Over-rated authenticity: Mexican food
We had two young ladies from Switzerland visiting, girls who lived here with their parents last year and sorely missed Mexican food when they returned to their little town outside of Basel. They love Gordo's on Solano and we tried desperately to take them to Casa Latina for the tacos and pastry but, alas, work schedules didn't allow it.
On their last day we took them to La Palmita, which had been touted here as authentic and tasty--and which we had never visited. What a tragedy! The food was tasteless and limp. I felt so bad that I didn't listen to my husband and take them to Chipotle instead! No matter what anyone says, the food at Chipotle is well-seasoned and the salad greens crisp and fresh.
And, sorry guys, but the single tastiest thing I ate with them while they were here was a Spicy Chicken Crunch-Wrap Supreme at Taco Bell (they begged to go there--apparently there's no francise in Switzerland.) It was DELICIOUS if ephemeral--the leftover one, once put in its foil package and transported home, was soggy. I don't care how inauthentic it is; it beats most Mexican food to pieces. (Yes, I like the fresh tacos at the trucks on Harrison in the City or in Oakland a lot. But honest, try one of these cheap and easily accessible before you judge. Eat it IMMEDIATELY.)
I've thought for a while that "authenticity" can be a bit of a trap. There are many independent, mom-and-pop family diners across America serving diner food which is unquestionably authentic and, well, just not that good. I've been in too many small family-run restaurants which are about as interesting as Denny's. I think it's sometimes assumed that because a restaurant is small, family-run and *ethnic,* it's gotta be good, particularly if it has a lot of ethnic customers. Well, Denny's has a lot of American customers. :)
I didn't actually encounter a Chipotle until I moved out to the Bay Area a few years ago from Florida; I was already using "Chipotle" as an "internet name," referring to the pepper, not the burrito. I gotta say that while the truly good taquerias are better, I've been to more than a few taquerias, including some popular ones, that just aren't nearly as good as Chipotle to me. They're unquestionably more authentic, just... not as tasty.
(For the record, my favorite taquerias are La Bamba in Mountain View and Las Vegas in Milpitas. My least favorites so far have been the Super Taqueria mini-chain, La Taqueria in San Jose [which I recall often gets dinged around here for being over-rated] and a couple of the El Grullense ones on the peninsula.)
The food at El Huarache Azteca is better than most I've had at restaurants in Guadalajara. Arguably the place would be more authentic if the food wasn't as good, but who cares?
On the other hand, the food at Picante would be more to my taste if they didn't make so many concessions to Berkeley tastes.
Thanks. I don't eat burritos, either. Too much rice or too gloppy when I'd rather savor individual tastes. I would never have gone to Taco Bell* except for being coerced by the girls, but the Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap was wonderful to taste.
I did love Casa Latina and will go to Montero's (? it's not Montecello's I don't think) and for a while we were regulars at Tacubaya, but we were looking for a fairly quick meal since the little darlings hadn't packed and had to be on a plane in the very early am. I tried to get my husband to go to Tamarindo today, again going on a Chowhound tip (could it have been by rworange, the Chowhound sage?), but he didn't want to drive to Oakland.
I appreciate the tips here.
Actually, I like Mexican more than Tex-Mex, which is my husband's favorite. Perhaps it was an off night, but this time La Palmita was n-g.
*funny story about Taco Bell. When our house in San Francisco was being renovated, a particularly adorable young illegal immigrant was hired by our contractor and quickly became a friend. I took him out to lunch often though he only wanted Taco Bell, which meant I didn't eat (it was pre-Crunchwrap days) or had piece of chicken or burger or whatever the fast food place is that's often with Taco Bell. I tried to insist on taking him to the Mexican places (authetic!) on Mission around 30th and he replied, "That sheet I get at home. I LIKE Taco Bell. Tastes good!"
For you guys who don't eat burritos, know that you can find some that are slimmer and without rice. Yes, you can also request that a place leave out the rice, but some places don't add it in the first place. Others put it in as a cheap filler to make the thing enormous. La Taqueria (on Mission at 25th), one of the more "authentic" places around, makes a relatively slim burrito and a damn good one. But I too stick to the tacos. I just enjoyed an excellent taco plate at Green Chile Kitchen.
