Sunday, November 1, 2009

La Super Rica

I hadn't entertained the thought of letting anyone else use this blog as a forum for opinions on the food in this town, not because I don't care what anyone else thinks, but because....well, actually it is because I don't care what anyone else thinks. But Micah cleaned out his bank account, hobbled over to Super Rica the other day, and since I can't afford to go there, I asked him to write a guest review of America's most famous taqueria, a place that I once read about as "one of the top ten restaurants in America" (some USA Today article from ten years ago, as I recall), which I always though was funny because it'd end up at the latter half of my top 10 restaurants on friggin Milpas Street. Anyways, here's Micah:

Everyone’s heard of La Super Rica. Fucking everyone. A common tale in the world of food, the taqueria’s rise to fame can be traced back to one enthusiastic review. Now, I’m a chef, and I have nothing but respect for Julia Childs. Her impact on the culinary world was profound. Shit, she’s like the Jack Lalane of cooking for millions of housewives (except she’d argue that sugar is a gift from heaven where Jack seems to think its the devil’s spawn). Her knowledge and ability in the realms of French cuisine were world class. Period. However, it kills me to see her, and to be honest any chef’s, review be the end all for things culinary. C’mon, would you choose an opera based on Snoop Dog’s review? Well, for all I know he’s an expert, but you get the point. Yes, La Super Rica is a choice place to eat. I’d rather eat there every day for the rest of my life than endure another meal at other tourist traps like Longboards or the ever changing shit-hole at Hendry’s Beach, but the never ending line out the door at the house with the aqua marine trim is sort of ridiculous.

Bridget and I are smart. We show up during the lull between late afternoon snackers and dinner rush hour traffic. Right around 5 pm on a Thursday there was, believe it or not, no line at the “worlds greatest taqueria”. We’ve got the flavor lust. That insane craving from deep inside that calls out for spice and grease. Possibly the symptom of some parasite contracted long ago with a corn and pork fetish, the cure is simple - mexican food - and our choice to treat the ailment with a solid dose of La Super Rica is not much different than requesting the name brand from a pharmacist. It was going to be more money for, well, the same thing. Now, I know what you’re thinking. What kind of stingy asshole complains about the prices at a place where many of the menu items cost less than a beer and there’s a small mexican women making tortillas by hand right behind the counter? Well this asshole; who somehow managed to spend $40 bucks on dinner for two (Actually, I didn’t have any cash, so Bridget picked up the tab - another authentic touch).

Fine fine fine. We did order 6 items and two Modelos, but this quantity is sort of necessary if one is to satiate any true craving at a place that serves most of their dishes on a postage stamp sized plate. Yes people, all those $2.75 tacos aren’t very big and there ain’t much meat falling off the sides of those homemade tortillas. I figure a Cucas burrito weighs about 15 times as much as a taco from La Super Rica, and c’mon, how often are you hungry for just a little mexican food? The larger (like 5:1 Cucas ratio) more expensive dishes like they’re specials can be as much as $7.95. That’s how much we pay for the chicken enchiladas, and I’m pretty sure that veggie tamale they’re always pimping is close to that as well, and although tasty, it’s smaller.

The food arrives and we get to work. The classics which I’d recommend to anyone; the Super Rica Special (marinated pork, peppers, cheese over tortillas) and the Pasillas with Cheese (think bubbling mass of sticky spicy goodness) are fantastic as always. The rest of the dishes taste mediocre compared to many of their competitors. Bridget ordered what is more or less the Super Rica Special with steak instead of pork. The dry meat is devoid of flavor, something that simply won’t do. The chicken enchiladas are ok - a good choice for the kids maybe. No spice in that red sauce. Fantasies of Altamarino’s mole enchiladas float through my head as I attempt to solve the situation with additional salsa roja. Its rare that chorizo fails to hit the mark, but like the steak it’s dry and uninteresting. Served alone on a tortilla, I’m anything but inspired by the taco I paid almost 3 dollars for. Lilly’s is already stealing some of the tourist traffic with all the rave reviews they continue to get from local food “authorities” like the Independent, and this dish is a good example of why. And finally, the gordita. Simply put - WTF? I’ve always loved La Super Rica beans. When you order beans at this place they’re served in a marvelous broth filled with bacon and herbs. Its simple brilliance. So I figure those same beans would be nice mashed up inside a tortilla pocket. Unfortunately something terrible happens in the process. The one small gordita’s insides have the texture of old oatmeal and somehow the mash has lost all remnants of bean flavor. This glorified tortilla also cost almost 3 dollars.

