Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Calling it quits

I regret to announce that I am going to be calling it quits on this epic quest - or the blogging portion of it at least. Ends up blogging about tacos is not all it's cracked up to be. A few unfortunate side effects are likely to happen:
1) You waste a hell of a lot of time blogging and worrying about tacos rather than less exciting things like your job.
2) Eating tacos becomes a chore, and times come when you actually want to avoid eating tacos just so that the backlog of blog posts doesn't become longer.

If something is going to lead me to eat fewer tacos, then I sure as hell don't want to do it.

Make no mistake, I am still going to eat 500 tacos this year. As of today, I'm already at 122, believe it or not. But I may not be here to chronicle the at best moderately impressive feat.

Til next time, keep wolfing down those tacos, and I promise to do the same 10 times over.

I'll be back.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

81 Tacos: Phoning it in

Trip #2 to El Taco de Oro in Alviso, CA. This time, however, I went in the building rather than just hitting up the truck. I soon realized that I had committed a serious faux pas: ordering takeout from a place that was intended to be sit-down. Despite looking like the hands-down biggest taco dork on the planet, I proceeded with my mission and ordered four tacos - three regular and one super.

El Taco de OroThey phoned it in on their restaurant labeling, so why can't I phone it in on this post?

To make matters worse, I forgot my camera and had to use my cell phone to take photos. To make matters even worse, I am feeling extremely lazy today. So in more than one way, I'm going to phone this one in.

Four tacosYep, tacos. The carnitas one is the "super taco" with lettuce, tomato & crema.

Finally, the phoned in rundown:
4) Pollo asado. Nothing special. 5.5/10.
3) Carnitas. Good. 7/10.
2) Al pastor. Great. 7.5/10.
1) Carne asada. Awesome. 8.5/10.

Good stuff. More research is needed to decide whether the truck or the building is superior. The truck, however, is a hell of a lot quicker.

4 tacos consumed.
81 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 352 tacos.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

77 Tacos: A ruby in the rough?

Thanks to Yelp, I was recently able to sample some of the offerings at the elusive Ruby's Taqueria in Sunnyvale, CA. This place was way out in the far reaches a residential neighborhood where the last thing you'd expect to find is a place like this. To get there, you must go through an arduous test to prove your worthiness: a two-mile drive down a straight, wide road where the speed limit is 25 and you just know that the jacket is going to be sweatin' you (translation: cops will come after you) if you push that needle past 30. You want to rev it up to 70, but your paranoia won't let you. So you wait, and wait, and waaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiit.

Finally in the distance, after you've wasted half your day driving these two miles, Ruby's Taqueria appears in the distance like a shimmering oasis in the middle of the Sahara. You get there and you're greeted with none other than.......a full parking lot and a 15-minute line that stretches out the door. Oh well, I guess the secret's out.

Ruby's TaqueriaThis place was way out in the cut

Were these tacos deserving of the name "Ruby?" Again, as with the "tacos of gold," no. They were better than that. Who would want to eat a ruby? What could you possibly hope to get out of it other than a chipped tooth and a shiny red kidney stone? I'll eat my carne asada - you can have the gemstones for dinner. The tacos weren't top-notch, but definitely second- or third-notch, depending on how many notches there are total.

Ruby's tacosYes, I was too lazy to take two seconds to put the meat back on that one taco for a better picture.

Here's the rundown:
5) Tingo de pollo. This "spicy chicken" was decent, but not spicy enough for a real taco fiend like myself and a little salty. 6/10.
4) Rajas de chile. This weird concoction of roasted chilies in a strange yellow sauce was surprisingly tasty. I almost didn't miss the meat. 7/10
3) Carnitas. Ruby's cuts their carnitas off a big pork chunk, making it a little less painfully fatty than usual. 7.5/10
2) Carne asada. Tasty, but nothing particularly special. 7.5/10
1) Al pastor. Freshly shaved off the spit, the reliable A.P. emerges as the champ again. 8/10.

5 tacos consumed.
77 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 370 tacos.

Friday, March 13, 2009

72 Tacos: The bomb?

Taqueria La Bamba in Mountain View, CA was probably named for the song "La Bamba." You may think "la bamba" means "the bomb." If you do, then you are terribly, terribly wrong. In reality, the translation of "la bamba" is something you would never guess: "the bamba." It's sort of similar to how "el niño" just means "the niño" (source: Chris Farley). Rather boring. It turns out that "bamba" is nothing more than the name of a dance. An incredibly silly dance that was designed for the sole purpose of giving you another way to humiliate yourself in public. The Spanish translation of "bomb," on the other hand, is "la bomba." Big difference.

"La bamba" or "la bomba?"

So what exactly is Taqueria La Bamba getting at with their name? We may never know. All I know is that "la bamba" belies the quality of their tacos. They are not silly or humiliating in any way. In fact, they're some of the best I have had yet - stuffed with the juicy, satisfying animal protein that we all love. A much better description would be "la bomba" - the bomb.

