- Must be local (within 4 milesish of our house).
- We’ll aim for consistency: 2-3 meat tacos, bean and cheese burrito, and whatever’s most recommended by the restaurant.
- Scoring: * (no) / ** (eh) / *** (pretty good!) / **** (fantastic)
(in order of most recent)
In Conclusion (20 taquerias in two months!)
Some thoughts and a caveat:
- Having a quest like this – a chance to eat and reflect, to try to get a little meaning out of the seemingly mundane – has been a good thing. Suggestions for future quests are welcomed. (No hamburgers, sorry. Dive bars, maybe? Hmm. I see you, 80s Bar.)
- We live in a very, very, very white city. Pomona is not that.
- Spending lots of time in Pomona makes non-whiteness normal.
- This is good.
- (There is less normalizing otherness to be found at C——-, folks.)
- (C——- rhymes with ‘Chipotle.’)
- There seems to be a built-in tax for eating at taquerias north of I-10.
- In related news, there seems to be worse food at the taquerias north of I-10.
- We originally planned to also eat at Guasalmex, but their menu is so emphatically Central American that it seemed unfair, so another time and context.
- We skipped Taqueria El Jefe and Patty’s Mexican as we’ve previously eaten at both and basically didn’t want to go back.
- I’m sure there’s some inconsistency in the food served at these taquerias (I’ve already experienced this myself, hi, La Tia). But keep in mind that I’m writing about specific experiences I had at these places; I’m sure I’ll go back and have new and lesser – or, better, better – experiences. All are different.
- You want standardization, there are other options. Such as C——-. Enjoy.
Most surprising newfound delight: tacos dorados de papas. (Fried potato tacos.)
Runner-up: the glorious Pampazo.
Second runner-up: the bean bar at Tijuana’s Tacos.
Best carne asada tacos: Taqueria El Patio.
Best al pastor tacos: Taqueria El Triunfo.
Best b&c burritos: Taqueria El Sol, La Tia, Juanita’s, Taqueria El Triunfo.
Best salsas: Taqueria El Triunfo.
Best deal: 60-cent taco Tuesdays at Taqueria la Oaxequeña de San Juan.
Best single thing: Juanita’s red chile, bean, and cheese burrito.
Most intriguing place to return to: Sabor Mexicano.
Place we’d never before heard of that you’re now most likely to find Sean & Vieve getting tacos on a weeknight: Taqueria El Triunfo.
(And . . . I’m full.)
The Last One! #20: Juanita’s Drive In (Pomona)
Ordered: b&c burrito ($3.20), carne asada taco ($2.45 each), potato taco ($2.10), and the recommended red chile burrito ($5.70). (No al pastor!)
Summary: So we fudged a little, and not only by eating so many b&c burritos (I’ll be scattin’ here all week!), but also by ending where this all began. Years ago, when we moved to the area, we tried out Juanita’s, just about the shackiest of all the taco shacks that, in this its original location, has been around over forty years. We had some okay tacos, went back every now and again, thought it was fine, solid, not bad . . . and then one day, I had the long overdue impulse to ask what they recommended. Said they: the red chile burrito. Hint, everyone: ask what they recommend, whoever they are, and then get it. Today’s red chile burrito? As good as the very first. ****+. That good. Handmade flour tortilla, well-salted robust refried beans, oozing orange cheese liquefied into a wondrous red chile goop, and enormous hunks of perfectly slow-cooked pork goodness . . . all topped, every bite topped, with a gutso dash of the uniquely delicious black peppery hot sauce. Does Juanita’s red chile burrito with beans and cheese lack structural integrity? Absolutely – eat it fast! Faster! Does it approach C——- prices? Sure. So what? Because is it the best burrito I’ve ever had? Yes. Yes it is, and that’s all that matters. The b&c (***) is the stripped down budget-friendly red chile – sometimes great, always good. The carne asada taco (**+) was flavorful with enormous hunks of steak, which it should be at that price, but Vieve thought the meat was a little fatty; and, last, the handmade corn tortillas were excellent, though, as was the immense potato taco (***).
#19: July 29: Mexicali Grill
Ordered: b&c burrito ($3.99) & four tacos: al pastor & carne asada ($1.35 each), and two dorados, barbacoa and pollo ($1.50 each).
