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May 21, 2007 12:22 PM

Tacubaya, am I supposed to love this place?

Let me start by saying I am a long time fan of Dona Tomas, with all its strengths and weaknesses. I ate at Tacubaya for this first time this weekend. I tried the Chillaquiles and Enchiladas. Both were simply ok. Very average. I wanted some salsa to go with the ChiIlaquiles, but was told they don't have salsa... at a taqueria. Really? I didn't have any tacos like I would usually have at a taqueria, mostly because I flinched at ~$4 per taco... are they kidding? Beers are $3.95 each!

I recognize that the quality of ingredients is higher than your average taqueria, but I just don't see the difference in the end result. I don't really see going back.

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  1. I'm sorry to hear that you were disappointed. I absolutely love Tacubaya! I had the chilaquiles this weekend with their fresh churros and horchata. I thought I was in heaven! I think their enchiladas are outstanding, tacos are great and I understand about the salsa thing, but I think their food is so flavorful, that all I need is a touch of habanero hot sauce for some heat, and I'm set.

    1. I was just at Tacubaya for the first time too. Had the Mexican sandwich and enjoyed it. It was a nice environment to have a casual bite and prices are comparable for the area. BTW, $3.95 for beer doesn't sound like much, especially if it's a good quality beer.

      12 Replies
      1. re: singleguychef

        The beer selection is dreadful. $4 for a 12 ounce bottle of Negra Modelo? Are you joking? I understand the whole showcasing the beer of Mexico thing. But serve some real Mexican microbrew, or drop the prices. Don't just offer 6, flavorless Mexican beers at a 600% mark-up.

        I find that the menu is hit or miss, and the execution can be off from day to day. Fried foods are a good bet, the lengua tacos are excellent, and I love the churros. Aqua frescas are too sweet. I'd eat there more often if they served good beer.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            The Casta brewery in Monterrey makes excellent Mexican microbrew. I haven't seen it in stores (though you might call SF City Beer), I have had some through mail-order.


          2. re: Morton the Mousse

            Faulting a Mexican place for not stocking mailorder microbrew strikes me a tad like criticizing Udupi Palace for their poor grappa selection. But what do I know. And it
            seems pretty reasonable that that Trumer should be cheap at Cafe Rouge: it's brewed
            about 150 yards away.

            The reason I routinely don't eat at Tacubaya even though I'm often in the
            neighborhood at lunchtime is simply that it fails to pass the Deliciousness
            Test[1]. The torta al pastor is one of the blandest I've ever had. And it suffers
            from the Dona Tomas / Tacubaya tradition of "give the customer just slightly less
            than they're expecting". And it's almost $8 with tax. Other menu options all
            seem to suffer the same drawbacks.

            On the upside, if you've got a dog you can sit outside and eat with your dog.
            Otherwise, I'd recommend if you're nearby and looking for something Mexican why
            not hike a mile north to the really excellent taco truck at the end of Gilman where
            it hits the Bay.

            [1] Deliciousness Test: Is it delicious? Yes = pass, No = fail.

            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

              That makes Trumer 155 feet away from Tacubaya.

              It is absurd for this place to try to up the quality of ingrediants in tradiional Mexican food and then pass off mediocre beer ... and charge a premium for it. Even Fonda abandons strictly Mexican/Latin beer ... serving Draft Acme ... for the same $4.

              And while they have Mexican beer they, at least offer beer cocktails.

              Michelada.....Dos Equis Lager and fresh lime juice with a salted rim 4.50
              Marisol.....Dos Equis Lager, fresh grapefruit and lime juice with a salted rim 4.50
              Pancho Villa.....Dos Equis Lager, sangrita and fresh lime juice with a salted rim 4.50
              Diablo.....Negra Modelo, lime juice and habanero hot sauce in a pint glass with a salted rim 5.50

              So they really should drop those prices or drop the pretense and get in better beer. Sell the Trummer and throw a lime on the bottle.

              There's also a taco truck occasionally on Heinz off of Fourth. Haven't tried it yet ... no microbrewss there either ... but they are further away.

              1. re: rworange

                >> There's also a taco truck occasionally on Heinz off of Fourth.

                ??? Those streets don't meet. Off 7th?

