Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Las Palmeras

Once upon a time there was a seedy underbelly of Santa Barbara located on East Haley Street and the undoubted heart of that seediness was a little bar/nightclub/taqueria called Las Conchas, a place eerily reminiscent of any number of barren, unclean and generally unsafe bars you might find in that fine city of Tijuana. By day it was relatively low key, but by night it transformed into a bizarre scene of belligerent drunks, transvestite hookers and frequent visitation by law enforcement. I know what you're thinking, "Transvestite hookers in Santa Barbara? No way." Like I said: seedy underbelly. Every town has one (on a side note I used to live down the street from a married couple that had an S & M dungeon in their basement....seedy underbelly). That said, I only went to Las Conchas a couple times because the food was so-so and in its heyday I just so happened to be at a period in my life where I was making an effort to cut back on soliciting trannie hookers. In retrospect, probably a wise decision.

Well, Las Conchas is no more (maybe for 5 years now), and it has been replaced with a far more tame restaurant (s far as I can tell) called Las Palmeras that I just recently visited. First impressions are nice. It's still a barren, open space, the long bar remains and the floor is scattered with several tables. Menu is standard for Mexican fare, the usual tortas, burritos, chile verdes, etc. There was a guy in there eating a very nice looking pile of what looked like chile colorado but I played it safe with my usual order for trying out a new place, an asada burrito ($6.50 for the supreme). Fair price for a decent burro with asada, cheese, sour cream and cilantro and a couple very nice salsas, but nothing mind-blowing. I'll definitely check out other menu items next visit.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

El Taco Tequila Taqueria

El Taco Tequila Taqueria is a new joint in town on Cota Street sandwiched between the upscale snob swillery Blue Agave and the overhyped bayou drek of The Palace. It is the former location of the colossally overpriced and equally colossally tasteless Square One, and next door to that pseudo-French wank-fest Cafe Luck, formerly another French wank-fest Mousse Odile (ok, they had a nice filet mignon). What I'm driving at here is that this is a tough locale for a taco shop, and by taco shop, I mean that's the only food item they sell. Lily's can pull this off with permanent lines out the door selling eye tacos for a buck thirty at a location 10 feet from one of California's major freeways. If you stray 10 feet from El Taco you run smack dab into a boutique that specializes in selling $60 pairs of panties to rich white girls. Survival is possible, but difficult, no doubt.

The main obstacle is the proximity to State Street, which I generally avoid the same way I avoid gang bangs with AIDS infected Botswana hookers. The last taco shop on State Street, Chino's Rock and Tacos, went down in a very short lived and incredibly well-deserved pile of flaming shit for two primary reasons: 1. their tacos super-sucked and, 2. their shitty tacos were extraordinarily expensive. So to even have a prayer at survival, El Taco needs to find a decent price point for its high-rent digs, and also make sure the food tastes better than the bottom of my huaraches after a run through that park over by the beach where all the bums piss and shit.

Well, there's only one way to find out.

Deb and I went to check it out a few weeks ago and if you're wondering why I'm only getting around to writing about it now, it's because I got either busy or lazy, I can't remember which. As a disclaimer here, I took a snapshot of our meal (shown above) but am having trouble remembering 'exactly' what flavors we had, so I went to their website this afternoon to look at the menu again (it used to be posted online) only to find that they have the most bizarre restaurant website I've ever seen. The site mainly appears to be a computer generated bot-fest that somehow vaguely relates to the tequila part of their menu only. In other words, completely fucking useless unless I was interested in stupid gift ideas ("fun flasks for gifts!") or recipes for concocting some faggy cocktail with an umbrella and a straw. But no menu. Weird.

Anyways, I digress, as I often do when shit irritates me, which is often. Let's get down to it.

