On August 28, Latinos lost a superstar. The prolific Mexican singer/songwriter Juan Gabriel, affectionately nicknamed “Juanga” by his fans, passed away in his Santa Monica home following a heart attack at age 66. He was an icon, revered by all of Latin America for his catchy pop songs, ballads, flamboyant personality and zest for life. This Día de los Muertos (Nov. 1-2), I want to make an altar with offerings for the legendary entertainer that will include his favorite dishes, all found at local restaurants.
Juanga was born in the small town of Parácuaro in the Mexican state of Michoacán, known for its carnitas. I instinctively head to Las Vegas’ famous Lindo Michoacán (2655 E. Desert Inn Rd., LindoMichoacan.com) and grab an order of the delicious carnitas: chunks of pork marinated with oranges and spices, then braised and simmered in their own fat until tender. It is served with rice, beans, a roasted jalapeño, guacamole, salsa verde and handmade tortillas ($16.95). The ofrenda is off to a good start.
Although he was born in Michoacán, Juanga was known as “El Divo de Juárez” because he grew up in the border town of Juárez, where he was orphaned as a child and sold burritos to survive before starting his music career. At Juárez Border Food (412 N. Eastern Ave., JEPBorderFood.com), you can find the star’s favorite burritos, made with barbacoa (beef cheek; $4.69). The slow-cooked meat is accompanied by fresh refried pinto beans, onions and cilantro wrapped in imported flour tortillas (made by the owner’s family in Juarez!). Also worth trying are the El Paso flautas: ground beef in crispy rolled tacos served with red sauce and topped with cheese ($4). Oh, and while you’re waiting on your burrito and flautas, have an elote en vaso—that’s corn in a cup with mayonnaise, butter, cheese and chili powder ($2.77). It’s the bomb dot com!
Later in life, Juanga became a vegetarian because of his love for animals. Thai food was his preferred cuisine, and he almost always ordered curry dishes for their depth of flavor and spice. When I’m on the eastside (which is always) and I want Thai, I choose Thai Room (3355 E. Tropicana Ave.). During the week, you can enjoy a $7 lunch special that includes a curry entrée served with an egg roll, green salad, steamed or fried rice, soup and a soda. For Juanga, I’ll have the yellow curry with tofu at a life-affirming Level 5—the spiciest they can make it.