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!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


So here we are in August already, and in Santa Barbara, August means one thing: beer and tacos. Wait, well actually, that's the whole year. Early August in Santa Barbara actually means that rich white people dress up like 19th century Spanish conquerors and enslavers of native peoples while eating Mexican food and drinking Mexican beer while the local Mexicans roll their eyes and fatten their wallets.......VIVA!

But it's yet another good excuse to gorge on some of our fine Mexican fare and at the same time ogle the gaggles of smoking hot chicks that get dressed up and parade around town in revealing outfits (did I say VIVA! yet?).

So let's start out yesterday at The Mercado, where the main festivities began. As usual, Mayo's held the primary taco stand slot right at the start of the action. At noon I was in line....a line that barely moved. I ordered 3 carnitas tacos (at $3 deals to be had at Fiesta), and 20 minutes later I realized why the line was moving so goddamn slow: the condiments were being put on inside the booth by a cook, NOT outside at the counter via "serve it yourself". No doubt this is due to some bullshit health code crap about having cilantro and salsa out in the open. Keeee-rist. First they herd all the beer drinkers into a cage far away from anything to fucking eat, and now they've deemed open condiment trays a health disaster.

The tacos were delicious, as is to be expected from a top-notch joint like Mayo's. The problem lay in the distribution of the condiments, which I'm partial to doing MYSELF.

Deb and I went back for dinner...back to Mayos for couple more tacos, then down to get an asada torta by the stage (just ok), then a fish taco from the Santa Barbara Fish Market guys that was pretty damn good and a shitload of food for 4 bones. And then we went home so I could finally have a fricking beer.

Deb hit the Mercado again for lunch tacos, I skipped it. Not wanting to fight the evening crowds at The Mercado again, we opted to keep the Fiesta spirit going for dinner and do something we almost never some Mexican food on Milpas Street. What a rare treat!

Altimarano it is.

It is astonishing to me that I haven't written up Altimarano yet and I actually thought that I had, but when flipping through the postings, well....I failed to do so. I've come here every once in while over the years, but only with in the last year or so have I really gotten psyched on this place, and mainly because of one dish: and that happens to be the absolute best chile verde in town. The verde sauce that Altimarano cooks up is so special it defies description...I can only say it's like an herb garden is sprouting in your mouth with every bite of deliciously covered pork. I've had chile verde everywhere in town and some of them are outstanding (particularly La Carreta in Goleta, long a favorite), but the new fave is without question, this one here. Deb had a veggie quesedilla, which was quite nice, but to me, this is a restaurant that specializes in out-of-this-world sauces....the red sauce, the verde sauce, and their superb mole, all rank as contenders (or rulers) of "best in town"...a proud achievement. VIVA!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Los Tarascos

This one is long overdue.

I suspect with a great degree of accuracy that you don't know about Los Tarascos. It hasn't been around very long (less than 2 years, I believe), and although it sits on Haley Street it's not in the most visible location, and I've never heard anyone mention it to me (and I tend to get a lot of 'talk' about the Mexican food in this town). Even when it opened up, I said "Great, I'll have to check it out." And it took me a year before I ever got there.......and what set me back was that on the surface it is primarily a Mexican bakery, and lover of most all things Mexican that I am, I've never been a lover of the Mexican pastry.

But the official name is Los Tarascos Mexican Bakery and Deli. Keep that in mind....the operative word being deli.

When I went in here for the first time a while back it was on a lark, passing by my old breakfast burrito standby of Lito's (also on Haley) to check out the new kid on the block further up the street. Walked in the door to find a small operation with an even smaller seating area (1 table and a few bar stools at the window), a kitchen in full view with a couple guys working like mad on dough and pastries, and another kitchen area where the 'deli' takes place. The interior is typical of something you might even find in Mexico, in fact you could easily forget you're a mere 4 blocks from stacks of super overpriced bad food on State Street. There's some bad art on the wall, always a good friend Jesus claims that any true Mexican restaurant requires at least one piece of bad art to maintain authenticity. These guys take it one step farther and have one of the worst pieces of art I've ever seen displayed proudly as the logo on the front page of their take-out menu...pure genius. The menu itself is interesting to say the least. In addition to the many racks of pastries, they offer fancy salads, burritos, breakfast burritos and sandwiches, a bunch of fruit-drink concoctions, and tortas.

What they don't have is beer.