                Speking of which, is that weird little sandwich shack in Magic Garden's parking
                lot still there?

                1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                  Probably got my streets mixed. The cross street nearest Eccolo. One block down toward the Bay there's sometimes a taco truck... there's all those guys looking work work in that area and they need to eat and they aren't rushing to Tacuabya.

                  DIdn't know about the sandwich shop ... will look for it next time if no one else has info.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Hearst? (I was going to drive down Heinz looking for it. Heinz is close to Ashby.)

                    Those guys couldn't afford Tacubaya.

                    1. re: lintygmom

                      That's it. I knew it started with a "H" and ironically was the name of a rich family. Thanks.

              2. re: Chuckles the Clone

                I don't expect them to serve Mexican microbrew. I expect them to offer either good beer or cheap beer, preferably both.

            2. re: singleguychef

              3.95 for a bottle of Corona, etc... at a taqueria. I guess I have to not think of it in this light and think of it as a 4th St. eatery.

              1. re: SLRossi

                Yeah, but you can get a 12 oz glass of draft Trumer at Cafe Rouge next door for less than $4. Tacubaya's beer prices are inexplicable.

            3. On my first few visits, I was scandalized by Tacubaya. So much was an anemic take on Mexican food. If I want above average ingrediants and no lard, I'll go to Casa Latino on San Pablo where the food is closer to Mexican while not scaring people with authenticity.

              However, I've had some good food there. They make a great menudo on the weekends ... tho that have to due to my own personal fear-factor as far as menudo is concerned.

              I've been less than impressed with the standards like the tacos, but some of the less common stuff is good ... but then again it is less common ... the orginal version might be outstanding.

              The soups are usually a good bet.

              1. Why do people think of this in comparison to Mexican food? Or as Mexican food. Some places serve tasty food, other's don't. Tacubaya serves tasty food...

                13 Replies
                1. re: Neilo

                  There is an element of relative value in my dining decisions. Thus I compare it to similar establishments.

                  1. re: Neilo

                    The menu consists exclusively of traditional Mexican recipes (more or less adapted for Berkeley tastes), and their own publicity includes the phrases "authentic Mexican taqueria," "authentic Mexican cuisine," "fine Mexican cuisine," and "Tacubaya Mexican Restaurant."

                    So it's perfectly reasonable to compare it with other Mexican restaurants, especially those that use Niman meat and high-quality produce.


                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      >>> So it's perfectly reasonable to compare it with other Mexican restaurants, especially those that use Niman meat and high-quality produce.<<<

                      Heh, heh, heh ... yeah, sure ... the deliciousness is in th detail.

                      Compared to those that don't ... not as good for the most part.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I think Tacubaya's food is as good or better than the average taqueria's, even if it's not as tasty as the best. There's a lot of mediocre Mexican food out there.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I agree. Once you grow to appreciate the quality of ingredients and are able to taste the difference, it becomes that much better.

                          I'm from SoCal where there is an abundance of tasty Mexican food, however, most of it is laden with lard and cheese, fatty meats, etc. This contributes to the flavor, yes, but not the overall picture. I guess it just depends on what you value.

                          I wish Tacubaya was a bit spicier, but I definitely think the flavor is there even if the heat isn't.

                          1. re: chemchef

                            I appreciate quality ingredients as much as anybody, but I still think El Huarache Azteca's food tastes better than Tacubaya's.

                            1. re: chemchef

                              I disagree. I appreciate quality ingrediants across all cuisines. However, the Tacubaya, Dona Tomas, Tres Agaves, Primavera, La Calaca Loca and even Montero's / Casa Latina just don't have it taste wise ... unless your taste preferences are toward the upscale type of joints across all cuisines.

                              Nothing wrong with that but if looking for deep-dish Mexican, these joints don't cut it.

                              I've eaten at some top-of-the-line Mexico City restaurants where the quality of the ingrediants matches and even exceeds that of some of the Chez Panisse / Boulevard /. etc restaurants.

                              The cooking was exciting and innovative without losing site of its origins. It delved into the heart of Mexican cuisine. Though I have never been there, my thought is that only Frontera in Chicago comes close in this country.

                              The Tacubaya type joints in the Bay Area substitute fine ingrediants, make Mexican food acceptable to Bay Area palates ... and sacrifice Mexican soul in the process.

