El Corazon Food Truck, Portland, Maine

I might just be the most unqualified person EVER to comment on Mexican food. Growing up in the Northwest of England in the 80s/90s I don’t recollect any Mexican food experiences. In fact, I think my first taco would have been eaten at the grand old age of 25 when I moved to the US.

Earlier this year when we went back to the UK to visit family, my parents took us to a new “Mexican” restaurant. Yup, those would be air quotes around the Mexican part of the restaurant. We started with a bowl of olives marinated in extra virgin olive oil with Italian herbs…but you know, there were complimentary sombreros to wear. A request for queso was met with baffled looks, you get the idea!

Therefore, I won’t be making any comments on the authenticity of this Mexican food truck but trust me when I say you NEED to find the El Corazon food truck and get one of everything the next time you’re in Portland, ME. If you’re planning a wedding in Maine or a party, note that El Corazon food truck will even come to you and cater your event – late night tacos? Yes please!

El Corazon Food Truck can usually be found Tuesday – Friday 11am – 2:30pm at the intersection of Spring St and Temple St in Portland, ME and then at one of the various local breweries on the weekend. They’re really great about updating their schedule and you can also find updates on their facebook page. Order at the truck, hang out on the sidewalk with a fresh agua fresca and you’ll leave with a happy belly and change from $10. What’s not to love about that?

I was joined by my friend Michele, who traveled extensively as a child and spent a number of years actually eating Mexican food IN Mexico. Michele has been urging me to visit El Corazon ever since I moved to Maine and yup, she was right. We started with a couple of Baja fish tacos ($3/each) with generous chunks of lightly fried fish, nestled in a mildly spicy chipotle aioli with crunchy cabbage and cilantro. Sidewalk eating is the best as you don’t have to worry about the juices dripping off the taco and running down your hands. I really wanted to order another fish taco but we had other items to try! Baja fish taco at El Corazon food truck in Portland, Maine

Taquitos are rolled and filled corn tacos, deep fried and served with guacamole, sour cream and cheese. You can choose from potato and cheese, chicken or shredded beef. At just $3.75 for three taquitos that’s a steal, and the best part? You can get one of each filing so try them all.

A small chalkboard lists the daily specials; the empanada was sold out so we ordered the tamale of the day. For the uninitiated, a tamale is a traditional dish made of masa (Spanish for dough), around a tasty filing, steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. The husk or leaf wrapping is discarded before eating. The El Corazon tamale of the day ($3.50) was stuffed with housemade chorizo and Oaxaca cheese.

At this point we were pretty stuffed but we soldiered on. The house specialty is a Sonoran hot dog (pushing the boat out at $4.00). A bacon-wrapped hot dog, yes, bacon-wrapped hot dog is topped with beans, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, guacamole, mustard and mayo. Holy hot dog, this was good. Even the bun was a standout – not your average hot dog bun but a substantial grilled bread bun that supported the loaded hot dog perfectly. The bacon wrapping was thin and crispy and Michele declared this “Last meal worthy!”

See that bacon-wrapped hot dog just peeping though the generous toppings of pico de gallo, cheese and guacamole? Going forward, all hot dogs will seem kind of lame after this one.

Did you know that Portland, Maine has a pretty thriving food truck scene? Here’s a great round up from Kate at Blueberry Files. I think I might set myself a summer challenge of visiting ALL the Maine Food Trucks!

El Corazon offers “Mexican Food From The Heart” and they’ve certainly got a taco-sized place in my heart now. If you’re hungry for an affordable and incredibly tasty lunch in Portland, Maine make sure to visit El Corazon and get at least one fish taco!

El Corazon Food Truck
Spring St (at intersection with Temple St), Portland Maine
Usually Tue – Fri 11am – 2:30pm
El Corazon Menu
There’s limited street parking (paid) and El Corazon takes cash or credit cards. Popular items often sell out so get there early if you want the full selection.

Spring vegetable pasta

Let’s talk about zoodles. Also known as zucchini noodles. Or courgette noodles if you’re from the UK. Does that make them coodles? Coodles don’t sounds as cute as zoodles amiright?

To make zoodles, you simply run zucchini through a spiralizer to produce vegetable noodles shaped like spaghetti. Looks like pasta but no carbs. But here’s the thing, unless you have absolutely no taste buds, there’s no way you’ll eat a bowl of zoodles and think “Mmmm, pasta”. I’m all for healthy eating but why not just say you’re eating a bowl of zucchini vs. pretending you’re eating a bowl of spaghetti carbonara or fettucini alfredo.

That said, I’m not averse to using zoodles alongside pasta. When zoodles and real spaghetti join forces it’s a win-win. You still get to enjoy a little pasta (60 million Italians can’t be wrong…) with the added bonus of vegetables, more fibre, less carbs. Spring vegetable pasta reminiscent of pasta primavera by MainelyEating.com

Back in the 70/80’s there was a controversial (chefs hated it, diners loved it) dish known as pasta primavera that combined pasta with vegetables and a bunch of cream and pasta. Like a LOT of cream. With my haul of fresh asparagus, green beans, broccolini and of course, zucchini I decided to steal the idea of blanching the vegetables but skip the cream for a garlic and red pepper flake infused olive oil.

