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
Cesar’s is part of my Taqueria Tour of Milpas, and this is my second visit. Their front door sign says fish and chips and Mexican food, and it’s unfortunate that fish and chips are placed at the top of the placard, because one might assume that this is their specialty. Really, the popular items there are the seafood cocktails.
But since it’s up there on the big placard, we thought it was time to give them a try. We ordered the fish and chips, and also a milanesa torta.
The fish and chips was made up of a lot of chips, and the most interesting thin and wide pieces of breaded fish I’ve ever seen, practically covering all the chips. The large surface area made for a lot of crunch! I can’t say that this is among my favorites in town, but it’s also not the worst. It’s hard to go wrong with lots of fried breading, and I bet I would have liked this when I was much younger. But now, naw, I’m not crazy about such thin pieces of fish that they’re hardly noticeable. However, the dish also comes with a good portion of salad.
Also on order was the torta, and we picked the milanesa as our meat, but there are a handful of other filling options. We went with milanesa because we’d never tried it before. It seems that torta bread comes in two shapes, the long roll variety and the round roll variety. I happen to like the round roll more, and this is how Cesar’s does it – soft, but not doughy. Their torta includes normal sandwich fillings like lettuce, but also refried beans. It was oozy and yummy. The milanesa filling itself was tender spiced meat, pounded very thin. It reminded me of gyro meat. It cost about $6, making it one of the deals on the table.
On both visits there was a basket of complimentary chips and two kinds of salsa. I liked the tomatillo salsa more than the tomato. As we were paying, I saw them ladle out the tomato salsa from a big can, so maybe the commercially produced tomato salsa is why it’s not tops on my list.
Overall, I liked Cesar’s, although I wouldn’t consider it to be the best food on the street, and the competition is indeed fierce. What’s provided in exchange is an extensive menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it’s a very family friendly place with full table service, comfortable and ample seating, while most of the Mexican restaurants around Milpas are very casual hole-in-the-wall types. In fact, I don’t believe it’s possible to declare any one place as “the best.” There are favorites, and my favorites vary by what I’m looking for. At Cesar’s, it’s the seafood cocktails and tortas.
I used to eat here a few years ago, then I took a break. I came back here recently.
It was a-ok before and I still feel that way. Really, it was more my friends who adored the place, I was indifferent for the most part, and a little shocked at the gargantuan size of the burritos. Just two in a takeaway bag felt like a heavy sack of groceries. Not everyone wants to eat this much food.
On my most recent trip I sampled the chilaquiles and a carnitas taco.
The chilaquiles were not my favorite. There’s lots of fresh Mexican cheese, and the chile sauce is bold, but this seemed more like chile nachos. I know there’s a plethora of ways to do chilaquiles, but this one won’t be memorable to me compared to others in the area. It came with sides of rice and beans.
The taco was good. At first glance it’s the second most expensive taco of all the taquerias on Milpas, and there are lots of choose from. But, the filling is very generous, good tasting, and comes with two freshly made tortillas that have been ever so slightly fried, so they have a little crunch to them, yet they stand up to the fold and the filling. I like that.
The salsa selection is good, although the flavors are not too complex. I ordered a portion of chips to sample them, the chips are sold a la carte, $2.
Btw, I normally am not interested in tortas, but the ones here looked good. Did not try, however.
The main issue I have with el Bajio is the portions. The menu seems pricey, but it’s because the portions are big. Ounce for ounce, the price is fine, but aside from the tacos, there’s little choice for a portion other than a gutbuster.
Instead of every burrito being $9-10 behemoth, how about one half that size for $5? Having a broader selection of items under $10, especially for a place with plastic tables and styrofoam plates, would be great – just make the portion smaller.
The item that was perhaps too small? The containers to hold the salsa. You gotta break your chips in half to dunk or scoop. I took a photo!
More like 3.5, if I could give halves.
Cesar’s got diversity going for them. Breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, specializing in Mexican seafood, plus fish and chips.