For me, normally it's the kiss of death if a place doesn't serve beer and I'd just as likely rave about a dry restaurant as I would the latest rendition of the Thunder From Down Under all nude male revue in Vegas. A couple places slide by the radar on the beer front.....Lilly's Tacos is one, La Colmena is another. Los Tarascos just made the list and ranks high, and it's probably a good thing they don't serve beer here because there's a chance that I might not ever leave.

First off, let's talk about the breakfast burrito.

$3.95 - eggs (fried), potatoes, and a choice of ham, bacon, or turkey. Comes with a fine salsa.

You read that right. $3.95. And it RULES. It might seem blasphemous to say so, but to me, the mother of all breakfast burritos has always been at The Cantina in Isla Vista. And I like this one better, and it's almost half the price. The fried egg (not scrambled) is a work of pure genius that I have to say that I haven't seen anyone else try. And it works so's just unbelievably good. I've always been getting it with ham, which is high quality deli slices of swine layered just thick enough. This burrito is out of this world good and it's been seriously cutting into my consumption of Lito's breakfast burritos, which I still stand by as a most excellent burro....but at $2.50 more. And the thing about that two bones-fiddy is, you DO get more food for it, but at 8:30am I don't even want that much food. The Los Tarascos burrito is the right size, the right price, the right everything. EPIC.

Now, let's move to the torta. $6.50

In addition to the "bad art" tip, Jesus always told me was that the best tortas come from the bakeries because it's all about the bread. And he's right. That's why you see lines at the Mexican bakeries every morning at 6:00am with working class people getting their lunch for the afternoon. But there's more to a great torta than the bread and these guys at Los Tarascos have figured it out. Not only is the bread straight up delicious, it's grilled nicely with cheese, tomato and your choice of meat (lots of them and I don't have the menu in front of me right now), along with a small salad on the side. The best torta I've had so far is the chicken, which might have been the finest torta I've ever had.

Yes, that's true....this one place, Los Tarascos, has in the short course of a few months taken over first place accolades in two of the primary categories of my diet. Can you imagine if they served beer?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

RIP - Chilango's

I heard about this a couple months ago, but since I practically never get down to State Street, I just remembered. After my last visit here, I can't say I'm surprised that Chilango's went by the wayside. Seems like some bad decisions were being made.

Put another stone up by the grave of Arch Stanton....

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hard Luck Day

So after getting shut down at La Gloria, I pedaled around aimlessly in hysterics, tears streaming down my face at losing such a fine establishment. Then I ran over a thumbtack in the road. Hisssssss.....more bad luck. Hightailed it straight home before I got stranded. Made it up the driveway before the tire went completely flat, grabbed the van and was once again left with the decision, "What the hell am I going to eat right now?" I could always El Buen it, but I had a 2 tacos al pastor and a fat super burrito asada from El Buen last night and I can't stand going anywhere near the high school at lunch time lest I lose my patience with all the rat-faced punks who are unfortunately the future of this once grand land.

So I've got a car now, where haven't I been in a while?

Laguna Deli.

Hit up an asada torta.

It was ok, not great. The meat was decent and the bread was nice (as my good friend Jesus says, "the torta is ALL about the bread"), but they grilled the cheese onto the bread so there was nothing left but hard, crusted on cheese. I like my cheese a little more gelatinous. All in all a fine meal, but it didn't leave me raving and it didn't make me feel like my luck for the day had changed.

RIP - La Gloria

I just ran off to go grab a burrito from Taqueria La Gloria only to find blacked out windows and locked doors. Damn.

While not the best burrito on Milpas Street, it was damn good and by far the best taqueria a minute from my office.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Mayo's Carniceria & Deli - Adobadass

Since I'm on an uncharacteristic posting binge, I decided to go and check out yet another favorite that I never seem to get to anymore. As one of the primary purveyors of the bitchinest tacos during Fiesta every year, Mayo's on upper De La Vina also makes the best adobada in town, bar none. For the uneducated, adobada is specially marinated (red chile based) pork, a lot like the al pastor marinade, although on rare occasions it is done with chicken as well. As usual, if you think you know of better, let me know, so once again I can tell you how wrong you are.

There are numerous reasons to love Mayo's that don't involve adobada. Not just a food place, it's also a classic little carniceria with a bitchin Mexican magazine selection, heavy on the celebrity gossip (read: scantily clad women and wrestling). The portions are good sized and relatively cheap ($5.95 for a nice fat burrito), the verde salsa is so simple and tasty it'd make a potential suicide case rethink slashing their wrists just to enjoy it over and over. Order everything up at the market register (not the deli counter) even though no one tells you this. Doing it this way weeds out the rookies. They're always impressed when gringos walk right in the door and go order the proper way.

