that’s fine. Because what you’re likely coming here is the tacos and there’s no point making it more complicated than that. My go-to order is 3-4 carne asada tacos without guacamole. They come with plenty of smokey meat, a tangy and spicy salsa, and a slightly crunchy tortilla. Simple and delicious.

I typically leave off the guacamole just because I think it overpowers the meat, not because it isn’t good. In fact it quite good, I’d just rather have more meat flavor. But you’ll have to decide that for yourself.

How does it stack up against the 437 other carne asada tacos in San Diego? In my opinion these are some of the best. The meat is the key, and the meat here is just a touch better. Also, rather than the typical raw onion in fresh cilantro garnish, these come with a very well made pico de gallo salsa. The slightly crunchy tortillas are also a nice touch.

There is usually plenty of metered parking on the street. And they only take cash, although there is an ATM there.”  -www.sandiegobestmexicanfood.com

My Review:

Tacos El Poblano was a little ways off my beaten path, but it was worth the visit. The place is clean–certainly a step up from some of the grease-soaked shops I’ve been to before, and the menu is simple. Inspired by the SDBestMexicanFood.com review, I tried the Carne Asada Taco (you can’t beat $1.75!). I love how the flavor of the meat is really highlighted, and not drowned with other toppings. The smell, too, was enough to make my mouth water.

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Of course, Mexico provided the first peppers to Spain way back in 1493, but now Spain has developed their own favorite varieties and some have migrated back to the Western Hemisphere, like pimientos de padrón, which are sometimes called “Spanish roulette” because from pod to pod you don’t know whether or not it will be mild or spicy until you bite into them.  I found some of these at the downtown grower’s market here in Albuquerque and snapped them up.  When I got home, I lightly fried them in olive oil until they were browned, then drained them and sprinkled them with coarse sea salt.  Talk about a great antojito! Absolutely delicious.  They are available from Tienda.com starting in late July, if you can’t find them locally.

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Tik en Xic on the Grill

Tik en Xic on the Grill

My wife and I just returned from a great trip to Chelem, Yucatán, where we visited our good friends Jeff and Nancy Gerlach. Nancy was my coauthor on ten books, and when she retired, they decided to sell everything they had in Albuquerque and move to their favorite spot on earth. Like Baja California Sur, the state of Yucatán is far removed from all the violence associated with the narcotraficantes who operate mostly in the central and northern parts of the country. In fact, the most violent thing we saw was one of the Gerlach’s cats, Mixo (pronounced “Misho”), climbing up a tree to catch a lizard.

One day we took a 2-hour car trip to Rancho Santa Cruz, owned by Gil and Cristie Romero, which is halfway between Cancún and Mérida. They grow habaneros, neem trees, and and tilapia. The neem trees produce an oil which is used in lotions and cosmetics—and also as a type of insecticide which repels the bugs rather than killing them instantly. The tilapia are grown in large tanks and are eventually sold to restaurants.

For lunch, Christie and her helpers served us Tik en Xic, a Maya specialty where the fish are covered with a paste of recado rojo (made of achiote, or annatto), then placed in banana leaves and grilled. They are served with an habanero salsa. The trip was a fascinating experience, especially when we saw a coatimundi cross the road in front of us. And lunch, with a recipe below, was delicious.

Tilapia Tik en Xic

Tik en Xic

1 tilapia fillet per diner

1 cup Recado Rojo (recipe follows)

1 cup orange juice

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vinegar

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 medium onion, sliced

1 medium tomato, sliced

1 large tomato, chopped

Habanero Salsa (recipe follows)

Salt to taste

Banana leaves for grilling

Marinate the tilapia fillets in mixture of Recado Rojo, orange juice, water, lemon juice, vinegar, and garlic for 1 hour. Cover the fish with the slices of onion and chopped tomato, and then lightly salt the fish. Start the grill and place each fillet on a banana leaf.

Place the fillets fish down on the grill, covered with a banana leaf and grill for about five or six minutes, and then flip them so the banana leaves are on the bottom. Grill for another five or six minutes, then flip again the brown the fillets until done.

Serve with the Habanero Salsa to spice them up.

Yield: one fillet per person

Heat Scale: Varies to taste

Recado Rojo

(Red Seasoning Paste)

Here is a classic Yucatán seasoning paste From Jeff and Nancy Gerlach, who comment: “This is the most popular of all the different recados and is very typical of Yucatán. It is used to add both flavor and color to foods, and is most commonly used for pibils, or stewed pork dishes. The red color comes from the annatto seeds, which also add a unique flavor to this tasty paste.

4 tablespoons ground annatto seeds

1 tablespoon dry oregano, Mexican preferred

10 whole black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1-inch stick cinnamon

4 whole cloves

2 whole allspice berries

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Place the annatto, oregano, peppercorns, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and cumin in a spice or coffee grinder and process to a fine powder. Add the remaining ingredients and grind to a thick paste, adding a little water if mixture is too thick.

Allow to sit for an hour or overnight to blend the flavors.

Yield: 1/2 cup

Habanero Salsa

5 habanero chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

Juice of two limes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon crumbled dried Mexican oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Yield: 1/3 cup

Heat Scale: Hot

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HIBISCUS MARGARITA

Hibiscus Margaritas (Photo by Sara Remington)

The holiday of Cinco de Mayo is a memento from Mexico’s turbulent past. In 1862, a cabal of clergy and wealthy hacienda owners who had been dispossessed by the reforms of President Benito Juarez invited a French army to invade Mexico. On May 5, 1862, this invading army was thrown back from the city of Puebla, taking severe losses, which is the battle memorialized today as Cinco de Mayo.

