Monday, June 24, 2013

Badass Tacos - Thousand Oaks

Well, I never would have thought that the first place I would hit up after a 9 month layoff would be a place in Thousand Oaks. Maybe that's just a testament to the sad state of affairs this blog is currently in. But baby steps dammit! baby steps...

Should I just reintroduce myself? 

My name is Rob, I live in Newbury Park, California. I am the owner of three children and have loved eating tacos since at least 1982-1983; or whenever it was the Lakers got swept by the Sixers in the finals. I started this blog 2 years ago (I think??) with the sole purpose of cataloging taquerias and places that sell tacos strictly in the Ventura County with hopes of finding awesome tasting tacos. 

Anyway- Thousand Oaks is a place I have ties to; it was my first entrance into the Ventura County. My parents moved me and my sister there from the San Fernando Valley when I was 12. Needless to say, I always thought that Thousand Oaks had a horrible Mexican Food scene. However, in the last 2-3 years they have really turned things around. 

What with new entries including: the amazing Esablos Meat Market, the mostly okay Siesta Market , the fantastic Loteria Grill and the utterly bourgeois Sabor (I'm still not going there, please stop asking) there are now some solid options when it comes Mexican food around those parts. 

And with that there is now this place: Badass Tacos. There's no actual sign that states this as the name of course. Nope, just the use of the unfortunate neon sign above (Hello my Caucasian/Suburban friends! "Street Tacos" here!!).  

The set up is this: They put up some tents, a grill, a rotisserie (for the Al Pastor) and a table for salsa's and such all in front of the Thousand Oaks Meat Locker on Thousand Oaks blvd. Plus, there's a lady there selling some Mexican pastries too. It has the look and feel of a backyard cook out. 

I ended up ordering 4 tacos: Carne Asada, Pastor, Pollo and one called Cochinita. Plus a nice cold horchata. 

All the tacos came plain; I had to top them myself with cilantro, onions and salsa. They have 3 salsas available: Verde, Verde/Avocado and Roasted Roja. All quite tasty but nothing mouth blisteringly spicy. 

The pollo: I still don't know why so many dudes try and pull off the whole grilled chicken breast thing. Just too dry.  The safer play would have been to go for the Chicken Tinga (shredded & spicy). But alas, Badass tacos throws their hat into the ring with mixed results; still too dry but a very nice spice rub that produces a spicy flavor. I ordered it for my daughter but she only ate half. I doused the rest with the avocado salsa and it turned out pretty good. Nice try guys, solid flavor, even better with all the fixings on top but chicken breast is just not on my list of favorite things to eat. Give it a try if that's your thing. 

Carne Asada: Very flavorful and tender. It didn't have any crispy bits really or any chard parts but the flavor was bold and mouth feel almost velvety. Excellent. 

Al Pastor: This one was awesome with the cuts of pineapple on top. Very traditional in taste yet mellow in the typical Pastor spice rub department. Much like the asada, very tender, very good. 

Cochinita: This one was the stand out: Tender, moist and shredded with a mellow pork flavor and just hints of crispy bits through out. I guess this would be considered Carnitas really, but its just different enough to be its own taco. Almost on the side of pulled pork but not quite, in its own sub-genre...

Tortillas were just okay; I wish they were much hotter and maybe slightly dipped in some grease or stew and then thrown on the grill. But what the hell do I know? I'm just a guy that runs (not really) a half ass blog. 

Give this place a try though, they know what they're doing and it shows. Also there are other interesting options on the menu that I will come back and try. Remember that they're open only from Thursday to Sunday 6:00-11:30 pm. 4/5 stars. 

Badass Tacos 
2684 East Thousand Oaks Boulevard
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Taqueria Tepatitlan - Ventura


So, I haven't done shit since May and it seems like in that time a few things have occurred with regards to tacos, taquerias and some other interesting bits in the Ventura County. Nothing of any real importance (there is some sad news, though) but let me run down just a few things that caught my eye:

"Gourmet" Food trucks have been getting together and serving the greater Oxnard area at a clip of about once month in a designated area. I believe they've been setting up at either the Elks Lodge parking lot or Plaza Park? Dude, I don't remember but the fact that Oxnard has been hosting Gourmet Food trucks in itself gives me hope for the future. The Ventura County Environmental Health Division is a real stick in the mud when it comes to food trucks, by the way. They've actually been at it for a year now (with the food trucks) but I hadn't really paid much attention until just recently.