Summary: Almost every single one of the taquerias we’ve gone to has been, clearly, family run. We’ve gone some days mid to late afternoon, and we walk into a more frequently than not non-air-conditioned space with a few tables, a fan screaming somewhere, with the requisite futbol or telenovela on a mounted TV, playing even more loudly than that fan. Maybe one or two tables are occupied – by an older Latino man, or by a couple, maybe the cook’s husband or wife, daughter or son. Someone, anyway, who isn’t in a hurry at all, which is quietly reassuring. We’re greeted by the man or woman behind the counter – the only person working – who smiles, ushers us in, offers suggestions as we consider the menu, and then nods, takes our order, tells us to pay after, cinches the apron and gets to grilling and ladling. There is something . . . immediate . . . about this whole experience. Not obviously profound, but softly so. When chain restaurants are compared to local restaurants – taquerias – it’s frequently because of their cold indifference, that bleached corporate sterility (which does get you AC and reliably clean bathrooms). But the people working in fast food chains have no skin in the game – they don’t care. They aren’t proud. You don’t matter to them – they don’t matter to you. Everyone playing a part in the scene is really just a messenger, and while food is changing hands, it’s soulless, and the real message is this: money, money, money, moving away from you and them both.
At taquerias? That’s not the case at all. It’s like you reading and me writing this blog – it’s human. It’s sincere. It’s meant well. I’m going to have a hard time stepping into a fast food restaurant after this project . . . not because I hate them (I don’t), but because there’s such an easily-to-be-had fuller and more sincere human experience to be found at any given taqueria. Even if it really is just buying tacos, it’s a lot more than that.
B&C (**): pasty beans (too long in pot), grilled tortilla, excellent roasted tomatillo salsa. Al pastor (?): um . . . pineapple? Carne asada (*+): the return of grill grease. Barbacoa dorado (**+): solid. Pollo dorado (***): solider. Sitting on an extremely hot day in an extremely hot taqueria while the TV plays and the cook half-eyes us as we eat, hoping for our approval but only a little, and, finally, smiling broadly when we smile back?
10 bucks. Well worth it.
#18: July 26: Taqueria el Patio
Ordered: b&c burrito ($4.50) & three tacos: al pastor ($1.50), carne asada ($1.50), and barbacoa ($1.75).
Summary: A local employer has a banner hanging from its new parking structure, Never Stop Believing*, which, I think, matches well with our summer quest. For a while during this taco tour we almost (always?) stopped believing . . . but bolstered by that limp banner telling us to never stop, stop we always almost never did. What did we always never almost stop believing in? The goodness of taquerias, of course! In our despair, did the higher forms of our belief reveal themselves via Yelp and burning bush? Google Maps and the whirlwind? Totally, bro. And the revelations continue: our latest belief stop, Taqueria el Patio, was never not good. The b&c burrito (**+) was on the salty/gummy side but had big flabor** and was an excellent salsa delivery system – both salsas being excellent, the red and green more spice than smoke or sweet. The leviathan-sized barbacoa house specialty taco (**+) reflected thought and attention; the al pastor (**+) was also strong, well-flavored, and, as with all the meats, had nicely large chunks with minimal fat . . . as was true for the divine carne asada (****), which was far and away the best we’ve yet had (even coming on the heels of our previous high). Not all was perfect – the sign claiming homemade tortillas is an out and out lie, and prices are a tad high (not to mention the unstated credit card charge) – but portions were generally huge, and the flavor and quality was, across the board, consistently good-to-excellent. Steve Perry himself would always never not stop believing in being proud of basically always not eating these tacos.
(*lol the slogan is actually Never Stop Achieving. Oops.)
(lolol: it’s *actually* Achieving Never Stops. Apparently being literate does.)
(**my now-favorite typo of the year)
#17: July 24: Taqueria la Oaxequeña de San Juan
Ordered: b&c burrito ($2.99? $3.99?), carne asada & al pastor taco ($.99 each), chicken sope ($2.99) and two tacos dorados de papas ($1.25? $1.75?).