Also, a spacious dining room and sturdy tables. It does not quite feel like a hole-in-the-wall.
A flat screen tv on either side of the room means you can watch Mexican wrestling and/or soap operas in any direction. Or, you have to watch Mexican wrestling and/or soap operas no matter where you look. This all depends on how much you like Mexican wrestling and/or soap operas. On this day, the guys in the masks were getting a pounding, and then the midget manager would get the last punch in from the third rung. Ouch!
Most of the clientele on a hot Saturday afternoon were a mixture of latino plus a few hipsters and everyone was ordering the seafood cocktail. I can take a hint.
Shrimp cocktail $10
Also ordered were chilequiles with green sauce and an adobada soft taco. The taco was about $2.50.
The taco was fine, with 2 factory-made tortillas, a pile of meat that was good to dish out between the two tortillas. They’ll add onions and cilantro to order.
I really enjoyed the chilequiles. There was a choice of red or green sauce, the red being hotter. And for the first time in my chilequile enlightenment, there was an option on how the two eggs should be done. Over-easy, please!
Chips with two salsas were complimentary, coming straight to the table with some glasses of water.
The prices were a smidgey higher than some of the cheap eats elsewhere on Milpas, but for this you get a less divey atmosphere and waitresses who won’t struggle with English as much as you’re struggling with Spanish.
This was a fun adventure down Milpas. The parking lot is shared with the batting cage business.
Tacos are in the $2-3 range and they make their own tortillas.
We ordered the chilequiles and posole, on a Saturday afternoon, and watched kids and adults swing away at the cages, some a bit more wildly than others.
The menu is large, with the full range of all the standard Mexican food stand fare, plus burgers and shaved ice.
You can order at the counter on the street-side, or the counter in the back where the tables are. Then, sit down and watch life swing by at the batting cages.
Sorry, no photos!
It started out innocently enough. Drew wanted a breakfast burrito. The problem was that our breakfast burrito place was not open on Sundays. I convinced him to go to Lilly’s.
There is nothing fancy about Lilly’s. It’s simply tacos, nothing more. A paltry $1.35 each, plus tax. And they come in a dizzying array of cow parts.
The atmosphere on a mellow Sunday mid-morning was that of a casual family brunch, eating tacos, watching the football. And by that I mean soccer.
Oooh, my three tacos, coming in at under $5. Asada, lengua, marinated pork. Or, asada, lengua, abodaba. We never did figure out who got what order. They all tasted good. But be warned, some of the salsas at the bar are hot.
It didn’t end there. This was just the beginning of a one day progressive meal downtown.
That’s my final remark on my taqueria tour of Old Town Goleta. La Chapala was the last place on my list, and I am FULL.
The majority of la Chapala Market is grocery/convenience store. There’s even a good meat department, for raw cuts, and carnitas and chicharones.
But I was there for the dining portion. It’s a very, and I mean VERY, basic counter for ordering hot foot, and half a dozen small tables for eating in and another eating counter along the front windows. Really, no frills.
If your Spanish is no bueno, that is okay, the cashiers can cope. But for the guys in the kitchen and who bring your plate to the counter, you might encounter a language barrier. Just hold onto your order stub and listen for your number, and pick up your food at the counter where the menu is displayed.
The menu is not complicated. An assortment of meats and vegetable, offered as burrito, taco, torta, hurrache, gordita. And a few combination plates and specials.
I got the birria hurrache for $4.99. Oh man, it was more generous than I expected, piled high with succulent goat meat. There was one bone in it, but it was obvious and I much prefer that to fine shards of bone I get at some other places that serve goat. This hurrache also was loaded with a cold marinated green vegetable, perhaps a sweet pepper. There was actually too much of it, and I picked some off.
I also ordered a carnitas taco, at $1.39, they are the cheapest tacos in Old Town. This deep fried pork had both the golden-brown deliciously of being fried and big tender chunks that make me feel la Chapala has been best carnitas of Old Town Hollister as well. Really good stuff.
Left: birria hurrache. Right: carnitas taco.
