In my travels this summer I came across the most amazing place in Encinitas called The Taco Stand. Apparently they used all the creativity in the kitchen and not on the name, because everything is made in-house and it’s so good there’s a constant line of people outside waiting to order at the counter. I waited 40 minutes during one visit in June. The spicy shrimp is as fresh tasting and amazing as the wild shrimp Milt’s is using in that amazing omelet they’ve got as a monthly special (hurry in before that’s gone). And the carne asada is grilled on one side so long it’s crunchy and caramelized. Even the churros are made to order and the inside is fluffy and amazing.

We have a new restaurant in Bakersfield that, though much more limited in menu items and kitchen space, is going after the same crowd that wants simple food at an inexpensive price (or we could say "after the same simple-food-at-an-inexpensive-price crowd". It’s called Taco Bros and the subtitle on the menu board says “Just Like Your Mama’s.” Bonus points for using the apostrophe correctly, a rare event in today’s world. They’ve moved into a former coffee kiosk downtown in the Wells Fargo parking lot downtown on what used to be called the Crosstown Freeway and is now known as the Crosstown Traffic Jam— there’s so much construction going on with the widening project that it’s torture to go through that stretch to get to the Northeast. Anyway they have two drive-thru lanes, three metal tables with seating for about 12, and they got our order out in 10 minutes. The “bros” look like three guys who definitely don’t suffer from claustrophobia working in a very confined space.

We ordered a chicken bowl ($7.49), a beef burrito ($7.49) and a chicken quesadilla ($6.99), and all were good enough to inspire return visits though I must say the quesadilla, rich with cheese and tasty chopped chicken, was the first to disappear. I recommend getting it as a combo ($8.49) because you can get their respectable horchata as well as the rice that is moist and tasty and the pot beans, which also show up in the bowl and the burrito. They offer three different salsas they make, the hottest being raw. The meats had the same authentic taste as the restaurant we raved about from Encinitas, though the beef was not caramelized and is far more tender. The chicken is pretty irresistible and they toss guacamole around a lot (the bowl, the quesadilla) so that’s a plus.

I saw the bros scrambling as customers went through the drive-thru lanes as quickly as I got my food. It just seemed pretty impressive to get this quality out of such an operation. I can’t, however, declare the place family-friendly as children playing in traffic could be a real hazard, even with the traffic jam. But if I work downtown and I’m driving home and not in the mood to make dinner, picking up some of this is a solid alternative.

In comparison, there’s a small family-run Mexican place in Oildale that I’ve been accused of overlooking as I’ve praised Milt’s, Cataldo’s and La Tapatia (my go-to Mexican spot North of the River) and that’s El Taquito, on Chester Avenue right across from the Long Branch Saloon. The menu is far more extensive here, there are a few tables inside, beer and wine is available and the small staff is a friendly group.

The most notable feature was the large flour tortilla served with my chili verde plate ($7.95). It was soft, hot and while probably not made on the premises was so fresh I had to break a piece off for my companion to sample. The verde with rice and beans was serviceable but still not good enough to lure me away from La Tapatia. My companion ordered a combo plate with a chicken enchilada and a hard shell taco with ground beef ($7.95). The taco shell was fried on the premises, but she suspected it had hit the grease earlier that morning. Not up to her freshness standards. The enchilada was a winner all the way, spicy and good and full of a lot of cheese. Cheese can go a long way as we all know, just like butter, to make anything seem particularly winning. The beef had a bit of a steamy taste, she noted. The chili verde was in firm chunks, with an occasional fat bomb that had to be trimmed away, but you don’t mind that because we all know what that adds to the flavor. Just like the cheese.

El Taquito offers menudo on the weekend, posole every day, a lot of breakfast burritos and eight different meats for the tacos, burritos and enchiladas, including carnitas and al pastor in the pork department.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com

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