Summary: As with today’s presidential polling numbers*, the prices are a little head-scratching at Taqueria la Oaxequeña de San Juan – there aren’t a lot listed for ala carte items, and the cashier rang us up with impressive blur, hence the question marks. That aside: going to this taqueria was a little like entering a Mexican carnival, at least in terms of all the colorful signs and menu options; traditional taqueria food? Check. Claw prize games? Check. Quesadillas with either huitlacoche or squash blossom? Check, check. Bionicos, raspados, licuados, and ice cream? Checketty-checketty-check. While we waited for our to-go order, they generously slapped together a snack for us, plate of chips, refried beans, and some sort of ranchero sauce that hints their chilaquiles, if you are indeed a good person and into chilaquiles, might be a treasure worth your stop. Our ordered food was hit and miss – which given our recent run is fantastic news! While the burrito (*) had our heaviest cheese-to-bean ratio yet, it was glumgum and the beans and tortilla were bland. The al pastor taco (*) was . . . strange, especially given the odd bit of slimalific onion, and the sope (*) – handmade – wasn’t something we’d get again. But, and wow, the fried potato tacos (***): they didn’t look like much, but the crackling texture, the white cheese, the tasty smoky red hot sauce (ignore the green) were welcomingly snappy . . . and the other taco might just have saved carne asada for us (***+), at least in the immediate area: sabor, sabor, sabor. Bonus fyi: 60-cent taco Tuesdays.
Overall: **+/****, possibly nudged slightly upward given our joy at tasting good taqueria food again. And: only four more to go in our quest. The end is nighish! Will there be an erudite yet amusing reflection at the end? You better believe there might be!
#15 & #16: July 21: Taqueria de Anda & Taqueria Santa Cruz
Ordered: b&c burrito, al pastor taco, carne asada taco . . . at each place. Cost, respectively: de Anda – $3.99, $1.45, $1.45; Santa Cruz – $3.49, $.99, $.99.
Summary: Our decision making skills are fuzzy. Clearly the heat is getting to us. And, too, the pressure of this valiant quest. So. Yeah. We just did that. Two places. Back to back. For lunch. The nice part is the ease of comparing/contrasting, like a nifty five-paragraph college essay (intro, taco, taco, burrito, conclusion). The bad part is . . . well, you can figure it out or not. So de Anda, the more highly-rated-on-Yelp of the twofer, was another in our ever-growing-list-of-places-I’d-pout-about-all-night-and-the-next-day-if-you-forced-me-to-eat-there. If they only served their amazing (and free) grilled onions, de Anda would be a force of strange taqueria goodness. But there’s more. While the burrito (*) did have a nicely flour-dusted tortilla, the beans were sludgy, the cheese a pre-shredded blend, and there were large flakes of what I think was dried guajillo mixed in . . . the husk of which is really, really weird to feel in your mouth while eating a b&c burro. The al pastor (**) was fine but too mushy, and the carne asada was just another disappointed shoulder-shrug (*+). Best of all? The strangely fermented red salsa. Which tasted fermented. Bubbly, almost. I mean worst. But then we went to Santa Cruz! Not the island, sigh, not the city, sigh, but the lower-Yelp-rated of these two taquerias (reminder to self: Yelp ratings are created by people. Not all people have the same taste as you, self. Most, in fact, don’t. So, self? Stop trusting Yelp so much). Santa Cruz was an improvement: the al pastor (**) had nice flavor, as did the carne asada (**), but the cuts of both were just fatty enough to keep them at meh-level. The tropicalish salsa – an intentional flavor-profile, happily – was good, too, and this burrito (*+) was huge and far less sludgy . . . but still a giant goop lacking sabor. In conclusion . . . do I recommend Taqueria de Anda? Uh, did you read what I wrote above? But what about Taqueria Santa Cruz? Well, I mean, if you forced me to go back, I’d be okay with that, I promise, I swear, I think?
Overall de Anda: */****
Overall Santa Cruz: **/****
#14: July 17: El Merendero (La Verne)
Ordered: Say it with me now – b&c burrito ($4.79!), al pastor & carne asada tacos ($1.99 each) . . . and, surprise, a carnitas taco, recommended (also $1.99).