Pleasantly surprised, my first impression is I think these guys might have nailed it. Nicely decorated interior, and a very comfy bar (I'm a sucker for a good bar), small menu of gourmet-style tacos, order up at the counter and they bring it out to you. Tasty salsa selection. The taco prices were a reasonable $3.50 for a decent portion of some sort of standard meat, up to I think it was almost 7 bucks for the special of the day, alligator. Yes, they had an alligator taco. I'd pay 7 bones for that (but I didn't). We played it safe and ordered 3 tacos, I'd tell you what they were but we already covered why I can't. All the tacos had a little flare to them, and at the risk of being pretentious, the flare worked beautifully on all 3 specimen we ingested. A sprinkle of pumpkin seeds, a dusting of crumbled goat cheese...what this place reminds me of is someplace that we'd visit in Austin, another city with great, inexpensive and interesting food. These guys know they can't compete with Lily's, who are undisputed masters of the simple, cheap taco, so they've upped the ante a little bit with experimental flavors and it turns out superb. As difficult as it is for me to venture so perilously close to the gaping maw of State Street, we'll undoubtedly be back to El Taco Tequila Taqueria. I hope they can make a run of it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mexican Fresh - Fish Tacos

Since Santa Barbara is devoid of any daily printed news source worth reading, I'm an avid reader of the local news site, Edhat, which amongst the numerous daily postings about the daily gang stabbings and trouble with the annoying homeless fucks that have completely overtaken the town, people post up tidbits of local knowledge, often involving food. Well, there was a thread the other day where someone asked where to get the 'best fish tacos'. Ahhhhhh, now there's some news worth reading!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that my personal favorite fish taco, the always wonderful Palapa, was being mentioned more than anyplace else, but another name that came up a few times was Mexican Fresh on the Mesa. Interesting. Even more interesting was the revelation that they make their tacos out of fresh caught local fish. Now that sounds bueno.

I used to go to Mexican Fresh quite often, but it seems that a few years ago the food took a turn for the worse, not sure if the ownership changed or what. Hell, maybe it was just me losing my taste for it, but I've probably only been there a couple times in the last 8-10 years and I've never had their fish taco.

So I headed over on a hot Saturday afternoon to give it a try. Sure enough, the 'specials' chalkboard noted that the catch of the day was swordfish or salmon (I hear that they get their fish from The Santa Barbara Fish Market). Tacos are $3.45 for the salmon and $3.95 for the swordfish, perfectly acceptable prices, and available grilled or fried. I ordered up a grilled swordfish taco and a Pacifico and sat down on the patio to enjoy the always pleasant Mesa scenery of young City College coeds making their daily jaunt to Blender's or to the laundromat next door.

Taco was up a few minutes later. Very, very nice. A size-able portion of fish on top of a couple tortillas, piled high with a nice cabbage sauce and the excellent Mexican Fresh pico de gallo (they've always had excellent salsas). A less hungry reviewer may have remembered to take a photo, but alas, I dove right in and forgot. The swordfish was fresh and perfectly grilled, sprinkled with a bit of lime and a touch of salsa verde made it a truly really excellent taco for not a lot of coin. Better than Palapa? Maybe, but kind of a different animal so it's hard to compare. This is more of a Baja style 'pick up a quick taco' type while Palapa serves up a much larger (and more expensive) 'sit down and feast' type. Not really worth comparing, so I won't bother. They both rule.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

La Playa Azul Cafe

I can count the number of 'established' (meaning, been in business for more than two years) Mexican restaurants that I've never eaten at in this town on exactly one finger. Yet, after living less than one mile from La Playa Azul Cafe for most of the last 12 years, I finally went there today.

Was I avoiding it? Most certainly not. I'd always wanted to go, but for some reason never found the right opportunity. One has to realize that to get to Playa Azul, I have to first pass by El Buen Gusto, not an easy thing to do for me.

One reason I never went is that I never really knew anyone who'd been there. Sort of weird for a guy who hears about a lot of Mexican food. My girlfriend had been there a few times and liked it well enough, but certainly not well enough to force the issue.

But it was a hot and sunny 3rd of July Sunday, and with laziness being paramount, Deb suggested, "Let's go sit outside on the patio at Playa Azul."


"Bitchin' idea, baby."

And off we went, venturing into my last unknown Santa Barbara Mexican restaurant establishment.

First thoughts: Nice location and pleasant outside patio (reminds me of The Paradise Cafe). The inside sitting area was less appealing, sort of drab, like sitting inside someone's living room. But no matter, we were dedicated to a sunny day outside. A quick look at the clientele and decor gave me an insight to why no one had never pushed me to go here. I'm under 65 years old. Apparently, Playa Azul is where old white people go when they want to get crazy and branch out from soaking their dentures at The Marmalade Cafe.

The menu was fairly standard although a bit pricey. We opted to share a crab tostada (at 17 bucks) because it sounded good on a hot day and seemed like enough food for two.

Verdict: it was ok. There wasn't nearly enough crab meat, it was slathered in heaps of ranch dressing (way too much), garnished with a far too small dollop of guacamole and a completely unnecessary lump of sour cream (as if the ranch wasn't enough). There were practically no beans underneath it, and the 'tostada' part seemed about the size of a taco tortilla on a plate the size of a large pizza. Can't say I'd get it again, but maybe I'd go back to try something else, but probably not too soon. Maybe the next time I need to entertain geriatric relatives.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Favorite Meals - Part Two

Perfect carnitas is tough. It's got to be the right texture in the right places. A nice, light crisp on the edges, but not flaky or hardened up like a tortilla chip. Those darkened edges lead to varying degrees of moistness through the pile. A moderate degree of saltiness is in order as well, but not so much that you feel like running to the water cooler when you're done. I've had it many times at many places where it was served up as kind of a soggy mess...not good.

Luckily though, Santa Barbara is home to Palapa, who serve up carnitas incredibly well and they do it with an incredible consistency. It's nearly always top-notch and no doubt one of my favorite meals on the planet. It's so good that even though I've had it god-knows-how-many-times, I still find it hard to stray elsewhere on one of my favorite Mexican menus in town.

Coupled with a few Micheladas on the patio and one of the best chip-salsas in town as appetizers...Pure Bliss.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Favorite Meals - Part One

Take a close look at this photograph:

It represents a slice of heaven and, fittingly, is the inaugural "My Favorite Meal".

Before El Buen Gusto existed, before I'd ever eaten Super Cuca's, before breakfast burritos at The Cantina and dirty burritos at Tio Albertos, I fell in love with chilaquiles at The Rose Cafe, my favorite rendition of chilaquiles that I've had to this day. I don't want to spend too much time explaining how good it is, because I'd much rather that everyone who reads this heads down to the Rose on Haley, saddle up to the counter and order it up right now.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

VIVA! The Holy Tamale

To a lot of people, Fiesta is about standing in line at super shitty State Street bars to pay exhorbitant cover charges for the privilege to wait in another line to get an over-priced drink from an overworked and short of temper bartender. And while there are plenty of tramp-stamped sluts and twice the number of douchebags with bicep tribal tats, there ain't a taco in sight for these folks.

Cover charges, lines, douchebags and sluts? Fuck that!!

I'll take my Fiesta under the good graces of our lord and savior, Tamale, and that means the festivities at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on the east side of town. I eat tamales exactly once a year, and that is here, when the volunteers steam hand made chicken and pork tamales in gigantic vats of holy water (Deb says that's why they're so good). Actually, I'm lying when I say I only eat tamales once a year. I eat them enough so that every time I eat one that didn't come from the good graces of the church during Fiesta I can emphatically say how bad it is compared to the Holy Tamale. And this year was no exception. I visited the church 3 times during Fiesta this year and had the best tamales ever, again. Along with some brilliant carne asada tacos, flautas, carnitas tacos, enchiladas, churros, the best pozole on earth and last but not least, beer with no lines (hey, I was there early).

Until next year. VIVA!