I know that food trucks have been setting up shop here and there over the last few years but the idea of having a specific day with a specific area for the trucks to set up seems to be spreading to the other magnificent towns in and around Ventura County. Again, this is a good thing.

The other thing that happened recently is that there was a shooting at Super Taco in Oxnard. This is obviously a big bummer and I personally thought it was terrible. I don't want to take away from the fact that a 28 year old man lost his life, which is absolutely horrible and definitely shocked me personally, but Super Taco does not serve good food.

Lastly, I drove by the Thousand Oaks Meat Locker the other day and they had a Trompo set up and were shaving off Al Pastor and serving up tacos and such..... Jeez. I honestly don't know how I feel about this. A good thing, right? I think Corrigans Steak House is now serving Cochinta Pibil and a variety of Oaxacan Mole's too. Stay tuned for more info on that...

So- Taqueria Tepatitlan is a very nice sit down style taqueria on Ventura avenue. They've had some nice write ups in the VC Reporter and I believe have been voted the third best Mexican food establishment recently (by the residents of Ventura County????) by the same periodical as well.

I walk in and take a seat, a very nice waitress takes my order ( 2 carne asada, al  pastor, carnitas...) and then brings me chips and salsa. The salsa was a very flavorful dipping salsa which I think of using only for the sole purpose of dipping chips and nothing else.

Here's how the tacos measured up:

Carne Asada: I ordered two of them so I could really get a beat on how they do up one of my favorite proteins and unfortunately, it was pretty bland. The meat was moist and tender but the meat itself was lacking in the "Depth Of Flavor" department. The saving grace (and really, the standout on all the tacos) was the red sauce you see in the pic above. It had vinegary/smokey kinda flavor that mixed well with the more than likely reconstituted dry chilies that made up this concoction. It paired well with the meat and made it enjoyable for me to eat.

Al Pastor: Wow, this was different. The flavor of the sauce that covered the pork was really BOLD and I loved it. Totally different (to me) than most of the Al Pastor I've had in the past. The pork itself was shredded and like I said, the sauce/marinade that covered it had an amazing flavor with slow burning mild heat that made me wish I had just ordered four of these. In any case, it was pretty damn good. Can't put my finger on all the intricacies of the sauce but... yeah.

Carnitas: Well, yeah... look, I love carnitas which is usually why I'm such a hard ass about how they should taste and in this case, I was just not satisfied with the flavor and some of the texture. Let me back up, the flavor of pork was there, which is important, but the texture was mushy and the mouth feel was a bit dry. That red sauce that was poured over it helped but to me, it just didn't cut it.

Some other things of note: $2.50 a taco is a bit much for this blogger but the tortillas were filled to the max with meat. Speaking of which, the tortillas were absolutely top notch in the flavor and preparation department. Also, I don't usually like to comment on service but everyone who worked there was very friendly and helpful and they also had Sierra Nevada Torpedo extra IPA on tap. This is a beer I like a lot.

Look it, I know for a fact that Taqueria Tepatitlan serves up some great Mexican food but today I was here grading tacos ONLY. Being that this place is right across the street from the mighty Ortiz Taco Time reminded me of this singular focus. 3/5 stars.

Taqueria Tepatitlan
362 North Ventura Avenue
Ventura, CA 93001

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Loteria Grill - Westlake Village

Loteria Grill at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles has always been a place I love to eat Mexican food so when I heard they were opening one up in Westlake, I nearly crapped my Levi's.

I mean, the food is sensational at the Farmers Market location plus they make my personal favorite Mexican dish: Cochinita Pibil, which now I can enjoy in the culturally rich and diverse (not really) burrow of Westlake Village. Those bastards don't deserve this kind of culinary excellence but, whatever.