Here is the rundown.
4) Chile Colorado. Even the worst of the four was no slouch. The marinated beef chunks weren't quite as flavorful as the other meats, but they were tasty, and this taco was interesting in that it included some exotic toppings like rice. 7/10.
3) Carne asada. Flavorful grilled beef chunks with onions, cilantro, and hot sauce. Good stuff. 8/10.
2) Carnitas. "Carnitas" means "little meats," but there was nothing "ita" about this carne. The taco was loaded and bathed in hot sauce, and the meat was tender and tasty. 9/10.
1) Al pastor. Absolutely phenomenal. Succulent, slightly charred, fruity-tasting pork chunks with sauteed onions adding a nice finishing touch. 9.5/10.

There was nothing "ita" about this "carne."

4 tacos consumed.
72 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 365 tacos.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

68 Tacos: The golden taco

The little town of Alviso is about as isolated as it gets in the Bay Area, which is home to over 7 million people. Bordered by the San Francisco Bay on the north, about 1/2 mile of hilly plains and then the CA-237 freeway to the south, and swamplands to the east and west, Alviso is not exactly an action-packed hot spot. However it does do one thing well: tacos. Along the main drag, N. 1st St., sits the El Taco de Oro taco truck, parked right in front of the El Taco de Oro Taqueria. For those of you out there who are Spanish-illiterate, "el taco de oro" literally means "the taco of gold."

El Taco de Oro truckTruck yeah!

Rush LimbaughWhen you roll up to this joint, you will find yourself immediately faced with the quandary of whether to patronize the truck or the building. Some people ponder this question for hours before finally deciding on one or the other. I, however, had my mind made up before I got there and had no time to second-guess myself. I made a beeline for the truck like Rush Limbaugh for the last piece of cheesecake.

So, were they good enough to be called "tacos of gold?" No, they were much better than that. Seriously, who wants to eat gold? It's metallic, awful-tasting, and expensive as hell to boot.

El Taco de Oro tacosNot even the radishes and lemon wedges were spared.

Here's the rundown:
5) Pollo asado. Pretty solid, but not spectacular. 6/10.
4) Al pastor. Not quite as flavorful as other places' tacos of this kind. 6.5/10.
3) Carne asada. Meat was not quite as tender as I would have liked. 6.5/10.
2) Pollo. The chicken was great and it was the only one with salsa verde (green sauce), making for a nice mid-taco scarfing session change of pace. 7.5/10.
1) Carnitas. I didn't even recognize this as carnitas initially. It was excellent though, and came without the usual sensation of instantly clogging your arteries and expanding your waistline. 8.5/10.

5 tacos consumed.
68 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 388 tacos.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

63 Tacos: Don't blow out the jalopy for it

The other day I went to Tacos Jalapa in Sunnyvale, CA and thought to myself that "Jalapa" looks a lot like the word "jalopy," which is an underrated word for "car" that has really fallen by the wayside in the past 20 years or so. I guess kids these days are too lazy to say polysyllabic words like "jalopy," "automobile," or even "auto" when a simpler option is available. This is a shame because using those mouth muscles more for things other than wolfing down super-sized Big Mac combos would definitely fight obesity. Oh well.

Speaking of jalopies, or cars, they are quite remarkable machines that can efficiently transport you from your current location to the taco-producing destination of your choice. However you must consider a few things when deciding how far you should drive your vehicle to reach a taco destination of a certain quality:
1) Gas prices
2) Car depreciation (Probably negligible on that old junker you drive).
3) Time value (I value mine at about 4 cents an hour).
4) Carbon emissions, climate change, global warming, blah blah Al Gore whatever.

Tacos Jalapa over the top of my jalopy

Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted by myself, I was talking about Tacos Jalapa. I ordered 5 tacos, which I would break down like this:
5) Cabeza. A little gamy/offaly for my tastes. If you're a head meat kind of guy it may be up your alley. 4/10.
4) Pollo. Pretty standard. 5/10.
3) Carne asada. A little more rubbery than I'd like, but not bad. 6.5/10.
2) Fish. Nicely grilled whitefish, not too fishy. 6.5/10.
1) Al pastor. Good, but not quite up to the level a taco snob like me is accustomed to. 7/10.

The tacos were pretty average, but extra points for stuffing 'em full and having very legitimate green and red salsa.

Was Jalapa decent? Yeah, the tacos weren't too bad, but probably not worth the jalopy ride considering all the other great options in the area.

5 tacos consumed.
63 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 365 tacos.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

58 Tacos: Now I'm cookin' again

Just when I thought I couldn't get in any more of a taco rut, I go and do something like this...

"Dumb and Dumber" references aside, the time had come for a massive taco undertaking. You see, the birth of "500 Tacos" has been both a blessing and a curse in some ways. It's a blessing in that it makes me write about and think about tacos all the time. That is a good thing. Unfortunately, on several occasions it has also gotten me to the point where I'm behind on posting and am afraid to eat tacos because I know that it will further increase the posting backlog. That is very, very bad. Anything that causes a person to reduce taco intake is at best tragic, and at worst FATAL. Yes, fatal. As is the case with with food in general, I am pretty sure that completely abstaining from tacos from too long a period of time can be deadly.

bare chicken tacosVegetables suck and are terrible for you. I don't blame you if you stop piling and start eating at this point.

