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Jan 6, 2008 07:01 PM

Oakland: Taco Grill – soul-satisfying pozole, sublime crispy tacos, organic tortillas, Niman Ranch albondigas and birria de chivo

On a cold, almost-drizzly day the wonderful pozole surtido was just the right dish ... almost all meat and hominy and nicley spiced adding comforting warmth. Paired with the house-made tortillas full of corn flavor and aroma … it was pozole perfection. They have three other types of pozole.

The surtido (combination) has cachete, oreja, lengua, paladar …cheeks, ears, tongue … and it turns out paladar is the upper part of the mouth or palate. The collagen from these cuts adds wonderful richness. Other than the pig ear the rest just looked and tasted like shredded pork, nothing scary.

It was a nice, tasty small pig's ear and anyone who likes pigs feet ... the texture and taste is similar.

There were also little bones which added to the flavor IMO. This comes with micro-thin crispy, blistered tostadas, chopped onion, cilantro, lime, sliced radish and shredded cabbage.

While waiting for my take-out order, I had the three crispy tacos. It is your choice of filling so I had one of each - shredded beef, chicken, potatoes, Like the tostada these were thin and delicate. They held small amounts of each filling and were beautifully topped with cabbage, cojita and drizzled with crema. They were absolutely elegant and delicious.

The beef was the best and very juicy. The potatoes were just plain sliced potatoes but it worked especially topped with some of the excellent salsas from the salsa bar. The chicken was fine but next time I’d get two beef and one potato. This is NOT a take-out type of order. It must be eaten immediately right out of the fryer.

I liked the horchata which which not too thin or too sweet. There is a large pot of champurrado on the salsa bar. It was nice that when I sat down they offered me a sample. It was good as far as this drink is concerned ... balanced, not too thin and not overly sweet.

The salsa bar is great. They have amazing pickled vegetables carrots, large white onions, cucumbers, whole jalapenos and whole garlic cloves My favorite salsa was the avocado which had a nice flavor and wasn’t thin like some. There were two nice tomatillo salsas … one mild and one described as medium but it had quite a kick. The thin red sauce was supposed to be the hottest, but that tomatillo beat it in my opinion. The only disappointment was the salsa fresca with too much out-of-season tomatoes and not enough cilantro.

Specials today were
- birria de chivo (goat)
- chile rellenos
- I forget the Spanish name but it was pig feet with eggs

I glanced over at the steam table and noticed something with chunks of corn on the cob which turned out to be the meatball soup (albondigas). It had four juicy meatballs, and big hunks of potatoes, zucchini and chayote. My S/O had this and I just had a taste. It wasn’t on the regular menu or specials board.

Birria has goat meat falling off the bone in a mildly spicy plasma-red sauce.

There is a bowl of masa with a towel on top to keep it moist. A small amount is removed, rolled into a ball,placed in a tortilla press and then grilled.

I liked the light touch with the fat … just enough for flavor. I didn’t get that heavy feeling after some lard-laden Mexican meals where I feel like I may soon be joining my dinner in piggy heaven

When you can have three deep-fried tacos with cheese and crema and feell like you've eaten a healthy lunch, that says something.

Very nice staff. Clean bright place with large sunny (when there’s sun) windows. I once complained to someone that these little mom and pops were trying to model their looks after chains and that person said that was a good thing because it might attract people who might not walk into a more old-school type of establishment.

That is turning into a very pleasant location with some good quality food.

It is located next to the florist shop across from the churro stand. There’s a new juice bar, La Verbena, in the building and at first I though that might be the place but it really didn’t look like the type of place putting out tacos and pozole. The ice cream guy directed me to Taco Grill.

Here’s a link to the menu from a previous post. Check the specials board and glance over at the steam table to see what’s there.

Taco Grill
3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601

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  1. Sounds great... I am punching it into my GPS!

    1. Just tried Taco Grill for lunch, can't say I was impressed. I sampled the 4 available tacos (they had no fish tacos) and each filling was overcooked and dry as a bone. The carnitas had very little flavor and was tough. Same with the Carne Asada and especially the chicken. The Adobada had a nice flavor from the marinade but the meat was dry as well. Maybe 1:30 on a weekday is not a good time to go.

      On the plus side the fresh tortillas were good and the salsas were fresh and tasty.

      On the whole I think I'll stick with the taco trucks.

      1 Reply
      1. re: 10foot5

        I had some Pork Pozole with a friend and I was disappointed. I was looking forward to it. Didn't have any fish tacos this round. Last time they had fish tacos but they were only okay. I racked it up to a funny time of day. .I'd like to see this place do well and it might be early bugs so I'm going to wait and go back in a month or so.

      2. was that taste of the albondigas?

        4 Replies
        1. re: susancinsf

          The little bit I tried was good, but it is not my area of expertise.

          I'm sorry, but in response to another post, to say that taco trucks are better is beyond absurd to me. I've probably burnt out on taco trucks but with the exception of a few what you are eating is greasy, cheap meat and often tasteless salsa. I guess I'm astounded about people ganging up on this place. Maybe we've gotten used to sub-standard cheap dreck.