I know. I’m being a little hard on poor La Super Rica. Those poor people slaving back there all day while the glutinous gringo bitches about their authentic expression of mexican heritage. You know what? Fuck that. That line out the door is paying way more than the rent and the cost of inexpensive meat. Someone’s making some money here, I promise. And while I’m on a tirade, I’d like to point out something else. That very friendly older gentlemen that’s always working the the cash register - he speaks perfect fucking english! Yeah, no need to fumble through your order attempting to squeeze meaning out of those handful of words you’ve held onto since high school. Look behind you moron. There’s a line out the door! Besides, this practice is fairly similar to addressing a high school student like they’re in pre school. “Oh thats a good little calculus student... lemme help you with that baba.” If you can actually speak Spanish and it gets you off to order in, what may be, the fine gentlemen’s native tongue, have at it! Romanticize the shit out of him. If not, show the guy some fucking respect and use a language that you both understand. Speaking of which, I wonder how Julia Childs placed her order on that fateful day. I have this feeling she stuck to the King’s English ripe with joyous cackles. However, I may have paid extra to hear her order in Spanglish. “Me llamo Julia. Me encanto comida mexican. Yo tango number seven....”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Los Gallos

Los Gallos has been around a while, but since it's up on Mission and De La Vina next to the Daily Grind, an area of town I pretty much never go to....well.....I pretty much never go here. It also represents a style of Mexican food that I not-so-lovingly refer to as 'Fresh Mex". It's a standard type of fare, the kind of food that those shitty Mexican chain restaurants (Baja Fresh, Chipotle, Rubio's) rip off from decent local joints like this one. That said, I don't think I've ever seen a person of Hispanic descent eating here. Deb absolutely loves it. That right there tells you a lot of what you need to know about the food.

Speaking of Deb, she ate here a couple days ago and was stark raving mad over the veggie burrito she had. I didn't even get to have a bite of it, so I can't tell you if she was on crack or not, but it had mushrooms in it, so I probably would've hated it. Anyways, I was coming through this part of town tonight I decided to stop by and check it out again, since it's probably been a year since I've been here.

Stepped inside, looked around at a scattering of white people eating at the tables (BTW there is a fantastic "Mexican streetcorner" mural on one wall), ordered up a chicken burrito ($7.95 - and NOT a super) and then hit the salsa bar, which is fairly extensive and excellent (including an avocado/tomatillo salsa that's outstanding). I remember back when this place opened up they used to charge you for tortilla chips if you ate inside...always thought that was lame. I don't know if they still charge for chips on dine-in, but now they only give you two cups for salsa and charge you for extras. Also lame. If salsa theft is a big deal, then do what El Buen Gusto does and put the cups behind the counter: you get two with your meal, but you can ask for more...only gratis.

The burrito was good. The grilled chicken was very nice. But there wasn't a lot of action in the filling (for a definitive definition of what action is in a burrito, go to fucking Cuca's). Basically it was fresh Mex, so you already know what it tasted like. We shared and Deb absolutely loved it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chiripita, Take Dos

I walked down the street towards El Buen Gusto this evening but made a left on Spring Street and quietly snuck behind the laundromat on my way towards De La Guerra. Such is my love for the almighty El Buen, that yes, I do feel a tad bit guilty when I stray elsewhere. But on a street chock full of fine Mexican grub, I feel a little bit like Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion in the 70s....there's a lot of good stuff in the near vicinity, so best not settle down to one thing.

The destination of this evening's feast was Super Taqueria La Chiripita, which I'd only eaten at once (a few months ago). On that visit they didn't give me what I ordered, which was irritating, but I remember being quite pleased with their verde sauce. The general opinion was that, if it survived at all, it'd have potential. Well, it's still here, and upon perusing the expansive menu for a second time, I think I might've found the cheapest taqueria around. I don't know of anywhere else in town that you can get a super burrito for $4.95. That's what the menu says....a super burrito....meat, sour cream, guacamole, the works.....for $4.95. I had to check this out.

