Street food comes in all sizes and shapes; it's sweet or savory, hot or cold, soupy, stewy, sticky or dry. It's a quick snack, or between meals pick-me-up designed to satisfy that nagging hunger that sometimes hits. Street food is a source of pride and a source of income, it's also the source for some very good eats. Mexico has made substantial contributions to the world of street food, but none is so beloved or ubiquitious as the taco.
At Mama Testa Taqueria, the taco is king. In fact, it's the only think on the menu. And not a one of the 26 different tacos offered bears much resemblence to the tacos Glenn Bell developed and parlayed into a fast food fortune. They DO resemble the tacos found all over Mexico -- small, soft, velvety corn tortillas with a dab of interesting filling, a few crunchy onions, some chopped cilantro and a wedge of lime. The perfect combination of flavors. If you're desparately in need of a taco fix, Mama Testa is the perfect spot. If you're craving authentic Mexican flavors, Mama Testa fills that bill as well.
On Thursday I met my friend Marilyn there for lunch. She ordered the first 2 rounds of tacos, and did a fabulous job with the order. First up were Tacos Yucatecos. Soft corn tortillas no more than about 4" in diameter filled with cochinita pibil and served with a habanero salsa. When was the last time you saw cochinita pibil on a Mexican restaurant menu in San Diego, it's not a common menu item. The version here was very well executed, the pork having been marinated in achiote, spices and sour orange juice and then cooked until soft and succulent. The tacos were accompanied by the softly pickled white onion and radish traditionally served in the Yucatan.
The next tacos up were startling in the way they were served . San Diego seems to be the rolled taco capital of the world, every taqueria in town does them. What Mama Testa does with 4 rolled shredded beef tacos in their Mojados de Carne is unique. Each taquito is cut into thirds and comes to the table swimming in a bowl of rich beef broth, along with the usual chopped onion, cilanto and lime wedge. Of all the tacos I sampled, this was my favorite. A lot of the success of this dish probably goes to the depth of flavor in the beef broth, but the crunchy taquito and onion and cilantro brought the whole thing in to union.
I followed with Tacos Atasco, filled with housemade chorizo and served with cilantro, onion and a red tomatillo salsa. The chorizo was fine, not overly fatty and bursting with spice and tang. These were not quite as good as the Chorizo tacos I had in Patzcuaro back in June, but then, those were the absolute BEST Chorizo tacos I've ever had and I'm afraid they've set the comparison bar too high. But, if you like Chorizo, the Chorizo tacos at Mama Testa are far above average.
My last two tacos were vegetarian selections. Tacomal is billed as a cross between a taco and a tamale. What you actually get is a largish corn tortilla generously filled with chopped nopales (cactus) and cheese and then cooked tamal style. These had lots of nopales with the cheese being an accent, and you probably have to be a fan of nopales to enjoy these. Not necessarily a Gringo choice.
The other vegetarian selection was the Menos Techo, a taco overflowing with strips of poblano chiles (rajas) and melted cheese. The whole thing had been fried in a light, red chile sauce. After the taquitos en brodo, this was probably my favorite taco. I'd have liked a few more rajas in the taco, but that combination of poblano chile, cheese, corn and red chile can't be beat.
The menu at Mama Testa is split into 4 distinct categories. Mama Blanditos, which are the soft tacos and include things like bistec, al pastor, carnitas, chorizo, cochinita pibil, grilled chicken, sauteed scallops and jumbo shrimp. Mama Guisados are the tacos filled with stews such as, tinga (shredded pork and chorizo), pork in green chile sauce, savory beef in red tomatillo sauce, poblano peppers drenched in sour cream, and the nopales and cheese. Mama Duros are the crunchy tacos and are mostly rolled tacos with a couple of exceptions. Miniditas are catfish tacos that are folded and fried until not quite crisp in the style of Guerrero, and the Guaca Tacos, filled with avocado slices. Those delicious taquitos in broth - beef or chicken - fall in this category. And the final category, Mama Cesta, or the steamed tacos. These are mostly vegetarian and are filled with refried beans and cheese, mashed potatoes, or the poblano and cheese.
Some dishes come with rice and beans, some do not. Rice and beans are available as a side order if desired, and the black beans should be desired. They're good and seasoned with what I think is avacoado leaf, though I'm not sure, but they sure do taste a lot like the beans I've had in southern Mexico. Menu items run from $5.99 to $8.99. An order of tacos contains anywhere from 2 - 5 tacos plus accompaniments, depending upon what has been orderd. Single, a la cart tacos are not an option on this menu. There is also a salsa bar with incredibly good housemade salsas, everyone of which is worth tasting. Grilled spring onions are also served from the salsa bar.
From North to South and East to West, tacos from all over the Repbulic of Mexico are represented on this menu. The simplicity of these taco demonstrates the incredible depth and breadth of variety and flavor in Mexican cuisine. I had 5 different tacos and each one of them was distinct in flavor and presentation. This was clearly not a case of "if you've had one, you've had them all". I loved the variety and clarity of the flavors in each taco and definitely look forward to working my way through the entire menu!!
Mama Testa is located at 1417 University Ave between Vermont and Park Blvd., kind of tucked in between The Living Room and The Alibi Bar. Metered street parking.