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Tacubaya vs. Dona Tomas? No contest

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I finally got to try these two "sister" restaurants for the first time (in the same week no less!) since moving back to Oakland a year ago.

And my favorite after one meal each is............Tacubaya!

What a gem! Hubby and I wandered in early for lunch on Saturday and ordered Huevos Nortenos and the Torta al Pastor. We were blown away with both. The Huevos Nortenos was perfectly cooked and had the right ratio of Nopales to Egg. They were fluffy and yummy. The creamy black beans were delicious as a side too. The Torta was amazingly flavorful. I loved the savory pork filling and the grilled bread (bolillo) was nice and crunchy. Mmmm, why did we wait so long!

On the flip side, two friends and I went to Dona Tomas for dinner last night. Not knowing how busy it would be on a Wednesday, I made reservations two weeks ago for 6:15pm. They called the night before to confirm and all was well. When we showed up, they had no record of it. Luckily, we were early enough to where it didn't matter. But...off to a sour note already. Second sour note was my Pacifico. The Waitress delivered it in a room temperature bottle and accompanying glass. I should have sent it back, but did not want to make a fuss in front of my friends.

For our entrees between the three of us, we had the Enchiladas, Carnitas, and Carne Asada....all recommended by the Waitress. The Carne Asada was the most flavorful, followed by the Enchiladas, then the Carnitas. The Carne Asada had a nice grilled flavor and was dressed with an avocado sauce. The Enchiladas had a nice spicy red sauce and a generous portion of chicken as filling. This was my dish and I enjoyed it. it was nice to have some sauteed spinach as a side. The Carnitas were terribly dry. No wonder my friend had about 4 glasses of water with his dinner!

I'd go back to Dona Tomas someday, but with much lower expectations. Tacubaya on the other hand will be a regular stop!

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  1. It seems like Tacubay is good with breakfast. Try their menudo some day even if it is not a dish you usually would order. For me Tacubaya has been hit and miss. Nothing really bad, but really great is far and few between. See what you think as you try more dishes.

    Across the street from Dona Tomas, in back of the pawn broker, check-cashing place is La Calaca Loca which I like a little better than Tacubaya. Previous posts
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/323743
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/335961
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/39943

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    Dona Tomas
    5004 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609

    Tacubaya
    1788 4th St, Berkeley, CA 94710

    La Calaca Loca
    5199 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

    4 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      What do you like at La Calaca Loca (besides the name... gotta love that name!)?

      Hubby and I went there once, and it was good, but not great. I was pretty underwhelmed to say the least. We had tacos and chips and salsa. The salsa was meh. Tacos ok.

      1. re: chemchef

        They have good fish tacos ... like Nick's Crispy Tacos in SF. The breakfast deal is one of the best in the Bay Area.

        1. re: rworange

          Nick's and La Calaca Loca have average to mediocre baja fish tacos. I actually think Rubio's might be as good or better. Nick's and LCL are pricey too, nearly $5 for one taco. I just wait until I go to SoCal for baja tacos...half the price and many times better.

          I use to like Tacubaya's torta al pastor. It was the one good thing on the menu. Then one time I went and it was blah. I know it could have been a one time deal and might go again but I'm in no rush. The rest of Tacubaya's menu...not enough food and not enough flavor for the price.

        2. re: chemchef

          i liked the ELOTE and some of the margarita options at
          CALCA LOCO. there was some more primary item i liked there,
          but i forgot what it was.

          i'm kinda "over" dona tomas ... between the price performance and
          somewhat iffy service [not so much incompetent but indifferent, at least
          when crowded], i've moved on dont expect to go back without some good
          reason.

      2. The chili relleno I had at Tacubaya recently was the best I have had in a long time.

        1 Reply
        1. re: WCchopper

          I agree - the chile relleno there is great - and so are the fresh tortillas that come with it. I had the torta al pastor last week and the meat was too fatty for me. Haven't tried anything else there.

        2. I hate to be a turd in the punch bowl but I think both restaurants are extremely ordinary and Doña Tomas is way overpriced. I wouldn't walk two feet out of my way to eat at either one. I've eaten at both of them several times, so this is not a quick shoot-from-the-hip opinion. But . . . there's no accounting for taste, especially my own. And I would also rather eat at Tacubaya than at Doña Tomas. But that's mostly because it's much closer to my house, is in an area that I frequent, and is much cheaper.

          PS I was really looking forward to eating at Doña Tomas the first time I went, but was seriously disappointed.

          8 Replies
          1. re: dlglidden

            Derald, are there any Mexican restaurants you would go out of your way to visit in Berkeley or Oakland right now? Thanks for any suggestions you might have.

            1. re: phoenikia

              Phoenikia, not really. My wife likes Picante a lot but I find it to be just OK and not very interesting. We also frequently eat at Taqueria La Bamba (Salvadoran food--on San Pablo Ave. in Richmond) which is just down the street from our house and is convenient, and the food is pretty good and very reasonably priced. The other place we frequent is Portumex (on 23rd St. in Richmond). It's very popular, has a large menu, and the food is more than adequate. My wife also likes Cancún in Berkeley on Allston Way just below Oxford. And there's that place in Berkeley (whose name escapes me) across the street from REI on San Pablo Ave.

              But all those places are essentially glorified "taco joints." I don't know of a single "upscale" Mexican restaurant in the Bay Area that's really worth eating at. (Alma in SF used to be quite good but that was essentially Spanish food.) When we crave good Mexican food we just get in the car and drive to Mexico--which we do 4-5 times a year. If you find any good Mexican restaurants that you'd highly recommend, please let me know.

              1. re: dlglidden

                No upscale suggestions, but have you tried El Taptio on 23rd? Great, great, great goat birrea.

                Also ... on a weekend night ONLY. La Selva further up on 23rd. My in-laws who always roll their eyes at my Mexican food were just blown away by the al pastor. That is the specialty there ... the al pastor tacos al pastor. They have a good grilled chicken too and the specials are usually good. Live music after 7. The pupusa lady next door also impressed them. They thought, and I agree, they were the best in the bay area. La Selva will let you bring in a pupusa if you are eating there.

                Hacienda Grill in Richmond is good too. However, not as good as the above. All three are better than Portumex IMO. Pepitos on 23rd has a nice chile verde and a nice outdoor patio.

              2. re: phoenikia

                My wife just woke up, read my post, and said: "You idiot! Why didn't you mention Tamarindo Antojeria (in Old Oakland) and Fonda Solana (in Berkeley)?" And she's right; those are both very, very good upscale Mexican restaurants--for some reason I blocked them both out of my mind. We eat at Fonda at least a couple of times a month, but I guess I just don't think of it as a Mexican restaurant (because it really isn't--in the traditional sense). Tamarindo is a tad pretentious but several of the dishes are excellent, and a few are unusual and special. And both are FAR superior to places like Doña Tomas, which really isn't in their league.

                1. re: dlglidden

                  Thanks so much Derald (and please thank your wife, too!), for the upscale and the lowkey recs. I'm hoping I'll get a chance to try both Tamarindo and Fonda Solana when I'm visiting Berkeley & Oakland next month, as well as a couple of the "taco joints" you've mentioned. They're all on my list;)

                2. re: phoenikia

                  A recent topic with some additional Mexican options:

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/324212

                  The best neighborhood for Mexican food in Oakland's very Mexican Fruitvale district. El Huarache Azteca's my favorite but there are lots of others.

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/450404

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/search?sear...

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/search?sear...

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Thank you so much, Robert~

                3. re: dlglidden

                  Just the thought of you bobbing around in that punch bowl has tanked my interest in food at the moment...