So there were actually two separate meals of six tacos each, and in each case I wolfed down three tacos immediately and gruffled down the other three the next day for lunch. Forgive me for not including pictures of all 12 tacos, but they all looked almost exactly the same and I wanted you to be able to stay awake to read the rest of this article.

loaded chicken tacosWhen it comes to tacos, don't be a chicken about chicken.

As far as seasoning goes, I've found that it's usually best to throw in the amount you think is right, and then throw in the same amount on top of that. If you're not choking and sneezing while standing over the pan, you need more spices. Well-seasoned chicken tacos can be damn good. This lot gets a solid 7/10.

Quick notes on beer pairings:
With the first three tacos in the first batch, I drank a Samuel Adams Cranberry Lambic. This odd wheaty, fruity bastard love-child of a lambic and a hefeweizen doesn't pair very well with itself, let alone a plate of tacos. Not highly recommended.
With the first three tacos in the second batch, I drank a Ballast Point Big Eye IPA. This one was pretty money, sort of like a newly minted $100 bill. The bitter, citrusy hops and sweet malt went awesome with the heavy seasoning. A solid pick.

12 tacos consumed.
58 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 341 tacos.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

46 Tacos: Sweet redemption

After half-assing it on my taco quest over the past couple of weeks and at one point dropping the pace to below 300 tacos, I finally decided enough was enough. This was not a difficult conclusion to come to - if "enough" is going to be anything, "enough" is probably one of the more likely things for enough to be. Anyway, the time had come for me to stop half-assing it and get back to full-assing it.

These tacos were definitely full-assed.

It was time to quit pussyfooting around and eat some real tacos. To accomplish this goal, I set my sights on one of the most revered taco establishments in the southern peninsula of the Bay Area: Taqueria Los Charros on Dana St. in Mountain View, CA. For those of you who are culturally ignorant out there, a charro is a type of Mexican cowboy. The time had come for me to "cowboy up" and get back to the basics rather than continuing to write about silly, non-hardcore things like wine pairings.

I ordered one carnitas super taco ($3.50) and two regular tacos ($2 each): pollo asado and al pastor. The after-tax bill of $8.12 seemed a bit steep, but it is really quite a bargain if you think about it in terms of being a filling meal composed entirely of the most perfect food ever invented on planet earth. (I doubt any aliens out there have anything better, but if you're reading this, E.T., feel free to prove me wrong and I'll start a new blog about that food.)

The super taco seemed a little questionable at first. You almost need a machete to cut your way through the dense jungle of iceberg lettuce and what have you that stands between you and the delicious taco meat that awaits you near the bottom of the styrofoam box. When you finally get down there, however, I can assure you that you will be well-rewarded for your back-breaking efforts.

Da da da da da da...super taco! This one was absolutely brilliant, and I'm not just referring to the fact that the picture is 5 times too bright.

The rundown:
3) Pollo asado. Don't get me wrong, it's a good one. Juicy and well-seasoned. The other two were just better. 7/10.
2) Carnitas. Succulent shredded pork that's tasty but doesn't cross the line into tasting like a pure slab of animal fat. 8/10.
1) Al pastor. Wow. Simply one of the best of its kind out there. Similar to other good al pastor tacos, except they char the meat to perfection, which makes a world of difference. I guess you have to expect that a place called "Los Charros" would be pretty legit at charring stuff. 9/10.

Final note: the super taco is a pretty good call, but there's lots of filler in there. I'm almost indifferent between 2 super tacos for $7 and 4 regular tacos for $8, but I'd probably lean towards the side of more variety. Depends on your style I guess.

3 tacos consumed.
46 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 295 tacos.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

43 Tacos: Tacos & wine

I've gone soft. Not only has it been well over a week since I've eaten a real authentic taco, but it's gotten to the point where I'm talking about enjoying fake-ass tacos with a nice glass of Chardonnay or what have you. This is NOT how tacos were meant to be consumed. Tacos are meant to be messy and meaty, dripping with hot sauce as you crane your neck to the side to ravenously scarf down the next delicious bite. Tacos are meant to be consumed outside of a truck or in a hole-in-the-wall taqueria, not at a pretentious wine and cheese party. Tacos are a luxury of the common man that the upper crust elite simply do not understand.

John Thain"It's a tough economy, so I'll settle for ONLY $10 million this year." Douchebags like this are not worthy.

The super-rich in this country seem to have it all: beluga caviar every night for dinner, millions in bailout money from the U.S. government so that they can still afford to make payments on their 8th house and 3rd yacht. But there is one thing that they do not have, and that is tacos. Tacos are one of the best-kept secrets that we in the bottom 99% must guard closely from the snobby douchebags that have everything else.

So I was in the Napa and Sonoma region for a couple days and ended up going to Willi's Wine Bar in Santa Rosa, CA on Monday night to make up for taking my girlfriend to a brewpub for Valentine's Day Dinner. The only taco-related item on the menu was the Dungeness Crab Tacos. It goes without saying that I ordered it, shelling out an astronomical $12 for the pleasure. The tacos were covered in Fuji apples, slaw, cucumber, and mint and served in crispy fried shells. Were they good? Yes, they were very tasty, as they'd better be for $4 per small taco. 8.5 - 1 point for lack of authenticity = 7.5/10 overall.