Summary: Anyone out there? This will likely get buried as a vague update/mention on Facebook, which actually is fine – it’s more for me anyway? I guess? That said, a pic Vieve shared on FB of the bookcase we recently put up got *so* much love and attention! It’s crazy! I may start embedding bookcase pics in these updates. Or cat videos. Though not sure how the latter fits with burritos. Grossly? Cuddlily? Hard to say. Well, here’s our first and last La Verne outing – El Merendero (‘the rest stop’) is a pleasant place to eat, especially the outside patio, at least when you forget you’re paying 1.5x more for being north of I-10 and the requisite La Verne pickups aren’t wafting exhaust over your chips and salsa (which is nicely gratis and, as Vieve said, the best thing we ate aside from the grilled corn tortillas that the tacos came in). Quick rundown: those iceberg-lettuce covered tacos weren’t good (carnitas: * for that 2″x3″ wedge of pure fat; al pastor: * for not being al pastor; carne asada: **+ – not bad, actually – get this if you go here) . . . and the bean and cheese (*) was . . . well, you can see it below in all its disemboweled gummily oozing glory. (You have to admit: ‘cuddlily’ is pretty good. Right?)
#13: July 13: Taco’s Jalisco
Ordered: b&c burrito ($3.75) & 4 tacos – two al pastor, one carne asada, and, in a moment of madness, one pescado ($1.32 each).
Summary: so that fish taco (*) is not something we’ll hold against Taco’s Jalisco (which I’m pretty sure I’m spelling exactly as they spell it). It might have had fish? Bits of fish? Certainly fried bits of things. Moving on: the burrito (**-) was a squat little guy stuffed with nuclear-hot beans (temperature) and a *lot* of white cheese. Uh . . . gummy! Not too awful, but the two salsas – a sweet verde and a ‘spicy’ red (more sweet/trop spicy than tasty) – did nothing to distinguish the flavor of the indistinguishable ooze. The al pastor (*+) was a sort of sweetly shredded pile of pork that looked nice but lacked sabor as well, and the carne asada (**) tasted just like every other carne asada we’ve had of late: of beef grease and flattop. Would Taco’s Jalisco do in a pinch? Probably not my pinch, but hey, if you’re in need, let me know and I’ll see what I can do to help (just don’t ask this Donald Trump supporter: “Hey, I’m not paying for your shit, I’m not paying for your college, so you go to Hell, go to work, go to Hell, suck a dick.”
(& I know, I know, all these taco pics look the same. But putting aside your taco racism, they don’t! Look closely at the fish taco on the right. Ugh.)
#12: July 10: Taqueria Guadalupana
Ordered: b&c burrito ($6!!!!!) & 4 tacos, two each al pastor and carne asada ($1.10 each).
Summary: LOL a six-dollar bean and cheese burrito. It did not come with booze, nor were we at Jackrabbit Slim’s – surprisingly, though, Taqueria Guadalupana had *more* energy than JS’s, even without the jangling dance contest. Packed on a Sunday afternoon with couples, laborers, families (crammed into a fairly tiny l-shaped seating area), the vibe here was the most positive and, well, most vibrant of any of our stops thus far. The food? Sadly, eh (though the menudo, which we skipped, looked most popular). That platinum burrito (**) was a cheesy whole-bean mush with a faint chalky aftertaste, and the too-sweet verde salsa didn’t do much to improve it; the rotisseried al pastor (**+) was pretty solid and did come with a killer chipotle salsa; and the carne asada (**) was whatever, yet again, to the point that we’re wondering . . . is it even possible to make tasty carne asada on a flat-top? Without, you know, charcoal? Aka, char? (We grow more and more wary of you, taqueria carne asada. You’re on notice.) Our pace has slowed. It’s the doggiest days of summer. In minorly depressing news, the entire Mets roster is getting Tommy John surgery. In majorly, the world is simmering with anger and sorrow and fury. Sure, everyone needs more than good tacos, but good tacos might help at least a little. As the man sort of said, they are, after all, a small good thing.
Overall: **/**** (though very close to one * due to that insane burrito price)
#11: July 5: La Poblanita
Ordered: b&c burrito ($4.50) & two tacos – al pastor and carne asada ($1.85 each).
Summary: What do we have in common with Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors? A righteous quest undertaken in the sincere hopes that you can, actually, win them all. Um . . . you can’t. A year from now, the Dubs will not have completed a perfect 97-0 season. Sorry, everyone, but blemishes happen. Injuries. Malaise. Draymond hitting people in the nuts. And San Dimas, home to our own latest bazoink. Was it the Western-themed street signs? The way the owner/cook smirked at us (as incredulously as Lebron smirked at Steph post-rejection, game 5) when we asked for – gasp – all three salsas? The prices high as Matthew Dellavedova’s new contract? The counter-person who, when we asked what was recommended, said, “Nothing”? To the food: the carne asada (*) lacked any semblance of smoke or char, sort of like Andrew Bogut’s post-up game; the ‘al pastor’ (**) was chunks of stewed pork that actually tasted okay, thanks to its lazy immersion in achiote (Mo Buckets analogy there somewhere); those three salsas were better than you’d think but easily overlooked (aka bizarro Harrison Barnes) . . . and the b&c burrito was just as overpriced and sad as Patrick O’Bryant’s NBA career.
