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Taco Wars – Taquerias in Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond & San Pablo

r
rworange Aug 10, 2005 01:34 AM

As long as I was trying taco trucks, why not try a few taquerias?.

In this area, it is better to get a taco at a taqueria rather than a truck. The quality, variety of fillings and salsas are vastly better. The prices are about the same although they were usually a bit more expensive at $1.50 average. Taco trucks averaged $1.25.

Eat-in is usually the better option with more sides than take-out. .

The grease level is a consideration. Some tacos slid off the plate and down my throat leaving behind an oil (lard) slick on the plate. Taqueria Americano was the inspiration for the napkin level rating, from one (greaseless) to 10 (Taqueria Americano).

Unless noted, the chips are NOT house-made and for the most part, edible.

Meats sampled are next to the restaurant name, followed by the taco price. The Spanish names are used for the meats offered. Here’s a link if a translation is necessary.

http://www.chowhound.com/boards/gener...

Rankings:

Except for Taqueria Del Palmar and El Tucan, which were standouts, the differences in the other were marginal. Taqueria Del Palmar, although the most expensive, won out because of the larger selection of fillings and outstanding thin, hot lard-fried chips.

Both El Tucan and Taquera Del Palmar make wonderful carnitas, large tender pieces of pork with crispy ends. However, the caritas at El Tucan were a little juicier and fifty cents less.

TAQUERIA DEL PALMAR – birria de res, carnitas - $2.00
EL TUCAN – Oven-roasted carnitas, house-made chorizo - $1.50
CASA LATINA – carnitas - $1.50
LA FORTUNA – carne asada, carnitas - $1.50
TAQUEREA LA ESTRLLA – carne asada - $1.25
MILIS CAFÉ AND TAQUERIA – carne asada - $1.00
LA BAMBA – carne asada, carnitas - $1.80
TAQUERIA AMERICANO – al pastor, carnitas - $1.25 (points added & subtracted for lard use
)
Although these places may serve other fine food, ranking is only on tacos.

Starting in Berkeley in order driving up San Pablo Avenue

CASA LATINA – carnitas - $1.50

Overview: House-made five corn tortillas. Nice, but if the menu didn’t mention it, it would have went unnoticed. The pork was juicy, tender but no crispy pieces. Topped with onions and cilantro.

All meats are oven-baked and they used cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

Sides: Lime slice. If the purchase price is over $5, chips and salsa are included.
Meats: Barbacoa, Carne Asada, Carnitas, Chorizo, Jamon Cocinado, Pollo Asado
Napkins: 4

Ambiance: Very nice panadria. There are a few tables on the sidewalk. No music.
Also Serve: Probably the best panaderia in the Bay Area. House-made agua frescas including strawberry. Tortas on house-made bolillos, burritos tostadas, tamales, quesadillas, nachos and Caesar salad. Organic teas, Mexican hot chocolate, fresh squeezed carrot and orange juice, coffee drinks, organic chai and sodas (including Izzie).

Address and hours in this link:
http://www.chowhound.com/california/b...

TAQUERIA DEL PALMAR – birriea de res, carnitas - $2.00

Overview: The large, tender chunks of beef with a bit of fat were outstanding. Covered with lots of RIPE chopped tomatoes, onions and cilantro. The tortillas were good-sized. The most expensive taco, but really worth it, especially with the sides. Those carnitas were long pieces of pork, crispy on the ends.

I was so impressed with the quality that if I was ever going to try sesos (brains) it would be in this bright, clean restaurant.

Sides: Outstanding thin, hot, house-made chips with a good thin house-made salsa. Limes. Radish, Complementary starlight mints.
Three different bottled hot sauces on the tables including El Yucateco chile habanero.

Meats: Al Pastor, Birria de res, Carne Asada, Carnitas, Chili Colorado, Chile Verde, Lengua, Pollo. The menu says ‘y mas’. I noticed a hand-written sign on the register that said they had pescado tacos and camarrones tacos.
Napkins: 4

Ambiance: Very nice. The walls are mirrored and there are large windows making the space seem larger. The walls have a few paintings and a large red and silver sombrero. The tables are covered with bright Mexican striped cloths. A TV in one corner was tuned into a Mexican soap opera. There are some bubble gum types of candy machines near the register. A small painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe watches over the kitchen. The food was great. Maybe she’s giving cooking tips.

