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Jan 12, 2010 09:39 PM

El Taco Zamorano, El Huarache Azteca, Mariscos Manzanillo or Mariscos La Costa in East Bay

I'm in the mood for some really good basic Mexican food. For those of you familiar with Ojeda's near downtown Dallas, I dream about Ojeda's puffy tacos, smokey refried beans and yummy chile con queso. To date, I've tried (many of them numerous times): Juan's and Picante in Berkeley; Oatez in Alameda; La Pinata in Hayward; Casa Orozco in Dublin; and El Charro in Lafayette. None have come close to satisfying my cravings for the Tex-Mex food I ate while growing up in Texas.

I'm looking for a sit-down restaurant for Friday night for hubby and myself. We're not big on pork, lamb, goat or organ meats. We do, however, enjoy lean cuts of beef, chicken (white meat only) and all kinds of seafood, especially shell fish, squid and fish. Ideally, a place with flavorful corn tortillas, thick, chewy flour tortillas, killer green and red salsas who do basic dishes really well --- tamales, enchiladas, flautas, chile rellanos, refried beans, etc. Mexican seafood cocktails and/or cerviche would be an added plus.

I've done some research and have identified four restaurants that seem to get generally positive reviews: El Taco Zamarano, El Huarache Azteca, Mariscos Manzanillo and Mariscos La Costa. However, I can't tell whether all four are sit-down restaurants or more for take-out.

Hubby isn't keen on going to Zamarano because of its location and proximity to Hells Angels. What say you CHs? Which would you suggest and more importantly, what should we order there? Is there some place better we should try? Would appreciate your limiting your recs from Castro Valley to Oakland for this go round.

Thanks so much for your help!

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  1. It seems like you're looking for Tex-Mex, which you're simply not going to find. The Mexican immigrants to California don't cook Tex-Mex -- why would they, since they're not from Texas, and since that's not what their clientele is looking for? Plus, pardon me for being blunt, but if you're only looking for white meat chicken and lean beef, then you're not going to find that at restaurants in Mexican neighborhoods.

    But to answer your question about the places you mentioned: Mariscos La Costa is basically take out: walk-up windows and outdoor seating only; the others are sit-down. Zamorano is really best known for its carnitas, so if you're not into pork, probably not worth braving the Hells Angels (no big deal, really, but why push your hubby's comfort zone unnecessarily). El Huarache Azteca is sit-down and you should feel comfortable there. Given your stated preferences, and their flair for masa-based dishes, that might be your best bet (get something with the chicken tinga). I've poked my head in Mariscos Manzanillo, but I haven't eaten there personally, but if you want seafood it's worth a shot.

    1. I agree with Ruth, but just one note about the Hell's Angels... I'm a huge fan of El Taco Zamorano, have been going there for about 7 years, and have never had any problems with or seen any issues with the Hell's Angels. The Mexican families with their children running around don't seem to mind their presence either. It's actually kind of cute to watch the older H.A. guys sitting their with their diet cokes...

      5 Replies
      1. re: adrienne156

        I agree. The Hell's Angels are really not an issue at Zamorano. Did I ever post about when I went by the Hell's Angels HQ with the NPR reporter who was doing a story on taco trucks? Now that was a tiny bit scary but ultimately funny: we'd been checking out the (pretty good) taco truck next door, and for local color we walked over to the Hell's Angels HQ. Since this was for radio, I started reading the plaque out front out loud. This drew the attention of the guys inside who came to the doorway to check us out, didn't seem terribly pleased to see a reporter with a microphone, glowered at us and wanted to know what we were doing. I could feel the slightly built Japanese-American reporter shrink back a little, then gather himself and start asking them how they felt about taco trucks and whether they patronized them. They responded tersely that they did, and they were okay, but they weren't about to invite us in for a chat!

        BTW, I had dinner the other night at El Huarache Azteca with my dad, and they seem to be adding more interesting dishes as specials. We ordered barbacoa (lamb) with salsa verde (previously I believe barbacoa was only available on weekends) and a chile en nogada, which came on a pretty dish with pomegranate seeds artfully scattered over it. We also had a very good version of champurrado and an equally good nuez atole (although neither was quite up to the versions El Ojo de Agua used to offer -- unfortunately I haven't seen atole there in a long time). The barbacoa came with consumme, which I expected, but the consumme had macaroni in it, which I thought was weird.

        1. re: adrienne156

          Both El Taco Zamorano & Huarache Aztec (my 2 current favorites) are frequented by Mexican-American families. Personally, the neighborhood around El Taco Zamorano seems more secure because of the Hell's Angels presence -- they post guards to watch their hogs, Foothill Blvd, & the surrounds plus during club get-togethers the OPD also cruises the neighborhood.