I ate two of the three tacos pictured and had them with a glass of Riesling. The pairing was actually pretty legit - the sweetness of the Riesling went well with the slightly sweet crab meat. Highly recommended. But the whole experience felt a little bit fake to me. It was nowhere near as emotionally satisfying as wolfing down five of the bad boys from Taqueria Latina with a plastic cup full of horchata. I had to take a cold shower afterwards.

Tacos at Willi'sBeggars can't be choosers: tacos can be hard to come by at fancy restaurants.

While I always enjoy tacos in any form and am happy that I was able to at least make do with what was available, I feel that I must do something to redeem myself in the eyes of my millions of loyal supporters. I will make a glorious comeback, just you wait.

2 tacos consumed.
43 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 314 tacos.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

41 Tacos: Tacos & beer

Life is full of annoyances sometimes. People who don't want to eat tacos all the time. Restaurants that don't serve tacos. Activities that deny you access to tacos. Places that serve tacos, but they're not authentic, so you don't really get the full taco experience that you crave. We would all undoubtedly like to rid the world of all of these horrors, but in the tragically non-Utopian society in which we live, they exist and we must deal with them.

21st Amendment logo
On Saturday I visited the 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco to treat my girlfriend to a romantic Valentine's Day dinner. They had fish tacos on the menu, and you'd be out of your mind if you didn't think that I ordered the damn things (Translation: I got the fish tacos).

21st Amendment tacosPotato chips? Oh no you didn't!

As you look at the above picture, you're probably saying, "Whoa, chief, hold on. Really, dude. For real. No way. What's going on here? You've got to be kidding me. No you didn't. What is that?"

I would agree 100%.

The tacos were not authentic. First clue: they come with potato chips. But despite the lack of authenticity, they were not too shabby. A double toasted flour tortilla was wrapped around two fried whitefish slices and covered in onions, cilantro, crema, and typical taco spices. Could have been worse. As for the potato chips...eh...not my first choice. But the tacos got a solid 7/10.

Another interesting topic is which beer you should pair with tacos? I tried two very different ones: the 21st Amendment Hop Crisis Double IPA (an 11.8% alcohol hop bomb) and the 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer (a light, fruity, slightly sour American wheat). Neither really fit the bill exactly. The Double IPA was a little too intense for the pairing and overwhelmed the more subtle fish flavors. The Wheat Beer, on the other hand, was a little weak to stand up to the tacos and had the wrong kind of fruit flavors. My suspicion is that the best pairing for tacos may be something like a fairly well-hopped amber ale. For fish tacos, a lemony, citrusy Belgian-style wit may work well, and for gamy or offaly tacos, an hoppy IPA (but probably not a Double IPA) may complement the strong flavors of the meat. We will explore this topic again later of course.

2 tacos consumed.
41 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 305 tacos.

Monday, February 9, 2009

39 Tacos: Getting your numbers up

Sometimes you just need a good old slumpbuster. You haven't been getting any lately and you're desperate and it's gotten to the point that you'll just settle for anything. Doubly so if you're drunk. You've been in a rut and quality just doesn't matter - as a matter of fact, even the ugly ones are looking pretty damn good as of late.

I'm talking about tacos of course! Get your mind out of the gutter. What better place to bust out of a slump than good old Taqueria Latina?

Six Taqueria Latina tacos
When you're recovering from one too many six-packs of beer, a six-pack of tacos is just what the doctor ordered.

So after a really rough weekend, I stumbled in a half-vegetative state into Taqueria Latina today and the smell of freshly cooked taco meats made my weary, hungover mind spring to life. I stepped up to the counter and ordered no less than 6 tacos. Pescado. Chile verde (pork). Barbacoa. Pollo. Chorizo. Al pastor.

Now I'm not going to bore you with repetitive details. Here is the rundown of the three tacos I hadn't had before:
3) Barbacoa. Succulent braised beef chunks. Not too flavorful, but definitely no slouch. 7/10.
2) Chile verde. Juicy pork cubes covered in an excellent green tomatillo salsa. Absolutely heavenly. 8/10.
1) Chorizo. I'd like to be a part of this sausage fest every day! The little bites of meat are crispy and flavorful. What's not to love? 8.5/10.

6 tacos consumed.
39 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 356 tacos.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

33 Tacos: The flamingo strikes again

What is the deal with tacos and flamingos?

Just over 5 miles from Redwood City's El Grullense there is a taqueria in Palo Alto, CA called - you guessed it - El Grullense. The flamingo. Are people that unoriginal nowadays? Pretty soon they're going to start just calling taco joints "La Taqueria." Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Taqueria El GrullensePalo Alto yuppies often stop by El Grullense en route to the Whole Foods a mile or so down El Camino.

Being in Palo Alto, one of the more affluent towns in the Bay Area thanks to nearby Stanford University, this El Grullense attracts quite the yuppie crowd in contrast to its Redwood City counterpart. Many local well-to-dos occasionally embark on a short recumbent bike ride over to El Grullense in search of a delicious stuffed corn tortilla of one form or another. Consequently, while sitting at El Grullense, you will probably have the pleasure of hearing Blake and Vivian at the table behind you discussing enthralling topics like frisbee golf, the comparative merits of the pastries at Starbucks and Peet's, and the environmental impact of the taqueria's operating procedures. Modest, down-to-earth, "keepin' it real" taco fanatics like myself are somewhat of a rarity.