I had them roll me up a super burrito asada, packed up some salsa verde and headed home. The verdict is that it's a good, not great, burrito. Everything was neatly put together and the ingredients for the most part were tasty, but the meat was lacking in quality, lots of not so great bits that went straight into the waiting mouth of Tuco, a decidely less discriminating eater than I. A super burrito at El Buen Gusto runs $7.95, pretty sure it's the same at Super Cuca's, but I don't look at the prices because it doesn't matter. It's a bargain at any price because those are the finest burritos on the planet. The meat is nearly always top-notch and very rarely do I go away disappointed (although yes, it has happened).

So on the one hand I was pretty ecstatic about how cheap this burrito is, as I'm always out for a bargain, but on the other hand I'm brought back down to earth when the 'meat' of the matter isn't so great. But hell, I'll be going here again no doubt and I'll filter through the meat choices until I find one that suits me.

Maybe it'll be the tripitas.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Depth Fried

A few months ago I had a chimichanga at Los Agaves and made a noted mention that I would have to go back to Chilango's and see if their chimi is as good as it used to be. Chilango's used to be a regular feasting locale for our gang back in the 90s, generally as a post climbing or pre-debauchery meal, and they had what was by far the best chimichanga in town. For whatever reason, mainly because I got older and began to avoid State Street as if it was festering night and day with flesh craving zombies, I stopped going to Chilango's and have probably only been there 2 or 3 times in the last 8 years.

But today Deb and I found ourselves downtown for a Sunday afternoon movie. Hungry. Walking past Chilango's.
And we went in.

Chilango's was always a typical taqueria.......this is no longer the case. I'm not sure when they re-did the decor, or more importantly, why, but somebody was on a little too much peyote dust when they decided that what a Mexican taqueria on State Street needs is to have a little bit more of a 'modern' look. It's like someone opened up Architectural Digest and found one of those glass houses with the Jiffy Lube roll-up doors, looked at the interior photos of weird art, odd chairs and tables and said, "Now that's the kind of shit that makes me hungry for fat burritos." With a little 'stacked firewood' wall art motif thrown in (yes, firewood....?????). And some unfinished plywood seats. The place looks straight up fucking weird. Basically somebody had their head up their ass when the re-model decision was made. A smart man would've taken a picture to illustrate my point. Also, the once grand salsa bar that took up a good portion of the south wall was now relegated to a tiny table in the corner, so tiny I almost missed it.

All of this got me frightened right away, cause I'm figuring, "Ok, some complete fucking tosser bought this place and turned it into a wank-fest."

Well, enough about how ridiculous the place looks inside....we ordered a chicken chimichanga to share. At $8.95 - completely reasonable, and only $1 more than my breakfast at El Bajio on Friday (the worst breakfast burrito I've ever been served, you'll here plenty about that at a later posting). Figuring that since the food might have taken a turn for the worst, I'd cut my losses and ordered a Dos Equis FIVE bones. Not $4.50 or $4.75. But $5.00. I can't remember the last time I paid that much for a beer that wasn't at a concert venue or the ballpark...but I guess this is State Street and they try to rook the late night drunks, thereby screwing the daytime patrons. Another reason I rarely set foot downtown anymore.

Back to the chimichanga. It came out looking pretty close to the same as it used to, complete with the black plastic plates that I remember, a beautiful crisply fried burrito split down the middle with big dollops of sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo placed next to it. Holy shit it was good. The chimi at Los Agaves (everyone's new favorite restaurant in SB, Mexican or otherwise) is pretty good, but Chilango's doesn't have a damn thing to worry about, they are still the absolute KING of this dish until someone can prove otherwise (to me at least). The thing is, I can't even pin down one thing that makes it so much better than others. There's something delightful about their chicken for sure....however I don't think the regular chicken burritos are anything super special. There's also something about the tortilla, but once again, I've had their non-fried burrito's and while they're good, I'm not writing new Psalms in their favor. So maybe it's the oil they fry it in...or how long...?? I don't know, and I don't particularly care. You can't imagine how happy I was that with the absurdity of the decor, the ingredients for greatness hadn't changed.

I'll be back. And sooner next time. But I might try to get away with BYOB.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood...

Hola neighbor!

When I picked up my senorita numero uno from work this evening, we asked ourselves, "Where should we eat on this fine summer evening?"
Funny enough, she replied, "Let's stay in the neighborhood."

