The Aztecs ripped the hearts out of living victims as a sacrifice to the sun god. Tacubaya rips the heart out of Mexican food sacrificing flavor to the gods of good health and American taste.
Thats not to say Tacubaya is bad. The food is likable, with seasonal, local, top-quality ingredients. However it doesnt have the spicy, greasy, down-home complexity or satisfaction of Mexican street food. Its no taco truck.
I went for the fideo - pasta in tomato sauce with queso cotijo. I had this for the first time at a new Richmond chicken joint called Mr. PolloMex. That version caught my attention. The pasta had the soft texture of canned spaghetti but the combination of the tangy cheese and tomato sauce made for good eating, hot or cold. There was soul in this dish.
At Tacubaya, it was more of a soup with al dente angle hair pasta with a sprinkle of the cheese on top. It was fine, but not very interesting and it didnt have the cheesy goodness of the fideo at Mr. PolloMex. And was that WHOLE WHEAT angel hair pasta? So wrong.
At Tacubaya, the churros while coated in sugar and good quality cinnamon, were too crunchy with very little of an eggy center. Even just fried, they werent hot. I had a lot more satisfaction from Pollo Locos two for a buck churros that were still warm, had a crisp exterior and a nice eggy center.
The coffee de olla, well, Blue Bottle and luke warm. Also, it was served in a bowl. I hate coffee served in a bowl.
The al pastor was on a spit, topped with citrus. It had a subtle spice to it and the meat was top quality but, not interesting. Im not even sure if the liquid green stuff on top of the pork was guacamole. I hope not.
Each piece of the carne asada was beefy goodness, charred on the outside with a medium rare center yet the sum was boring. Not enough spice, onions and was there any cilantro?
Its not that I dont appreciate upscale takes on Mexican. Im really fond of Fonda, even if Im embarrassed by paying three bucks each for the micro tacos. The tacos sparkle with fresh flavor and there are wonderful salsas to liven the dishes. The only disappointment at Fonda was the tamale which was light, moist, full of big chucks of chicken, yet didnt have the usual punch of flavor.
However, Fondas refried beans fudgy, rich, with pieces of pork and topped with cheese are better than any beans Ive had anywhere. And they are one of the rare large portions at Fonda.
Currently albondigas are on Fondas menu and I say, rush down and get these. Best Mexican meatballs Ive ever had in an intense rich broth. Theres a little fresh mint in the meatballs which works. Its not a large serving but the three meatballs are regular sized.
Also the drinks are better at Fonda. The sangria at Tacubaya was anemic and there was a hint of bitterness. Working my way through the $5 late hour drink menu at Fonda, although it sounds awful and will horrify beer lovers, the Jugador (Acme California Pale Ale, half a shot of Bombay gin, fresh lime and simple syrup) actually works. The beer taste is sharpened and enhanced by the other ingredients. Very refreshing.
Not to mention that Tacubaya caters to the Fourth Street crowd. Two women ate their dinners oblivious to the antics of their children who hop scotched, leaped, ran, got down on their stomachs and swam across the restaurant. At about nine years old, definitely too old for this behavior. They then took a handful of straws and started to use them as Lincoln logs. Youd never see Latino kids do that in a restaurant without a parent telling them to behave and be considerate of the other people in the restaurant.
Ive got to think the only first generation Latinos that youll see at Tacubaya are behind the counter frying churros.
However, Tacubaya gets thumbs up for location. It is the least expensive option in that section of Fourth street and I would not hesitate to eat at the restaurant if Im doing some shopping. I just wouldnt go out of my way to drive there just to eat.
Heres an old article where Jonathan Kauffman pitted Tacubaya against an East Oakland taco truck