My "default burrito" now is the ALL MEAT [sic] BUURITO at
TAQUERIA VALLARTA, on 24th between Harrison and Folsom.
The ALL MEAT, actually means "no rice and beans", i.e. the
keep the good stuff: cheese, guac, creme. While it might
be too "gloopy" for some, it definitely is slimmer than
the standard SUPER BURRITO. Also, it is cheeper than
the El Farolito, Taq. San Jose, La Taquerria etc burritos.
Like some others, I've largely switched to tacos and
maybe sopes now and then.
Speaking of Taq Vallarta, what happened to that dude who
was cooking up the tacos in the doorway over there? [you can
still get good tacos there, but you have to go inside for them].
BTW, they never actually seem to be making the Guaraches
they advertise on the handwitten sign. Is there any other
place ... ideally in the Mission (not oakland).... that makes
Well, it only seemed fair that I try the Crunch Wrap ...
Yeah, even though I prefer La Palmita to Chiptole, it is not a place I'd take out of town visitors ... more like a good local stop ... for me.
Given your preferences which seem to favor fresh Tex-Mex rather than Mexican ... and there's nothing wrong with that ... a good choice would have been Monetecellos on the corner of Solano and San Pablo. They have the same owners as Casa Latina and it is a prettier setting with good margaritas and a nice outdoor patio.
Or Tacubaya on Fourth ... Dona Tomas ... Tamarido in Oakland (haven't eaten there yet, but hearing good things).
If you are in San Francisco you might really like Mexico au Parc which is in South Park off of 2nd. They have that fresh take on Mexican, and IMO they do it well.
Thanks for the feedback. I'll remember that when posting about a place ... to do a little more qualifing and categorizing.
For me, Mexican is like organic produce. When you first start eating the stuff from Ferry Plaza, you don't really see the difference from the supermarket stuff. However after eating a while at the top farmers, it is hard to go back to Safeway. You can tell the difference.
So it is with Mexican for me, after a while, the less authentic stuff sometimes seems a little less flavorful.
So there are degrees of Mexican. There is your ordinary mom and pop like La Palmita which serves up pretty good grub that might not appeal to everyone. There are the more American joints and then there are the authentic Mexican joints that cross all boundries that are pretty much enjoyed by all. Sounds like the taco trucks you tried might be in that category.
In the loved by all category ... and I wouldn't take a visitor there, mainly because it is a sandwich shop ... but I would suggest going out of the way ... are the tortas at La Guarecita on 1848 23rd Street in San Pablo. If you are ever in the Area of San Pablo Dam Road, you must check these out.
The other thing regarding authentic Mexican is the meat ordered. Chicken is usually the least successful. A few places do stew chicken in some sort of salsa but for the most part, chicken is the least exciting meat with carnitas and carne asada often the best.
So I still have my Tex-Mex moments ... I have a weakness for Chevy's though I haven't been there in quite a while. But at this point I find the flavors more interesting at more authentic places. Going for authentic, Ortez in Oakland might have been a good choice or Portumex in Richmond.
The problem for me with Chipotle is that I love the smokey tastes of chipotle peppers and it always annoys me to the extreme that in a place with that name, the flavors of Chipotle's don't stand out.
Also, I'm not a big burrito fan. Not because I don't like them, but the calorie hit is more than I can afford ... and authentic or American ... the best to the worst burrito ... the taste for me never lives up to the calories. If I'm eating Mexican it is more likely to be a taco ... occasionally the torta ... but there are only two good versions of tortas that I've tried to date in the Bay Area ... La Guarecita is one of them.
Well, IMO, you deserve the Chowhound gold star for taking a chance, sorry it didn't work out this time. My own experience this last year has been that taking that chance usually turns up something new and delicious.
There are only two reports here on La Palmita, neither wildly positive and neither remarking on its authenticity. rworange said the shredded beef in the enchilada was very flavorful and that the chicken tamale was decent. The other report was three years ago didn't say anything except that the poster liked his chicken burrito.
If you liked the Crunchwrap Supreme, try this: