Not a Tako, But a Taco

In a week in food on 08/01/2010 at 6:21 pm

We’re back from our vacation in San Diego, CA. Our only mission on this trip, food-wise, was to eat as many tacos as we could, ’cause everyone knows no good taco is to be had in NYC. If we had more time, we would have hunted down the trendy Korean taco, but we were craving the real deal.

We met up with our favorite Vietnamese clan and hit up Lucha Libre Taco Shop – good concept, okay tacos. The flavor of the meats don’t do a piledriver on you, and the tortillas are bland. They had a nice salsa bar though, six types ranging from mild to spicy, lite green to red to deep brown. There’s a place with the same name in the LES here, but I don’t believe it’s the same owner.

For dessert, we took a detour to a churro stand on a non-descript corner in a matter-of-fact part of town. I’d never eaten freshly made churros. Man, I think I ate the most awesome QQ churro that day. All others are ruined for me. If you’re ever in the ‘hood, check it out.

We neglected to read the taco truck reviews on yelp before we left Jersey. But the intrepid other half spied a serious fish taco truck on the corner of Orange Ave and Fairmount Ave on the way to picking me up from my class every day (I wasn’t really on vacation; in fact I felt like I’d been hit by a mental taco truck by week’s end). We raced to it and indeed it was beautious – Mariscos Lety. On top of that, it’s so much better when you think you found it before some bloghead.

It looked like a family-run operation. Two guys were digging a deep hole in the sidewalk patch of grass next to the garbage can while the mother looked after a little girl and chatted up the elderly Cantonese couple tending to their potted garden in front of their house. A man and woman in their 20s took my order and cooked it up. The weather was San Diego perfect – sunny but not hot. Arid as it could be.

We got the shrimp, fish and marlin taco. They gave us a free cup of savory seafood soup. I was too busy freaking out about the marlin to notice the fish and shrimp one, but the other half assures me they were also excellent. The marlin tasted like QQ stewed pork! I imagined a pig flying out of the ocean. We also had the octopus ceviche, since it was $5 compared to the $4 octopus taco. Big meaty discs of octopus accompanied in a bloody mary gazpacho came with fried corn tortillas. Break them apart to use as spoons. Bueno!

We were tempted to go back, but we were still in search of a good ol’ turf taco. The real oink oink kind, or its offal. While brunching at a yuppie place in in La Jolla, the Latino waiter recommended his favorite joint for chilaquiles. The same dish on this menu was not authentic, he warned. Not wanting to lose his job, he quickly said, But everything else is delicious!

I suppose we could have up and left right there and then, but the other half frowns on that type of dining etiquette. So we circled back to El Comal a couple days later. Be warned, the Google Maps location for the Broadway address is wrong! Go to the 3rd Ave address instead. We felt right at home with the blaring hip-hop outside while low-riders danced to the beat, though they were vintage cars, not black kids with their pants hanging around their ankles.

The chilaquiles are confirmed to be out of this world. Especially when you slather it in the refried beans in the cup, and lots of hot sauce. I couldn’t finish them though, ’cause I had scarfed up all the salsa y chips and ate a good bit of the tacos before I dug into them. As for the tacos, they were mediocre to good. But not as legit as the place in Milwaukee, WI with 99¢ tacos that only had Mexican laborers as customers. Ah, La Esperanza, tis a pity those were the pre-blog days. We should have taken photos.

P.S. Found something of interest to share with you in our goodie bag from the San Diego Comic-Con Intl. It’s a postcard-sized ad from a company that uses taco culture as metaphor for selling art. On the back, there is a list of tips on how to recognize a good taco joint:

1. A wandering dog is an omen of good meat quality. Dogs don’t eat dogs.

2. A fat taquero eats his own product.

3. A lot of product means good business (no fear of wasting any meat).

4. Lack of product, lack of confidence.

5. Very hot sauce means it’s made today, mild sauce means it’s diluted with water and probably made yesterday. It’s better to have a few fresh drops than rancid liters.

6. Familiarity is important with a Taquero, don’t trust a cold attitude. If he/she calls you “amigo”, “güerito” or “primo” then it’s all good.

7. Look for local made beverages, that means only one thing: Lots and recurring clientele.

8. If you see beef tacos with french fries and caramelized onions, stop and enjoy.

Tacos, we live to eat you another day.

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