Possibly because it is a story of underdog triumph, Cinco de Mayo (a tiny blip of history that is less than nada in Mexico) has been adopted by Americans. It’s a light-hearted semi-holiday, best observed by enjoying a margarita and Mexican food. (In the later stages of the evening, sombreros may be worn, though this is optional.)
Margaritas, of course, are a must. The margarita is one of the world’s great cocktails: smooth and tangy-sweet, it goes down easily and tastes like more.

Yes! Margaritas!
This Hibiscus Margarita is made with a gorgeous fuschia-colored infusion of dried hibiscus, also known as flor de jamaica (pronounced ham-í-ka). Hibiscus has a sweet-tart taste that blends deliciously with a good, smooth tequila and a hint of cinnamon sugar. The syrup is also delicious as an agua fresca, poured over ice and topped off with sparkling or still water and a squeeze of lime. The infusion is rich in Vitamin C and flavonoids, a great nutritional bonus while you enjoy your margarita.

HIBISCUS MARGARITA
Adapted from Amor y Tacos by Deborah M. Schneider
Makes 1 margarita.

Chef Deborah Schneider Cookbooks1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Lime wedge
1 cup ice
4 ounces Hibiscus Syrup (recipe follows)
1 ½ ounces 100% agave blanco tequila
1 ounce sparkling water
Lime wedge or cinnamon stick

Combine sugar and cinnamon on a small plate. Rub rim of glass with lime wedge. Dip the rim of the glass in the cinnamon sugar and shake off excess.

Fill a 12-ounce glass with ice and pour over the tequila, hibiscus syrup and top up with sparkling water. Stir carefully. Squeeze the lime on top of the drink and discard it. Garnish with a fresh wedge of lime, or a cinnamon stick.

Variation:
Chill a 7-ounce martini glass, and prepare the rim as described above. In a shaker jar combine ice, hibiscus syrup and tequila, along with 1 tablespoon Cointreau or Grand Marnier. Shake well for 15 seconds and strain into the glass. Garnish with a thin slice of lime.

HIBISCUS SYRUP
Use as a base for drinks, or freeze into a delicious sorbet.
4 cups water
2 cups white sugar
2 cups dried hibiscus flower (flor de jamaica)

Combine all ingredients and simmer over low heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring often. Cook at a slow simmer for 30 minutes. Let stand 2 hours (or as long as overnight) and strain, pressing down on the flowers. Keeps indefinitely refrigerated.

About the Author:

Chef Deborah Schneider

Chef Deborah Schneider is the executive chef and partner at SOL Cocina in Newport Beach, California and Scottsdale, Arizona. She lives in San Diego with her family, married a surfer, and began exploring nearby Baja where she found her love for Mexican food. She worked her way up through the professional kitchen brigade, eventually leading some of San Diego’s finest kitchens and receiving her Certified Executive Chef designation from the American Culinary Federation in 2001. Chef Deb has been with MexGrocer.com since April 2012.

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Chef Deborah Schneider, SOL Cocina

I love Mexico – especially the edible parts! For something like thirty years I’ve been eating, cooking and writing about Mexican food (five cookbooks so far,) and I now own two Mexican restaurants. In fact, my mission in life seems to be turning people on to how soulfully delicious (and surprisingly healthful) authentic Mexican food can be.

I am stoked to begin this online collaboration with MexGrocer.com, which as you all know is the best source for all Mexican ingredients. I’ll be providing recipes, resources and a whole video ‘cooking school’ to demonstrate the basics of Mexican technique and cooking, while MexGrocer will be your go-to source for hard-to-find, authentic Mexican ingredients.

I live in San Diego, so it’s easy to hop across the border into Baja California for a quick trip to my favorite market in Tijuana. A few hours (and a couple of street tacos) later, I’ll be back in my kitchen revving up the stove and experimenting with the bounty from my latest trip south, which I look forward to sharing with you: resources, recipes, ingredients – you’ll find it all here, along great writing from all the MexGrocer contributors and bloggers. See you in the kitchen!

Chef Debora Schneider Cookbooks
About the Author:

Chef Deborah Schneider is the executive chef and partner at SOL Cocina in Newport Beach, California and Scottsdale, Arizona. She lives in San Diego with her family, married a surfer, and began exploring nearby Baja where she found her love for Mexican food. She worked her way up through the professional kitchen brigade, eventually leading some of San Diego’s finest kitchens and receiving her Certified Executive Chef designation from the American Culinary Federation in 2001. Chef Deb has been with MexGrocer.com since April 2012.

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Chef Deborah Schneider

We’re extremely pleased to have Chef Deborah Schnider join the MexGrocer family of authors. She understands the true nature of helping our readers and customers to learn more about the deep roots of Mexican cooking. She explained to us how the best way to learn is the kitchen from the experts. And those experts are not other fancy chefs and culinary legends, but rather the people who – with passion – have cooked their favorite Mexican dishes to the people they love the most: friends, family or their customers at local restaurants.

After ten years of research and being so close to Mexico Chef Deb has published 4 books related to Mexican Cooking. Today, we’re delighted to have her help you learn creative recipes and cooking classes through our MexGrocer TV food channel.

Chef Deb at SOL Cocina

Today, as Executive Chef/Partner of SOL Mexican Cocina in Newport Beach and Scottsdale, Deborah Schneider introduces a fresh and different approach to Mexican cuisine. Gathering inspiration from taco bars and roadside stalls in Baja and street-side trucks in Tijuana, as well as extensive travels in Mexico, she revamps traditional Mexican flavors, delivering fresh, new ways to “do” Mexican in a casual setting. Learn more about Chef Deb.

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