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?