          During a HA's anniversary celebration a couple years back, the Minnesota contingent adjourned to Zamorano for a meal and a pink-haired Angel commented that they served his fav (pork carnitas) plus he was enjoying our warm weather (in the 40s!).

          As Ruth said, Tex-Mex isn't what this immediate area is all about. . . maybe further east in the Central Valley? If you find it, would you please report back so we know for future reference?

          1. re: Stephanie Wong

            Thanks Ruth, Adrienne and Stephanie for the helpful insight into these restaurants. I really appreciate it!

            I hope I didn't come across as too "high-maintenance" regarding my likes/dislikes. It's not that I won't eat any pork. I love pork and vegetable dumplings. I generally don't like super fatty meats like carnitas or the super fatty pork they typically use in pork tamales.

            It's hard to explain, b/c we always get stuff from Boccalone whenever we visit the Ferry building. I also love the happy hour at Adesso with lots and lots of fatty pork goodness! I'm also a big fan of baby back ribs, extra crispy bacon and pulled pork as long as all the fat has been removed. I do not, however, enjoy roast pork, pork chops, carnitas, country pork ribs, etc.

            As for my concerns about the area, perhaps I'm extra sensitive b/c my husband works in law enforcement and has assisted in several raids at that very location. He's also served warrants on active HA's members. He's okay with us eating there, he just doesn't understand why I'd want to eat there when there other other places we could eat that are located in more desirable areas. But then, he's not obsessed with finding good food! ;-)

            We don't travel to the Central Valley and alas, we don't eat Mexican very often. However, I promise I'll report back as we visit these restaurants, even if it takes a while.

            Thanks again for all the great information. I knew I could count on my fellow CHs!

            1. re: cvhound

              CV -- Don't worry about coming off as "high-maintenance" -- you like what you like. ;)

              Ruth - That story is too funny. I feel fine in the area, but there is no way anyone is going to get me to walk up to their front door dressed as a reporter. Hah.
              Another question for you -- since my run in with Ojo de Agua over the stinkin' breakfast burrito, I haven't really found any other places that do agua frescas and licuados as beautifully. Any recs?

            2. re: Stephanie Wong

              What are your favorite dishes at El Huarache Azteca? I've been a couple of times and while I think it is better than just ok, and I think it is close to being "really good" maybe I'm not ordering quite the right things, or it isn''t ever going to be "really good" for me.

          2. Thanks again to everyone who posted about ETZ. We ate there last Friday and really liked it a lot! We enjoyed the fresh tasting red salsa, tart green salsa (provided only upon request), fresh chips (just wish they were salted), GREAT corn tortillas, and very sweet but refreshing horchata. Hubby ordered the garlic shrimp and I had a small deep fried whole snapper (?). Total after tax and tip for two entrees, an extra order of corn tortillas (three to an order) one Corona and one horchata was $47.

            Hubby loved the garlicky sauce on his shrimp. I, too, loved the garlic sauce, but would probably order something else with the sauce besides the shrimp, because they were very hard to peel. I thought the fish was a bit overcooked and very underseasoned ( it didn't taste like they used any salt before frying the fish). I probably wouldn’t order it again. Both entrees came with a large green salad with iceberg lettuce, red onion, beets and Thousand Island-type dressing. My salad also included a few small pieces of avocado, but hubby's did not.

            Hubby prefers flour tortillas to corn, so he ordered flour tortillas with his meal and I ordered corn. The corn tortillas were so good that I ordered an extra order of tortillas to take home to eat with my leftover rice and beans. We thought the frozen flour tortillas tasted better than the flour tortillas at ETZ, but the corn tortillas were probably the best I’ve had at a Mexican restaurant here in Norcal.

            Finally, the neighborhood wasn't nearly as bad as I feared. The restaurant is located on a busy street and most of the tables were occupied with large families with small children. Parking was tough, but we lucked out and finally found a space right in front of the restaurant after trolling the back streets looking for parking.

            We’re looking forward to going back and trying more items on the menu.

            3 Replies
              1. re: cvhound

                Sorry I forgot to mention ETZ's parking lot is across the side street (where they park their taco trucks) and there's usually a space or two.

                Larry orders his fried fish ala diabla "not too crispy". I have find that sauce too hot for my GI tract (it depends on who's in the kitchen) so think I'll try the fish with garlic sauce next time. Thanks for reporting back and the tip!

                1. re: Stephanie Wong

                  Stephanie, thanks for sharing that you can request the fried fish "not too crispy." I love ordering whole fish at restaurants and will give it another try with the addition of garlic sauce. We saw all the taco trucks in the lot, but didn't think that was also a lot for restaurant customers, so thanks for the parking tip!