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Experience: ‘Above-the-neck’ dishes in the Iowa City area


Sushiya
Sushiya in North Liberty, Iowa

Experience some of the most succulent, yet frequently underused, parts of mammals and fish when you explore the culinary beauties of the head. From “face bacon” to lengua, wasting these above-the-neck ingredients is a crime against the tastebuds.

La Quercia

laquercia.us

There is plenty of head to go around in Iowa City. Probably its most accessible form is guanciale, affectionately known as “face bacon.” Norwalk, Iowa’s famous La Quercia uses pork jowl to make killer guanciale, which is an unsmoked, herbacious, intensely porky addition to any recipe, or the foundation for a next-level BLT. Look for guanciale on area menus, where it appears occasionally, or order directly from the La Quercia website (laquercia.us); unfortunately, their guanciale is unavailable in Iowa City area groceries, though many of La Quercia’s other delectable meats are.

La Regia Taqueria

436 Hwy. 1, Iowa City
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Two different, equally succulent head offerings are available at La Regia Taqueria for your enjoyment: cabeza (beef cheek) or lengua (beef tongue). Both meats are marinated, braised until infinitely tender and chopped fine, and they are available in any one of La Regia’s many dishes. The smoked arbol hot sauce is exquisite on a street-style cabeza taco, which is served in two soft corn tortilla shells and topped with raw onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime; in fact, any of the house-made hot sauces are the perfect foil for the rich, fatty meats.

La Regia Taqueria
La Regia Taqueria in Iowa City, formerly known as La Michoacana

Szechuan House

320 E. Burlington St., Iowa City
szechuanhouseiowacity.com

You can also enjoy some excellent tongue at Szechuan House. Though tripe can often be rubbery or have a too-funky aroma, the tripe in Szechuan House’s ox tongue and tripe with chili sauce has an almost vegetal freshness and texture, providing a perfect contrast to the chewy, earthy ox tongue. The housemade chili oil, which has a perfect bass note of fermented black bean, elevates the dish to a sublime experience of textural contrast with the slow onset of exquisite heat.

Sushiya

745 Community Dr. #A, North Liberty
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Perhaps you prefer your head in fishy form. At Sushiya, when you order the amaebi (sweet shrimp) nigiri, you will be presented not only with plump, raw shrimp on a little nugget of rice, you will also receive the lightly fried, tempura-battered heads. Grab the head by the snout and forelegs (these are not scientific terms) and bite into it; the shell, when fried, becomes a delicious, crunchy and entirely edible casing for savory bits of meat and deliciously creamy shrimp brain—but don’t eat the eyes, or else they’ll be able to see your insides on the way down …

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