No flamingo tacosWhere are the flamingo tacos, El Grullense?

Without further ado, the tacos. On top of the four I ordered, I was able to taste two other tacos from people I was eating with. The rundown, worst to best:
6) Tripas. Much better than the other El Grullense's tripe. Crispy and tasty without an innardy off-flavor. 7/10.
5) Carnitas. Juicy and tasty but a little too much fat for my tastes. 7/10.
4) Pollo asada. Flavorful grilled chicken, smoky and delicious. 7.5/10.
3) Bistec. Tender cubes of steak, which can really never be bad. 7.5/10.
2) Carne asada. A little juicier than the bistec, so it gets a slight edge. 8/10.
1) Al pastor. An absolute knockout. Fresh and juicy off the pineapple spit. 9/10.

All tacos come with onions, cilantro, and a green or red salsa as appropriate. In addition to the tacos, the chips are free, they're good as hell, and they come with a metric shitload of fixings.

El Grullense fixinsYup, I'm "fixin" to eat all of this stuff too! (Note the extremely clever pun)

4 tacos consumed.
33 total tacos.
Current pace: 344 tacos.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

29 Tacos: PETA would be happy

Tonight's tacos were missing one thing I typically consider an essential ingredient: some part of a dead animal. This did not happen because I have turned into a crazy hippie, mind you, but rather because I didn't have any meat and was too lazy to go to the store and get some. You know, I am all for treating animals kindly, and I would be more than happy to refrain from eating them if only they didn't taste so damn good!

I saved your ass tonight, you little ingrate.

Seriously, I doubt I would have eaten lamb tacos, but you get the point. Some poor defenseless farm animal gets to live to fight another day because I was too lazy to drive to Safeway tonight. PETA should applaud my effort (or lack of effort, depending how you look at it). After all, I am a member of PETA myself:
People who
A lot

Anyway, let's talk about them tacos. They weren't all that bad, believe it or not. Some canned pinto beans cooked up with cumin, pepper, and chili powder can serve as a decent meat replacement. With fresh tomatoes off the vine, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and avocado, these tacos earned a very respectable average rating. 5/10.

Vegan tacos: oh how the mighty have fallen. I'll have to eat a 28 oz. porterhouse steak now so I don't feel like such a hippie.

3 tacos consumed.
29 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 341 tacos.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

26 Tacos: Who is César Chávez?

Today's taco stop was the Chavez Supermarket in Sunnyvale, CA. I wonder if this place was named for César Chávez. Who is/was César Chávez? I don't know, but I do know that he's important enough to have a street named after him in San Francisco. I don't think anyone actually knows who César Chávez is/was, except the person who named the street and his parents (who may have named the street themselves). Oh well.

Not too shabby for a supermarket.

On to the tacos. They were legit to say the least. I ordered three tacos: one pollo asada (grilled chicken), one al pastor, and one carnitas super taco (with guacamole and crema). All were excellent. The grilled chicken had a great smoky taste. The al pastor was freshly shaved off a spit roast and was very juicy. The carnitas was also succulent and tasty. All were served with pinto beans, onions, cilantro, and a spicy red salsa. I would score the two "porkers" (the pork tacos, not your mom and sister) 8.5/10 and the chicken (the taco, not your girlfriend) 8/10. As a side note, super tacos are definitely the way to go here if you're not on a diet and willing to for over an extra buck and change.

Come on, you know who this guy is, you ignorant bastard.

For the record, César Chávez (1927-1993) was a great civil rights and labor activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association and did a lot of other awesome stuff. No disrespect intended. He was the man ("the man" as in a person I admire, not "the man" as in "let's stick it to the man").

3 tacos consumed.
26 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 327 tacos.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

23 Tacos: Tacos and gas - a bad combo?

On Sunday I found myself in Redwood City, CA around 1 in the afternoon with tacos on the mind. I remembered that a friend had recommended a local joint called El Grullense (literally "the flamingo").

El Grullense Redwood CityWARNING: If you do not enjoy really bad gas station-related humor, do not read the next paragraph.

I had my doubts about this taco joint because it didn't look like much and it was situated in a gas station, but based on my friend's recommendation, I was pretty "pump"-ed to try it. The tacos were fairly small, not much bigger than Taqueria Latina's in Sunnyvale, but despite that, they were surprisingly "filling." The meat was well-cooked and packed Vin "Diesel"-sized flavor. These were not the best tacos I've ever had, but they definitely didn't "tank." Best of all, even though I expected some unpleasant after-effects, these tacos did not give me "gas."

El Grullense tacosSurprisingly, El Grullense only gives you one kind of gas: the unleaded variety.

