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.