Wednesday, August 4, 2010

524 Mexican

The Location: 524 Mexican.  524 12th St, Sacramento

The Taco: 3 item combo. One chicken & two carnitas tacos, plus rice and beans.

The Price: $11.49

The Verdict: We hit up 524 Mexican after reading some good reviews expecting to find the greatest gift to Mexican food since the flour tortilla. Unfortunately, we left sorely disappointed. I tried the chicken and carnitas crunchy tacos and found both to be bland and uninspiring. The meat had little flavor of its own and I encountered several inedible bits of gristle in the carnitas tacos. The reviews had led me to believe that the food here was consistently excellent and delicious, so either we ended up at the wrong restaurant or they were having an off night.

The Rating: ★★ ½ (out of 5)

524 Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 2, 2010

El Mariachi

IMG_0883The Location: El Mariachi, Davis - Farmer's Market stand

The Taco: Large Taco

The Price: $7.50/plate (includes rice & beans)

The Verdict: We found this taco plate on a recent trip to the Davis Farmer's Market where a number of food vendors set up temporary shop on Wednesday evenings throughout the summer.  This one came from El Mariachi whose regular storefront can be found on G St in Davis.

I ordered the "large taco" with carnitas, and it was prepared quickly in the little tent and served steaming hot.  As far as tacos go, this was definitely on the large side, stuffed full with lots of meat as well as a dash of pico de gallo and… well, frankly I don't know what else because it was almost all meat.  Thumbs up!  My only complaint was that the meat was a little on the dry side.  No doubt serving from a temporary tent in the middle of Central Park isn't the most optimum kitchen environment, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt and look forward to giving them a second chance at their bricks and mortar location sometime soon.

The Rating: ★★★ ½ (out of 5)

El Mariachi Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Taqueria Davis

IMG_0840The Location: Taqueria Davis. 505 1/2 L St, Davis

The Taco: Carnitas crunchy tacos

The Price: $2.89/each a la carte

The Verdict: Straying outside our Sacramento boundaries isn't unusual (we just hit up a few choice spots in San Francisco) but we try to keep this blog as locally-focused as possible. That said, Davis is just a short trip over the causeway and we will always have a soft-spot in our hearts for the hamlet and it's many taquerias. On this most recent trip I found myself at Taqueria Davis for the first time. It is tucked away in a somewhat rundown mini shopping-center sandwiched between a pizza place and 7-11.

After hearing warnings that the soft tacos were too small I decided to sample the crunchy tacos. I ordered mine with carnitas, and after a wait which seemed a little longer than it should have been they appeared at our table. Each taco was loaded up with meat, lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, salsa & cheese. The tacos themselves were a good size so the previous warning may only apply to the soft shell. The toppings were plentiful and while the taco was satisfying it wasn't particularly memorable. The meat was flavorful but not outstanding and seemed to be a little lost among the pile of sour cream and guac. A little more focus on getting everything arranged in the right proportions might have given this one a chance to earn an extra star.

The Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

Taqueria Davis on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 17, 2010

Trader Joe's Pork Al Pastor

The Location: Anywhere with a stove

The Taco: Trader Joe's Pork Al Pastor

The Price: Varies

The Verdict: I spotted this at TJ's recently and decided to give it a try in the name of science. It comes in a handy frozen package that you can prepare in just a few minutes. The contents of the bag are pretty much just meat with some seasonings so to round it out I grabbed some ingredients that I already had in the fridge -- a handful of diced yellow onion sautéed briefly, tomatillo salsa and a dash of guacamole with some corn tortillas to hold it all together.

Overall I give this dish a few points for ease of use. It literally only takes a few minutes to heat up on the stove with a microwave option also available. On the other hand, the flavor left something to be desired. I wasn't expecting miracles from a frozen entrée, but I found the meat to be pretty bland and not a very good representation of what true spicy pork al pastor should be.

As frozen tacos go, if you're in a hurry you could do a lot worse but as a substitute for a good example of pastor? Not so much.

The Rating: ★★ ½ (out of 5)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Super Taco (Laguna West, Elk Grove)

The Location: Super Taco 4720 Laguna Blvd, Elk Grove

The Taco: 2 Taco Combo Dinner Plate (1 crispy chicken, 1 crispy carnitas)

The Price: $7.75

The Verdict: We've seen the "Coming Soon" sign for months and finally Super Taco in Laguna West has opened up. Once inside we come to find out they have two other locations in/near Elk Grove already.