Anyways, the important part is the food. I love adobada and when I first ate Mayo's version many years ago it became my standard for what good adobada is. No place in town comes very close. There are places with really good adobada (Lily's comes to mind, also the El Sitio on Fairview is pretty good), but no place has as much flavor as this one. The burrito is a simple affair, just beans and meat and cilantro with a serve-it-yourself salsa bar (pico, red salsa, and as mentioned before, the outstanding green salsa). Pure joy of a meal, the biggest downside is that I was there in the middle of a workday and had to take it on the road, unable to wash this fine specimen down with one of the many adult beverages in the cooler. Next time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pepe Delgado's

It's April Fool's Day so if you expected an "always out for a few yucks" practical joker like me to have a headline today like, "El Buen Gusto Sucks" or "I Hate Beer" or "Taqueria El Bajio Lowered Their Prices and also Made a Meal That Didn't Taste Like Shit", well, you're dead wrong.

With the one and only Steve Edwards visiting, the last few nights have been awash in some of the finest Santa Barbara Mexican food. Los Agaves on Tuesday night followed by a second visit in 4 days to Palapa last night. Sidetracking.......I was reading some online reviews of Los Agaves and it seems there's a lot of negativity recently. Starting with the usual "It used to be better" which is most assuredly not's just as good as it was in the beginning, I should know, because since the day they opened up I've visited VERY regularly. To go along with "the service is bad", often true, and has always been true, but who fucking cares? They've got it set up as a quasi-taqueria and not as a Wine Cask for a reason dumbass. Another thing I read a few times was "too expensive", which is incredibly dumb if you've ever been to a number of the truly spendy places with lesser food (Super Rica, Carlito's, Cava, or Los Arroyos come to mind). But the most hyper-stupid thing I read was "portions are too small". Only a babbling fat bastard from Nebraska who is used to eating 4 fried chickens and a gallon of mashed potatoes sopped with thick, drooping gravy would say something so moronic. I can pile food on pretty good, and I have NEVER left Los Agaves either hungry or feeling ripped off.

As far as Palapa last night, well, it was dreamy as usual and I knocked down a gigantic pile of carnitas and a few micheladas. Actually, the pile of carnitas was so huge that I brought half of it home to enjoy for lunches. Anyways, tasty stuff and it was heartening to see a couple Super Asada readers in there, no doubt encouraged by my posting and Micah's seconding the accolades. Hopefully you guys had a great meal.

Let's get on to tonight's feast, Pepe 's in Goleta, sort of the Rose Cafe of the Goodland, having been there since 1958 or so. I love this place and it's the thing I miss most about my couple of years living in Goleta, where I spent a fair amount of time saddled behind the bar swilling Dos Equis draughts and chowing on some classic grub.

I haven't been here in quite a while, so Deb and I ordered up two of my absolute old favorites, the Rajas con Pollo and the Chingadera. The rajas con pollo is exactly what it sounds like, rajas (roasted chile with onions, cheese and chicken). If it doesn't sound delicious, well trust me, it is. Just as good today as ever. Perfect combo of onions and chile.

The chingadera is simple perfection and one of my true faves in town (have I said this before?...yeah, probably). With a name like that, what is it you ask? Basically it combines three of the greatest ingredients on the planet: pork, jalapenos, and beer, and puts them heated up on a tortilla over beans and chile verde sauce, with either a big dollop of guacamole (my choice) or sour cream. Granted, you have to buy the beer separately, but if there is one dish in town that is so perfectly complemented by a frosting mug filled with golden brown Dos Equis draught, this is it. I'd damn near move back to Goleta just to go back to the days of eating this twice a week. Heaven.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I've been meaning to do a write up on Palapa for quite some time, and actually thought that I had done so, until checking the archives and realizing that the rampant crack smoking binge has caught up to me and I was wrong.

Although not many people know this, Palapa has long been one of my favorite places in town, a particular favorite hang-out on Sunday afternoons, where the patio is always thriving. On weekends there is a lady who makes tortillas on the outside grill and cooks up mini-quesidillas, handing them out to everyone on the patio. You don't find that kind of unique service anywhere else in Santa Barbara. This place is so cool that it doesn't seem like you're in Santa Barbara at feels like a roadside joint in Mexico or anywhere in Central America.

