Category Archives: DF AKA Mexico City


I’m a lousy fan. I’ve always been completely baffled by the urge to take photos with famous people or ask them sign stuff. I’m a cheap skate so I’m unlikely to buy everything a musical artist has ever released, much less load up on merch. That said, there are some musicians that I truly love, whose songs I listen to over and over again. I’m starting to feel bad for being such a lackluster fan so I think it’s time I do what any good fan would do – start gushing.

My journeys in Latin America have not only exposed me to a ton of great food and super people – I also had the chance to listen to a ton of great music, much of which isn’t well-known among my people (AKA white American people). I think it’s time I start spreading the word.

I put together a playlist on Youtube for some passive listening – guaranteed to spice up your work day – and below are some notes about some of my favorite artists. I tried to pick one song for each, which was tough. If you like someone, go deep – all of these folks have tons of great music.

I’ve divided this into three sections. The first is music that, if it weren’t in Spanish, would be pretty similar to some of the great rock we have in English. This is an easy first step for gringos into a very deep pool. This is followed by musica tropical, which has a completely different flavor that is 100% Latin, but quite palatable to Americans. This is the stuff of salsa dance classes. This is followed by some extremely Mexican music that I now love, but that might take Americans a little while longer to learn to love…Enjoy!

Rock – Gateway Drugs

If you like rock in English, try rock en espanol! All these artists are so rocking, you either won’t care you don’t understand a word or you’ll be inspired to learn Spanish.

Sabanas Frias – Mana

I don’t care if they’re overplayed or too pop or they sold out or whatever else cool people complain about, I’ve loved Mana since the first time I heard any of their songs. I particularly love Sabanas Frias for the section where everything just breaks down into rhythm. I also never get tired of Oye mi Amor and Mariposa Traicionera…

A Dios Le Pido – Juanes

Juanes is a Colombian hit machine. I saw him in concert at the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City – what a performer! Camisa Negra is probably his biggest hit, but I really like the words to this song, which is like a prayer:

Octavo Dia – Shakira

Pretend Waka Waka and She-Wolf never happened. I invite you to meet the Shakira I fell in love with in the early ‘90s. This video is conveniently subtitled so you can see the depth of the lyrics. Shakira in English will never equal the talent of her earlier music in Spanish.

Lamento Boliviano – Enanitos Verdes

The “green dwarves” are just simply a heck of a lot of fun and this song is a classic – “Here I am, drunk and crazy!”. If you like them, you’ll probably also dig los Hombres G.

Andar Conmigo – Julieta Venegas

Probably the best thing ever to come out of Tijuana. It was super tough picking a favorite song of hers – I also love Te Voy a Mostrar, El Presente, Limon y Sal and Eres Para Mi is super fun. If you like Julieta, you’ll also love…

Controlar – Ceci Bastida

Also from TJ, used to perform with Julieta and has a great, original style. Check out the full interview/performance with KCRW.

Eres – Cafe Tacuba

Another classic Mexican rock group, straight out of Mexico City. If you thought you’d gotten a grasp on this whole Spanish language thing, just watch Chilanga Banda and you’ll figure out pretty quick that Chilango is another language entirely.

Un, Dos, Tres, Go – Belanova

Yes, they’re muy pop, but they’re also super fun! And c’mon, Rosa Pastel has plenty of social commentary.

Frio – Ely Guerra

I’m probably not hip enough for Ely Guerra – she is just way too cool! Also, this song is ridiculously sexy, even beating Plastilina Mosh’s flirty Pervert Pop Song – “Punish me, I know I’ve been bad…”

Agua – Jarabe de Palo

This song makes me cry – in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, if I hear it before work, driving around town, whenever. It’s beautiful and has such heart-felt lyrics. Here’s a version that conveniently shows the translation:

El Matador – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs

These are guys are super fun. I think Calaveras y Diablitos is the best song ever for cruising around town – it makes life seem like an absurd adventure.

Me Gustas Tu – Manu Chao

I have a minor in Latin American studies. Therefore I am, of course, a fan of Manu Chao, the ultimate darling of left-learning college kids with a thing for Latin America. He’s a hippie-ish nomad who sings in Spanish, English and French. This is the best song ever for people learning Spanish.


First of all, I am not doing justice to la musica tropical here…Cuba alone could have its own category considering they invented salsa. If you love that Caribbean flavor, also try out some bachata and merengue from the Dominican Republic, cumbia from Colombia and maybe even some reggaeton (think Daddy Yankee “Gasolina”). You can find lots of great stuff listening to Batanga online radio: or by going to a Zumba class near you!

Los Infieles – Aventura

My love of Aventura started as a guilty pleasure, but now I’m ready to own it. These guys make me swoon with their bachata. And artist who is still in the guilty category? Pitbull (Please pronounce this PEET-BUHL), though he really hit it home with Bon Bon.

Quizas, Quizas, Quizas – Ibrahim Ferrer & Omara Portuondo

I could have picked basically any song by Buena Vista Social Club to stand in for beautiful classic Cuban music. This is a double whammy since it’s a fantastic song performed by two fantastic artists. These two are part of the BV Club, but please go deep and listen to everything else they’ve ever done, their talent and presence are phenomenal.

