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.
For some time I’ve seen the reviews rolling in for the Ventura location, so when I heard the owners were opening a SB location, I got pretty excited.
We did the typical mouths agape gazing up at the menu for way too long and ordered a pile of food. Only afterwards I asked them what were the most popular items from the Ventura location and one guys said we’d covered it pretty well, so yay on that count. And the guys behind the counter were really friendly, even though we were pretty clueless and holding up the queue.
Al pastor, as nearly everyone has said, is one of Cuernavaca’s specialties, in the below photo in front. The pork is not only marinated with pineapple, but served with a fresh chunk of pineapple on top of the taco. Sweet and spicy all in one. It’s ridiculously good and just $1.60 each, so order two of them because someone in your group is gonna want a bite of it and you’ll be all, “nuh-uh.”
I also really liked the veggie taco #2, which is mushrooms, rajas and cheese, in photo above, on right. Others at the table ordered the potato, rajas and cheese and it looked delicious, but I did not try (photo below). The more simple rajas and cheese was okay, a bit too soft and mushy for my tastes.
Onto the gorditas, we got one of the specials, which was a crispy fried pork, like the “fond” of carnitas, I really liked that. We also got the chicharron gordita, and their style is soft cooked in green sauce. I like my pork more on the crispy side, so I preferred the special gordita over the chicharron.
The folks working there said all the Mexican drinks are made from scratch. We got horchata, which was spiced in a way I’d never had before. Perhaps a bit on the sweet side, but overall very nice. I don’t know how else to describe it other than a horchata reminiscent of bubble gum…?
The menu isn’t enormous, but there’s still a lot more I need to get to and I’m very excited to do so. The items I’ve had were mouth-wateringly delicious. No wonder the original location has such rabid fans.
A few logistical notes:
$10 minimum for credit cards. No worries, pair up with a friend and get a pile of tacos.
It closes at 8:30 pm. This is not meant for the late night drunk crowd. Think more for lunches and family dinners. This is not a complaint on my part. Just in note in case you’re browsing this review at 2 am, eyes unfocused, in a perceived state of dire starvation.
Parking is very tight. About 8 spaces, shared with Mel’s and the Grapeseed company. You will likely have to park on the street and walk the extra 50 feet, if you can bear it.
The interior, although nice for hole-in-the-wall style taqueria, is very small. There’s seating for maybe 12-15 people. The time I was there, it was packed, mostly with families. I think this is a very good sign for the restaurant, but be prepared to rub elbows with other folks, or get your food to go.
You know what? Those last two bits shouldn’t even be an issue, if you live downtown. Y’all should be walking more anyway.
This was a very opportunistic visit, and I was caught without my good camera, or even my average camera. All camera phone, so sorry about the crummy pictures. Still! Rudy’s has moved into a bigger space in that fine stripmall known as the Calle Real Shopping Center. Just next door to a shop I was doing errands at, and it was around 11:30, i.e. lunchtime. So why not? We walked in for a bite.
Immediately we were greeted enthusiastically by the bartender, and although I would have loved to sit at the bar, my dining companion wanted a booth so we could talk amongst ourselves. That’s fine too!
Rudy’s has always been more of an occasional lunch spot for me, although I do have friends who favor their burritos and breakfast burritos with great devotion. The atmosphere has always been very casual, a little nondescript. Meaning, it’s perfect for a strip mall. But not anymore. The new space is way bigger, decorated quite nicely to feel more like a comfortable restaurant with dark wood paneling and big booths, and a lovely full bar as the centerpiece. Strikingly different for a strip mall in Goleta, no?
There is full wait service and a friendly man came round several times to greet us and take our order. He also brought a fancy basket of chips and a dish of salsa. We loved the chips, as they were very light and crisp. The dish of salsa was rather shallow, and I wished it could have been deeper to better enable salsa scooping, but no big.
My friend ordered a simple burrito of beans, rice and cheese. She gawked at the size of it on the plate, and immediately split it in half to take home and ate the other half. She said it was good. It cost $5.
The bill was about $13.50 after tax, before tip. Pretty reasonable.
Now, about those cocktails. I didn’t try any, but I did peek at the menu. There are specialties with a focus on margaritas, and do you know what I like best about this menu? There looks to be smaller portions for a few dollars less. Great for pipsqueaks like me who can’t drink very much. So thank you for that. I took a photo, and it’s pretty crummy, but better than nothing.
Yay! More food trucks in Santa Barbara!
I know our food and food truck scene is totally podunk compared to Portland and Los Angeles, but that’s okay, it’s not a big town plus I know we have a zillion restrictions and guidelines that make these kind of small start-ups difficult.
O Street appears to have been in business for about two weeks now, and I got some feedback from a friend here and there that managed to get to the truck before I did. They gave a thumbs up. And I visited the truck recently on one of its Goleta days.
It was a gorgeous day in Santa Barbara (is it redundant to say that?), the truck’s brightly colored and difficult to miss. We also beat the rush.
