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 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.