Also Serve: Huge and interesting Mexican menu. Ten breakfast burritos are available including a machaca con huevos burrito. Other breakfast items include chilaquiles, and huevos (a la Mexicana, con chorizo, rancheros, con jamon, with steak
)
Usual Mexican items - burritos (regular, super, vegetarian), tortas, quesadillas, tostada, guacamole, nachos, costillas, fajitas, chicken mole, enchiladas, tamale, chile relleno. LARGE seafood selection that includes fresh oysters.

Address/Hours: In this link with a an excellent review by Dr. Biggles. Pictures of taco (with those chopped red tomatoes) are included.

http://www.cyberbilly.com/meathenge/a...

LA BAMBA – carne asada, carnitas - $1.80

Overview: The carne asada seemed a little dry, but that could be a good thing because the meat is lean and not loaded with grease. It was sprinkled with a few onions and cilantro. There was a spicy burn that seemed to be chili powder based. The carnitas were so over-salted I don’t know if there was any other spice. The pork itself had some crispy pieces but was drier than most.

Sides: Red sauce. (take-out) If eating at the taqueria, round thick corn chips and a fair salsa fresca.
Meats: Al Pastor, Carne Asada, Carnitas, Pollo, Pollo Asado, Tripitas
Napkins: 5

Ambiance: Ultra clean. .The staff even has uniforms of sorts – blue aprons and caps with the name. Enclosed porch area with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe in one corner. Inside the tables were ultra clean. Families choswing down on Salvadorian food. Newspaper reviews were framed on one wall. There’s a 50./50 mix of Latinos and non Latinos. Lots of families eat here.
Also Serve: Rice cookies , Pupusas, Salvadorian food. Beer, Mexican soda, aqua frescas.

Address, pictures and some insight on La Bamba from Dr. Biggles in this link
http://www.cyberbilly.com/meathenge/a...

EL TUCAN – Oven-roasted carnitas, House-made chorizo - $1.50

Overview: The two tacos were covered with lots of nice chopped onions and cilantro, but stuffed ... stuffed … with meat ... great meat ... outstanding meat.The two tacos filled one of those white Styrofoam containers.

Those oven-roasted carnitas were long pieces of pork, crispy on the ends, with fall-apart tender, juicy meat that had a nice porkiness to it.

The deep red chorizo was also juicy with a few pieces nicely charred from the grill.

Sides: Chips. Thick, blood-red, salty, smoky salsa (not so good
)Meats: Al Pastor, Oven-roasted carnitas, Carne Asada, House-made Chorizo, grilled chicken and chicken in red sauce
Napkins: 2 – they give you a plastic spoon and fork. Very little grease slick in container.

Ambiance: Taqueria and restaurant. Very clean. See link for description
Also Serve: Full Mexican and Salvadorian menu. See link for details
Address, hours and more info: http://www.chowhound.com/california/b...

MILIS CAFÉ AND TAQUERIA – carne asada - $1.00

Overview: Nice carne asada. Not dry. Topped with chopped tomato, onion and guacamole sauce. Tortillas house-made.

Sides: Shaker jars of dried oregano and red pepper flakes
Meats: Al Pastor, Carne Asada, Carnitas, Lengua, Pollo
Napkins: 3

Ambiance: AIR CONDITIONED !!! Part restaurant/part florist shop (air conditioned, therefore). Very clean with glass-covered red table cloths and pink plastic chairs. Luis Miguel cd was playing in the background.
Also Serve: Sweet, dark horchata with pronounced cinnamon. Breakfast muffins and El Salvadorian baked goods from Star Bakery in San Mateo. Mexican/Salvadorian menu. Breakfast menu included huevos ranchero and omelets. Mexican dishes include Burritos, super burritos and burritos mojado (wet burritos topped with sauce).

12545 San Pablo Avenue
Richmond
510-235-5315
Closed Sunday
Monday-Saturday: 7am – 7pm

TAQUERIA AMERICANO – al pastor, carnitas - $1.25

Overview: The al pastor was small chopped pork that was juicy. The carnitas were big chunks of tender, juicy pork that is crispy outside topped with onion and cilantro. The pork was spicy. This left the biggest oil slick on the plate. They could sell the oil to Kragen in the same strip mall. Tortillas are house-made (usually) twice a week.

The lady at the grill says, “No hay tortillas”. I say “No hay tortillas?” I had the last so one of the women trotted off to the market to buy some and hauled back a few fresh pineapples whiles she was at it. So, if they run out of fresh tortillas, they are from the corner market.

These were very tasty, however, due to lard ratio, beware of death by taco.