La Vida es un Carnaval – Celia Cruz

INDOMITABLE. “Ay, there’s no need to cry, because life is a carnival,/ It’s more beautiful to live singing./Oh, Ay, there’s no need to cry, For life is a carnival/ And your pains can be alleviated through song.” – They can, if you’re singing, Celia. Celia also does a cover of “I will survive” that is as good as, if not better than, the original:

Crossing over…

Bidi Bidi Bom – Selena

Que descanse en paz. If you’ve seen the movie starring Jennifer Lopez, then you know Tejano superstar Selena was murdered by a crazy fan at the tender age of 23, a huge tragedy. Selena was one of the first Mexican artists to “cross-over” with her huge hit “I Could Fall in Love,” which is still getting play on the light rock stations. American people, it’s time for you to cross over the other way and recognize the amazingness of Selena. I picked this song so you could see her perform live. I also love Amor Prohibido – if you find yourself selecting Como la Flor at the next karaoke night, your conversion to Selena fandom will be complete.

Muy Mexicano

Some of Mexico’s most beloved artists…

El Rey – Vicente Fernandez

It’s appropriate that Vicente Fernandez’s most famous song has the lyrics “And I’m still the king.” You really are, Vicente. This man is a classic of Mexican ranchera music. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, I think you’ll find it hard not to sing along to “Volver Volver,” which is played without fail at every fiesta precisely at the moment that everyone has had one shot of tequila too many.

Los Dos Plebes – Los Tigres del Norte

This band is BEYOND HUGE in Mexico, but might not be terribly palatable to the American ear…You know when you hear Mexican guys blasting polka music out of their trucks?…yeah, it’s that music. Just give it a chance folks…And be sure to see Bajo la Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon), a great movie featuring a cameo from these guys. Another fun song of their’s – La Puerta Negra.

Tu Carcel – Marco Antonio Solis

Tu Carcel was the song that made Marco Antonio famous – Si No Te Hubieras Ido might be the one to make him immortal. This Michoacano turns out hit after hit after hit – I love that he’s got a mix of slow and high-energy songs – un gran artista!

Paloma Negra – Lila Downs

Lila Downs is a contemporary artist that sings really old, really Mexican songs. Beautiful music and I love the Oaxacan influence – check out her stunning clothes in this clip. I also love that her dad is an English-Scottish guy from Minnesota. Viva la fusion!

Rata de Dos Patas – Paquita La Del Barrio

Your man cheated on you? Coming off a rough break-up? The prescription for that is Paquita La Del Barrio. About 90% of her songs are about how men are complete heels. To quote this one “Rat with two paws – yes, I’m talking to you…Are you hearing me, you useless man?! How much I hate and despise you!”

Viva LA!

Just a quick shout-out to a couple of Latin-flavored acts out of LA – one veteran, the other up and coming.

Nadas Por Free – Ozomatli

Viva el Espanglish! These guys are just super energetic, wacky performers and muy LA. I find it entertaining that they were hired by the US government to be cultural ambassadors to locales in Asia and the Middle East – way to represent!

La Santa Cecilia

I think you have to see them live to really get how great these folks are. They do awesome Spanish covers…they also do the old-school Mexican stuff and maybe a little klezmer. What’s not to love?


Filed under Cuba, DF AKA Mexico City, Los Angeles, Mexico

Bigger is better, except if it’s not authentic

This weekend, I finally decided to walk a couple blocks from my house and eat at the fabled El Tepeyac Cafe on Evergreen. It had been recommended to me by an LA-native before I even left the wine country and the guy who turned on my gas also gave it the thumbs up. Two sources plus my independent reconnaissance which revealed an almost constant line in front = Worth trying at least once.
I’m sorry to say I probably won’t go back. Not because it wasn’t tasty – it just simply wasn’t tasty enough nor was the ambience so compelling that I’ll shell out $9 for a burrito (even if it did weigh about 4 lbs).
The experience did get me thinking about authenticity however – especially after I scrolled through some of the online reviews on Yelp.
The amateur food reviewers split into one of two categories: enthusiastic eaters wowed by the biggest burritos this side of the Mississippi and haters who complain that the place is no good because it’s not “authentic.” A representative sampling of the tenor of the conversation:

Richard D.

Manny’s Special, that is all you need to know…I never seen this in my life.  I couldn’t finish it on my own; so I split it with a friend.  If you plan to take on this beast alone, make sure to fast two days in advance.  Got to love Mexican food.

Saul S.

Let me get this straight: “HUGE portions” merit the authenticity-stamp for Mexican joints?? *sigh*This place is as “authentic” as Knott’s Berry Farm’s Montezuma’s Revenge snack-bar. Maybe I’m spoiled by the regional Piasa joints that don’t cater to LA nostalgia but I don’t trust any Mexican restaurant that doesn’t serve Carne Asada or Pastor meat. 
After all the hype from my newly extended East-Los familia and fellow die-hard Dodger fans, Its safe to say I was disappointed by TepeWac’s condensed, portion-friendly menu. 
I agree, not ALL “authentic” Mexican joints serve the same type of food, but they DO serve a protein other than thawed-out chicken strips and Shredded beef(Machaca) 
No trolling. Soon after I ate here, I discovered this place is a joke among un chingo de Mexicanos besides this serote from Long Beach.