          This is Tacubaya through Mexican sensibilites ...what Tacubaya SHOULD be but often fails at. The ice cream guy said the owner is from Puerto Vallarta and using family recipes which are different from every other restaurant in the area. Maybe we only want the familiar ... if it doesn't taste like every other grease-laden joint it is not to people's expectations.

          For me anyway, the pozole is what made me fall in love with this dish when I first tried it in Mexico City and I really haven't found either in SOCAL or the Bay Area.

          Everyone has different tastes. What can I say? I guess I'm just hoping some people will see outside of the blinders of what is Mexican food in the Bay Area ... the home of the Mission burrito.

          1. re: rworange

            I've said this I'll say it again. High quality ingredients like NR meat doesn't necessarily help make a dish good or the restaurant better.

            Without fat content, you just don't get the same flavor and depth Many would argue this about chicken soup, even after skimming it...the fat makes a difference. How the fat gets broken down in broth adds something you can't replace. Reduction leads to the fifth taste -- umami.

            The thing about Taco Grill's Pozole is you could tell it was NR pork because of the fiber/muscle structure..high quality looking stuff but for a broth based dish...not necessarily a good thing. I'm sure a consultant convinced them NR was the way to go because people want it and pay for it. That consultant might be right but they also might lack taste buds.

            I argue without fat, you lose something...maybe complexity.

            re: Tacubaya, I agree with you there. The food lacks soul and depth...perhaps even love. It also lacks fat. The only thing I like at Tacubaya is the torta al pastor and I just realized why -- it might lack fat but it the seasoning covers for this nicely.

            I'm going to wait off on Taco Grill. It seems they're still figuring things out as they get started. I hope they make it because I really want them to do well and I want some good fish tacos.

            1. re: rworange

              Sorry rw, I didn't mean to strike a nerve. I was just reporting on my initial impression of Taco Grill.

              What I meant to say in my comment about taco trucks is that if it's a trade off between greasier, more flavorful, meat at the trucks and healthier, but dry meat, at taco grill, I'll stick with the less healthy alternative as tacos (especially carnitas and carne) are an occasional indulgence for me.

              It was a bit of a flip comment to make after a single visit I admit. I'll reserve judgment until they have time to work out their problems.

              I will say that I probably wouldn't have posted a comment unless the meat really was so overcooked as to be unenjoyable. Across the board, on all their meat options.

              Also, as I'm sure you know, quality between taco trucks varies widely, sometimes even within the same truck at different times.

              Anyhow, thanks for recommending taco grill. I will have to try thier pozole and birria.

              1. re: 10foot5

                Thank you too for being a good sport. With the Chowhound being so slow, I'm more likely to read Yelp these days and kind of despair when a new place doesn't meet conventional expectations there and gets dumped on. I forgot where I was posting.

                Also it is good to post opposing comments and you shouldn't hold back until a place is so awful you feel compelled to post. It gives people a more rounded picture of the place. People will go to Taco Grill with more realistic expectations ... or decide it is not for them.

                It might be good to let the place get its feet. I will warn that the birria is the leanest I've ever had. Who knew Niman Ranch sold goat?

                My highest rec if you do go back soon is the plate of the three crispy tacos. Skip the chicken which didn't have a lot going for it. The steak was nice and juicy and as I said in the OP, the potato is just sliced white potatoes in a tortilla but goes really nicely with the salsas. However, they will only be good if eaten immediately on site.

          2. I was there last Sunday morning and had the combination pozole, fish tacos, and their regular tacos -- one each of chicken, pork, and beef.

            The pozole was my favorite item but I would have preferred soft tortillas instead of the tostadas. It was also just a bit salty for me. I agree that the collagen makes the broth tastes better.

            The fish tacos came out first and they were tasty. I preferred it instead of the meat tacos. The meat tacos weren't memorable.

            We also got a generous sample of the champurrado. I really liked it. I've never had it before but it tasted like a mellow hot chocolate. Not too sweet, fragrant, and filling. I would have never guessed that it was made from masa.

            1 Reply
            1. re: whatsforlunch

              Pozole is traditionally eaten with tostadas and not with tortillas, so next time you should tell them you prefer tortillas.

            2. Just a few thoughts about the birria which I had for lunch today (ok, I froze it but you don't see goat birria much in the Bay Area ... at least I don't so I wanted to get an order)

              Sitting awhile added a bit ... frozen or not ... let some flavors develop. A lovely cinnamon aroma perfumed the kitchen while bringing it back to life in the microwave (yeah, what can I say ... my name is rworange. I am a microwave addict).

              It is a lot about the sauce with this birria. Usually goat tastes like lamb to me. The Niman Ranch goat tastes more like beef which is what I would have guessed if I didn't know. I like it though my favorite goat birria remains at El Tapatio in Richmond. At La Tapatio the goat birria resulted in involuntary mmmm sounds.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rworange

                As with most Mexican dishes... its all about the sauce everything else is just a vehicle. Hell... I have had vegetarian Birrias that have been stunning (well I should disclose that the sauce had goat stock in it)... but Nopales, Mushrooms, Calabacitas, Cauliflower... all go well with Birria "sauce"... that combination of multiple types of dried chiles, black pepper, cinammon, cloves, ginger, fresh & dried herbs... can be haunting.