One of the owners of the joint is always there, a guy who reminds me a bit of Ron Jeremy if Ron Jeremy was a five-foot three Mexican sans receding hairline and a dirty blonde attached to his schlong. While that doesn't provide the most appetizing image for eating tons of food, once you order up, all is forgotten. The best salsa in town is accompanied by limitless fresh chips and the salsa is so good (heavy on the oregano) I'm usually too full by the time my entree even gets to me. This is the first place I ever had a michelada (beer with hot sauce, lime juice, and shrimp garnish), now I get them all the time and nowhere does them up quite like here.

As far as the food, I always have thought they have the best carnitas in town. I didn't get carnitas today, but someone else at our table did, and I'm still right. Ryan ordered up a Carnitas Burrito, which is so fricking big no one could believe it. It also had the distinction of being so mucho carnitas that the verde sauce covering it had carnitas in the sauce. HUGE. I mean, who else tries to pull off that? (see pic). I got the fish tacos, Deb got shrimp tacos and we traded so we had one of each...if I could have fit in a dozen I would have eaten them all. The green rice is better than any other rice I've had in town. In fact, the only place that can rival this place for food quality in a non-taqueria setting is Milpas Street's outstanding Los Agaves.

You should plan on being there every Sunday afternoon. Micheladas, margaritas, perhaps a seafood cocktail that'll rock your world, and the afternoon sun. Perfecto.

South by South Taco - Austin, TX - Day Five

A final meal choice for our trip this year?

Well, since we had just turned in our only mode of transportation around town (bikes) and needed to get back to our hotel to get our luggage and catch the cab to the airport, we first caught a cab straight to Curra's Grill, where I could comfortably stumble back to our hotel.

We settled on lots of chips and salsa, a bowl of queso, and we shared a chicken mole enchilada. Mole is not my favorite thing in the world, but I know that when it's done right, it's really good. Sometimes really, really good (visit The Rose Cafe for exemplary mole). Curra's mole was outstanding, a perfect balance of chocolatishy, sugary, spiciness. Really, really top-notch, washed down with beers and margaritas. A perfect way to end the trip. Until next year, Austin....adios.

South by South Taco - Austin, TX - Day Four

Breakfast at Guero's Taco Bar. I think it says a lot that a stubborn bastard like me witll go back to a place over and over. But there is very little not to like about Guero's apart from there's too many fucking people that go there. It's cheap, the food is really good, the drinks are outstanding, the chips are fresh and they have a top-notch serve-it-yourself salsa bar. I got Huevos Rancheros to go with my usual SXSW Speedball - cheap and REALLY good, simple food. I loved it. Neither Deb or I could remember what she ordered, which tells you something, not that it was bad, just not memorable (and no pics to jog the memory). We had no trouble remembering the margarita that she ordered because my non-drinker girlfriend requested that we not ride the bikes for an hour or so after she finished it.

The next meal of the day, once again a repeat visit of the trip, was lunch at Izzoz by the creek. Check out these two tacos above. My usual perfect taco is something so unbelievably simple and cheap (check out Santa Barbara's masters at Lily's for examples), but these are a very acceptable subsitute. In fact unbelievably good. Deb ordered the fried avocado taco (check their menu online for the fancy ingredients, and guess what? She's still talking about how good it was today. I got a Slowrider, which combines 3 of the greatest ingredients on the planet - machaca, carmelized onions and cilantro. Out of this world.

South by South Taco - Austin, TX - Day Three

Austin is a town known for tacos and Torchy's is probably the most popular local chain. The one that we usually visit happens to be right up the creek from Izzoz (see SXSTaco posting Day One), at the Trailer Park Eatery on 1st. This is basically a parking lot with a few trailers of food - tacos, a chocolate place and a hot dog place. By far the most popular of these eateries is Torchy's, usually having a healthy line and a healthy wait.

Shown below, we started the eating day off with a Democrat (barbacoa, onions, cilantro, queso and avocado) and a Trailer Park (Fried chicken, chiles, pico de gallo & cheese). They were super tasty, but I have to admit that, now a week later writing this, I had a hard time remembering what we had to eat, a problem I didn't have with Izzoz. The end result is that Torchy's has super bitchin food, but I like Izzoz more, plus they have a better location next to the creek.

We capped off the evening that night with drinks at Curra's Grill, "another local institution' type of place. Curra's also happens to be the closest joint to the hotel that we always stay at, although it was a complete accident/stroke of luck that we landed next to such a high quality joint. Curra's is home to good food(more on that later), and excellent margarita's, including the lovely Avocado Margarita shown below. Lovely way to end the day.