Overall: a Festus Ezeli free-throw shootin’ */****
#10: July 3: El Unico Pollo Taquero
Ordered: b&c burrito ($3.99) & four tacos – spicy chicken, chicken, al pastor, carne asada ($1.69 each).
Summary: We actually heard El Unico Pollo Taquero before we saw it or smelled its charbroiled chicken goodness. With an enormous speaker blaring Tejano jams streetward (while, feet away, a grillman attended to a sizzling spread of red-rubbed chicken), El Unico emanates vibe more than anything else, at least from a distance. As with Sabor, though, our quest constraints probably limited our dining experience; El Unico seems a chicken joint through and through, despite its traditional taqueria offerings. No surprise that the two chicken tacos had the most sabor (***), but the hard-to-differentiate al pastor and carne asada salt bombs just weren’t good (*), and the bean-and-cheese burrito (*) lacked structural integrity (encased in protective foil, it still ruptured!), relied a bit much on orange cheese, and tasted heavily and bizarrely (and predictably?) of charbroiled chicken. The relatively high price of the tacos was also a bit discouraging. Would we come back here if we were fans of grilled chicken plates? Absolutely! Or: maybe! (Are we such fans? Not really. And even if we were, to be honest? We’d probably hit up Dino’s instead.)
#9: June 30: LA TIA
Ordered: b&c burrito ($3.75), one carne asada/one al pastor taco in fresh *handmade* tortillas ($1.70 each), one papas y chorizo pampazo ($4.99).
Summary: Oh, pambazo. You fine, fine thing. I’m sorry it’s taken me nearly forty years to find you – but if Florentino and Fermina can wait decades to be together, then there’s a chance for us, too (never mind the enemas). Oh. Hi, other people. So: LA TIA’s pambazo, apparently a Texcoco-style concoction: think the Mexican version of a French dip: a telero roll’s interiors slathered in guajillo sauce, stuffed with your choice of filling, then griddled for a bit of firmness – but not so much you’d dare eat it with your hands. We went traditional chorizo-potato, and the inner bread was colerá orange from all the lovely lymph-node oozings . . . and it tasted pretty amazing, too (***). Sort of like soft, spongy nacho cheese Doritos which, from me, is a massive compliment. The tacos ($1 after three pm! in, sigh, store-brought tortillas, hence our 70-cent splurge for hecho en mano) weren’t great (**), save the lovingly crafted tortillas (see below); the asada and al pastor garnered limp shoulder shrugs. And the 4 choices of salsa split fifty-fifty (go with the chipotle & the verde), but hey, if you dine in, free chips! And, lede buried, the bean-and-cheese burrito (****) might be the best we’ve ever had. (Eat enough of these and you might end up as intimate as F&F after all.)
#8: June 28: Omana’s
Ordered: b&c burrito ($2.75) and four tacos ($1.25 each): adobada, carne asada, chile verde, chile colorado.
Summary: Omana’s is a nifty old taco stand – it reminds me of Pat’s Chili Dogs back home in Tucson, a local favorite where you walk up to the window, ordered a passel of grub, wait a couple minutes as aluminum spoons dip in and out of enormous pots of simmering chili or guisados, en route to filling in the blanks of this bun or that tortilla, then the counter-man says, Hey, food, and you lift the hefty bag toward your car. My problem with Pat’s was that their chili was thin and tomato-y, at least in memory . . . and the same goes with Omana’s, another spot we wanted to like (our first legit taco stand!) but which, for us, fell short. The b&c (*+) had an off flavor – beans too long in the pot? – and the two salsas, red and green, didn’t help (Vieve suggested they were canned, possibly Embasa). The tacos all looked a hot mess, but looks can be deceiving. We thought. The chile verde was serviceable (**); the adobada (*+) was a slightly distracting mix of soft stewed meat with several oddly crunchy bites. At least the tomato-y flavor made some sense with the adobada: but the tomato-rich carne asada (*) and the chile colorado (*) were disappointing efforts, the latter honestly calling to mind the flavor profile of a certain well-known canned pasta line. Maybe it was an off day for Omana’s? (Pat’s chili dogs, for what it’s worth, always tasted the same.)
