After the rash of posts about Casita Taco in North Hollywood, I decided I needed to take a drive. I've eaten at the one on Ventura and Lankersheim, but I decided to try the one on Magnolia and Bakman, since the consensus is that it is the best Casita. I actually thought I would go to El Taco Llama, about 5-6 blocks east of Casita on Magnolia (a few blocks east of Cahuenga), which is my favorite asada taco. (I need to thank Bandini for raving about El Taco Llama on his Great Taco Hunt blog.)
My initial plan was to get carne asada tacos at both stands and do a comparison, but, alas, El Taco Llama was closed. Still, El Taco Llama is my frame of reference and it's impossible not to compare the two. So Casita gets bonus points for actually being open at 8:30 p.m.
Unlike the El Taco Llama on Magnolia, which is an outdoor stand next to a car wash with a lot of bars on the windows, Casita is an actual restaurant. It was clean, well-lit, and the servers were actually visible behind the counter. There was a salsa bar next to the order counter.
The first thing I noticed was the price. $1.90 per taco. I guess it's the overhead. Tacos at ETL are only $1 each.
I decided to place my regular ETL order -- two tacos de carne asada and one de pastor. Given the variety of salsas, I decided to order a bag of chips too. I then loaded up on salsas, getting some of the mild salsa negra, the hot salsa verde, and the very spicy salsa roja.
Then the tacos arrived. They're bigger than ETL's, so I guess that justifies the price. I decided to wrap up one of the asada tacos for later and ate one of each taco.
The pastor taco was bright red, but rather tasteless. The meat was a bit mealy, almost of the consistency of greasy chorizo. It didn't hold a candle to ETL's pastor. The salsa roja didn't help much. Not only was it lacking in spice, but it had no real flavor. When I compare it to ETL's incredibly smokey salsa roja, it was really lacking. For me, the epitome of a taco is the tortilla, meat and salsa roja and this really did not work.
I turned to the asada and was pleased to find that it was far superior to the pastor. The beef had a nice, smokey flavor, but I have to say that it was just respectable. I think the asada at ETL is more flavorful. The pieces of beef are smaller and more charred. And they just go brilliantly with the smokey salsa roja. The weakness of Casita's salsa roja really was noticeable with the asada.
I do have to say that I liked the pico de gallo and the salsa negro had a decent flavor. Neither is available at ETL, so that is a point in favor of Casita. Unfortunately, Casita's salsa verde was absolutely awful -- very bitter, almost gummy, and almost no sign of tomatillos.
So the final verdict: Casita's carne asada is very good, but I would still drive the extra blocks to ETL. The salsa rojo really makes the difference. I urge people to compare the two.
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