Ok, now for the obligatory taco rundown. Of the 7 tacos I shared with one other person, I ate the lion's share (5 tacos +) because the other person had eaten non-taco foods for some strange reason shortly before.
7) Tripas (tripe). Not bad, but the calamari-like rings did little to hide the fact that I was eating digestive organs. 5/10.
6) Lengua (tongue). I wish I wasn't so squeamish about these weird cuts of meat. Hopefully getting a lot more taco-eating experience will fix that. Not bad for cow tongue. 5.5/10.
5) Cabeza (head meat). Like steak, very tender, but a little too much fat for my liking. 6.5/10.
4) Carne asada. A consistent bet at any reasonable taco joint, this place is no exception. 7/10.
3) Al pastor. Nicely done and well-spiced. 7.5/10.
2) Pollo. Very flavorful chicken. Not gamey or off-tasting at all. 7.5/10.
1) Carnitas. A winner, quite tasty. 8.5/10.

I would like to add the the green tomatillo/chile sauce at this place is excellent. The carrots on top were an odd choice however.

5 tacos consumed.
23 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 300 tacos.

Monday, January 26, 2009

18 Tacos: A taco to remember...or not

For much of the day on Saturday, I found myself in San Francisco's Haight district on an epic all-day pub crawl for a friend's birthday. Now if you've ever been to the Haight or read about it, you are probably aware that it is a place where a lot of people do a lot of things they don't remember later. The Haight is full of hippies, and hippies put all kinds of chemicals that have no business being in their bodies into their bodies to provide temporary relief from this cruel world full of all the things they detest (veal, Republicans, war, non-hybrid SUVs, razors, animal testing, showers, etc).

Being somewhat of a straight-laced individual myself, my poison of choice was not the kind of thing that makes you see yellow monkeys dancing around purple toadstools all day; it was good old CH3CH2OH - "ethanol" in layman's terms, or just "alcohol" in even layerman's terms. Lots of it.

One thing you may not know about alcohol is that it makes you hungry for tacos. Other things that make you hungry for tacos, in my experience, are breathing, hearing the word "taco" in any context, and going more than 4 hours without eating tacos. Nevertheless, according to witness accounts, a time came when I suddenly decided that I absolutely had to have a taco immediately. This place called El Balazo was right across Haight St. and I made a beeline for it. There was no stopping me.

El Balazo tacos
Approximately one of these tacos allegedly ended up in my stomach.

Since I shared this platter of two tacos with my girlfriend, I am going to count this as one taco consumed. How were these tacos? Hell if I know, but I'm sure they seemed pretty damn good at the time. ?/10.

1 taco consumed.
18 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 253 tacos.

Friday, January 23, 2009

17 Tacos: Sloppy seconds

I made a great discovery last night: there are these things called spices that can make food taste better. It's incredible! Last night I added cumin, chili powder, coriander, and a small amount of garlic powder, cinnamon, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper. What a difference in flavor! The chicken thighs sprung to life like a chicken out of an egg (which would probably later be slaughtered and used as taco meat). With these spiced chicken thighs, along with corn tortillas, taco cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, Newman's Own salsa, and jalapeno peppers, these homemade tacos turned out to taste considerably better than average.

After wolfing three down, I packed up the rest (two tacos' worth) for lunch the next day. You know what that means: sloppy seconds. How well do tacos hold up as leftovers, you wonder? The suspense was killing me. Some foods, such as the legendary manicotti my great-grandma used to make circa 1960, were supposedly even better reheated than freshly cooked. Other foods, like sashimi, or most Japanese foods for that matter, show a marked decline in quality after mere hours of sitting out. What about tacos?

The very boring answer to that question is that tacos are sort of in the middle of the pack: they're still pretty good the next day, but not quite the same as freshly prepared. You can store tacos for a couple of days, as long as they're not fish tacos (after 12 hours, eat fish tacos at your own risk).

Sloppy seconds: it could be worse. A lot worse.

I regret that I didn't take a picture of the original tacos. At the time, I was ravenous and blogging was the last thing on my mind. Sometimes you just get caught up in the moment when it comes to tacos. Sue me. (Seriously, don't actually sue me.) The original tacos basically looked the exact same as the ones in the picture, except they had chopped cilantro on top. Use your imagination.

If you've ever seen the TV show "Step by Step," you may know that the theme song for the show includes the lyrics, "We'll make it better / The second time around." That may be true for Suzanne Somers and the gang (although personally I think she was better the first "time around" - it was all downhill after "Three's Company"), but not so much for tacos.

As Borat would say, "In my country they would go crazy for this one. This one...eh...not so much."

Let's recap.
Things that are better the second time around:
-My great-grandma's manicotti
-Whatever "it" refers to in the "Step by Step" theme song
Things that aren't as good the second time around:
-Chicken tacos
-Suzanne Somers

First time: 6/10.
Sloppy seconds: 4.5/10.

5 tacos consumed.
17 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 270 tacos.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

12 Tacos: Three little ponies

Tres Potrillos
The next stop on my historic taco-gruffling quest was Tres Potrillos in Sunnyvale, CA. This place's name translates roughly as "three little ponies," although I think the name has a little less wimpy of a connotation to a native speaker.

My Little Pony
I doubt this type of abomination comes to mind when most Spanish speakers hear the word "potrillo."

I could keep going on this tangent, but you didn't come here to hear about the lamest toy/TV series ever invented (and no, I haven't forgotten about "Care Bears"), you came to hear about tacos. I applaud you on that.

