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Santa Barbara Taqueria Wars: Superica vs. El Bajio

The New York time recently published an article about chasing the perfect taco up the CA. coast. (See NY Times link below) Someone asked me to repost the following since the link got lost in the chow-changeover. So many folks are traveling up the coast this summer, the following deserves a look and hopefully some of your comments.
Everybody who lives in Santa Barbara knows that Milpas Street is the place to go for “hole–in-the-wall Mexican eateries. A small band of discriminating chicano-chowhounds chose a daunting task. We ran a taqueria-taste-test between La Superica Taqueria and Taqueria El Bajio down the block. Hah! We were going to find the best taqueria or die trying. OK, so weren’t willing to die. But we were willing to sacrifice ourselves by..uhm, eating a lot.
At El Bajio, you order from the counter, take a number for your table, then wait to be served. This place is so small we were tripping over each other. There’s inside seating for about 20 and outside is an awning-covered patio with about 6 picnic tables. It was too breezy to eat outside. In front are three small tables, if you don’t mind dining on the street. El Bajio features traditional cooking of Guanajuato, Mexico and has been in that Milpas location for about 10 years. We were met by friendly staff and giant urns of fruit flavored beverages (agua frescas)beckoned to us. They had watermelon-water and mango water. I sampled a combo of the two and it was good stuff. Not overly sweetened, with a mild fruity flavor. One of our group ordered the chicken mole $8.95. It was slightly grainy with ground nuts and little hint of chocolate and not nearly as sweet as some in L.A. It is made fresh, right on the premises, We also sampled a whopping big carnitas burrito at a hefty price, $6.95. Was it worth it? Definitely. The carnitas were moist and loaded with flavor that only slow roasting can bring. My tortilla-detector kicked into gear. The flour tortilla was extra large, fresh, slightly on the thick side. It brings that chewy texture to this burrito that must have weighed in at almost a pound.. Next we sampled the asada taco. It was a fat one, the marinated meat was delicious all on its own, about 3 oz. of it, plus there was a smidgeon of guacamole and sour cream on the bottom. $2.95 is expensive for a taco, but for Santa Barbara, in general, dining is not cheap. The chicken tostada was layered onto a fresh corn tortilla. It was not that crispy texture that you would expect because it was thicker than the paper-thin machine made tortillas. But it stood its own. The gorditas and sopes are made from fresh masa right in their kitchen. Our bean and cheese gordita was pretty good, but it needed something more...like asada!!! There is a salsa bar with the usual pico de gallo and a tasty roasted chile salsa that we enjoyed. My vote was: 5 star asada taco, 5 star burrito. 3 star mole, but it was purely a matter of style and preference. Someone suggested that we return for breakfast in the morning, because their huevos rancheros ($7.50), and chilaquiles ($8.50) were really popular. I figured they must be pretty good if they can get that price. I eyed some mighty fine-looking bowls of pozole being consumed by local diners. Hmmm, made mental note to return for that weekend special.
Next we rolled over to La Superica Taqueria a couple of blocks up the street. Lucky hounds that we were, we hit it during a lull. The place is usually packed since Julia Child discovered it and told the whole darn world. But today, there were plenty of tables and little wait in line to order. We sampled the chorizo quesadilla, the queso fundido. The Rajas taco and something, I don’t recall the name of, that consisted of grilled meats, onions and bell peppers on two corn tortillas. I saw the lady making our tortillas right there in the kitchen. I have a hard time passing up grilled meats on a fresh corn tortilla. I know some chowhounds have complained that their tacos are dry. But I won’t agree...because that's what god made salsa for! The red salsa is slightly tart, and a perfect foil for tacos. The green salsa had tomatillos, green chiles and a hint of citrus. Yummy! And the special, vegetarian tamale, oh –my--god! They drizzle it with crema. Its moist. Its creamy. Its fresh. Its heaven. While waiting, I eyed the pozole which was on their specials menu too. But we didn’t try it. For me, the tamale was the hands down winner of the day. Second place tie, the rajas taco and Bajio’s asada taco. The chorizo quesadilla was really tasty. The chorizo was sliced and chopped, like linguica, not crumbled, the way us chicanos would recognize it. But it was d##@%m GOOD.
After all this eating, we planned to use the “facilites” before we took a walk along the beach at the Arts and Crafts fair, a Sunday tradition. La Superica has an outdoor entrance to a unisex “john” that resembles one of those vintage “toilets” in a ‘50’s Texaco gas-station. I suggest that one should go elsewhere, like El Bajio, where it was spotless.
So! Which won us over? Its hard to say. The last word on this one is up to you, chowbuddies. Because, if given the choice of only one, I would probably chose El Bajio. But I would secretly yearn for the Super Rica tamale. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

La Super Rica Taqueria
622 N. Milpas, Santa Barbara, 93103

Taqueria El Bajio
129 N. Milpas, Santa Barbara, 93103

NY Times Road trip: http://travel2.nytimes.com/2006/07/21...

Sassille
www.pleasurepalate.com

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  1. The standard for burritos in Santa Barbara has long been set by Cuca's on West Micheltorena Street on Santa Barbara's Westside (towards the ocean. Anything else is a pale wannabe. Include this fine establishment as well when stalking the perfect meal in Santa Barbara.

    Take the Carrillo Street exit on Highway 101 - go west towards the ocean on Carrillo Street and turn right on San Andres Street to business section at corner of West Micheltorena, turn right and there is Cuca's - always the burrito award winner in local favorite's contests.

    All of these mom and pop Santa Barbara restaurants show the "American Dream" is alive and well when someone cares about consistent quality and providing customers something they are looking for. They grew from very modest beginnings with the owners having a dream and taking a risk - and they delivered. It is a winning formula. No one needs to "create" jobs; they are there for those who find what people need and strive to give it to them.

    1 Reply
    1. re: glbtrtr

      We tried Altamiranos on Milpas last week, fantastic food, I'll try and post on it later today.

    2. I went to UCSB and have tried both El Bajio and La Super Rica. For me La Super Rica is the hands down winner. The grilled meats dish that is referred to is the #16 La Super Rica Especial. It is grilled pork with grilled poblano and a litte cheese. It is insanly good and must be consumed with the green salsa. They also have tacos al tocino. They give you a few fresh tortillas and a bowl of melted cheese and bacon. Yes you may need the assistance of a crash cart after you eat this, but it is the best. Also I love the sopes. I love everything about this place.

      1. I go to both restaurants frequently. I only wish El Bajio stayed open a little later.

        For overall selection and quality I would have to agree El Bajio is better. Although I love a few of the dishes at La Super Rica (Rajas taco, Chili Rellano) that keep me coming back there for a fix more often.

        1. I eat at Altamiranos on a weekly basis and have tried a lot of their dishes. My S.O. absolutely loves their mole either with chicken or with enchiladas and also loves the chorizo tacos. Some of my favorites are the pozole, fish tacos, tacos altamirano which is a pork and pasilla chile dish, and sopes. They often have specials which I try out and some are quite spicy; yummy. They also have a self-serve salsa bar. It is a family-owned restaurant and they are friendly and happy to please the customer. I also really like Super Rica as does my son who makes it his first stop when he returns to Santa Barbara. It is best to order from the right side of the menu and any dish that has 3 tortillas. I have eaten at El Bajio but was a bit let down after reading some rave reviews and think that I need to give it another try, although, I do think that they are a bit pricey.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Robeen

            Thanks for the tips on other items, I wanted to try their posole but unfortunately it's only on weekends. I just posted about our experience, maybe you can shed a little more light on the dish my wife ordered.

            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            1. re: PolarBear

              I'm not familiar with the pork chop taco but when I go there this weekend, I will defnitely check it out and report back. Usually, anything ordered that comes with their homeade corn tortillas is a winner. My S.O. even tried to see if they would reveal their mole recipe but they declined to give it out and said it is a family secret. I even thought of asking if he could spend a few hours cooking with them...One time when we didn't show up for a few weeks, they asked if everything was okay. Just very nice people and delicious simple food.

          2. Great raging debate and all restaurants worth supporting. But don't forget to give some love to El Sitio (three locations). It's also family-run and very tasty.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Cheese Please

              More info please! This is one I haven't heard of, where are they located, what do they excel in? TIA

              1. re: PolarBear

                oh yeah, El Sitio is a favorite of mine. As to location, there's one in the shopping center on upper De La Vina, one out on Fairview as you come over the 101 toward the airport, on your left hand side, and there's one more near what we call the "lower Riviera" - Salinas Street.

                I love their carnitas.

                1. re: PolarBear

                  If you google "El Sitio Santa Barbara" you'll get a hit showing the exact addresses.

                  Carnitas are great there as peasoup notes. I also love their adobado burrito, which I get with rajas. But my fave is their choriqueso, which is chorizo thickly diced(not ground) in melted jack-style cheese. This taco is awesome.

              2. I know the owners of El sitio and it is quite a nice little operation. Not widely known though... The sopes there are quite nice i think. But my two choices other than that would be Super Cuca's, I eat at the one on the Mesa, but there is one i believe on Milpas...the other is less of a hole in the wall Taqueria, but more of a restraunt, and is just as good as Super Cuca's...Del Pueblo Cafe, out next to Woody's on Hollister.

                1 Reply
                1. re: gdtmsailor

                  I too have had many meals at both Super Cucas (the locations are on Cliff Drive in the shopping center with the Albertson's by the Meigs intersection and on Micheltorena just off San Andres) and Del Pueblo. I can't recommend Super Cucas quite as highly as the other counter spots mentioned in this thread, although it does hit the spot. Del Pueblo is a nice competitor in the sit-down category. I have had some disappointing dishes (and service) there, but I've also been pleased with some of their offerings, particularly the specials.