When you first enter there is a counter to order at but we went for the full sit down dining experience. The paint on the lovely decorated chairs was so fresh you could still smell it. We were started off with an amazing array of salsas served with a piping hot basket of chips. The salsas included one house (chunky red with cilantro), one green (very thin and drippy), one red (spicy and thin) and the last was interesting. It was habanero peppers, onion and lime juice. If you like spice, you will like this combo!

My tacos were standard issue corn tortilla shells stuffed with the juicy meat I ordered, topped with lettuce and tomato. They come with cheese but I left the cheese off. The carnitas meat was perfectly shredded with a nice meat flavor but it definitely needed some salsas on top. It was also missing that pan fried crisp to it, but that didn't take away from the lovely flavor. The chicken was shredded with a nice marinade. I added salsa to this one as well. The side servings of rice and beans were plentiful. (Note: I always skip on the beans and order double rice because that's how I roll.)

Overall it was a pleasant dining experience with great food and excellent salsas minus the exceptionally long checkout time. We were done and we couldn't flag down our waiter for the check. I think the 3 waiters were overwhelmed on opening weekend. The place was surprisingly busy for its first Saturday!

The Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

Super Taco on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Taqueria El Festival (Downtown edition)

The Location: Taqueria El Festival. 906 J St, Sacramento

The Taco: Super Taco (1 carnitas, 1 pollo)

The Price: $3.10 / each

The Verdict: I had just stopped in at El Festival's other location on Folsom Blvd only two reviews back and had left wanting more, so when I found myself downtown with some time kill today I decided to make a return trip to see if their new spot on J lived up to the same high standards. All in the name of science, you understand.

This time I ordered two of their Super Tacos, one each of carnitas and chicken. The super comes loaded up with meat, cheese, cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, and pico de gallo. These tacos live up to their "super" name with all the toppings being piled high, making them a delicious drippy mess to eat. Just as on my visit to Folsom Blvd, the carnitas was moist and flavorful with just a little chewy crunchy crust. The chicken was well marinated and had a good flavor.

All in all not much new to say here that hasn't already been covered, the line at this one was also out the door by the time the lunch rush was in full swing.  It's always good to see that a separate location is living up to the reputation of its sibling.

The Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

Taqueria El Festival on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 8, 2010

Luis Jr.'s

The Location: Luis Jr.'s, 2901 K St.

The Taco: Carnitas Taco Dinner

The Price: $10.95

The Verdict: After spying Luis Jr.'s while driving through midtown looking for a different restaurant we decided to change our plans and stop in. Despite having no obvious parking the restaurant was doing swift Friday night business (there are a couple of meters across the street, and a gas station — I honestly have no idea where you are supposed to park. We got lucky at the meter). Even so we were able to sit down right away and got to work inspecting the menu. I opted for the carnitas dinner plate which comes with two crispy tacos, guacamole, pico de gallo, rice and beans.

No complaints about the portion size — the tacos were loaded up with meat and while the sides appeared small they were dense and very filling. I found the taco shells to be a little greasy for my liking. I can assume they were freshly made, so maybe a little more time to allow the grease to drop off would have been warranted. The carnitas itself was nicely shredded and had that pan-roasted crust that seems so difficult to get right, BUT overall it was too dry. A little more of the carnitas' natural juices and a little less flavorless grease on the taco shell would have gone a long way towards earning this one an extra star. In summary, this one probably has the potential to be very good but, at least on this trip, it just missed the mark.

The Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

Luis Jr.'s on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 1, 2010

Taqueria El Festival

The Location: El Festival8345 Folsom Blvd, Sacramento

The Taco:  Taco plate - two tacos, rice and beans.

The Price: $5.99

The Verdict: Having found myself nearby, I acted on a recommendation from reader David and headed down Folsom Blvd. to check out El Festival.  The restaurant was nearly empty when I walked in just before noon although the jukebox was going strong blaring out some spanish-language tunes.