                              It's good food. It just is missing something in terms of being Mexican.

                              But still ... good for them ... if by making Mexican food more acceptable to a larger audiance and expanding acceptance of that cuiisine beyond burritos ... they do a service. I think 20 years from now we may look at them much as we veiw old school Mex-American food.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Well, I think it just has to do with different opinions. Since I didn't grow up in the Bay Area, I can't justify it just being my "Bay Area palate". I grew up in So Cal, and spent a lot of time in Mexico and at my best friend's house (her mother is Mexican), so I'm using that as my point of reference. I don't think that Tacubaya is the best Mexican food I've ever had, but I do think that they make up for that in complexity of flavor and quality of ingredients. I like feeling good about the food I'm putting into my body as well as enjoying the taste. Those things are important to me. No, its not 'smothered in cheese' down home rustic Mexican food, but, in my opinion, its good nonetheless.

                                And no, my taste preferences are not necessarily "toward upscale types of joints across all cuisines."

                                1. re: chemchef

                                  Interesting ... I'm about to post about two Richmond taquerias ... one that is mid Mex-American and the other Mexican-Mexican. The first puts cheese on its tacos which after lots of taco crawling in the area I find jarring. I guess I don't skew toward the dishes with cheese and the times I run across it are usually a bit on refried beans. The SO is Guatamalan who spent a good many years in Mexico and the way he cooks has more to do with Mexico than Guatamala. Occasionally there's cojita in the house, but other than that I don't think I've ever seen him buy cheese. I guess I associate smothered in cheese stuff with Mex-American rather than Mexican ... unless one is talking quesadillas or queso fundido. Then again, I'm not big for cheesy Mexican dishes. It's rare I even order a queso and rajas tamale.

                                2. re: rworange

                                  Hey RW... I have near eaten at Frontera but did eat at Topolobampo that higher end of two "siamese sibilings," and I wasn't too excited about it, and wouldn't compare it to say Izote. If you are ever in L.A., I would recommend:



                                  La Huasteca (Lynwood)

                                  All are moderately upscale... similar to Bayless' Frontera or El Bajio (Mexico City)... but not quite the full on 7 course tasting menu etc.,

                                  Babita tends to excecute the best, consistently but service can be poor.

                                  Frida delivers on food execution, and features a jaw dropping collection of artisan crafts from Tonala.... but the menu is kind of all over the place.

                                  La Huasteca is a great value... and its interesting because its smack in the middle of a ghetto (fairly close to Compton).

                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                    It's across the parking lot from a Trader Joe's and really qualifies as a hole in the wall but the moles were wonderful.
                                    La Guelaguetza, LA.

                                  2. re: rworange

                                    Although I have been a fan of Tacubaya since it opened, I agree with the taste factor. I always considered it as a "refined" approach with fresh, lighter, high quality ingredients. I've not balked too much at the price because of course you're going to pay more for Niman than bargain butcher. To me, their tamale masa has a lighter texture with much flavor and their black beans (totally veggie) are better than most meat versions. Having just been to Chicago and ate (again) at Frontera, it makes me wish we had something even close to that caliber here in terms of varied, regional Mexican cuisine.

                                  3. re: chemchef

                                    Throw me into the "blech" camp. I didn't like it when I lived in Oakland and still don't. I'm in Charlotte now where I'm trying to find anything remotely worthy in the Mexican department. When I come back to visit the parents, I crave and long for anything. ANYTHING. (My parents live in Richmond so, thanks to Rworange, I'm usually able to bring home some tasty things for us to eat for dinner.) Cut to last trip home: I went to Fourth Street to finish some Christmas shopping and thought, "Surely Tacubaya can satisfy me now, right? I'm desperate!". Got a taco. It was bland and boring. As usual.

                          2. Hit or miss just like Dona Tomas.
                            I'm much more likely to forgive a miss when it's at this price point.
                            Negative experiences: Ceviche, tostada, chicken tacos.
                            Positive experiences: Corn tortillas, guacamole, pork and beef tacos.
                            Sometimes I envy the people in my family that really enjoy average food.
                            Now that I've been cooking regularly at home for ten years dining experiences from Tacubaya to Chez Panisse frequently miss the bar. It's the price of a trained palate.