In any case, after parking my car and walking up to this brand new establishment, the first thing I notice is that there's no freaking sign stating that this is in fact Loteria Grill. Of course, its definitely the place and the building is still undergoing the finishing touches but I just wanted to fill up blog space by pointing out the obvious.

Okay, is it as good as I've built it up to be? well.......

I ordered these three tacos:

Cochinita Pibil: So, if you don't know, Pibil is basically slow roasted pork in a citrus juice (like orange juice) usually wrapped in a banana leaf. I think its amazing and much to the unhappiness of my wife, this is my favorite "Mexican" dish. Anyway, it was what I expected; rich and complex in flavor and very tender. It wasn't as spicy as I would have liked, though. Maybe the management felt that Pibil needed to have some broad appeal in order to sell I maybe they toned it down a bit for that reason? I'm just spitballing, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

Tinga de Pollo: So this is also one of my favorites (Stewed chicken in peppers) yet their version wasn't that good. I think that maybe because I make this at home all the time and usually do it up really spicy I expect the same from the restaurant version. But still, this was on the bland side, really.

Papa Con Rajas: Something that has become a popular taco item over the last few years has been the potato taco. This is something that I learned to make from my mom. I'm used to eating a potato taco in a corn tortilla that's been fried (dorado) and have always felt that having it in a "soft shell" never really tasted right. But in the case of this taco, Loteria really hit a home run. This potato taco has a very complex flavor profile due to all the goodies they threw on it. Pablano peppers with salsa verde and queso fresco certainly help but the mashed potato's themselves are what made this taco shine; great texture with a velvety mouth feel. Even though the tortilla was not fried in oil, it all seemed to all work out none the less. Well done.

Other than that, the tortillas here are hand made but not hot enough off the griddle and the although the side salsa that came with my order was very flavorful, it had no heat to speak of.

There's some issues here that I need to address before I end this post. This place is expensive ($3.00 - $3.75 per taco depending on the filling) for the size of taco you get; Loteria Grill is not what I would call your standard taqueria where the working man can grab his lunch or late night meal. Its a high brow restaurant/take-out hybrid. Its not a pretentious place at all, but pretentious folks may frequent it.

The other thing, sometimes things look really great on paper. Like when I imagine the Lakers having Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul all on the same team. While that lineup looks impressive, and each individual is talented, the team still needs to have chemistry in order for it to truly work.

The problem here, is that I love Cochinita Pibil and Tinga De Pollo ( I also love Chicken Mole and Chicharrones en Salsa Verde) but it doesn't mean its gonna work in a taco, and that's it.

Oh, I'll come back to Loteria Grill for sure but only to try those items on their own and not in taco form.

And since this blog is only to further the taco cause in Ventura County, I'm limited in discussing Loteria Grill's menu as a "whole".

If you have the cash, please go ahead and try these guys. As always, my review is based soley on the tacos I ate. 3/5 stars.

Loteria Grill
180 Promenade Way
Westlake Village, Ca 91362

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Establos Meat Market and Taqueria - Thousand Oaks

This is gonna be a quick one.

So it turns out that one of my personal favorite places to get a taco or burrito, Establos Meat Market in Camarillo, has opened up another market in the taco deprived area of Thousand Oaks.

If I were much more tech savvy I'd put a link up here somewhere to the review that I wrote up last year about Establos Meat Market in Camarillo. But since I'm an utter buffoon and I can't seem to figure out how to do it please just search it out on this blog to read for yourself how much I freaking love Establos.

For toady's post (And by the way, the inside of this market is like a mini version of the much larger location in Camarillo. Same lay out) I go ahead and order: Carne Asada, Pastor, Carnitas, Tripas and Buche. They have so many other fantastic things up on the big menu board that its pretty tempting to just order a ton of food.

Do you see how fucking awesome this looks? Because the tacos and the items accompanying them on the plate tasted even more awesome.

Tripas: The best. That's it. You can go to other places for tripas tacos but these are simply the best in the county.