#7: June 26: Taqueria el Triunfo
Ordered: b&c burrito ($3.62) and four tacos, two each al pastor and carne asada ($1.29 each).
Summary: As the man said, This is why we got into game. Let’s start low: the carne asada (**) was there and gone with little impression . . . but the salsas (one green, one pretty hot red) we were given to dress it and the rest of the food up were as good as any we’ve had to this point, if not hands down better. In the world of tacos and burritos? SALSA IS HUGE. The b&c burrito (***) was gargantuan, too (more in terms of actual size). And though it lacked integrity (which Vieve pointed out is what the foil is for; what do I know? I’m not from San Francisco, and I don’t put rice in burritos) . . . it was a great salsa delivery system. And, last: the al pastor tacos (****). Eesh. Eat them. Eat them. Eat them.
#6: June 24: Alex’s Tacos
Ordered: b&c burrito ($4?), two tacos dorados de birria ($1.69?), one taco carne asada & one taco al pastor ($1.10 each).
Summary: No, those question marks beside the prices don’t indicate inebriation. Well not much. Mostly just forgetfulness and a delay in posting (brought about, admittedly, by discovering – inventing? – a new drink this weekend: the Arnold Palomar. My lord. You can figure it out). Anyway: Alex’s was a place we really, really wanted to like – the food was gorgeous (esp. the tacos dorados, below), the salsa bar looked great, the al pastor was rotisserie-style. And then, well . . . it lacked flavor and seasoning, really. Everything, salsas included, could have used a bit more salt; the rotiserried al pastor was a bit too charred (also shown below; **+), the b&c was standard (**+), the carne asada wasn’t so great (*), and the beautiful tacos dorados de birria (**), while texturally wonderful, tasted like indifferently slow-cooked beef, lacking spice and, again, seasoning. (Quick note: there are reviews on Yelp that say this and other taquerias under review in this project are ‘ghetto.’ My thoughts on that: bullshit racism. Alex’s is in a tiny building in a residential neighborhood. Family homes all around it. People: ‘ghetto’ is a bullshit code word with a troubled and mostly forgotten history. Let’s not use it, maybe. Instead, I challenge and request that we use precise language. Let’s be honest about what we’re saying. Then, maybe, we won’t actually say it.)
Overall: **/**** . . . but if you want cheap al pastor tacos, this is a solid choice.
#5: June 22: Sabor Mexicano
Ordered: quesadilla de flor de calabaza ($7.25), carne asada and al pastor taco ($1.50 each), b&c burrito ($4).
Summary: sometimes sticking to a plan can be limiting, and it was this time, as our plan undercut the awesomeness of Sabor Mexicano, which has an enormous and varied menu (see photo!) with much autentico: tlayudas, memelas, enfrijoladas, huitlacoche, huaraches, tons of good looking seafood dishes, and a highly recommended black molé (which was good, complex, earthy-sweet-spicy . . . but, admission, I’m not a black molé guy. Maybe added to a vanilla milkshake?). So: while the b&c burrito – in a generic tortilla, stuffed to the gills, plenty of nicely melted cheese, good frijoles – wasn’t bad (**+), getting a b&c burrito here is the equivalent of going to Chengdu Taste and getting egg rolls. The carne asada taco (*) was . . . well, veryverychewy . . . but the al pastor (***) rocked, and both were HUGE, and the tortillas were made to order. But it’s the quesadilla that hints at the potential awesomeness of Sabor Mexicano: not only a made-to-order tortilla, fine cheese, peppers, onions, and squash blossom . . . but also braised epazote. Who serves epazote? These guys. (Next time, free from constraints, I’m all about the memelas and the tamale oaxaquena.)
Summary: handicapped **+/**** with great, great potential.
#4: June 19: Lily’s Tacos (Pomona)
Ordered: two chile verde tacos ($1.25 each), carne asada taco ($1.25), al pastor taco ($1.25), and bean-and-cheese burrito (no onions/cilantro, with hot salsa; $3.55).
