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....