Not pictured – frozen peas (because I couldn’t find any fresh English peas) and green beans (forgot to take them out of the fridge for the picture but you’ll see them being cooked below!) Ingredients for pasta primavera

Cliffnotes (full recipe below): Gently heat garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Blanch vegetables until they’re a few minutes away from being done, cool rapidly. Add fresh chopped tomatoes to oil. Cook pasta (and peas). Combine pasta, veggies and oil with a knob of butter, a generous handful of grated cheese and a splash of reserved pasta water and lemon juice to bring it all together.

Spring Vegetable Pasta

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

When figuring out the amount of vegetables you need, guestimate how much one person would eat and then multiply by four e.g. I would eat maybe 5-6 asparagus stalks so buy 20-24 depending on the thickness.

6-8 oz pasta (see notes below)
~ 24 asparagus stalks (1-2 bundles depending on how much you like asparagus)
4 zucchini (spiralized or cut into thin noodles)
~ 1/2lb green beans
~1/2lb broccolini
2-4 tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less according to your heat tolerance!)
1 cup frozen peas or fresh shelled peas
1 tbsp butter
~3 oz Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese)
1/2 lemon
Salt & Pepper

Optional to serve: a few halved cherry tomatoes, radish slices, chopped fresh herbs such as basil, flat leaf parsley, chives

1. In a large pan (must be able to hold all vegetable and pasta), gently warm the olive oil.
2. Crush or finely mince/slice the garlic and add to the olive oil with the red pepper flakes, 1/4 tsp salt and a few twists of fresh black pepper, continue to cook over a low heat.
3. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Blanch the vegetables in batches, cooking until they’re almost done (don’t overcook, they’ll finish cooking in the sauce at the end). The exact times will depend on the size/thickness/age of the vegetables. As the vegetables are almost done, scoop them out into a colander to drain and run cold water over them (or use an ice bath) to stop the cooking process. Set each vegetable aside to drain on paper towels.
4. In between cooking the vegetables, dice the tomatoes and add them to the garlic/red pepper oil and cook over a medium heat with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
5. Rinse vegetable pan, fill with fresh salted water and bring to the boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. If using frozen peas, add to pasta water 90 seconds before the end. Before draining, carefully dip a mug into the pot to reserve some of the starchy cooking water. Drain pasta.
6. Add the drained vegetables, drained pasta, butter and cheese to the garlic infused oil and gently toss. Add a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a splash or more of the reserved pasta cooking water. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with fresh chopped herbs, grated cheese and radish slices in warmed bowls or plates.

Pasta primavera without the cream, a light spring vegetable pasta dish

Helpful notes:

Serving sizes/servings per box should be indicated on the pasta packaging. Reduce the servings by as much or as little as you like. I usually allow 2oz of dried pasta per person. If I’m combining with zucchini noodles then I’ll allow 1 zucchini per person and reduce the pasta to 1oz per person.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can use a potato peeler to make zucchini ribbons which work well with pappardelle or tagliatelle.

You don’t *have* to blanch each type of vegetable separately but doing so enables you to pull them just before they’ve cooked. You could stagger the time you add them to the boiling water but only if you’re pretty good at estimating cooking times which will vary with the thickness/size of each vegetable.

Beware the viral videos going around showing you “one pot pasta primavera”, yes you can cook your pasta, water, vegetables, cream and butter in one pan all together but only if you want a mushy and starchy vegetable mess.

If you want the real pasta primavera experience or something more luxurious, add a big splash of heavy cream to the butter and cheese.

You can mess around with the vegetable content – fresh shelled peas are way better than frozen peas, consider sliced mushrooms, carrot batons, a handful of arugula or baby spinach or whatever is fresh!

Add sauteed shrimp or chicken if you want more protein with your dinner.

Serve on warmed plates/in warmed bowlsPasta with peas, asparagus, green beans, tomatoes and zucchini noodles

Long Grain in Camden, Maine

Camden, a small town in Knox County, Maine is my happy place. For the last four years we’ve staycationed in Camden for our November wedding anniversary.Thai appetizers at Long Grain restaurant in Camden, Maine.

Camden in November is a very different place than Camden in say, July. As the temperatures drop and the tourists leave, the seasonal restaurants are shuttered for the winter. The year-round restaurants rely on the business of locals to make it through the cold winter. Last November we made the brisk walk from The Camden Harbor Inn (our favorite place to stay – and you MUST eat at Natalies while you’re there) arriving at Long Grain with red noses and stinging ears not once, but twice.

Although it was a random Tuesday morning at the end of November, the small restaurant was packed (you MUST make a reservation!) and we were happy to slide onto the bar stools and sit elbow to elbow with locals slurping their noodles. Our first Long Grain experience was one of those quiet meals without much conversation because you’re too into the food, stopping occasionally to exchange delighted “I know, right!??!?” glances with your dining partner. 

