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Aug 23, 2013 12:08 AM

South Bay Burritos

I'm back in the bay area after moving away a few years ago and was wondering if anyone could make a recommendation for a good carnitas burrito between Palo Alto and San Jose that includes one particular element.

I used to frequent Taqueria La Bamba and really liked their carnitas super burritos, but maybe 5 years back I noticed they changed their tortillas. The old style of tortillas they had were somewhat thick, golden and rich tasting: almost like a softer roti bread. At some point they seemed to have switched to a mass-produced product closer to the gummy flavorless wraps used by Chipotle (although I've been away, so who knows, maybe they switched back).

Are they any taquerias out there that you know use that more rustic style of tortilla and have great carnitas?

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  1. Don't have a pointer for you, but just wanted to say welcome back! I did a double take when I saw your name on the SF board index.

    ETA: Here's a recent rundown of the competition.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Wow, I'm genuinely touched that anyone would actually remember me.

      Maybe I shouldn't be, though, because as I was looking through recent threads trying to catch up on what's been going on in the South Bay/Peninsula food scene, I was really struck by the congenial spirit of community that pervades the SF Bay board. The tone is pleasantly different than the NYC board, and you've certainly played a major part in upholding that spirit Melanie.

      1. re: Humbucker

        Melanie is remarkably good that way, both remembering people and welcoming them back. A toast to Melanie!

        1. re: eatzalot

          To me, Melanie is really the "soul" of the SF Bay Area board. She makes immense contributions.

        2. re: Humbucker

          Thank you and you're welcome. Takes more than one person to sustain a community, so cheers to chowhounds everywhere.

          And I'm hoping you'll pick up the Korean trail again on ECR.

          1. re: Humbucker

            it's a great observation... i still post on both boards as a NY to CA transplant, and i find that i'm much nicer on the SF board than the NY board because the attitude is so much better. I enjoy both boards, but they are very different. Welcome (back)!

        3. Humbucker, just for reference in case you have not yet caught up on the following:

          Taqueria La Bamba which you mention has flourished and evolved somewhat since a few years ago. I'm acquainted with three separate locations: the Old Middlefield original, the serviceable though drab-looking Castro St. location since around 2007, and the very good Rengstorff (at Middlefield) site since 2011, not far away from the original -- and preferred to the others by my group of foodie lunch friends, one of whom lives walking distance from both it and the original and has been a La Bamba regular about 20 years.

          ALL somewhat different in style and menu, as if run autonomously by relatives (the Fiesta Syndrome, so to speak -- alluding to another, more upscale, and Mexican rather than Salvadorean, family-run restaurant group of five or six locations in MV and Palo alto named variously Fiesta Something, Something Sol, or Agave). Agave incidentally, which opened about a year back in downtown MV, I am finding quite impressive though a little pricey; it almost has a destination draw like the old Oaxacan Kitchen in PA that we used to frequent; similar in having good "ethnic" regional specialties, but not Oaxaca-specific like O. K. was.

          I have also read of a 4th La Bamba opened in Sunnyale this year, but know nothing about it.

          At La Bamba I am usually trying something new and Salvadorean each visit, but my aforementioned proximate friend favors the burritos (at the Rengstorff restaurant) and I can guess that they, like other specialties, may enjoy some independent style at each site. So you might want to do a little tour of them if you haven't already.

          3 Replies
          1. re: eatzalot

            While not in the Mountain View, there's also a Taqueria La Bamba in Richmond.

            1. re: eatzalot

              I had no idea that TlB had three Mountain View locations now. I remember feeling that the food at the Castro St. location didn't quite have the magic of the original when it first opened, but that could have just been psychosomatic. I'm surprised that the Castro one has managed to stay open this long because whenever I pass by it's mostly empty. I'll definitely take your recommendation on the Rengstorff location.

              Incidentally, my family has business ties with Agave, but I have yet to eat there.

              1. re: Humbucker

                "I'm surprised that the Castro one has managed to stay open this long because whenever I pass by it's mostly empty."

                I'm with you. (I am in that downtown almost daily, and regularly walk the street watching for restaurant changes.) That very block has seen more restaurants come and go in recent years than any other I know.

                In fact, three places on the same block are in transition now: 102 (fmr Hunan Chili), 124 (fmr Barracuda Sushi and briefly, K-Pop), 126 (soon-to-be-fmr Workshop Burger B&G); 146 recently became a branch of Blue Line Pizza (specialty: deep-dish). La Bamba there is at 152.

                Two of those sites were in yesterday's Peninsula Daily Post, which now carries the best coverage of specifically peninsula restaurant changes, each Thursday (formerly, Friday):

                124 is becoming a new Chinese concept, HoneyCreek (casual foods and a lounge), 126 being taken over by some people who tried earlier to do something with British Bankers' Club in M'Park.

                Also, Asian Box opened January at 142, La Fontaine opened in March (186 Castro) -- the truly outstanding Turkish-born chef from Vaso Azzurro (108) now independent and turning out gloriously old-school dishes, like chicken cordon bleu, quite well (as he did at Vaso); while Shabuway (180) opened a rear annex making Japanese curries (at the moment, take-out only).

                These places and a few others are all adjacent on the same block. Same block as Agave (194) and Amarin (174, topical in another recent peninsula thread). It's all anyone can do to keep up, even if present daily!

            2. I didn't know about that new La Bamba MV location either. Thanks for the tip!

              My regular these days is Taqueria Los Altos, also at Old Middlefield and Rengstorff, kitty corner across that intersection. Haven't tried the carnitas though. They have a lot more seating than the original La Bamba, but if the new La Bamba solves that problem that would be good news indeed.


              9 Replies
              1. re: mdg

                It's huge. Used to be some large business or fast food at the Rengstorff end of that commercial corner with [plain] Middlefield. High ceilings, outdoor tables behind.

                Conveniently situated next to the tiny but so far (in my tries) fresh, fastidious Bangkok Bistro.

                1. re: eatzalot

                  Is the food pretty much the same between the old and new MV location?

                  1. re: ML8000

                    Hi ML -- I can't offer detailed current comparison, but the different styles and menus was a general point in my first posting above, beginning "Humbucker ..."

                2. re: mdg

                  Does Taqueria Los Altos use the pancakey tortillas (now that I think of it they sort of remind me of the hand-made flour tortillas sold at Trader Joes) that I described above for their burritos?

                  1. re: Humbucker

                    I know what you're talking about with those tortillas. I've been trying to think of who serves them. I'm a corn tortilla guy, so not as much help.

                    My favorite tortillas in the area are Los Gemelos in RWC, two locations & a truck, the older and more magic location is the one on Middlefield (when you look it up). They might use those tortillas for their quesadillas, but their handmade tortillas are great for tacos. These guys are worth a stop, try to get as many meats as possible, because quality is highly variable --- you'll find one or two you like.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      bbulkow: I'm up and down Middlefield constantly and I believe the Los Gemelos store has morphed into another taqueria. Name escapes me at the moment. I liked that location but the El Camino one isn't bad (to me it just doesn't have the "soul" of the other one).... I haven't seen the truck in quite some time, do you know where it is these days?

                      1. re: RWCFoodie

                        The Middlefield ex-Gemelos still has a lot of the "soul" of the old one. I preferred the real Gemelos, but it's still worth tasting.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          Dang, I forgot its name too! The Middlefield ex-Gemelos sells $1 tacos, and gets the tortillas from a bag instead of hand making them to order like Gemelos did.

                          1. re: hyperbowler

                            Google shows Catrinas Taqueria at that address, would that be the new place?

                3. Atop various other coincidences, La Costeña Market's venerable burrito bar (once again OLD Middlefield at Rengstorff) just got the 2013 Best Burrito award in the Mountain View Voice's popularity poll, published today. I've yet to try that place, and don't know if it helps the OP's quest at all.

                  It is, though, the most famous burrito source in Mountain View if not the United States, due to a certain very big burrito in the Guiness record book, assembled at Rengstorff park, 1997. In earlier days, La Costeña had been the Middlefield Food Center, run by grandparents of local historian Nick Perry. The same Perry book I cited to bbulkow in the other recent pensinsula thread has a photo of that site and intersection 50 years ago. (The later "Then and Now" sequel features Walker's Wagon Wheel and others.)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: eatzalot

                    I got to eat some of that largest burrito! Not their best, but fun.

                    I don't eat burritos (allergy) and our family much prefers corn tortillas, but I think La Costena uses the standard tortillas.

                  2. I visited the Rengstorff and original La Bambas today. Unfortunately, neither use the old style tortilla. I'm pretty sure that neither even prepare the tortillas like they used to by tossing them on the grill on top of the meats to soak up some of that flavor.

                    Even aside from the tortilla, the burrito I had from the original La Bamba today was missing that indescribable flavor that I remember from way back (it was almost like the Mexican equivalent of wok hay). Maybe this is another example of how you can never go back.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Humbucker

                      I find that Al Pastor has an ephemeral nature, what's crispy and what's not, what stewed overnight, and every joint with a stick - it depends when you go and what your luck is. I've ( recently ) had good la bamba ( at Castro st, they seem to have more room there ), and El Grullense. Now, I look at the spit before ordering.