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.
Oh, I’m so bad! The queues were so long at a food festival downtown, that I grabbed Matchoo and ran off to La Tapatia Bakery with him to share a plate of their delectable mole con pollo.
We weren’t the only ones the mole mood. While we sat at a table waiting for our order to come up, another man dining with himself savored a pan dulce and then dug into his chicken mole and soft fresh tortillas with no shame for his gluttony at all. Moments later, we did the same.
Mole. Mole? MOLE.
I came to the little shopping center that la Tapatia is in for other reasons, but one member of my party declared she was going to grab some pan dulce and we all pushed into the tiny little bakery where the vivid cornucopia of savory menu items were displayed 8×10 color glossy glory along the wall. I should say that they weren’t *good* photos, someone commented that it looked like they were shot from a moving car, but it was enough to get the idea of coming back planted in our heads.
It was nearly 7 at night, not heaving with people, but the small handful of dining patrons were undoubtedly thinking “crap, the gringos have found us. At least it’s not Julia.”
One wall is shelves of pan dulce, all sorts including my favorite, the butterfly curly thingie. We selected about half a dozen assorted, 75c each. That’s all we got this time, but I looked long and hard that the food menu and asked questions. I would totally be back to sample the tacos. I’m on a taqueria tour, after all.
Meanwhile, the pastries. I couldn’t dive into them until the following morning but my god they were so delicious. Really, the best butteryfly thingie I’ve ever had at a panaderia! Lightly crisp, yet dense and a little chewy. Did not fall apart in a big crumbly mess with each bite!
I went back two days later for lunch. Two of us ordered a small carnitas taco and the mole con pollo to share.
The winning item, though, was the mole con pollo. Whooooa, really good! It may have beat the top spot in my heart for chicken mole. The sauce was sweet and spicy, rich, complex. The chicken was perfect – one large thigh with such tender meat falling off the bone that you only need to pull it apart with pieces of tortilla. And the tortillas! The dish came with more fresh, soft tortillas, the largest I’d ever seen for homemade corn tortillas. This dish also comes with a small portion of rice and beans.
* seriously hole in the wall. But they’ve packed a lot of stuff in.
* Small tables have been pushed together to make longer communal tables. If it’s busy you can share the benches running along one of the walls.
* cash only
* no prices listed on the hot foods. Gotta ask. The chicken mole was probably in the $8 range. The small tacos were in the $2.50 range, larger ones in the $3.50 range. Seems high, you might think, but it’s because they make their tortillas fresh to order. Which brings me to my last point.
* tortillas made fresh to order!
* like any food using dark sauces, it doesn’t look that good. In words of IT Crowd, “It’s chocolate. It’s not shit.”
I first encountered la Colmena when they catered Ted’s birthday party at Red’s Wine Bar. Their setup was simple and efficient – a grilling platform with one domed area for cooking and heating up the tortillas, the rest of the grill space kept the taco meats warm. On the side were bowls of condiments, beans and rice. They made their tortillas fresh on site!
Finally, I had a chance to eat at their shop. They’ve taken over a space previously held by a breakfast diner, and they haven’t done any renovation. The dining counter is still the dominant feature, with a few 2 and 4-tops near the windows.
The spartan inside meant no-nonsense tacos. Just the reality of meat, tortilla, cilantro, onion and lime. Still, the tortillas are made fresh to order.
We ordered one each: adobada taco and lengua taco. And the special on the weekend was tacos de canasta, and ordered one filled with chicken mole and another with potatoes. The regular tacos were $1.50 each, and the tacos de canasta were just $1 each. The latter had less filling, and were briefly fried.
I enjoyed the adobada, and both tacos de canasta. The lengua was underwhelming, and hard. I like my tongue soft and tender. Next time – and there will be a next time – I’d love to sample more of the taco varieties.
ps. sorry about the crap photos. This camera doesn’t do well in low light.
Taqueria La Colmena
A while back Chilango’s changed up from bog standard cheap Mexican eats to something more special. There was better seating, Telegraph beef on tap, a fancier interior, and food that was so much better than the late night food that the downtown drinking crowd hones in on.
But then the recession hit, and our dining out dollars disappeared. Chilango’s was in a bind. So it struck a happy medium, and brought back some of the cheap eats while keeping a few nicer menu items. The bacon-wrapped dates are still there, for example.
We’d been on a sweet potato fry kick lately, and I recall a friend mentioning that Chilango’s had good ones. This did strike me as odd for a Mexican eatery, but we were wandering around downtown looking for nibbles and I spied the SPFs on the menu. It sucked us right in.
Oh boy, the sweet potato fries were crisp on the outside, tender and sweet on the inside. And served with a spicy mayonnaise dip. We also shared the axiote chicken burrito with mole sauce and a few hot tortilla chips. It’s not my favorite mole in town, but the chicken sauce combination is still very good. The burrito is too big for one person without having a gut busted, so sharing these two items worked out well.
Mmm, sweet potato fries.
I am very disappointed with Romanti-Ezer’s current open hours. This has been determined by their clientele that appears to mostly be late night drunks in search of generic cheap Mexican eats.
They now close at 6 pm! BOOOOO. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays they reopen again at 9 pm, for the drunk crowd. Closing at 6 pm means the dinner crowd – that’s me – couldn’t drive enough business for them to be open at that time. I could cry.
That does mean lunches are available, but this is downtown, and I work in Ellwood. Some would call that north county. Needless to say, I must hereby give up all hope of eating here except on the rare occasion that I can make it for a Saturday lunch. Why not go after 9 pm Thursday, Friday or Saturday, you ask? Because the menu during that time is reduced to a few popular dishes for the drunks. Burritos and stuff. No more birria hurraches, no more chicken mole enchiladas.
Gone, also, are the fabulous tamales. The ones that were to replace the tamales from Our Lady of Guadalupe during Fiesta. First, they said the woman who made them was on vacation, visiting her family home outside the US. And recently they indicated she might not be coming back. No more tamales!! Pity me and my sad little stomach. :(
Today’s visit is the result of three failed attempts to dine here in recent weeks and always finding the restaurant closed. They had special open hours due to Fiesta, running the limited menu. The mole enchiladas and hurraches that I’d talked up so much were not available.
We ordered the chicken mole burrito. We received a mole burrito that was not chicken. Pork or beef, we weren’t sure.
Of course, it was good. A treat to my friend who finally ate here for the first time. It is all about the mole, after all. It was an enormous portion and fed myself and Ted. He loved it. But he also doesn’t *know* about the wonderfulness that Romanti-Ezer can be. Sigh.
Stop #2 on the spontaneous downtown food tour!
Lilly’s tacos wasn’t enough, now Drew had a hankering for mole. And there’s no better mole downtown than the mole at Romanti-Ezer. IMHO, of course.
Ambiance is hardly the linen service, but it’s also not as casual as the outdoor walk-up window at the front might lead you to believe. There are tables around the back, outside and in a small room behind the kitchen. The outdoor area is framed by some simple wooden walls and potted plants, particularly banana trees. Some with bananas.
We feasted on the pollo emoladas, or chicken mole enchiladas. Three enchiladas, rice and beans, for about $9. Delicious and filling. We shared this dish.
And we still had dessert to get through…