The menu’s clearly posted outside, offering a simple range of bahn mi, Vietnamese flavored tacos, soup and salad, and drinks. The bahn mi is the most expensive item on the menu, but is still just $5.
I had a beef bahn mi first. It had a decent amount of flavorful meat, and a delightful portion of crunchy goodies like cucumber, carrot and cilantro, then was drizzled with a tangy sauce. I really liked that the baguette was slightly toasted and warm, giving it a light crispness when I first bit in. The filling in the sandwich was not as packed full like the photos on their website, but whose promo pictures are truly representative of the actual item in hand. Yeah, like nobody’s. They were fine, and need I point this out again? Just $5.
The bahn mi comes wrapped in paper and I suggest you use that paper. The juicy meat, the watery cucumber and the sauce all contribute to a drippy mess.
But that’s not as drippy as the tacos! Those don’t have any soft bread to soak up the good stuff. They are $2 for chicken taco and $2.50 for beef taco, I had one of each. They are essentially the same as the sandwich, but served on two small corn tortillas. The tortillas as spaced out slightly to hold the filling and fall apart quite quickly, so I recommend grabbing a fork from the truck to tuck in. Plus, more napkins.
There’s also little single serve pastry pizza available. I believe this is a carry-over specialty of the truck’s owner before she went into the food truck business. The crust is a flaky pastry, which can go from crisp and buttery to soft and oily quickly if you let the pizza sit around too long. There’s a red sauce and white version available, I had the white one with goat cheese and onions. $4. It’s good, but definitely more delicate. If you want the bigger bang for the buck or be full faster, the bahn mi is the way to go.
So I had one sandwich, two tacos and one pizza. It cost $13.50 and fed two. That’s a good deal.
Another thing that impressed me about O Street was its marketing. I automatically turn off of aggressive marketing that occurs before a business opens because it hypes up the business without any substance yet to back it up. And we all know that the theory of how a company first opens for business can be far different to its execution. O Street got close to borderline over-marketing with media articles before opening, but never quite crossed it. They were on twitter early talking up their launch, but it was more on a level of engagement rather than trumpeting without listening.
O Street also knows its audience. This is cheap eats, easy to grab and go, very tasty for someone with the munchies. It will be very good for a hungry crowd outside a club, but sensible enough for the daytime office types. Just grab lots of napkins so the tangy sauce doesn’t drip over your pressed shirt.
It’s Barry’s last night in town, and he wants Mexican food. Kristina and Ted join the family for the easy trek over to Palapa.
The special tonight was posole, $8! Two of us ordered it. Delicious, with a pile of cabbage, radishes, oregano, and wedges of lime.
Barry got the two taco combination plate, which came with rice and beans, and he opted for refried beans and red rice. I got the beef enchilada plate, with refried beans and green rice.
Lots of posole leftovers were packed to go, and I brought home nearly half my enchilada and beans, which made for lunch the next day. I might have been able to finish my food tonight, except that Palapa’s tortilla chips and salsa are addicting like crack. You must keep eating them, and there’s no stopping it.
Oh, and also dessert – my favorite flan in Santa Barbara.
The gang had just taken an exhilarating walk through the lower eastside to admire all the homes decorated with Christmas lights. This is my third year doing the annual walk with them and it’s always a fun and magical time. We load up our thermoses with hot spiced cider and trundle down the streets where some families have decorated their homes with masses of lights. It’s overwhelming.
The neighborhood is so popular with its holiday lights that the trolley service in Santa Barbara runs a very successful Christmas light circuit at night, and they are *sold out*. Half a dozen or more trolleys cruise through the neighborhoods, chock full of happy people, gawking and sometimes cheering at all the lights.
After the walk through the cold night air, we’re hungry. After a very brief conversation, really there’s nothing to debate, we agree on La Colmena, a favorite amongst this group. They are open until 9-9:30 pm and it’s only 8:30. We race over!
Jon and Matchoo are fans of the Alhambres plates. These are plates with a big mess o’ meat and goodies on them, and a pile of tortillas, and you assemble your tacos to your liking. You get four tortillas, but order some more because there’s enough filling to make about 5 tacos. These cost about $7.50 so if you gauge the normal price around $1.65 each, you’re saving by getting the plate and filling the tortillas yourself.
Jon got his own alhambres plate, while Matchoo, Say and I shared two plates between us, as we weren’t as hungry.
We picked the asada alhambres plate (upper left photo) and the lomito alhambres plate (upper right). They came with more than just meat.
The asada is spicy grilled beef with onions and assorted grilled peppers, some are a little spicy. Then topped with cheese.
The lomito alhambres is grilled pork with mushrooms and onions, topped with cheese. I like this one the best, as I’d never had the mushroom combination before and their juices flavored the pork and onions so nicely.
We got four tortillas per person, so 12 for the lot and we used them all. The fillings were gorgeous and delicious, very juicy and flavorful. Conversation was reduced to grunts of pleasure and requests to pass the tortillas or salsa or napkins. And everyone gobbled up the salsas, which were their usual awesomeness with varied and complex flavors. The hottest one, btw, is the creamy red/orange. It is HOT. I like the pico de gallo mixed with the marinated onions.