Buche: Good. Has a solid pork flavor, nice texture, well cooked.

Carne asada: Very nice, great depth of flavor, slight char........can't go wrong ordering asada from here.

Carnitas: Oops, bad carnitas day. Dry, almost like shredded beef jerky. Its not normally like this but today's version came out bad. C'mon yo, get your carnitas game up. Geez.

Pastor: Pretty good, very nice flavor from the achoite/adobado seasoning that comes through with each bite. I like their version of this polarizing classic.

Other highlights: tortillas oiled up like crazy, salsa: they call it hot, I call it smokey, flavorful but not hot and radishes and limes wedges thrown on my plate will get you everywhere. They also threw in a habanero and like, a GMO/steroided habanero pepper too. They were both delicious and burnt the crap outta my mouth. I couldn't put out the fire with my pineapple Jarritos either. Whatever.

Anyhow, I love this place. The dudes who cook up the food here are nothing short of highly skilled taco technicians. The best that Thousand Oaks has to offer in tacos. That is, until Loteria opens up in Westlake. But that's Westlake. No, I won't be going to Sabor Cocina, sorry. 4/5 stars

Establos Meat Market and Taqueria
140 Hillcrest Drive
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360

Monday, March 12, 2012

Santa Cruz Mexican Cuisine - Ventura


Well, I found it necessary to blog about something this month so here it goes.

Santa Cruz Mexican Cuisine is where this particular post takes place, I've never heard of the taqueria before but its not to far down the road from another Mexican establishment that I've reviewed in the past: El Burrito Alegre. Also, they have a huge banner draped over the top of the entryway that reads: "Delicious Mexican Food Here".

I know I'm being captain obvious on that one seeing as how you can all make that observation yourself with that picture at the top but........

Anyways, whatever, I walk inside and B-line it to the counter and order: Carnitas, Carne Asada and Tripas.

Be aware that the tacos come in two different sizes (regular taco and mini tacos) the carnitas and the carne asdada I ordered were in the "mini taco" size and the tripas taco was actually posted on the menu by itself. Like, that it was a specialty of the house, a dish on its know what I mean? And also a bit larger than the mini tacos.

So, the tacos all arrived on my plate with no salsa on board. I poured the salsa roja that I obtained at the salsa bar pretty much all over the 3 tacos I ordered. The salsa was executed to perfection, it had all the greatest hits of a salsa roja you could want: smokey flavor, not to "liquidy" not like paste either, nice slow building heat, great spicy finish. When I die, I want the tacos served at my funeral topped with something like this. I better let my kids know this information ASAP. 

Tripas: Wow, really good. I've only had one other tripas taco (intestines) for this blog at El Preferido Taco Shop in Santa Paula. This one is easily better, great crispy texture from the deep fry treatment but not losing any of the chewy character that tripas has. Its all in the cooking and these were cooked perfectly, just the right amount of time spent frying and arriving sizzling hot on my plate.

Carne Asada: Solid. No wow factor here but these small pieces of asada get the job done in this taco. Slight char, moist, not overcooked or loaded with connective bits/gristle. Good job!

Carnitas: To dry, dudes. Yes it was shredded and somehow the texture was acceptable (as in the meat fell apart with every bite) but the mouth feel was all wrong as the carnitas did not retain any moister or oil/grease/fat/whatever from the cooking process. So, it just didn't work for me. Also, no bold "pork" flavor.

And that's really what its all about friends, if I'm eating pork I want to know that I'm eating pork. Don't bullshit me, if I keep eating like this I'll be gaining some pounds on the way to an early grave. That's the message I need those carnitas to send me.

The tortillas were lightly oiled and volcanically hot. Again, well done.

I liked the place, a solid choice for tacos. 3.5/5 stars.

Santa Cruz Mexican Cuisine
4587 Telephone Road
Ventura, Ca 93003

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tacos Don Chente - Oxnard

So, I was on my way to Tacos La Costa in Oxnard when I saw a large shiny new taqueria on my right that I was drawn to. Tacos Don Chente is the name of the place and I believe that its owned by the same folks who own the El Pescador family of restaurants.

