Recently we went camping just north of Santa Barbara. Or … did we? Is this … camping?
Prior to our “””””camping””””” adventure, we did our due diligence and read what we could about the Santa Barbara taco scene, then made plans to go to either El Sitio or Super Cucas, two local taquerias each with a handful of outposts, both of whom frequently appear on various best-of Santa Barbara tacos lists.
We set out late on a Saturday morning after very light breakfasts. We had such a good plan that God probably did a spit-take: we intended to stop for lunch at The Jolly Oyster in Ventura. Mmm, oysters on the cool ocean beach. Clam chowder. Steamed clams. More oysters. Excellent. Traffic on the 210 was less than fantastic, and it took us two and a half hours to get to Ventura. Hunger had set. We pulled off the highway and were immediately caught in a beachward traffic jam … when we finally made it to the state park, the issue was clear: a taco/tequila festival, special parking passes required, closed to ordinary traffic. Irony of ironies.
So we mutteringly got back on the 101, headed north, and got hungier and hangrier as traffic snarled, we snarled, our stomachs snarled, until finally, pobrecitas, we passed through Santa Barbara and pulled off and stopped at El Sitio (Fairview location), where we ordered all the tacos we could.
We got the adobada, the rajas, the carnitas, the chile verde, and the calabacita. They were all good, if a touch onion-heavy, and the hot sauces were good, too. Do we remember which was our favorite? Nope. Would we go back? Sure, but we wouldn’t seek it out. (It’s no Taqueria La Princesa, and La Puente is much closer.) For further comparison, a couple months ago we ate at Lucky Penny in Santa Barbara’s absurdly named “Funk Zone” district–sounds um, smelly–and it’s far more likely we’d head back there, funk and all.
Post-tacos, “”””””””””camping””””””””” ensued. Highlights include trying to sleep amidst some great conversations all around us: the site on one side (pictured above) included a granddaughter expressing her grave concerns to her grandmother that grandma hadn’t had her shots that day … to which grandma responded by reassuring her she’d had plenty of Skrewball. This was followed by son-in-law telling his parents that his wife agreed that he could have Jennifer Lawrence as his hall pass–lucky you, Jen! The site on the other side of us had a very upset guy screaming at a friend for a good half hour about how his (upset guy’s) wife drives him so fucking crazy (lucky wife!), getting louder and louder to the point that campground security was called … and, well, Southern California beach camping ain’t exactly Big Sur, which is fine, not everything can or should be (besides: blots).
So first thing Sunday morning, we packed up to leave. For breakfast, we stopped at Super Cucas (Micheltorena location).
Famed for their burritos, we ordered from the breakfast burrito menu. I ordered the #17 Huevos Burrito, which sounded like huevos rancheros but in burrito form. Intriguing!
Not so intriguing. Super Cucas was solid, but we prefer El Sitio (and really Lucky Penny, and most of all leaving Santa Barbara beach camping to everyone else).
Thus ended our Santa Barbara trip.
A week later, we found ourselves feeling a little AC stir-crazy on a Saturday night, unsure what to do with ourselves. Happily, Vieve remembered that it was a 909 Night Market Pomona weekend, and as we’re close to the Fairplex, we walked over a bit before sundown. (Note: don’t drive south on White during Night Market nights. They shut the southbound lanes down and traffic comes to a complete stop. Note 2: the Pomona Night Market was SLAMMED. It was thick with people and smoke and food and drinks and heat and humidity. The few tables were so busy most everyone was eating standing up in whatever spot they could fined. Enjoyable, overwhelming, happy to be there, happy to leave.) We wandered up and down the vendors, wondering if we’d get tacos or just head home, and duh of course we got tacos, settling on two places. The first was Tacos Los Cholos (proclaimed by The Infatuation as “OC taco royalty”).
Aside from serving not only the usual tacos, mulitas, and burritos fare and also papas locas (heaps of taco meat and cheese and salsa poured over a baked-grilled-smashed russet potato), Tacos Los Cholos has a unique concept: they separate their meats into three categories: regular (e.g. adobada, asada), prime (arrachera, cecina, costilla), and premium (ribeye). We ordered two regular + two prime with all the fixins … and these tacos were amazing. The meats, especially the arrachera, were savory, spiced, tender, fully charred-tasting without being charred. If you are a beef-forward taco lover, I can’t think of a better place with more variety than Tacos Los Cholos.
Our second choice was Asadero Chikali, an East Los flour tortilla northern Baja-styled taqueria that frequently pops up at Pomona-area breweries and was recommended by a colleague months ago.
We were most excited to try their guisado tacos. They only had two available, the desebrada and the carne con chile. I love desebrada–La Palma makes a mean one. This was better.
When we saw on instagram a couple days later they were at a brewery less than a half mile away, we thought, Why not try more of their tacos? So we headed over. We won’t name the brewery because we don’t like it or its vibe, but wow, it was even busier than the Night Market. This was 7:30 on a Thursday night in La Verne/Pomona and there were over two hundred people there. We’d hoped to duck in, grab tacos and go, but the wait was half an hour, so we got a beer and waited until the tacos came: chicharron, bistec, barbacoa, papa con chorizo, and maybe the al pastor?
These weren’t as shockingly delicious as the desebrada, and the setting wasn’t nearly as enjoyable (there’s something magical about eating tacos standing up), but we’ll be keeping our eyes open to see when they’re next in the area. And that ends our recent taco adventures: busy with tacos,but far busier with people, for worse and for better, as all we people tend to be.