Summary: deja vu all over again! Mostly. So son-of-Lily was behind the counter today and, we suspect, Lily herself made our food. The chile verde (**+) tacos were tasty , but the meat was again a little dry . . . and really, chile verde just doesn’t belong in tacos. (Chile verde rec: get the combo platter or maybe even nachos.) Continuing the structural issue, the pretty tasty bean-and-cheese burrito (**+) sprang an early leak and started breaking down far too early. Less beans might actually be a good thing here. And the other tacos: compared to the La Verne Lily’s, the carne asada (**) lacked the smoky goodness and was more minced than chunks . . . while on the other hand the al pastor (***) had much more sabor. And: a salsa bar! But, sigh, only the hot dark red salsa was any good. Also, one thing left out from the prior review but true to both Lily’s: they give you a little helping of bean-and-salsa topped chips with your order of tacos or burritos. It’s a nice little touch. Recommendation . . . probably nachos, half al pastor, half chile verde. It might just be awesome.
Overall: eerily familiar **+/****
#3: June 16: Lily’s Tacos (La Verne)
Ordered: the recommended chile verde combo ($6.95), carne asada taco ($1.25), al pastor taco ($1.25), bean-and-cheese burrito (no onions/cilantro, with hot salsa; $3.55).
Summary: solid! Lily’s used to be a nice little shack on Garey and La Verne, but apparently the landlord quintupled (!) the rent, so Lily’s Tacos both moved and multiplied: along with this location (run by two daughters-of-Lily; Lilettes?), there is another on south Garey (tbr), still run by the original Lily. Overall, we were a little split: the b&c burrito (**+) had great flavor, esp. with the added hot salsa . . . but the tortilla was a little subpar and the burrito lost structural integrity. The tacos (**+) were solid: both meats could have been a little better – some gristly/fatty bites, but great smoky flavors on each. The chile verde (***) was delicious . . . but again, the meat, this time on the dry side (cooked too hot, too fast?). Secret bonus: $2.55 breakfast burritos are darn good but don’t count toward overall review here. Negatory: no salsa bar. Recommendation to reach highest sabor ceiling: order the b&c burrito and see if they’ll dump a couple spoonfuls of the chile verde sauce. If they say yes? You’re welcome.
#2: June 12: Tijuana’s Tacos
Ordered: chicken taco ($1.79), taco loco ($2.89; carne asada, al pastor, chorizo, cheese, onion, cilantro, and guacamole sauce), taco el ingeniero ($2.89; carne asada, grilled onions, onion, cheese, and guacamole sauce), and bean-and-cheese burrito ($2.99).
Summary: um – bean bar?! Yes: right beside the (very good 6-choice salsa bar) is a freely accessible bean bar: charro beans stewing with chorizo and other spicy wonders. Amazing charro beans (****!) . . . much better, in fact, than the refried beans in the disappointing b&c burrito (*): not warm enough to’ve melted the shredded cheese, the tortilla ungrilled, it had a far too gummy consistency. The chicken taco was also eh (**), to the point we’re reconsidering even ordering chicken tacos anymore in our quest.
But enough negatives: this place swings for the proverbial taco fences with their special tacos: the El Ingeniero (***; left, below) was a little onion heavy but the carne asada/cheese and the grilled tortilla were great, while the 3x meatiness+cheese of the Loco (***+; foreground, below) was a spicy umeximami bomb. Another bonus: al pastor that’s legit rotisserie-style! Overall: excited to go back (crazy taco combos of high quality – highhigh sabor ceiling here) – and that bean bar!
Rating: thrilling ***+/****
#1: June 9: Taqueria El Sol
Ordered: chicken taco ($1.39), carne asada taco ($1.39), bean-and-cheese burrito ($3.99?), and recommended al pastor torta ($6.25).
Summary: whole pinto beans! Two salsas only (no salsa bar) – but both salsas delicious. Nothing was bad, and the general consistency of the meat was good – no gobs of fat – but the chicken earned a big shrug (**), the carne asada was a tad better (**+); the recommended al pastor torta was excellent (***) though would have been better, being a diced meat, inside a burrito. And the off-the-menu bean and cheese? The star of the meal: whole pinto beans (!), tons of good cheese, grilled tortilla, and those salsas. Overall: somewhat high sabor floor but a fairly sabor low ceiling. Good place to get a killer b&c burrito.
Rating: workmanlike **+/****