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Restaurants & Bars 8

Chowing on Oakland's International Ave: a continuing series

Ruth Lafler | Jun 6, 200202:19 PM

There was a review of a newish restaurant called El Huarche Azteca (3824 International -- directly across from the famous El Ojo de Aguas taco truck) in the SF Chron a couple of weeks ago, and I've been dying to try it.

I finally made it over there for a late lunch yesterday, and was disappointed. I really wanted to like this place: it has a nice atmosphere (Aztec-themed mural on the walls) and the menu is quite different from either a standard Bay Area taqueria or cantina. I'm still willing to go back and try some of their other specialties, but I'm not encouraged by what I sampled.

Since it seems to be a specialty, I ordered a huarache (a thick piece of griddled masa roughly the size and shape of the sole of the sandal for which it is named), topped with chiccarones, slasa verde, lettuce, shredded queso fresca and crema. This version had a layer of refritos in the masa itself, which apparently kept the top layer of masa from setting completely -- it was gummy and unappetizing. The toppings were unexciting. I kept comparing it (unfavorably) with the huaraches at La Torta Loca down the street.

I also ordered a suadero (beef rib meat) taco. The meat was okay (a little dry), but the tortillas were saturated with oil.

A basket of chips and both red and green salsas came with the meal. The chips were pretty good, but both salsas, although flavorful, were overly astringent. Horchata was thin and too cinnamony.

I felt really bad when the guy at the register asked if I enjoyed it and the best I could come up with was "it was okay." Still, I'm willing to go back and try some of their weekend-only specials.

If I hadn't been so full, I would have succumbed to the temptations of a new place I passed on the walk back to the BART station: the owner of Tam's Restaurant (3503 International, 510-436-3594) was standing in the doorway offering samples of his teriyaki chicken drumettes, and they were darn good: plump, juicy and sweet.

I'm not how to categorize this place: the interior is rather handsome Japanese black and white shoji screen look, but the 27-item menu is rather unfocused: mostly made up of offerings like teriyaki plates, u-dong [sic], ramen, California roll, but the first two items on the menu are fried rice and chow muen [sic]. Prices range from $4-$6.75.

Still, I got the impression that this might be one of those chowhoundy holes in the wall run by someone who is really passionate about what he's doing. (I also love the exhortations at the bottom of the menu: "TOGO OK!OK! HERE OK! NO TAX! NO TIP! LUNCH & DINNER SAME PRICE!")

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