Me, well I like to be a good neighbor! And El Buen Gusto has liked me as a good neighbor for the better part of 11 years.

So we feasted on one of the finest super burrito
asada's I've ever had, along with an equally delicious chicken tostada....the tostadas at El Buen being the best bargain in the joint, beating out the super nachos by a hair. amigos out there will no doubt relish this evening's discovery that El Buen Gusto has started to stock what fine beer??????, no, no.....not Olympia my friends....but pretty damn close.....
......Pabst Blue Ribbon in bottles.

Now, I know what you're thinking......."Hold on there partner, now does that make this a hipster joint now?"....."Should I start putting on skin tight jeans and ride my bright pink fixed gear bicycle with short handlebars to lunch from now on?"....

I think not.

El Buen Gusto is still the same neighborhood taqueria it always was (although a bit pricier than the old days). I remember the days of sitting out on the back porch with Manny, Brainard, a bunch of Mexicans, and Ratso, while the owner of El Buen passed the tequila bottle around on late summer evening burrito fests. And those great times during the World Cup 1998 in France when the owner would open the joint up at 6am and we'd all crawl out of bed at our house and head straight across the street to watch the games live for a few hours, drinking beer and eating Huevos ala Mexicana in the early morning. We didn't have much World Cup action in 2002 (the Japan time delay was a killer), or even 2006 (I ended up watching most of the games in Los Angeles), but mi amigo still passes the tequila bottle around some evenings on the back porch if you're lucky enough to hit the right night.

He know's what it's like to be a good neighbor.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Laguna Deli

Over the last couple months I’ve had at least 3 people tell me about the food at the Laguna Deli (512 Laguna Street). It sems like word of mouth is turning this joint into one of those places where, “You’ve got to check it out”.

Well today I finally did, and I’m here to tell you it was damn good.

I got there early (meaning before every trades-person in the Haley/Gutierrez world had descended upon their counter at noon) and there was only a short line for food at the back of the store. The menu is short and simple, tacos (in 2 sizes) and plates, most of the normal meats, and a breakfast burrito that I am very excited to try next week. I ended up getting 4 tacos (2 carnitas, 1 adobada, and 1 asada). They were $1.25….and delicious. The carnitas was the best, moist but not too moist and quality meat. The asada was good too. I liked the adobada least, which is unfortunate because when it’s done right it’s by far my favorite meat-style (for absolutely great adobada check out Lily’s Tacos and Mayo’s Taqueria).
Huge thumbs up after this visit and I’ll write more after I get a breakfast burro next week.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Light my Fire

It’s been over ten years now that I’ve been going to El Buen Gusto almost religiously and as of today, they finally have a nice lighted sign out front. Anyone who’s driven by prior to this day probably recognized El Buen by their shabby scraped up sign which was covered in chicken wire and dark when the sun went down. Tonight, though, they put a couple fresh lightbulbs in and unveiled a nicely lit moniker for Santa Barbara’s finest taqueria.

And me & Deb split a super chicken burrito and a couple of tacos al pastor.
It was better than anything you ate tonight. Trust me.

Viva El Buen Gusto!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Los Agaves

This place is batting a thousand for me right now and tonight was another grand slam with both me and Deb glowingly raving about our meals. She got the Chiles Norteno and I got a chicken chimichanga. The chiles norteno was off the charts outstanding, green chiles stuffed with cheese, shrimp and Buddha knows what else. The chimi was excellent as well, although not quite the best I’ve had, which reminds me that I need to head back to Chilango’s one of these days to see if the best chimi is still there. Because the way Los Agaves is going, they might own the Best category in lots of items before too long.

If you haven’t gotten the point yet, your new favorite Santa Barbara restaurant is Los Agaves.
Go there.
Tell me I’m wrong. I dare you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Super Taqueria La Chiripita

This is the newest place in town, located in the old ChiliTown/Doghouse/etc./etc./etc. building at the corner of De La Guerra and Milpas. They just opened up a few days ago, although their sign next to the register says “since 1980” and the sign above the building says “since 1985”. I guess either of those, although an outright falsehood, is better than “since yesterday”. Either way, I was excited, as usual whenever a new place opens up, especially when it’s the 3rd closest Taqueria to my house…easy walking distance makes me happy.

