What is your usual taqueria order -- as a barometer
There's two threads going on right now about taquerias (lack of tastiness) in the Richmond district and the blandness of Picante in Berkeley.
Within those discussions there was a riff on "what to order" or "ordering around" the menu to avoid disappointment.
This got me thinking -- what do people usually order, what's their barometer? What are people's yardstick to compare greatness?
Example, one of the big burrito blogs in the Bay Area (burritoeater?) only orders the exact same thing, not my order but for this guy (and the particular order) it gives a real idea of what's best.
To another point -- what specifics do you order at one taqueria that you only order there because of it's greatness or because everything else is lacking? I generally subscribe to this concept at many/most mom and pop places of any type of cuisine.
So the questions again are:
1) your barometer order and your barometer taqueria
2) any taquerias where you order only one thing?
For a straight-up tacos-and-burritos taqueria, al pastor (tacos or torta) and carnitas tacos are what I order. For a place with a more extensive menu, the chile relleno is my real barometer dish. And regardless of the overall menu, I weight the quality of the tortillas pretty heavily in my overall evaluation.
My best "non-haute" Mexican meals in the Bay Area came from La Plazuela in San Pablo and Tres Hermanas in Richmond, with La Plazuela being the better of the two.
2022 23rd St, San Pablo, CA 94806
Tres Hermanas Restaurant
12620 San Pablo Ave, Richmond, CA
Yes TSJ Oakland is back on now, though they were off for a bit. TSJ Oakland has a little bit more of that orange grease on their taco al pastor than the SF TSJ, but I do like the thicker salsa verde in Oakland.
As Ruth and others have pointed out, Tacos El Gordo does an excellent taco al pastor as well (on the spit), and that's all I ever get there.
As you can tell, I usually go for tacos al pastor, but if they don't have it, I'll go with carnitas, or maybe cabeza. I like to judge the tenderness of the meat primarily but the the spices should be on point as well.
Some days I just feel like a burrito (especially when there's no chips and salsa bar), so I end up picking pieces of meat out to get a better idea of the taste.
First, I don't judge a Mexican place by its burritos. Burritos are (a) not Mexican, (b) too full of mushed together stuff to get a clear impression of the individual ingredients. Plus, I don't really like them (vbg).
I find tacos to be a much better way to judge a place -- with the simplicity of the taco, there's nowhere to hide bad ingredients. Meat, salsa, properly heated, good quality tortilla, they're out there for all the world to judge. Personally, I usually order an al pastor taco (because the variations in pastor saucing and spicing give me a pretty clear picture of the place's style) and whatever looks like it might be a specialty of the house. I used to use carne asada as a benchmark, but I've been on a carnitas kick recently. I hardly ever order chicken, as I don't think it's usually as interesting (although there are some exceptions, like the chicken tinga at El Huarache Azteca).
Although I subscribe to the "specific to one place" scheme of ordering, my barometer for unknown places is carnitas or grilled chicken, with pinto beans and hot salsa. These aren't my favs but most places serve it.
Of course I'll do some sniffing around, take a look at what's good, or what others are ordering and ask. If I see seafood, I'm not going to order carne asada.
Example of "specific only" picks:
Cancun -- al pastor, pinto, hot salsa, basically the only thing I order here
Le Cumbre -- carne asada (if I see them grilling it) but usually pollo asada, refried, hot
Gordo -- chile verde, or grill chicken if I want something bland and just need to eat
(the list goes on but I'll spare you)
I agree if they can't make the basics of either carnitas or carne asada and pinto beans...AND at least one good salsa then there is no point in returning. I have given up on salsa fresca here..Many of the dives in LA take such pride in their salsa fresca. So at least one of the other salsa need flavor, heat and freshness.