Sides: Chips, three salsas, wicked looking dark green peppers in a black oily looking liquid. They looked evil. I was too afraid to try. Tasting the mushy brown salsa I thought … eh … then my mouth ignited in flames. There was a dark red spicy salsa The salsa fresca was mostly onion based and was pleasantly tart and sour. On another visit there was pineapple in the salsa. The owner likes experimenting.

Meats: Al Pastor, Buche, Cabaza, Carne Asada, Lengua, Pollo
Napkins: 10 (maybe more
)
Ambiance: Taqueria and restaurant. A chowhound said it was a greasy spoon in the best sense of the word. The shop is perfumed with the smell of lard. There are a few tables on the sidewalk and the inside has formerly-white tile tables with vases of wilted SILK flowers. And yet it is cheery.
Also Serve: Jars of aqua fresca in a palm covered cart. The melon and pineapple are nice. Weekends - sopa de patos and pozole. Mexican / Salvadorian food. They have Flautas
Cerviche de camarones and pescado

12929 San Pablo Road
Richmond, Ca

LA FORTUNA – carne asada, carnitas - $1.50

Overview: Topped with lots of chopped onion, cilantro and a little tomato, the carnitas were juicy with a nice porky taste. No real crispy spots. Biting into the small house-made tortillas, they squirted meaty juices. Carnitas was sold by the pound. The carne asada was fine, if not exceptional, however many people ordered that.

Sides: Chips, salsa verde
Meats: Al Pastor, Carne Asada, Carne Molida, Carnitas, Desebrada, Lengua, Pollo,
Napkins: 4

Ambiance: Worn oil cloth covered tables. Spanish music. Juke box that is WAY too loud.
Also Serve: VERY disappointed to see Fiesta Brand aqua fresca. Living in San Diego this was my only nit, it was hard to find house-made aqua fresca. Beer is served in a frosted mug with a dish of limes. Standard Mexican menu with two soups not too common in the area (caldo tlappeno and birria de chivo). Breakfast available (including huevos con napales)

TAQUEREA LA ESTRLLA – carne asada - $1.25

Overview: Small corn tortilla. Nice beef, spice comes from salsa fresca on top about a 50/50 ration of meat to salsa. Just opened two months, it seems to have an interesting selection of meats. The ingredients are good quality even though the portions are small.

Sides: Green salsa
Meats: Al Pastor, Buche, Cabaza, Carne Asada, Carnitas, Chorizo Lengua, Pollo (grilled or shredded)
Napkins: 4 (salsa based napkin need)

Ambiance: Tiny shop in a bright pleasant green.
Also Serve: Excellent Jamaica, not too sweet. This was successful enough that I might go back for the horchata. Vegetarian items available. Small Mexican menu. The have vegetarian tacos, super tacos (meat, salsa, cheese, sour cream, avocado), burritos (regular, super, vegetarian, wet), Quesadillas (suize, cheese, super), fajitas, enchiladas, nachos (regular and super), and Tortas. Breakfast dishes include eggs with rice, beans, cheese, tortillas (Mexicana, con chorizo, con jamon, rancheros). Soups are available weekends (menudo, beef, chicken).

325 23rd St (at MacDonald, across from McDonald’s)
510-232-6955

Hours:
Monday – Friday: 9am – 10 pm
Saturday – Sunday: 9am – 11 pm

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

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  1. d
    Dr. Biggles RE: rworange Aug 10, 2005 01:49 PM

    Man, if I hadn't just finished a vietnamese sammich I'd be out the door.
    I haven't made it to the Hacienda, yet. Soon, very soon.

    1. s
      Shep RE: rworange Aug 10, 2005 05:40 PM

      Gee, rw, I may never cook again. How many of these can I hit on a given Saturday? I guess I'll start with El Tucan, somebody on this board has been ringing their bell pretty good. BTW, it's hard for me to think of Casa Latina as a taqueria, they're more of a bakery and coffee shop that does some tacos and tortas for the guys on their way to work.
      Thanks as always.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Shep
        r
        rworange RE: Shep Aug 10, 2005 06:34 PM

        Well, I would suggest a taco taste-off on Saturday. One carnitas from El Tucan and one from Taqueria del Palmar.

        I forgot to mention in that novel that Del Palmer serves beer with the lime in the neck of the bottle and no glass.

        I DO have some couth and asked for a glass. They brought out a nice frosted mug. I'd think twice about the aqua fresca though.

        One one visit they said they didn't make it yet. On the next, I ordered the lime. Although it tasted fresh and limey, the color was Jello green. Nothing in nature produces that color.

        I do want to warn, I take no responsibilty if anyone eats at Taqueria American no matter how succulant their carnitas are. The lardy health risks have been noted.