They’ve got a huge menu, and a huge staff. I was standing outside ordering at the counter and saw no less than 7 people scurrying around in the kitchen .(including a cashier poached from El Buen Gusto and a cook poached from the Rose on Haley....if you're gonna poach, do it from the best). Keeping this many people on the payroll is frightening if you’re at all business minded and my first thought was that no matter how good the food is, this place is not long for Milpas. For example, on the busiest nights at the almighty Rose Café on Haley ( a restaurant that has been there since the 50s) they have a staff of 5 at the most, and one of those is usually sitting in the corner watching everyone else work.

Regardless, I ordered up a ‘burrito ranchero” with chicken, because it sounded good. And when I got it, after far, far too long of a wait for a kitchen with 7 people in it, it was decent. Decent is all. It also wasn’t chicken, it was asada, which is not what I ordered. So that pissed me off, but I couldn’t take it back, because I was already home, had already opened a beer, and wasn’t going to go back and complain about a meat mistake. But the ranchero sauce was verde, and in my world, verde sauce doesn’t go with beef, so the dish would’ve been better with the chicken that I had fucking asked for in the first place. That said, I was longing for chicken even more, because the sauce was quite excellent.

I can’t recommend anyone rush out to this place yet, but I’ll let you know what the next couple times are like. And hopefully I’ll get what I ordered.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

El Pollo Norteno

Sometimes you just want to eat food that you know is not good for you.

Now a burrito from Cuca’s might not be the best thing for the human body, but I guarantee that a half-chicken from El Pollo Norteno (336 N. Milpas) is worse.

But it tastes good. Real good. Even when it tastes bad for you. The only reason I don’t eat here more often is because I usually prefer pork or beef, in their various forms with my Mexican grub, nothing really, other than personally preference.

I don't know what they marinate it in, but always when I eat here, I’m like, this chicken is fuckin’ good.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Los Lonely Boy

It was a little odd tonight because everyone out surfing with me after work followed me to The Rose Café on Haley. That’s right, they all came. All none of them. While 658 guys fought for scraps at perfect Rincon, I surfed 2 hours of chest to overhead waves at a clean peeling beachbreak less than two miles down the road with no one else in the water (actually, that’s a lie, there was ONE other guy for a while).

So of course afterwards I was hungry and picked up Deb when she got off work. As often happens, we ended up at The Rose. Now The Rose Café is like the Rincon of Santa Barbara Mexican food. It is truly world class, except that unlike Rincon, tonight there wasn’t anybody at all relishing in her glory. We sat down, ordered, got our food in about ten minutes, paid and tipped ‘em good for the slow night, then headed home. Meanwhile over at The Sojourner Café, which is world class at absolutely nothing , there was a wait to get a table. Are you kidding me? What the fuck is wrong with people? But hey, I’m not complaining.

But shabby surf metaphors aside, I had the Red Chile, which is pork cooked ranchero style. I don’t often get this, and yet again, I wonder why. It was off the charts tasty. Deb had an enchilada/relleno combo, equally as good.

Maybe tomorrow we’ll trade. Everyone who was at Rincon can go to where I was surfing, and I’ll have my way at head high Rincon alone. Then I’ll hit the Soj and they can swamp The Rose.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Best in Show

There are a very small number of places that can be considered as having the best burrito in town. My vote always lies between Super Cuca’s (the one on Micheltorena) and El Buen Gusto. But it’s hard to compare the two because they are so different. So I basically don’t compare them and always give them each the title of best burrito.

Especially after tonight’s Super Asada at El Buen. THE best burrito in town.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Taqueria El Bajio

I don’t relish writing this review, but something really has to be said about this place. I’ve eaten here a number of times over the years and on top of being the most ridiculously expensive taqueria in town, the food always sucks. Always. So I went there today with low expectations, because I was hungry and tight on time and felt I needed to get this place off my Super Asada checklist. And, go figure, my 8 dollar regular (meaning ‘not super’) chicken burrito sucked. It lowered even my lowest expectations. How a restaurant can make food suck so badly so consistently I’ll always wonder. On the upside, everyone that works his is always super nice. Perhaps kindness is the only way to get tips in the jar, cause they can’t make any extra from quality.

If anyone eats here and has something they like, for the love of Jehovah, please, please tell me what it is.
So I can tell you that you’re wrong.