Alicia went with tacos, and now that I’ve tried the alhambres, I prefer the tacos as well. The alhambres is great if you love a larger quantity and really like one item. I like variety, so I can’t have as much of just one item. I’ll will stick with the tacos going forward.
Jon and Alicia come here often, they really love it. They’ve confirmed that the happy hour tacos are still just $1 each, but they are a little smaller in filling and have only one tortilla. So it’s not a straight up 65 cent discount for the same amount you’d get during regularly priced times. Still, it’s a bargain and they still come here often. As do I!
Oh hey, do you want to see some of the Christmas light photos? Sure you do.
Taqueria La Colmena
I think it’s official, la Colmena is our favorite taco joint in town. And we have a number of friends who agree.
Their tortillas are freshly made, and for $1.65 each, are the best deal on Milpas for the tortillas, the price, and the selection.
For comparison, this popular taco place has fresh tortillas, and comparable taco fillings, but costs twice as much. And overly popular with gringos queuing around the block still talking about how Julia loved the place.
And this other popular taco place is about the same price, and fast, but on factory made tortillas.
Another thing I really like about la Colmena is the salsa selection. Their condiments provide a good selection of complex flavors, like the creamy chile sauce, or the creamy tomatillo sauce, even the grilled pickled onions that I like to pair with their pico de gallo.
Today’s taco selection (shared with one other) is 2 rajas, 2 lengua, and 1 chicken mole taco de canasta.
The taco de canasta is only offered on weekends. The fillings are a little smaller, and they are lightly fried before serving, these cost just $1 each.
Rajas is excellent, as always. They fry the peppers and cheese together, resulting in the cheese being golden brown and lightly crisp at the edges. So good.
Lengua, it’s alright, but I prefer mine shredded. It’s not my favorite here.
As a garnish, a handful of roasted (or fried) spiced pumpkin seeds was included. Yum!
Taqueria La Colmena
This is a recently opened restaurant, taking over the space of a former nightclub. This makes for a surreal setting, as there’s a large stage with signs around it saying “dancing is NOT permitted” (and for real, the city does require a dance permit), and a large bar spanning the length of the space, but there’s no alcohol permitted either.
Awkwardness aside, this place was pretty awesome. Have a little patience for the long slog between the kitchen and the tables, and there are rewards a’plenty. First, the selection of condiments includes a creamy green sauce that the folks there are very quick to point out is *not* guacamole. It’s jalapeno aioli. Like, real aioli, not something stirred into existing mayonnaise and called aioli. It’s just jalapenos and oil whipped into a dense creamy emulsion. And it’s hot. Try it with the thick corn tortilla chips, which they fry themselves.
The tortillas are freshly made, and tacos sell for $1.99 each, or three for $5. The lengua is flavorful and super tender, cut in thick wide slices. We got asada, pastor and lengua as our tacos, and two sopes for $6, the masa base also made fresh to order.
My regret is not having enough stomach space for the caldo de res, a Mexican stew of chunky vegetables, beef and rich beef bone broth. There weren’t heaps of people dining when we were there for lunch, but half dozen who were there were only eating the caldo. I couldn’t even make eye-contact with them, they were heads down focused on eating their soup with wedges of lime and folded tortillas. I did have room, though, for some horchata.
It looks like the gooooooooooooooooal is for this place to be a sports bar, where folks can come in, have a beer (no beer or wine license at the time I visited, tho), watch the futbol, but it’s early days yet. They also close by 6 pm, so hit it up for lunch or brunch.
A friend passed along an enthusiastic heads up that Su Casa was now his favorite taqueria, thanks in part to new lower prices on their tacos. They’re now $1.50 each. Check out their big announcement!
Ok, so the poster may have been done by a nonprofessional poster-maker, and it’ll probably fall off the wall after a few days of variable weather due to the scotch tape going brittle, but the effort’s there. And yeah, I’m now aware of their new low prices, so the job’s effective enough. How were the tacos?
We got one each of lengua, asada, carnitas and adobada. They all came pre-loaded with cilantro and onion, and we could pour on whatever salsa we wanted. The original taco price was $2.50, which did make them a little pricey compared to many other taquerias in town. The new price puts them in the cheap eats range of competitiveness. The tortillas were factory made, which was fine for the price. The taste was satisfactory.
My friend who’s the Su Casa champion also has a gluten allergy, so I’ll also say this is a good option of gluten-free folks.
Always a winner at la Chapala. The menu’s way bigger now than when I first did my taqueria tour of Old town.
The prices are still fabulous, at $1.40 for tacos, $5 burritos and hurraches and so on. I’ve never ordered the plates, or gorditas, even burritos. I like the simple tacos too damn much. But I did go with a hurrache today and it was perfect.
The masa was dense, and held up to the pile of carnitas, beans, nopales, cheese and sour cream, while the bottom of the masa remained crisp the entire time I was eating. Ridiculously filling, too.
McMarko had two asada tacos, his meal was $1 cheaper, but I think I scored the better deal. Hurraches ftw.