Then we have Robert A. who passes on the posturing:

I know that you could either hate it or love it but if you come with the mentality of eating REAL MEXICAN food, you might as well go to Mexico as I have never found any of those places here in L.A. Even in Mexico. We all have different taste and preference so what’s Mexican?

True that, Robert. Saul. I hear you, but you’re too cool for school and it’s bastante obnoxious.
Authenticity is for coins and stamps if you ask me. It implies that there is a single gold standard, a single correct way of preparing any given cuisine and that any divergence from the norm immediately merits the use of either “fusion” or “nouveau.”
I grew up on “authentic” California cuisine. My homecooking repertoire includes recipes from my mom’s Oklahoma family like fried okra, Fantastic (a layered pudding and cool whip extravaganza) and blackberry wine cake (which includes both Jello mix and blackberry flavored Manischewitz wine). My other specialties include Vietnamese salad rolls, pad thai, spaghetti, stir fry, tortilla soup and tamales. Garnished with a smattering of recipes from Sunset magazine like snickerdoodle cookies and chili egg puff. Buen provecho.
Robert hits another nail on the head – I’ve never had “REAL” Mexican food in Los Angeles or anywhere in California. The tacos al pastor on the streets of DF were genuinely otherworldly, the slice of pineapple lopped off the top of the spit sending them into another realm entirely. Besides being tasty, they’re also a perfect example of the dubious nature of authenticity. Like mariachi music, they’re a relatively new thing. Furthermore, they were introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, not born from the country’s Aztec or Mayan soul. King Taco just doesn’t cut it. Not to mention that an “authentic” quesadilla in Mexico City doesn’t have any cheese which everyone but the chilangos and the lactose-intolerant agrees is completely stupid.
While we’re whining, horchata made from the mix is simply nowhere near as good as the stuff with condensed milk, there is not enough mole up here and please send along recommendations for good places with comida yucateca, pozole and tortas.
However, the point of this blog post is: Who cares? There is only one measure that counts and that is delicious-ness. My boyfriend introduced me to sprinkling Kraft parmesan on his mom’s tostadas. Authentic? No. Delicioso? You bet!
The quality of Mexican food generally drops off with each mile you travel from the border, mainly because the competition decreases. However, the move away from the mythical homeland can also be liberating and I’ve had lots of good American-Mexican-Latino, etc. food from throughout California. I’ll be honest – i like it just as much as the incredible traditional dishes concocted from more exotic ingredients like pumpkin seeds, squash flowers and goat meat that I loved eating in Mexico.
In fact, the singular dish that I have found unchanged by its migration from the southland across the border doesn’t usually get mentioned in the Mexican culinary pantheon. However, it is a point of pride that it was indeed invented in Mexico. That dish would be none other than the Caesar salad.

Here’s some food photos from my personal collection, just for fun.

If they aren’t authentic enough for ya, take a walk with me through Mercado San Juan.

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Filed under DF AKA Mexico City, Los Angeles

Cruzando la frontera

First of all, apologies to anyone to whom this blog post is the first news of my return to my home state of California. I’ve been a bit of an underachiever in communication lately. Not only have I moved from Mexico City back to Northern California, but a month ago, I moved from Sonoma to the Los Angeles.

For out-of-staters, that may not seem so dramatic, but us Californians have a long-standing feud between the north and south. Our DMZ is probably around San Luis Obispo, where the “border” is just a construct and chilled out surfer boys and conservative Christian girls hook up at Cal Poly house parties.

When I told people in Sonoma/Bay Area I was moving south, most said, “Why?” Then they usually mentioned how awful the traffic is, how shallow people are and pointed out there are lots of Republicans down there. Perhaps the signature comment was made by Caspian when I said my boyfriend lives down here: “Wow, you must really like the guy!”

To illustrate the depth of the split California psyche, I’ll just point you to an art exhibition from 2000 called “Historical Works from the Great War of the Californias” by Sandow Birk. The series of paintings, propaganda posters, topographical maps, ship models and portraits of key military figures illustrate a fictional war between northern and southern California. 

When sarcastic barbs were exchanged for weapons. MAY WE NEVER FORGET!!!

This blog is meant to be a reconciliation of sorts between my various homes: Sonoma, CA, Mexico City, and now, Los Angeles, bringing light and understanding to all who read it. That might be a stretch, so I’ll just aim for getting you to chuckle out loud in your cubicle at work and maybe occasionally to scratch your head and say, “Gee whiz, never thought of it that way.”

Northern friends, I have crossed California. I am in the belly of the beast and truthfully it’s pretty nice. There are lots of palm trees. More insights coming soon.

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Filed under DF AKA Mexico City, Los Angeles, Sonoma, Uncategorized