I love tacos. Their small size means low commitment to a big meal, and the opportunity for more variety. Every taqueria in town has its unique selling point. It could be that they are cheap and fast. It could be that the tortillas are homemade. Perhaps one place has an utterly delicious mole, and another has a salsa that you can’t get enough of.
The Hidden Dolphin has recently popped up, related to the Altamirano’s shops on Milpas and Old Town Goleta, but this taqueria is simply tacos and hardly anything more, truly a hole-in-the-wall outfit without so much as a fresh coat of paint on the walls to spruce the place up prior to opening. But it’s easy enough to find, just look for the bright green steps at the entrance. It’s also the only restaurant on the block of otherwise industrial businesses.
The interior has perhaps four small tables which can be pushed together to accommodate a family, maybe. And its location is tucked far away, not only in the Funk Zone, but a rarely traversed path of it considering the deeper ruts have been driven by the steady path of people stumbling the Urban Wine Trail. No, this little shop is a secret little gem, currently prized by the devoted residents of the Funk Zone and a small population of the zone’s transitory workers.
I visited it on a weekend, sort of like a Sunday brunch. There was a family feasting there, one solo diner, and us, and the place was full. We noted that menudo was available on the weekend, but focused our attention on the tacos. And we ate!
Asada, carnitas, al pastor, lengua, cabeza, chicken mole, and one fish taco. Most tacos are $1.75 each, with the fish taco being the higher ticket at $2.25. The total bill, including a can of coke, came to $15-ish. Just look at the pile of wonderful tacos!
It’s hard to go wrong with asada and al pastor, they were fine. Favorites were the tender cabeza, and the fish taco. I really enjoyed the mole sauce, although the chicken seemed cooked separately and added, so the chicken wasn’t as tender as I’d wished. I did, however, love the boiled egg on top, which my companion mashed into the mole just prior to eating it.
The best part of it all? The sauces and salsas. There was the usual pico de gallo and tomatillo salsas, yes yes, we all like them. But we adored the peanut-based hot sauce, and then a sesame-based sauce, never had another sauce like it in this town. The man at counter was grinning as much as we were, delighted to see we were delighted. And then…we poked at a mysterious creamy sauce. What is it? “Hee hee! Guess?” We couldn’t and pried for information. Are you ready for it? Tomatillo aioli. A true aioli, being a simple emulsion of tomatillos, salt, and oil whipped into a creamy mass. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough tacos for all the sauce we wanted, and we didn’t have the stomach space for all the tacos we wanted. That does mean I need to return there soon. Just not on Thursdays. They are closed on Thursdays.
Also worth noting, the tortillas were factory made. They have plans to start making them in-house very shortly. Maybe by the time I get back there.
Remember how The Pub was zoned on one side of 224 Helena Street, while La Tour was on the other side? There were two separate bar tabs depending on which business provided which product. Cocktails, beer, food came from The Pub. Wine, or most of it, came from La Tour, and the food came from The Pub…except if you got the cheese and charcuterie plates, that was La Tour…er, and if your wine was Californian, then that came from The Pub. Whaaaa?
Ok, I spend a lot of time there, so I could tell the difference. But most could not, and I totally understand why. So, the boys running the spot decided to make the experience a little more seamless. The separate tabs are gone. It’s one bill. And something else that’s changed? Classic cocktails are now a focus on the bar.
You see, one of them went away to France for a while and spent time immersed in old world elegance. Drinking amazing wines, eating amazing, yet simple, food. I think we’ll start seeing some of that influence the space.
Here’s a draft of some of the “new” cocktails. New in the sense that they’re new to the menu. Old in the sense that they are some of the classics.
I had the Mint Julep, which was perfect for the warm sunny weather that day. The sweetness cut the fire of the bourbon just right. It was, however, a wee bit too potent for me, and I needed to line my stomach very quickly with some food. One of The Pub’s grilled cheese sandwiches came out of the kitchen quickly. At $6.50, including a wee bit of salad, this is more a cheese panino than American grilled cheese. This uses a chewy bread, gouda cheese, and is grilled in a sandwich press. I’ve ordered it many times as both a quick snack to share with a friend, and as a simple meal for myself.
And since I was on La Tour’s side, and there are always interesting bottles open, I tried a splash of Santa Duc Les Garancieres Gigondas. Um, I cannot remember what it was like, but I did like it. Perhaps I need to start keeping a notebook there.
La Tour at The Pub – or was this visit more The Pub?
This was my second time attending a supper club hosted by Red Star and La Tour. And as a first, Pink was the guest chef. This excited me to no end, as I loved her food when she was at Square One (RIP). Her commitment to the farm-to-table approach to food resonates well with me, and she’s so fun and approachable as well.
I didn’t take any photos. This time, I wanted to fully enjoy the experience.
The event took place in Al’s funkzone loft on Helena Street, a large industrial space tastefully designed with local art. This evening’s dinner was set on two round tables, each seating 8 people. Decorating the diagonal space adjacent the tables were flickering fires which added a feeling of warmth to the room.
As with other dinners, we started the evening with a glass of sparkling pinot in vintage-style champagne glasses. We got to mingle upstairs and make introductions. When we sat down for our meal, this was the awesomeness presented to us.
First: Bacon brioche.
Second: Jamón Ibérico De Bellota, with crisp albino acorn squash polenta.
Third: Shaved fennel, chioga beet, Buddha’s hand, handmade chevre.
Fourth: Potato potage, smoked truffle compote.
Fifth: Brown butter sable cookie, foie gras, walnuts and pomegranate.
Six: Squab with pork belly and prune,“dirty rice,” curly mustard, armangac reduction.
Seventh: Pumpkin moussaline, spiced chocolate ribbon, ancho-chile anglaise.
Pink and crew put together this amazing meal using little more than camping stove equipment, a feat in itself. The back wall of the loft, where the gang worked, opened out into a vast open field. It opened the space even more, let people work in a cool environment, and further added to the “camping” appeal of working under the stars.