Everybody who lives in Santa Barbara knows that Milpas St. is the place to go for holein-the-wall Mexican eateries. A small band of discriminating chicano-chowhounds chose a daunting task last weekend. We ran a taqueria-taste-test between La Superica Taqueria and Taqueria El Bajio down the block. Hah! We were going to find the best taqueria or die trying. OK, so werent willing to die. But we were willing to sacrifice ourselves by..uhm, eating a lot.
At El Bajio, you order from the counter, take a number for your table, then wait to be served. This place is so small we were tripping over each other. Theres inside seating for about 20 and outside is an awning-covered patio with about 6 picnic tables. It was too breezy to eat outside. In front are three small tables, if you dont mind dining on the street. El Bajio features tradtional cooking of Guanajuato, Mexico and has been in that Milpas location for about 10 years. We were met by friendly staff behind the counter. Giant urns of fruit flavored beverages beckoned us. They had watermelon-water and mango water. I sampled a combo of the two and it was good stuff. Not overly sweetened, with a mild fruity flavor. One of our group ordered the chicken mole $8.95. It was a home-made, definitely not store-bought, slightly grainy with ground nuts and not much hint of chocolate. It is made fresh, right on the premises, and not nearly as sweet as some in L.A. We also sampled a whopping big carnitas burrito at a hefty price, $6.95. Was it worth it? Definitely. The carnitas were moist and flavorful, there was a generous amount. I noted the flour tortilla was extra large, good and fresh, slightly on the thick side. It brings that chewy texture to this burrito that must have weighed in at almost a pound.. Next we sampled the asada taco. It was a fat one, the marinated meat was delicious all on its own, about 3 oz. of it, plus there was a touch of guacamole and sour cream. Just a smidgeon. $2.95 is expensive for a taco, but for Santa Barbara, in general, dining is not cheap. The chicken tostada was layered onto a fresh corn tortilla. It was not that crispy texture that you would expect because it was thicker than the paper-thin machine made tortillas. But it stood its own. The gorditas and sopes are made from fresh masa right in the kitchen. Our bean and cheese gordita was pretty good, but it needed something more like asada!!! There is a salsa bar with the usual pico de gallo and a tasty roasted chile salsa that we enjoyed. My vote was: 5 star asada taco, 5 star burrito. 3 star mole, but it was purely a matter of style and preference. Someone suggested that we return for breakfast in the morning, because their huevos rancheros ($7.50), and chilaquiles ($8.50) were really popular. I figured they must be pretty good if they can get that price. I eyed some mighty fine-looking bowls of pozole being consumed by local diners. Hmmm, made mental note to return for that weekend special.
Next we rolled over to La Superica Taqueria and hit it during a lull. The place is usually packed since Julia Child discovered it and told the whole darn world. But today, there were plenty of tables and little wait in line to order. We sampled the chorizo quesadilla, the queso fundido. The Rajas taco and something, I dont recall the name of, that consisted of grilled meats, onions and bell peppers on two corn tortillas. I saw the lady making our tortillas right there in the kitchen. I have a hard time passing up grilled meats on a fresh corn tortilla. I know some chowhounds have complained that their tacos are dry. But I cant complain, their salsas are particularly good. The red salsa is slightly tart, and a perfect foil for tacos. The green salsa had tomatillos, green chiles and a hint of citrus. Yummy! And the special, vegetarian tamale, oh my--god! They drizzle it with crema. Its moist. Its creamy. Its fresh. Its heaven. While waiting, I eyed the pozole which was on their specials menu too. But we didnt try it. For me, the tamale was the hands down winner of the day. Second place tie, the rajas taco and Bajios asada taco. The chorizo quesadilla was really tasty. The chorizo was sliced and chopped, like linguica, not crumbled, the way us chicanos would recognize it. But it was d##@%m GOOD.
After all this eating, we planned to use the facilites before we took a walk along the beach at the Arts and Crafts fair, a Sunday tradition. La Superica has an outdoor entrance to a unisex john that resembles one of those vintage toilets in a 50s Texaco gas-station. I suggest that one should go elsewhere, like El Bajio, where it was spotless.
So! Which won us over? Its hard to say. The last word on this one is up to you, my friends. Because, if given the choice of only one, I would probably chose El Bajio. But I would secretly yearn for the Super Rica tamale. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
La Super Rica Taqueria
622 N. Milpas, Santa Barbara, 93103
Taqueria El Bajio
129 N. Milpas, Santa Barbara, 93103