Friday, March 26, 2010

South by South Taco - Austin, TX - Day Two

Guero’s Taco Bar in the heart of South Congress in Austin is very famous and one of those places often referred to as a ‘local institution’, or a ‘must go’ or a ‘best xxxxx (margarita, salsa, blah, blah)’ in town. I generally avoid these places (anyone who knows my feelings about Super Rica knows this…not even remotely worth the price, the time, or the flavor…better choices elsewhere for cheaper and tastier). Guero’s is often the place that every wanker says, “You’ve got to go to Guero’s” and the occasional celebrity is seen dining on the patio (Mischa Barton was eating there when we walked by on Friday afternoon – yeah, umm, she’s not ugly). So with heaps of praise and Hollywood floozies hanging out there it’s easy for a bitter man like me to hate on a place like Guero’s.

But I can’t.

Because the food is really good, really cheap, and they make some of the most hyper-bitchin margaritas you’ll ever get.

Breakfast on day two was at Guero’s. Migas for me (see photo above). Take a look at that plate of food. It was $4.19. No that wasn’t a typo. If it was fucking armadillo roadkill it'd be a bargain, but it was super tasty real food that someone in a kitchen cooked for you. You can’t get a breakfast that doesn’t come in a Happy Meal Box in Santa Barbara for $4.19. Deb had tacos al pastor with pineapple and cilantro, mainly because she was so psyched on the spinning spit of pork they had in the restaurant (see photo below). She’s still talking about how good it was today, a week later.

Now let’s talk about the proper way to wake up at SXSW.

I prefer the way shown in the photo above, a SXSW Speedball: coffee from Jo’s (just down the street), and a delicious Don Margarita at Guero’s. Wash it down with chips and some of the super tasty salsas at the serve-it-yourself bar. I like margaritas but a lot of places get them too much of one thing (sometimes mix, sometimes tequila, sometimes something else) and not enough of the other. Every marg I’ve ever had at Guero’s over several years now (read: a lot) has been perfect. Love the place.

South by South Taco - Austin, TX 2010 - Day one

Note: I meant to do this last year when we went to Austin for SXSW, but I got lazy and didn’t.

I make it no secret that I think that Santa Barbara has the finest Mexican food available in the country. There are few other places that I even give a nod of the head to. I have great affinity for San Francisco (a very close second to SB in my opinion), and if you try hard there’s decent stuff in LA. And then there’s Austin, Texas. Austin is a very cool city, totally unlike the rest of Texas which is basically one gigantic heaving shitpile. And it happens to have great Mexican food, although in a different way than my beloved hometown.

Straight off the bat, let’s get to one of the best things about Austin. Breakfast tacos. Is anyone is Santa Barbara fucking listening to me? I guess it’s possible there’s a taco truck around town that has breakfast tacos, but I haven’t seen it yet, so point me to it.

Izzoz Tacos is a place that we loved so much after they opened up last year that we vowed to keep coming back often. Located in a trailer next to the lightly flowing waters of Bouldin Creek, you order up at the trailer window and wait outside on the grass area at picnic tables. No beer here, but BYOB is not only welcome but encouraged, because after all, we’re in Texas.

The guys that own this place used to run some fancy restaurant somewhere. That doesn’t mean shit now, but it gives you a clue that they probably use good ingredients and are making an effort for good, interesting food. While this could easily come off as pretentious bullshit when it comes to tacos, they pull it off. HUGELY. Everything we’ve ever eaten here is tip-top.

We started off the eating portion of our 2010 Austin trip right here at Izzoz with a few tacos: Migas, The Padre, and an Escobar. They were all terrific. I particularly liked the migas taco, migas being a southwest specialty of eggs, tortilla strips, cheese, and often onions and peppers (more fun with migas in later postings). Deb was falling head over heels with the Padre taco, which was carnitas with avocado, pineapple, and tomatillo salsa. She’s still talking about it today, a week later. The Escobar was the third choice and least favorite. Carne guisada, salsa and cilantro, really good, but not earth shattering like the other two.

More Mexican in Austin tomorrow....

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chino's Rock and Tacos

I can forgive a place that has a hyper stupid name.
I can forgive a place with bad interior design and a poor concept.

What I can't forgive is a place that charges almost eight dollars for a two taco plate comprised of the shittiest tacos I've ever eaten. I'd describe how bad the tacos were (spicy chicken 'Fuego' and asada 'Ranchero'), but it would be a disservice to whatever words I'd use for the description.

Don't go here.

Taco Bell makes WAY better food.

The only way I'd set foot in this place again is if they offered me unlimited free beer and promised that the kitchen would be sealed off behind bank vault sized doors.