        1. re: rworange
          s
          Shep RE: rworange Aug 10, 2005 09:05 PM

          Sure, maybe unhealthy, but any camper would roll up the used plates and save them for wet weather firestarters.

          By the way, what's the lime for? Just aksin'.

          1. re: Shep
            r
            rworange RE: Shep Aug 10, 2005 09:18 PM

            Like bad tequlia, you suck on the lime before taking a drink of beer because, quite frankly, most Mexican beer sucks.

            1. re: rworange
              s
              Shep RE: rworange Aug 11, 2005 11:05 AM

              Ooh, rw, your taste may differ from mine, in fact I'm quite sure it does, but I've always gotten pretty good mileage with Bohemia, a nice amber lager-style comparable to Sierra Nevada, and with Negra Modelo, dark and smooth and better with hot spicy stuff than the lighter beers, IMHO.

              I avoid Corona and Carta Blanca. Tecate I find good for working outdoors on a hot day, and for general nostalgia, since I started drinking it back when the label was white with a pine tree on it. None of these are Belgian lambics; they're decent German beer styles, modified to local tastes.

              1. re: rworange
                d
                Dr. Biggles RE: rworange Aug 11, 2005 02:25 PM

                The lime was introduced when Mexican beer, Tecate I believe, was packaged in to cans. To help with the 'canned' taste a lime was served with the beer. At least that's the rumor I heard and it sounds good enough to spread as gospel.

                Biggles

        2. p
          pm RE: rworange Aug 11, 2005 01:17 AM

          Based upon what I read here, I ran after work to El Tucan - and got 4 tacos to go - 2 al pastor, 2 de carnitas. The drive back home shouldn't have been much of a factor to the review, as it is a relatively short drive.

          Al pastor - Glad I tried them in tacos and didn't get a burrito-full. They weren't the "best" although there was nothing wrong with them, save the grease slick in the foam container. I wouldn't order them again.

          Carnitas - They were very good. The best ever? No, but very good, and I'd probably agree with your "2 napkin" rating.

          The red salsa was delicious. I didn't ask for chips.

          2 Replies
          1. re: pm
            r
            rworange RE: pm Aug 11, 2005 01:55 AM

            Good grief. Just when I mentioned to someone that not many people really go to places mentioned in my posts. At most I expected to entice Shep there as Dr. Biggles has already given El Tucan an 'eh'. I had no clue that THREE people lived in this area.

            Thanks for the feed back. I'm not a taco expert and after trying, what, 20 tacos in the area, maybe I was over-enthusiastic. The carnitas stood out from the rest of the pack. Del Palmar's are pretty similar in terms of the carnitas with better chips.

            The Birrea de Res at Del Palmar was very good too. Looking over Dr. Biggles post on Del Palmar the Carne Asada, Al Pastor and Chile Verde were Mission worthy. Skip the chili colorado.

            OK, I'll downgrade El Tucan carnitas to one of the best in the greater Ricmond area. And not bother with the carne asada.

            Besides using the East Bay Express as a guide to order the best meat at each place, I went with menus to see if something was noted. At El Tucan the 'oven-roasted' and 'house-made' threw my choice to the chorizo and the carnitas.

            Link: http://www.cyberbilly.com/meathenge/a...

            Image: http://www.cyberbilly.com/meathenge/i...

            1. re: rworange
              s
              Shep RE: rworange Aug 11, 2005 11:12 AM

              I'm still gonna try the carnitas at El Tucan. But as other hounds have pointed out, if you don't actually see the spit, preferably with the pineapple on top, then don't mess with the al pastor.

              Example: the relatively mundane taqueria at Emeryville Public Market spit-roasts their al pastor, and it's a cut above the rest of their meats.

              ObWI: a vertical-spit-roasted meat crawl, sampling gyros, doner kebab, al pastor, and shwarma all around the town.

          2. c
            cinca pintas RE: rworange Nov 8, 2005 02:27 PM

            Hey rworange; I don't want to be a naysayer, and I know this is an old post. But Taqueria Del Palmar has gone waaaaaaaaaaaaay downhill and now is worthy only of your list of 'only marginally different' places, or perhaps a new list is needed for 'taquerias that were once good and now suck terribly just to balance things out'.
            Just ask Biggles. That foo keeps going back there even though he hates it. Why, why, WHY??

            1 Reply
            1. re: cinca pintas
              r
              rworange RE: cinca pintas Nov 8, 2005 03:10 PM

              Yeah, Biggles reported the decline on Chowhound ... very sad ... very, very sad. Any insight on why. New owners? Owners on vacation?

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