A happy band of chowhounds met at Fruitvale BART today to explore the wonders of International Avenue and stuff ourselves silly. Although we were planning on using Ruth Lafler's well-documented taco truck route, we got smart and brought Ruth along instead. Patrick & Holly arrived on their bikes armed with knives and cutting boards. Arlene, Ben, Madeline, and I rounded out the crowd and brought wet-naps and our appetites.
La Torta Loca was our first stop.
What can you say about a taco stand in a laundromat? I felt like I was in Southern California. Amazing food, which we took across the street to the picnic tables including: an enormous torta with al pastor, a shoe-shaped tinga (stewed pork in chipotle sauce) huarache, one taco de nopales (cactus), a sope with picadillo (a chopped meat hash), and a pambaso.
A search on the pambaso turns up many Chowhound links. I gather these are from Mexico City. The bread was fluffy and fried (according to Ruth, on the grill next to the chorizo).
I was particularly enamored of the tinga and the pambaso, although this was easily the best nopale I've ever had. I'll let others comment on favorites.
After we had devoured just about everything, we discovered a tiny container of salsa, possibly for the taco. Roasted peppers? an orange, tangy salsa with a slightly bitter afterbite. Spectacular.
While we were waiting at the park, we wandered to the corner to get two ears of elote (corn on the cob) with mayo, white cheese, and chili powder. Pulled from the steamer, these hit the spot. We also got a bag of sliced green mango with lime and chili as a chaser. As Ruth pointed out, you won't see the corn, but you'll see the fruit vendors everywhere. The corn is hidden from view.
Round two came from Old Caesar, a new place directly across the street from La Torta Lorca. We enjoyed three of their comida corridas, full meals with rice and beans and tortillas. The refried beans had a trace of pork in them. The rice was a "Spanish" rice with light tomato sauce, corn kernels, and lima beans.
The chicken came in a pipian sauce. Pipian is made from browned masa and pumpkin or squash seeds, with lard, chicken broth, and garlic. It has the look of peanut butter but a lovely consistency and quite mild.
The most popular dish was a deboned barbecued beef rib (I'll let Patrick remember the name) with a flaky tender texture. The sauce could have been a commercial BBQ sauce, and was almost overpowering. Still, the meat was excellent.
A superb chile relleno was drenched in sauce but managed to be simulateously fluffy and juice.
We also noticed a new taqueria, Cinco de Mayo, a few doors down from Old Caesar but decided we needed a little exercise.
On our long walk (a full two blocks), we bought a bag of chicarones (cartwheel shaped pork rinds) and enjoyed them with lime and hot sauce. Patrick and Holly also noted a nearby restaurant with a traditional weekend barbacoa.
Otaez is a sit down restaurant and by now we were all tired from so much walking. It was crowded with families. The 7 of us shared a bowl of guacamole (excellent, a little sour with lots of lime), an order of machacas, and two birria tacos. The birria was a disappointment; this was not goat that would win you over if you'd never had goat and just had a pambazo, huaraches, and chicarones. However the machaca was great: eggs scrambled with onions and strips of steak and julienned green peppers. Especially good with hot sauce. Patrick thought the steak was carne seca (dried steak). The tortillas at Otaez were hand made and warm from the griddle. We also shared a strawberry agua fresca that hit the spot and were treated to a delicious rice pudding with raisins and cinnamon.
El Ojo de Agua
After a half-hearted attempt to visit a charming bakery, we walked to El Ojo de Agua, a pristine taco truck across the street from Otaez for our final course: aguas and dessert. Unfortunately they were out of pina tamales, but we shared a bright pink guava agua, a strawberry agua with crema (amazing), and a banana liquado. The liquado was like a smoothy: frothy whipped banana, milk, ice, and a little sugar and cinnamon. Sitting on the plastic chairs by the truck, with its murals of tortas and tacos with radishes and limes, enjoying the sun. Another great afternoon at the temple of the taco.
Total cost for all this extravagance: $12 each.
It was exciting to see so much variety compared to the wonderful but increasingly homogeneous menus in the Mission taquerias. I've never heard of half the foods we ordered today, except on this board. Can't wait to explore Fruitvale again.
PS I was beginning to regret having driven when I hit horrible traffic at the toll plaza. Fortunately I had the leftover chicarones to occupy me until the metering lights.
Coming soon: Redwood City taco crawl.
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