I ordered the taco plate with two carnitas tacos.  The food arrived quickly and was hot but not scalding - perfect.  The carnitas was juicy and flavorful with just a hint of chewy pan-roasted crust.  The toppings were minimal and traditional — salsa, onions and cilantro.  There's not really much to say about these, they tasted good and were exactly as described on the menu.  All taquerias should be so lucky!  The sides of beans and rice were nothing remarkable (the rice was oddly neon), but they were a fine complement to the meal and certainly nothing to complain about.

Overall, my feelings about this restaurant can probably be summed up in a couple of sentences:  I liked the taste of the food so much that by the time I finished my meal I wanted to go back and order some more items just to sample them.  Unfortunately, by then there was a line out the door!  Clearly I'm not the only one that thinks the food here is worth stopping for.

The Rating: ★★★★  (out of 5)

Taqueria El Festival on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chevys Fresh Mex

The Location: Chevys Fresh Mex, multiple local locations

The Taco: 3 taco combo.  One Original Salsa Chicken, One slow-roasted Carnitas, One Picadillo Beef served with beans, rice and sweet corn tamalito.

The Price: About $12

The Verdict: What is there to say about Chevys?  We've been there a number of times, but as I recall it has been a few years since we last tried them out.  It's a major national chain, and as such has to cater to the broadest possible tastes.  Unfortunately, that means that the food is not particularly authentic.

Getting straight to the details: the meal was delivered luke-warm.  Not acceptable at a large, well-established restaurant like this.  The beef taco contained some ground beef which lacked any interesting flavor.  It tasted like something I could make at home in 10 minutes with powdered taco seasoning.

The chicken taco was slightly better, but it was too dry.  I had to dump some salsa on just to liven it up a bit.  I don't know where they get the name "Salsa Chicken" because the taco did not seem to have any salsa anywhere within.

The carnitas had a strange smokey, almost BBQ-like flavor.  Very different from what I would traditionally expect from carnitas.  With some complementary side dishes and a tweak to the seasoning it could potentially be sold as an acceptable bbq taco, but, as is, it was out of place at Chevys.

Conclusions: The simple taco should be the cornerstone of any mexican restaurant, especially one with years of experience and tens of thousands of customers a year.  Somehow, Chevys managed to disappoint three separate ways on this trip.

The Rating: ★★ (out of 5)

Chevys Fresh Mex on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ay Jalisco

The Location: Ay Jalisco, Jefferson Blvd

The Taco: One each of carnitas, carne asada and al pastor (not pictured)

The Price: $1.89/each

The Verdict: Ay Jalisco has been tempting us from its location just off the freeway in West Sacramento for years, and we've been meaning to stop by to check it out. After reader AJ wrote in to recommend it, we knew it had to get bumped to the top of the list. I tried one each of the carne asada, carnitas and al pastor tacos. Each one was topped with a traditional onion and cilantro mix with a little salsa thrown in for good measure.

The carnitas tasted fine but was nothing special.  It seemed to essentially be shredded pork without that extra bit of chewy caramelized texture that good carnitas should have.  The carne asada was tasty with a good marinated flavor that wasn't overwhelming.  Of the three my favorite was the al pastor.  Typically al pastor is served thinly sliced, similar to a gyro, but in this case it came chopped into small cubes.  The flavor of the marinade (which is really the key to al pastor) came through nicely, with a good spice that wasn't too strong.

Overall, I rate this as a respectable three and a half stars.

The Rating: ★★★ ½ (out of 5)

Taqueria Ay Jali on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 4, 2010

Grilled Pork Tacos


We made some home-made pork tacos the other night, taken from a recipe at Culinary Grace Notes. The recipe calls for home-made guacamole and pineapple salsa, but I decided to forego that in favor of The Trader Joe's versions of each. A big time saver, and the TJ's versions are delicious enough. A squeeze of fresh lime across the top, and these are ready to go.

The marinade recipe is rather long, but it only takes about 15 minutes and a quick zip in the blender, then marinate for a couple of hours (original recipe calls for only one hour, but I say the longer the better) and throw the meat on the grill. I ended up charring the meat a little too much, but despite that these tacos were delicious. We threw the toppings inside some Chipotle tortillas from La Tortilla Factory (via Raley's) for an easy dinner. If I was rating my own cooking, these would earn 4½ stars, although I do tend to grade myself on a curve.