Went to El Metate today after reading several glowing reviews on Chowhound. Being a street taco junkie, I eagerly drove out to Highland Park with a friend who runs his own LA taco blog. After reading all the praise, we were both very excited, salivating at the possibilities.
Que decepcionante! The tacos at El Metate are average at best. Why all the hype? Seriously, there are 5-10 places off the top of my head that are FAR superior, from outlaw carts to trucks to legit restaurants.
Anyhow, today I went with 2 carne asada, 2 al pastor, and rice and beans, with a bottle of Mexican coke to wash it down. My buddy went with lengua, cabeza, and asada, while another guy at the bar tried the mole.
The place itself is clean, and tiny in a cute way. I guess I was expecting an adobe hut or filthy taco stand (those are always the best), but in this case it's just a tile and metal room that looks like it could be doing pastrami and grilled cheese as much as Mexican. The menu is written in marker on florescent posterboard, hanging above the grill. No prices are listed, but it's pretty cheap. My food came out to $6.25.
After we placed our order, the cashier admitted she didn't have change. I paid with a $20, and had to wait for other folks to stroll in and pay with fives and singles so I could get my tender. I guess if I were in a hurry it would have been an issue. The cashier was really nice though, albeit a bit slow.
The cook, another lady, began to whip out our order. She used a big jug of Crisco to grease the griddle, and pulled out a bunch of skirt steaks from the fridge. I paid a close eye--these didn't seem to be marinated at all. No green onion on top, no salt, nothing special. Just meat. Okay...I'll give it a chance. When the steaks were done, the cook laid them out and began pounding them with a cleaver into little cubes.
I scanned around. Interesting...no spit. Where was the al pastor, I wondered? Well, when the time came, I found out. Pre-cooked and chopped, sitting in a little metal tray alongside the onions and cilantro. She didn't grill them extra (I like my pastor extra crispy), so in the end I had to order another taco (.99 cents) and specify that they cook it up a bit.
Once the meat was done, out came the corn tortillas. I saw a little metal press, but today the tortillas were already made. They were slapped on the grill from a little plastic pouch. Then, the tacos were assembled. I was really hoping for fresh tortillas.
Once we sat down with our food, we helped ourselves to the salsa bar. There were the standards: tomatillo, red chile, and what appeared to be a roasted arbol. They tasted as you would expect. Sadly, none were sufficiently spicy.
Next came the first bite: underwhelming. I've had better tortillas at El Torito...these were hard in some spots, chewy in others. The meat itself was decent, but again, nothing to make me crave more. My extra taco was a last ditch effort to find something that wowed me. Toppings were equally plain...no special sauce, no dollop of crema, just straight up street style with onions and cilantro. Meh.
Next I turned to the rice and beans. The beans were average, but then again, I prefer a nicely spiced black bean plate to lardy refried. The rice made Uncle Ben look like a god, maybe it was the cheap-o frozen veggies tossed inside. No flavor here.
Lastly, the coke. Just below warm. I needn't say no more, except that I asked for a cup of ice.
I asked my friend what he thought, and he just shook his head and said "D minus." I don't think it was that bad...I'd say C+.
So...that's El Metate. Edible, cute, but nothing special. Save yourself the trip and go somewhere better. You can check here for a pretty good guide, by the way: