Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bad Taco, Bad!

If you look closely, you can see the tiny enchiladas, white rice, and cup of black beans. More like a cup of bullshit.

Bad tacos suck. And the tacos at LA food critics’ darling Loteria (at the Farmer’s Market) are bad tacos. Bad taco, bad. And so are the tacos at Taco Spot in Eagle Rock. Bad taco, bad!

Tania and I went to the Farmer’s Market for no real reason other than to just to kind of wander around. (We did visit the hot sauce shack, but that’s another post.) We didn’t really want to spend any money, but while we were drinking beers we got kind of hungry. “You want to get a couple tacos at Loteria?” I asked.

Tania hates Loteria. And I’m with her on this one. It’s really not that bad, but people rave about it and I tend to hate anything that people are raving about. They claim it’s “authentic” Mexican cuisine. “This is what real Mexicans in Mexico eat,” they seem to say. I can assure you they don’t. I’ve been all over Mexico and I’ve never seen “pollo en pipian rojo” (“chicken in a spicy pumpkin seed and peanut sauce”). Or how about the zucchini and roasted corn taco? Oh yeah, I was eating those every day… what the hell?

The creator of all this nonsense is Jimmy Shaw. I could rest my case right there with the name, but I enjoy talking shit too much. I learned in the LA Magazine review of Loteria that not only is he white, but his father is Scottish. You can’t get much further from Mexican food than Scotland. Apparently, though, Jimmy grew up in Mexico City. Alright, fine. But he’s still not making Mexican food.

Jimmy is a chef. And when I say “chef” I mean it in the way that it’s synonymous with “artist.” And as such, he is not making authentic Mexican food, he is fucking with authentic Mexican food and creating something entirely different. High end, artsy Mexican food? If there was a Top Chef quick-fire challenge to create a Mexican dish, he would probably do well in the eyes of the judges. He definitely scores some creativity points. But “authentic?” No way.

“In the best Mexican food,” it said in the LA magazine review, “seasonings build on one another. There is a constant interplay between the depth of flavor that comes with long cooking times and the brightness lent by herbs and the zing of chile heat. Shaw, who often works behind the counter in a short-sleeved chef’s jacket, is a master of this fundamental exchange. Many of the dishes are defined by the contrast of patient simmering and fresh salsas...The stewed chicken of the tinga de pollo, the tender carne deshebrada, the slow-cooked pork of the cochinita pibil—all have a lush, saturated quality."

yeah, saturated... uh...

Oh fuck off. To the author’s credit, however, he did acknowledge the lack of Mexican food at Loteria. Specifically, he thought it was a shame that carne asada is nowhere to be found on the menu. Which is bullshit. The reason, I’d assume, is because it’s too pedestrian? It would be the equivalent of having a hamburger on the menu at the French Laundry. Which gets to the heart of our disgruntlement: it’s a fucking taco stand, not the French Laundry.

To his credit, there are some things on the menu that sound really good. We ordered two tacos. I got “cochinita pibil: pork, slowly roasted in banana leaf, served with citrus pickled red onion and chile habanero.” Tania ordered “carnitas en salsa morita, with avocado and onion and cilantro.”

carnitas en salsa morita

cochinita pibil

Pretty normal, if not for the unnecessary flair on the menu. And they were both good. I will readily admit that those were a couple of good tacos. But they weren’t amazing and that’s where the problem is.

If Gary ate tacos, which he doesn't—it would be funny if you had a cat that only ate tacos—he would need to eat like five of these to feel full. Do they serve their beers in a thimble?

First of all, they were tiny. The tortillas in our fridge (which are handmade every day at our “authentic” Mexican grocery store, ahem) are 4 ¼ inches in diameter. They are the standard little taco tortillas. The tortillas at Loteria were about 3 inches in diameter. While I was waiting for my two tacos—actually I should mention the wait. Here’s some dipshit food blogger explaining it: “Some people are disappointed in Loteria Grill because they go expecting the best Mexican food in all of L.A., or they think it's slow, or expensive. But I like Loteria for several reasons -- they have interesting vegetarian tacos like mushroom and zucchini.” That’s because it is slow, and it is expensive, and everyone says it's the best Mexican food in LA, but it's not, you shithead. Her remark also reveals who it’s popular with: vegetarians.

I had to wait almost ten minutes for my two tiny little tacos. But I got to look at other orders coming out, all of which were microscopic. The enchiladas were ridiculous: two little taquito size enchiladas, about as wide as your thumb, covered with green sauce, served with a little bowl of black beans and a small cup of white rice. White rice? Eh? And you know how we feel about black beans—that’s Portland Mexican food. And for two tiny enchiladas you pay $9.95. When they finally called my name and pushed the plate towards me, I was like, “Are you joking?”

I took it back to the bar where Tania was sitting and she laughed at the meager offering. There were two little corn tortillas, about the size of a hockey puck, with a tablespoon of meat in the center of each. They cost $3 each. Not only were they smaller than a regular taco, but they cost twice as much. And as I said, they weren’t twice as good as a regular ole taco truck taco. Which is where I used to think you could get authentic Mexican cuisine, but apparently not? I guess they don’t have any peanuts in their tacos, huh?

Loteria is stupid. I suppose the food is interesting, but it’s not worth the price or the hype.

It just looks "white" doesn't it? More like "Taco NOT."

Taco Spot is barely worth mentioning. This place is a joke. We’ve driven past it repeatedly and always wondered what it’s like. It sucks. Actually, it doesn’t even bother to suck. It’s just blah. Of all the reviews on line, the most common complaint is that it’s “gringo food.” It’s kind of like between Del Taco and real Mexican food, but closer to the Del Taco end of the spectrum. And like Loteria, it was expensive. Except that I could get everything we got at Taco Spot at Del Taco for like $1.50.

I know, it looks like Mexican food, but it isn't.

Those are supposed to be salsas, but they're just colors. Even the straight roasted jalapenos were lacking flavor.

So there you go, two taco places that make bad tacos. What’s funny is I knew before we ate at both that I wasn’t going to like ‘em, but I couldn’t write this article if I didn’t eat at ‘em. Remember, if something bad happens, just write about it.


gbrl said...

man, i know some spot over here on whittier blvd that has taocs with 5 inch diameter tortillas for 99 cents PACKED wit meat. fuck all that fake l.a. magazine bullshit. why are you even reading something written by a knob with like name shaw on the topic of mexican food? you should just roll down whittier blvd and stop at any taco place you see and you will be so much happier with your meal. and you will barely spend any money. just let me know and i will make you a whittier blvd taco stand tour, yo. the way, as far as i know, there is no such thing as gourmet tacos, so that shaw dude needs to stop what he is doing.

Tasty Morsel said...

That's the first entirely negative (in re: the food) post you've done...

Yeah, I hate the food bloggers / writers for big publications. It's usually some drawn out nonsense that doesn't relate to what the food is really like. How do you describe taste anyways? It's arbitrary as hell. Those people probably got paid off. I find the experience to be almost as important as the food as well as the better part to read about.

I don't know what the hell to say about vegetarian food bloggers / writers. How can you write about food when you're eating less than half of what there is to eat?

Anonymous said...

mr and mrs c, I gotta ask, where is midnight burrito in all of this? I once took phil (crom) there just to watch his reaction to how good the chimichangas are (I'd already eaten) and yeah, it was a little like watching a xanax hit someone, he looked euphoric and he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. lets go check it out!... or I can get us some acid too, same deal.