But really, I'm just lazy and didn't want to drive all the way to Tacos La Costa so I pulled over at the first sight of Mexican Food. There could have been a Baja Fresh or a Taco Bell on the side of the road and I would have pulled right in for a review. Its Monday and I just wasn't feeling the sense of exploration of the greater Oxnard.

Not saying that Don Chente's is in the shit hole class of the famous Baja Fresh, just saying that I needed to wrap this posting up quickly.

Right- So its a pretty clean and sterile looking place on the inside. I mean, they just built the damn place from scratch so I was expecting something like this. But flat screen TV's and marble table tops were a bit of a surprise.

Anyway, I order 4 tacos: carne asada, al pastor, chorizo and carnitas.

Afterwards I head to the condiments area/salsa bar, which was loaded by the way, grab a bit of everything and sit down at one of the many tables available.

Carnitas: Really, really good. Yeah, it was very moist and the meat was all shredded beautifully plus a deep pork flavor that made me think of nothing else but purchasing a burrito filled with these carnitas. No crispy bits but just so tender and delicious that I ate this thing in two bites.

Carne Asada: Also good in that the texture was moist and tender just like the carnitas. In carne asada, I always look for the seasoning and char; meaning did they blast some heat from the griddle on that bad boy and add that charred texture that kinda reminds me of the flavor you get from outdoor grilling. Does the seasoning (lime, cumin, Mexican oregano, chili powder, cloves, etc..) give the meat that classic "asada" flavor? Sometimes they do and other times not so much. Should be easy to execute though.

Here, it seems like the meat is of the "boiled" or "steamed" variety. Its neither boiled or steamed per se but has that kinda mouth feel to it. It was solid but I've obviously had better. More on the bland side too.

Chorizo: Excellent! crispy texture and with a nice spicy flavor. Not greasy whatsoever and really dang tasty, another taco that I could order again and again.

Al pastor: A bit on the boring side. As of now, we all know that there's no taquero slicing pork right off of a trompo and onto my tortillas. We now know that most of whats served as "Al Pastor" around Ventura County is really pork adobado. This is subject to debate as to whether it is in fact al pastor or not. In any case, not caring any more about authenticity when it comes to al pastor (and moving on!), the pork in this taco was tender but it had no "bite" or spice to it. Al pastor should be much more flavorful than this offering. 

The salsa's that I tried were not very spicy but were pretty flavorful. The two darker salsas I doused my tacos with both had a very smokey profile with one of them in particular having some heat and the other with the charred bits of chilies giving it that super smokey accent.

The tortillas were awesome; apparently they're made fresh everyday. I loved them.

Well, Don Chente's has flaws but overall the place is a solid taqueria, they do seem to go the extra mile on the little things. And they have a freaking drive up window. I'd go back. 3.5/stars

Tacos Don Chente
2131 North Oxnard Boulevard
Oxnard, CA 93036

Monday, December 19, 2011

Taqueria Cuernavaca - Ventura

Well, I finally gave in.....

After about a year of deliberately avoiding this place, I decided to just go for it and have a bite at one of the best places to grab a taco in the Ventura County: Taqueria Cuernavaca in Ventura (city).

It was a real crappy Monday and I was desperate for an easy no-brainer taqueria to blog about so against my better judgement, I decided on knocking this one out today. I mean, I also wanted to get at least another review going before the end of the year.

The reason I've stayed away from Cuernavaca is because I know that's its a real popular place and in some folks eyes, its the gold standard of taquerias in this area. So, given this info way before this blog was even a twinkle in my eye I wanted to hold off as long as possible before giving it the once over.

Anyways, Over a year ago when Josh and I went to go check out Lalo's, he snuck off afterwards and had seconds at Taqueria Cuernavaca. Here's what he emailed me about the place at the time:

"After ordering I headed to the salsa bar to grab one of each. They had a Guacamole type Verde, a regular Verde and a Roja. They all had a nice flavor and the two Verdes had a good kick that made me excited. I then noticed the salsa bar sign stating: 'Our Salsa is free, however please only take what you need". Sorry but that's lame, I've been to places where they allow you to clean em out if you choose".