My lunch companion got the mole chicken, which came with refried beans and rice and tortillas. I sampled a bit and found the mole underwhelming compared to other places I like in Santa Barbara. It had a bitter burnt taste. I think that dish cost $6.99.
I spent just a smidge over $6 and I am ridiculously full. So full, I am feeling a little relieved that my taco tour is over. Time for a break.
But I know I’ll start reminiscing over the memories within a week. Adios!
La Chapala Market
I ordered two tacos from the cheapish menu, my friend got two tacos from the cheapish menu, and he also got a hortchata. $14. That’s not very hole-in-the-wall cheapish, and this is definitely not a linen service kind of place. Think taco stand with plastic tables that just happen to have a permanent roof overhead.
The cheapish menu offers simple beef, pork, or vegetable tacos, and are in the $2.80 range. Pay $5-7, and you get a more interesting meat concoction and *three* tortillas.
The lunch combo, which I did not get, is about $9.
The burrito options might be the better way to go, they are around $6 with a wide selection of meat fillings.
We felt underwhelmed. The salsa selection was slim pickings, although they did have whole roasted small chiles and I hadn’t seen that at other taquerieas in Old Town.
I got a taco chuleta and taco de rajas. My friend got two tacos bistek. They were fine, I’m here to tell the tale, but if given the option of places in Old Town Goleta, I would probably dine elsewhere.
Top, left: Menu. Right, salsa and chiles
Bottom, left: taco chuleta and taco de rajas. Right: tacos bistek x 2
Cash only. And for people who are religiously devoted to el Sitio, there are a whole bunch of others in town.
We made a collective decision to expand our Taqueria Tour beyond Old Town Hollister to encompass the general area of Old Town. This adds el Rincon Bohemio to the master list!
The building, if you can look at all beyond the main drag, stands out because the architecture does not remind you of Mexican restaurants. I don’t really know what the building reminds me of. An old dutch restaurant?
Wooden shake shingle on long sloping roofs that almost reach the ground, it seriously does not match with the run down 60s/70s look of Old Town Goleta. But that’s a quirk I kind of like about the place.
Inside is dark, cozy and inviting. Love the interior, actually. More than the food, unfortunately.
The food was A-OK. Nothing bad, but nothing uh-mazing either. Very starch-heavy. There is a menu of lunch specials, most in the range of $6.25 to $7.75, offering combinations of enchiladas, tamales, tacos, rice and beans. Meat offering was a simple beef or chicken. I ordered a cheese enchilada and a beef taco combo at $6.25, no rice and beans. Everything was sort of merged together on the plate. And about the plate – very hot! They’ll warn you about that, bless them.
Left, beef taco and cheese enchilada $6.25. Right, beef taco, tamale, R&B, $9.95.
Honestly, it’s a “safe bet.” The kind of place you can take your visiting midwest relatives to and they’ll feel like they ate some wildly exotic, but meanwhile your eyes are wandering across the street at the simple taqueria that offers $2.00 a la carte birria with piles of onions, cilantro and a healthy squeeze of lime.
Fountain drinks come in the biggest glasses I’ve ever seen. I shudder to think how much high fructose corn syrup is takes to fill that glass! Luckily, I’m a water gal.
Service was super nice and friendly. And they take the Axxess card – first visit is buy one get one free.
There is also a sister Rincon Bohemio further up the road, where Hollister transitions to State Street.
El Rincon Bohemio
I’ve eaten here before, but my dining companions hadn’t, and one had a hankering for spicy soup.
…and our split bowls were still huge. Between two of us, we consumed about 60% of the dish. $13.95.
Lots of complimentary chips and salsa sated us while waiting for our food. And yes, I will bet my gentlemen’s dollar that these chips are fried on site. ;)
Prices were a bit higher than the more simple taquerias in Old Town, averaging about $8 per person, but we also got waiter service, and better murals on the walls.
Other patrons were a mix of latino and gringo. The gringos, like the food, were also generously portioned.