I recently dined at The Hat on Lake Ave. in Pasadena (just north of the 210 Fwy.), but not before doing some recon north up to Washington Blvd., where I noticed a proliferation of small taquerias.
I couldn't find web posts on these, so the Saturday before last, a chowish friend and I embarked on a Lake Ave. Taco Taste-Off. I restricted the choices to a single carne asada taco per joint.
Four of the five places along Lake were open for lunch on Saturday, and all were doing a pretty brisk business despite the pelting rain.
La Chona Tacos (841 N. Lake)
Picante Mexican Food (1251 N. Lake) - in large shopping center on west side of Lake
Puebla Tacos (700 N. Lake) - 7-11-adjacent
Rosarito's #2 (2120 E. Foothill Blvd., at Lake)
Tacos were served (or I dressed them with) the requisite diced white onion and cilantro, plus a squeeze of lemon or lime. No salsa for these tacos. No salsa, no cheating.
I'll start at the top: Rosarito's #2
Small, somewhat firm, white corn tortilla. Served with onions/cilantro. Meat soft, lightly spiced and salted, and a little on the fatty side, giving it a more buttery texture than the contenders. This isn't always a good thing, but it worked. Other notes: the most aesthetically pleasant of the four taquerias; warm and cozy inside, with Mexican tiles on the tables.
Cost: $1.20 (the cheapest - go figure)
Runner-up: Puebla Tacos
Medium-sized, soft white corn tortilla. Served with no garnish (just meat). Meat virtually un-spiced and unsalted, but soft, flavorable and lean - tasted like very fresh beef. Condiment bar ample, with 4 types of salsa, onions and cilantro. This taqueria was clean and efficient but surprisingly chilly - no heat?
Middlin: Picante Mexican Food
Medium-sized, firm white corn tortilla. Served with lots of onions and a tiny amount of cilantro. Meat consisted of coarsely-chopped, thinly-sliced pieces, almost like twice-cooked pork at a chinese take-out place. Not very flavorable and a bit dry. Bonus - marinated red onion slivers at the condiment bar, as well as avocado salsa. This place also had on the menu "Carne al Molcajote" (phonetic spelling? - described as something like bistec ranchero), and was overall decidedly less seafood-oriented than the above two. Very odd tables (recessed, like giant airline trays) and un-cozy ambiance, but attractive murals/paintings on the wall. I'd recommend more exploration, but via take-out.
Loser: La Chona Tacos
Medium-sized, soft white corn tortilla. Served with onions and cilantro. Meat was diced, dark-colored and very chewy; possibly marinated but with a distinct metallic tone, like it had maybe been sitting around? I couldn't finish this taco. My friend took one bite and stopped cold. Actually, the taco was kind of cold as well. Bonus - good salsa cruda/pico de gallo and decent champurrado.
So there you have it. Of course, there's always The Hat. Mmmmm... Burgers....