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.
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.
Really, how could I drive through Avenal and not stop here? Even the guy working there recognized us.
It’s the annual roadtrip to Nevada!
The first leg is driving to Sacramento and pitstop at my brother’s. I used to drive via the bay area, but the last few years have been taking I-5, by cutting over around Hwy 41. Winding through the area, one city I pass is Avenal. Last year I finally stopped there for tacos and loved it. Now, it’s an expected stop to get some cheap tacos.
Ooooh, lovely $1.50 carnitas tacos.
We also stocked up tortillas, chiles and dried beef for camping. And we got a popcicle for the road, because that’s how we roll.
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!
Stop #4 on the block of businesses slated to close for a Fresh and Easy to move in.
I’d never been, and this place was the most pleasant surprise of all the restaurants. From outside, it looks like a standard Mexican hole-in-the-wall. There is so much design work on the windows it’s near impossible to see inside, and if you can’t read Spanish, you can’t tell what their specialty is.
At the back entrance is a sign that says, “Now serving Mexican food!” This cracks me up. Like, what, did they recently switch to Mexican after the Hungarian menu didn’t pan out? With a name like Mariscos Boca De Rio as it ever been anything but Mexican food? Some mysteries will be left unsolved. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the dining experience.
The woman at the order counter is ridiculously friendly and helpful. She’s also our waitress, bringing the food to the table. I do my usual hemming and hawing over menu options and she sends me in the direction of a mixed seafood plate. Fried fish, oyster, ceviche (she’s very upfront that it’s Krab, not crab), and mixed octopus and seafood is a garlic sauce. This, piled over sauteed vegetables and a scoop of potato salad. $11.99 serves 2, or add more for $7 per person.
We also got a crunchy carnitas taco for $1.50 and a soft rajas taco for $1.25.
This place serves great lunch specials. Ten different options of seafood or meat, with side dishes for $6. I’d like to come back for that sometime. Meanwhile, our big lunch for two cost $20 after tax and a couple bucks in the tip jar.
We asked the woman who helped us what was the latest on the building closure. She said the buyer now appears to be backing out, they are staying open!! The same should apply to the other business. Good for them! I wonder where F&E will try next, hopefully a place better suited for the location. I do like F&E but was very conflicted about them moving into a space already established with local businesses.
Mariscos Boca De Rio, I will be back!
Mariscos Boca de Rio
La Colmena is one of two new favorite taquerias of mine.
I first sampled their food when they were the taco caterers for a friend’s birthday party. While no taco truck, they showed up with a custom-made grill, and tables to serve up condiments and side dishes.
Their actual restaurant is a quirkly shape, situated on the street with roads on either side merging just behind it. So it’s on a little triangle. For SB oldies, it’s the former location of Cajun Kitchen and a Greek place (Pavlako’s?)
The simplicity of la Colmena is also evident in the food. You want tacos? They’ve got tacos, about a dozen different types, and that’s about it! And they are pretty darn good.
Again, tortillas are made fresh to order, so patience is advised, and rewarded.
Meat options are your standard: asada, pollo, adobada, lengua (lengua is chopped. I prefer slow-cooked and shredded), chorizo, and so on.
Best part of these tacos with freshly made tortillas? $1.50 each.
The salsa bar has a good variety on offer. The tacos come undressed, so the salsa bar offers cilantro and onion, lime, radishes, several tomato salsas and guacamole. A good range for those who want mild to hot.
They also have tacos de canasta. This might just be a weekend thing. These tacos have less filling, and are briefly cooked in oil. These cost $1 each and I enjoy the potato tacos the best.
Extra kudos: Mexican coke! No HFCS!
Finally…CASH ONLY!! It’s alright, it’s just a few dollars for a simple meal.
Taqueria La Colmena
Gone are the days that I can go to Romanti-Ezer for dinner on a weekday. Their evening hours are now limited to Drunk Times as this is the demographic that provides the most business.
But during the Christmas holidays, I can make it down here for a lunch during the weekday, so after our binge session at Samy’s Camera, we hit up the Oaxacan Mexican place for some fine food.
First, as always, a basket of tortilla chips topped with mole and oaxacan soft cheese. Delicious. Love their mole.
B got a carnitas taco. Not a very large lunch, but then again, he spent the most at Samy’s, maybe he was feeling poor.
To drink, horchata! I might not be fond of the chemical cherry, but Romanti-Ezer’s horchata is special because they used crushed ice and add minced cantaloupe and nuts.
This place is A-OK!
The food is good, there is a variety of taco options available, and specials like tamales with unique regional fillings. The price starts to add up when ordering multiple items, but this is the way to go.
I liked the chorizo (upper left), which seems to have a consistency more of firm sausage, than mushy lymph nodes and salivary glands that I see on the ingredients list of grocery store chorizo.
The simple salsa selection focused more on fresh flavors, I did not miss the onions and cilantro that come with other bog standard taquerias that make those tacos taste, unsurprisingly, like onions and cilantro.
Super Rica also seems to use roasted chiles often as the main ingredient in their tacos, which I like. Not everything need be piled with meat to be good and filling.
But man, is it gringo central. It doesn’t take much for the queue to go out the door, since the ordering stand is about two feet from the door, but you will be hard-pressed to find a Mexican or some other latino in that queue. More like soft pink office types, dinks and yuppies. “OMG, you *have* to try their food, Meghan, it is the BEST! Skylar and I come here after bikram yoga for couples. We should, like, do a playdate here, with our dogs.”
So, the ambiance is a fascinating observation of white people who feel they’re having an “authentic experience” delving into some hole-in-the-wall taqueria in the barrio, either oblivious to the fact that everyone else there is gringo, or still disgruntled at Julia for putting the word out there and “ruining it for everyone.” (see stuff white people like )
Hey man, it wasn’t just Julia, Alias did it, too! Mentioned in two seasons, baby!
Or it’s white people, doing what they do best: being inconvenienced by their greatest fear: inconvenience.
Standing outside in the queue, imho, is the best spot to observe the gringos in fine form. They rendezvous with visiting friends, holding a spot in the queue for 2-10 people that appear out of nowhere, groups arrive in their fancy cars and do a slooooooow drive by to gauge the queue, then send one surly youth out of the car to start queuing up early while they go park. Then you can watch that same BMW go round and round the block several times because there’s no parking in front of the eatery and heaven-forbid the car even leaves their sight in this part of town.
Later, that same surly youth that had to pre-queue is sent into the seating area to claim a table. Those poor children, don’t the parents care for their safety? I mean, gang turf wars might break out between the book clubs and knitting circles that loiter around there.
My visit, did it have all these components? Let’s see.
But regardless, here is MHO on why Super Rica is so popular.
The tortillas are made before your eyes. Lots of places do that now, but 10, 15 years ago, Super Rica forged that trail.
It’s very close to the freeway, and easy to spot with the green trim on the building and the line of folks out the door.
Finally, people can’t stop talking about it, either word of mouth of in publications.
4 stars for food. -1 to give the Milpas taqueria underdogs a chance.
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