So I rolled up to Tres Potrillos around a quarter after noon on an overcast Wednesday and was faced with a rather formidable line, about 10 people deep. Evidently the people of Sunnyvale were hungry, and they were hungry for one thing: tacos. After allowing the other taco-crazed madmen and madwomen who had arrived before me to order, I stepped up to the counter and ordered three "super tacos": one pollo, one carnitas, one al pastor. Each one cost $2.35 and came with onions, cilantro, cheese, guacamole, salsa, and crema. These tacos were far from minimalist - they came loaded with goodies and ended up being quite a mess to eat.

Tres Potrillos tacos
These super tacos say, "Screw minimalists!" (with apologies to Mark Bittman).

Here is the rundown on the tacos themselves, from worst to best:
3) Carnitas. Don't get me wrong, it was pretty good, but the meat was a little too fatty for my tastes. 6.5/10.
2) Pollo. The chicken was very tender. Flavor was not out of this world, but come on, it's just chicken. 7/10.
1) Al Pastor. This one totally stole the show. The pork was really juicy, sort of like the kind you get in a top-of-the-line doner kebab sandwich. It was seasoned well and had an awesome fruity sweetness. 9/10.

As a side note, the salsas at T.P. (pretty unflattering acronym, isn't it?) were unbelievable. After I finished eating my food, I had a half ounce or so each of both the roasted chile de arbol salsa and the salsa verde left over. I downed them like shots of liquor, straight up, no chaser. Count it.

3 tacos consumed.
12 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 209 tacos.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

9 Tacos: Bar-TAC'O-bama

BartacobamaAnother masterful use of the Windows Paint program.

Today is quite the historic day. As you may or may not be aware, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America. This event was historic for a few reasons:
-He is the first black president.
-He is the 44th white president.
-He is the first president since 2001 not to be named "George W. Bush."
-He is the first president since Calvin "Calvin TACO-olidge" Coolidge whose name can be easily manipulated into something involving tacos.
Historic indeed!

Where was I again? Ah yes, sweet sweet tacos. Like beer, they're not just for breakfast anymore. In fact, even breakfast tacos can be eaten at any time of the day. Cooking eggs is usually faster than cooking meats, and when you're in a pinch and short on time, breakfast tacos can be a phenomenal replacement for Spaghetti-O's or Swanson's dinners.

Last night I was a little short on time, but seeing how the inauguration was this morning and it seemed unlikely that I would be able to eat tacos today, I decided to whip up some quick egg tacos to celebrate the beginning of a new era for our nation. These tacos simply consisted of two corn tortillas, two eggs, one tomato, one jalapeno, some shredded taco cheese, some Newman's Own black bean and corn salsa, pepper, and cumin. I cooked the eggs more or less over-medium, leaving the yolks just a tiny bit runny.

These egg tacos were sort of like the girl you meet at a bar when you realize it's almost closing time, you're pretty shit-faced, and your options are less than ideal. Have you done better before? Definitely. Could you do better? Probably. Would they not look as good if you weren't drunk? No question. But are you complaining? Hell no. 3/10.

NOTE: The rating scale is compared to tacos only, so a 3/10 as far as tacos go would probably be about an 8/10 if compared to all foods.

egg tacosThese egg tacos may not be the hottest thing at the party, but let's be honest: you wouldn't throw 'em out of bed.

2 tacos consumed.
9 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 164 tacos.

Monday, January 19, 2009

7 Tacos: Standing up for the little guy on MLK Day

When it comes to companies, you can pretty much break them down into 2 categories: 1) nice companies that appreciate the great contributions that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made towards equality for all people in this country, which give their employees this day off, and 2) evil companies that have no respect for humanity whatsoever. I work for the second type of company. Fortunately, the deep state of depression that results from having to work on a national holiday has many known cures, exactly one of which is legal in the state of California. That cure is tacos.

Taqueria LatinaA sight for sore eyes

Enter Taqueria Latina. This little hole-in-the-wall taqueria in Sunnyvale, CA is less than a mile from where I work and is no slouch when it comes to tacos. I am thankful that this place exists near my office in about the same way that I'm thankful that oxygen exists in the air around me. Taqueria Latina is somewhat of a secret weapon of mine: their tacos are small and cheap, so it's a great place to get your numbers up when you're keeping track of how many tacos you eat. Needless to say, this place will be making a large number of appearances on this blog.

Now some of you may be saying, "Wait a minute. Isn't eating smaller tacos sort of cheating?" The answer is that no, it is not. Does a midget count as half of a person? If not, then why should a smaller taco be considered inferior? Have you (much like my company) learned nothing from Dr. King? Are not all tacos are created equal? Ignorant taco racists be damned, I am going to take the more honorable path here and declare that for the purposes of this blog, little tacos from Taqueria Latina, big tacos from La Taqueria, and all tacos in between shall each be considered as exactly one taco. No exceptions.

Anyway, on the menu for today was 5 tacos, all with different meats: pollo (chicken), pescado (fish), chivo (goat), al pastor (pork), and carne asada (steak). All were satisfying, with juicy, well-seasoned meat, onion, cilantro, and excellent hot sauce. If I had to rank them from 1 to 5, with 1 being the best, I would have to go as follows:
5) Chivo ($1.25). Sort of halfway between chicken and beef, the goat meat was little gamey for my tastes, but still not bad. 5.5/10.
4) Pollo ($1). This also has an ever-so-slightly gamey taste, which you usually don't get from chicken. Still, chicken can be dry and bland, but this chicken is tender and well-cooked. 6/10.
3) Pescado ($1.50). They pretty much throw a tasty, well-spiced 2-ounce whitefish filet on the tortilla and throw on the usual fixins. Price is a little higher, but it's worth it. 7.5/10.
2) Carne Asada ($1). The heavyweight of the bunch, this taco is pretty much everything you want it to be. 8/10.
1) Al Pastor ($1). You can't really do much better than this for a buck nowadays, even at the Dollar Store. With excellent seasoning and a little fruity flavor, Taqueria Latina's al pastor taco packs a lot of punch despite its diminutive stature. 8.5/10.

bag o tacosIf Dr. King were alive today, I'd like to treat him to a delicious bag o' tacos like this one from Taqueria Latina.

5 tacos consumed.
7 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 134 tacos.

2 Tacos: The mission begins...in The Mission

What better place is there to start a great mission than a place called The Mission? That's exactly what I did yesterday. I found myself driving around San Francisco by myself (no idea how I got there) and decided, as I often do, that it was time for some tacos. I had heard about this place called La Taqueria, which was famous for two things: 1) an incredibly creative name, and 2) awesome tacos.

As I was sitting at La Taqueria, which is located in SF's Mission District (a.k.a. "The Mission"), a thought crossed my mind: "I should do this more often. In fact, not only should I do this more often, I should make it my MISSION." With that, 500 Tacos was born.

La Taqueria tacosThe tacos I should have ordered are pictured, not the skimpier ones I actually did order.

How were the actual tacos? They were big and they were great. The chicken taco was fairly standard but the meat was a little flavorful than usual. I'll give it a 7/10. The carnitas taco, however, was outstanding. The meat was juicy and succulent, reminding me of a Mexican version of good Southern pulled pork. 9.5/10. Toppings were fairly skimpy on both tacos despite their considerable size, and I regret not ponying up for some guac. The bill was a little steeper than I would have liked: $3.50 for a bare bones taco and significant surcharges for all the toppings you would want. Still, do not be surprised if La Taqueria makes an encore appearance at some later time this year.

2 tacos consumed.
2 total tacos this year.
Current pace: 41 tacos.

0 Tacos: Intro and F.A.Q.

Taco Bell mascot
It's always good to start off a new year with some sort of purpose. Some people resolve to lose weight, be a better person, cure a type of cancer, or contribute to world peace. Those are great goals and all, but I have something a little bigger in mind: I am going to eat 500 tacos in 2009. That's 41.67 tacos per month, 9.59 tacos per week, 1.37 tacos per day. I'm also going to talk about all kinds of extremely interesting taco-related stuff. Now I've already eaten about 22 tacos this year, but I'm not going to count those because they were not documented properly, so as far as you know, I could be lying about eating them. Hell, I probably am lying. I do that a lot. It's fun to see if you can get away with it. For example, if someone asks me, "How tall are you, about 6-foot-1?" and I really am 6'1" (I really am), I might say, "No, I'm 8-foot-7." To that, they might say, "No you're not. I'm 5'11" and you're barely taller than I am." and I would admit defeat, saying something like, "Damn it! You got me." Sometimes you can really fool people though, and that can be really rewarding.

I realize we're already well into the new year, and for that reason I'm going to count the two tacos I ate yesterday at La Taqueria in San Francisco as tacos #1 and #2. Deal with it. Those tacos were awesome. The post will be coming soon.

Now, before we get started, a few FAQ...

Q: Why tacos?
A: There is no greater food in the world. I could have called this "500 artichokes" or "500 crab rangoons," but that would just be silly and not enjoyable. The flavor of tacos is unrivaled, and tacos have a sort of star quality that you rarely see among other foods. Does Jennifer Lopez sing a song about granola bars, potato skins, or pumpkin pies? No, she sings about tacos. It is NOT a coincidence.

South Park J-LoJ-Lo and I love tacos. If you don't, then seriously dude, just shut up.

Q: Are you a Mexican?
A: Only in my taste buds. I wish every day that I could claim to have descended from the great people who invented this unbelievably delicious gift from the gods, but as far as I know, I'm a pretty boring, standard, run-of-the-mill American whitey. My family's origins are Italian, German, Irish, and possibly a small amount of Pennsylvania Dutch.

Q: Aren't you going to get sick of eating tacos?
That is a stupid question. In short, no. When I was in college, I once successfully completed the "Taco Bell Challenge," in which you have to eat $20 worth of Taco Bell tacos and 40's of malt liquor in 90 minutes. After emerging victorious, then throwing up a massive amount of material that amazed all spectators after time had expired, do you know what I wanted to do next? Eat a damn taco, that's what.

Q: Who the hell do you think you are?
A: An unstoppable taco-eating machine, one of the great heroes of the modern era, and nothing less than a legend. I feel sorry for those of you who doubt me. This is happening.