Can any city have too many taco stands?
I think not, as someone who thinks Taco Tuesday is overblown and that tacos are really a seven-day-a-week treat. Now we have two new sources, even if one is not actually open seven days a week.
Asada Grill has opened a second restaurant on Buena Vista Road across the street from St. John’s Lutheran Church. We’ve praised the original located near Champs BBQ at the corner of Highway 65 and Merle Haggard Drive out near the airport. Our biggest problem there was the limited days and hours, closing early on weekday nights so you had to race there if you were seeking dinner tacos. Like the uber successful Victor’s, the restaurant took the basic Chipotle cafeteria concept and added a fresh spin, particularly fresh grilled asada beef. I was disappointed when I learned that not all the meat at Chipotle was fresh-made on the premises. Freshness matters, something Asada Grill understands.
Our biggest problem at the new location was the poor service. We visited at night, my companion selecting a three taco plate with asada as the meat ($7.99, additional 49 cents for cheese) and I ordered a chile verde burrito ($6.99). First issue was the fold of the burrito. I’ve always been impressed by the technique at Chipotle where they seem to defy the laws of physics and the space-time continuum to fold the ingredients into a neat tortilla bundle that maintains its integrity during the eating process. No such luck here, the staff just hadn’t been trained in the same way.
Another glitch was that beer (not wine) was available, on tap too. No list on the menu board of the choices available. The woman taking the order didn’t know what they offered. Mass confusion. Apparently the taps are in a side room with a small bar and tables that was dark when we visited. A work in progress apparently, but a problem easily solved in a number of easy ways.
The food offers plenty of good things to write about. They gave us a plate of chips with my burrito that had been sprinkled with seasoning salt. The meats were excellent, and the salsa is authentic and fresher tasting than what Chipotle serves. The chile verde burrito had the perfect balance of rice, beans, chile verde and cheese, and I appreciated the ability to customize it on the line as I walked through. There is a salsa bar, something Chipotle does not offer. The refried beans served with the tacos were a bit soupy, so I’m not sure about that yet, but the carne asada, grilled on the spot right on the line where the quesadillas are assembled, is always first rate. And expect a lot more variety, including tortas, shrimp items, fajitas, and eight protein sources including tofu and chorizo.
Breakfast burritos (available until 10:30 a.m.) are made with hash browns. The décor is industrial chic with a cement floor, exposed ductwork above us, easily cleaned wooden tables and chairs and a patio.
Senor Taco, which opened last fall, is a similarly worthy experience for different reasons. It’s located on Panama Lane east of Costco across from the Albertsons in a very small space. They bill the product as “flame grilled tacos” which means that the tri-tip, chicken and pastor pork we sampled had a more pronounced barbecue flavor than at Asada Grill. Points for 11 different proteins, including tripas, lengua and cabeza, but they lose points for no vegetarian options.
On our visit my companion ordered an asada bowl ($7.49) and I sampled three tacos: tri-tip ($2.29) chicken and pastor ($1.79 each). All the beers are bottled but there’s a good selection of Mexican beers at $2.99.
The bowl is the way to go if you’re hungry, a big dish of rice, beans, cheese, onions with cilantro, meat and guacamole. We found that the asada was pretty comparable with what we sampled at the first restaurant, but we really liked the small way they diced the meats in both the bowl and my tacos. It just mixed better with the other ingredients. The beans seemed more substantial too, not lost in the taste competition.
The menu at Senor Taco has a lot of options including sopes, tortas, nachos, asada fries, fish tacos, fajitas and a Hot Cheetos burrito ($8.99). I’ve tried those creations elsewhere and I still don’t get the appeal. Sorry Frito-Lay. The place is small but clean and we enjoyed the festive Mexican music playing loudly from ceiling speakers. A couple waiting for their food started dancing, and we understood why. It works to put you in a festive mood. Service was fine, although I ordered a Negra Modelo and the waitress brought a regular Modelo.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at email@example.com.