Since those memorable meals, I’ve been obsessively craving thinking about the bold flavors of Long Grain. Last week I convinced a bunch of friends that a four-hour-round-trip drive up to Camden to eat at Long Grain was a really smart idea.
Menu at Long Grain in Camden Maine

Once you’ve found the restaurant (there’s no signage), it’s time to make some tough decisions as you’ll likely want to order one of everything from the regular and daily special menu. The husband and wife owners Ravin Nakjareon (a two-time James Beard semifinalist) and Paula Palakawong hail from Bangkok and their Thai food occasionally hints at Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese influence with ramen, kimchi and Vietnamese noodles on the menu. Seasonal Maine ingredients also play a key role at this restaurant – local ramps, plump Maine mussels and more.

We ordered a bunch of appetizers starting with pan-fried garlic chive rice cakes. The green-hued slabs were perfumed with the spring flavors of chive and garlic. Sauteed beansprouts floating in the savory sauce added a welcome crunch.Food at Long Grain in Camden. Rice cakes with chive and garlic by MainelyEating.com

Thai spring rolls. Yup, you may have had them at your local take-out place but these are the real deal. It’s been a while since I visited Thailand but I was instantly transported back by the light, chilled rolls filled with rice noodles and crisp vegetables and fragrant with mint and basil. One of my friends declared, “These are ridonculously good, no, make that ridonky-donculously good which is even better!” Whilst that may not be a grammatically correct statement it’s a pretty solid endorsement😉
Delicious Thai spring rolls at Long Grain in Camden, ME by MainelyEating.com

Street chicken wings with crisp fried garlic from the specials menu were succulent and crunchy. Cliché of course but they really were definitely finger lickin’ good. The wings were accompanied by a little bowl of potent sauce that was fiery with just enough acid to cut through the deep fried taste.
Street chicken wings at Long Grain, Camden ME by MainelyEating.com

Spicy Thai basil minced chicken topped a bowl of snowy white rice and the (optional) warm runny egg yolk brought everything together. The chicken was crazy tender and so full of flavor.Thai crispy chicken with fried egg on top of white rice at Long Grain by MainelyEating.com

I’m sure everyone has experienced takeout pad Thai, it’s often greasy with clumped-together noodles. That’s doing a disservice to pad Thai. Long Grain pad Thai is light years from your previous takeout experience. Slippery house-made noodles are toothsome, full of flavor and not at all greasy. In fact, you’d be wise to order extra to-go because you won’t have any leftovers.
Perfect Pad Thai at Long Grain in Camden Maine by MainelyEating.com

The standout dish for me was Maine crab fried rice. Gratifying chunks of sweet crab meat were generously dispersed throughout the decadent fried rice. You can choose to put an egg on top, and why wouldn’t you? After much deliberation and chewing, one of my dining companions announced, “This rice is somehow…gentle” which sounds strange but was weirdly accurate. Cooling cucumber and a sweet crunch of onion added an extra dimension.
Maine crab fried rice with fried egg at Long Grain by MainelyEating.com

Portions are generous and most appetizers can easily be shared. Don’t miss out on the thoughtful sauces that accompany each appetizer. The room is fairly sparsely decorated, it’s almost like you’ve been invited into someone’s living room and they’ve borrowed a bunch of chairs from relatives. It will be interesting to see if the decor changes with the imminent move to a new larger space with attached Asian market. There are maybe 6 or 7 bar stools at the bar and 7-8 tables for 2-4 people (tables can be pushed together for larger groups). It’s ALWAYS wise to make a reservation even in the winter.

It can be tough to get through on the phone to make a reservation (the answer machine messages instructs you not to leave any messages but just to call back) and you should also be prepared to be told that your table is reserved for another customer 90 minutes after you sit down (this is not a place to linger over a 3 hour dinner) but it’s worth it for the food.

The atmosphere was lively with conversation and music. Is it a place for a romantic first date? No, probably not. But that’s because you’d want to wait until maybe date #5 when you’ve dropped the whole “nibbling on a salad” polite act and can slurp your noodles and lick the garlic-y chicken wing sauce that’s dribbling down your wrist.Review of delicious Thai food at Long Grain Restaurant in Camden, Maine

On the drive home, content with full bellies, we contemplated our happy day in Camden, it was perfectly summed up with the statement, “It’s a really good job we don’t live closer to Long Grain or we’d be in trouble!”

Did I mention you should make a reservation?🙂

Eat at: Long Grain 
No website, but the daily specials are usually posted on the facebook page
31 Elm St, Camden, ME, 04843
207 236 9001
Hours: Tue- Sat 11:30am-3pm for lunch, 4:30-9:00pm for dinner (closed Sun, Mon)
***Note, a move to 20 Washington St for a bigger space and the addition of an Asian market is planned for 2016/17

Stay at: The Camden Harbor Inn
83 Bayview St, Camden, ME, 04843
207 236 4266