"Pastor - this caught my eye. It came with a pineapple chunk which was like a neon sign of victory for me. I bit a couple chunks of the Pastor meat to get an idea of the taste, and noticed it wasn't bbq texas sloppy joe that Rob and I have been experiencing, however it's still isn't the same. The cooking just doesn't seem to be marinated and slow cooked like I’m used to, the meat I'm used to seems to have been soaked with the chili powder and pineapple making it really tasty, and this seemed partly red, not caked/covered".

"Asada - nothing great, seemed like beef boiled instead of grilled to me. The flavor was lacking after eating the Lola's well seasoned and well cooked but fatty meat".

"Chorizo is touchy because I work near one of the best places that serves melted cheese Chorizo taco's that melt in your mouth. They are so amazing. Variety though is great, like the El Sancho Loco Taqueria in Newbury Park a new way of cooking something can be good and a nice change. I know what Chorizo is, but this was too much like normal sausage. It tasted literally like Vons bought sausage grounded up into small chunks rather than a seasoned Chorizo. So if you like sausage, you can get this sausage taco".

Well, even though I do value Josh's opinion in these matters I have to disagree with him regarding some of the tacos we both tried.

I personally went with the: Pastor, Chorizo, Asada and Suadero (brisket?). Then I went over to the salsa/condiment area and fixed myself up some of offerings they had to choose from:

Even though its not pictured, I also had the regular salsa verde. I have to say that I was mighty impressed with all all their salsas. If I had to say which one was the weakest it would have to be the roja. It definitely was not as spicy as I like while the avocado salsa was the stand out.
These salsas were well thought out and executed. A slow building heat was theme here with an eye more towards the flavor side of things as opposed to the destroy-your-taste buds spicy explosion that alot of other places strive for. I mean, I love that stuff too but, this was a nice change of pace.

Suadero: Yeah, this is the best suadero taco I've ever had. Really, it was tender, juicy, slow cooked taste and had a bunch of crispiness throughout the exterior of the meat that makes me want to eat at least ten of these. Yeah, I don't care what your thinking of me right now because it was really fucking good. Oh yeah.
Chorizo: This is where I disagree with Josh. I really liked the chorizo here. I thought it had a "clean" flavor profile that was enjoyable, it didn't taste like a grease bomb is what I'm trying to say. I liked the seasoning and the little bit of spice/heat it contained. Again, it was really, really good.
Al Pastor: The pastor taco from this particular taqueria is a bit of a polarizing culinary item around these parts. And as Josh pointed out above, he wasn't too stoked on it when he tried it. You either love Cuernavaca's pastor taco or you hate it but let me be clear; I loved it. Why? because it was different. Yeah, it won't get confused with the real, real hardcore pastor sliced off the spit right onto your tortilla but it was very tasty and enjoyable. I'd love to keep score on these things but I'm tired, guys. so tired.........and that's why I ate the shit out of this taco. The pineapple on top was a nice touch and the flavor and texture of the pork was good; a bit spicy and a bit sweet, with a nice char. Not like the typical pastor that's really pork adobado (and no where near a trompo) that I've been eating for most of this blog. Hey, maybe it came off of a trompo in the back of the kitchen somewhere but I just don't care, the taco was totally great.
Carne Asada: Well, this is where things fell apart. The asada here is chopped way to fine and thus makes it hard to get that "asada" flavor that we all look forward too. Also, the small bits of meat in the taco were comprised mostly of the connective gristle crap that I hate. Maybe I got a bad batch but I just can't stand it when a place kinda blows the whole carne asada thing.

Other than that, the tortillas were warm and very lightly oiled which worked out ok for me.

All in all this place was very impressive, at least in my opinion. And definitely headed for 5 stars if it wasn't for that carne asada that was highly disappointing. That being said, I will be back for more. 4/5 stars.

Taqueria Cuernavaca
1117 North Ventura Avenue
Ventura, Ca 93001