The old Mantra (and before, Hirigashi West) space is now Tacolicious. The space wasn't closed that long - bringing the already refined concept from the Marina to University Ave took no translation.
Somewhere, I read "fills a great gap between Sanchos and Reposado", thus my interest in checking them out.
GF nailed the place perfectly. I brought home a pair of tacos for her, and she said "I prefer El Grullense", and she's right. The tacos have too much filling, don't have enough onions and cilantro, and "add your own" salsa works - they have good salsas - but you need to leave more room on the taco.
The meats are good but not great (compared to "Old" EG). I rather liked the Fish Taco (listed as cod, my favorite of all fried fishes). The Carnitas is on the dry side but not stringy, with only a little pork-cooked-twice taste. I did like the beef braised in guajillo, good richness from the peppers and not dry. Price is 3.95 per taco (gasp!), but 4 for 14. 4 is a large dinner for a sensible person. $14 for dinner in that part of town is very reasonable. (EG's tacos are either 1.25$ or 1.50$), but for that you get loud mexican television, a cold drafty room, formica that gets cleaned every hour whether it needs it or not.
On the very positive side, the complimentary house salsa and chips is very, very good. On the takeout order for GF, the chips had made the paper bag nearly see-through. They gave us a huge amount of salsa (about a cup?) which seems unsustainable for a $8 togo order.
The atmosphere is the thing. There's no blaring music, so you can go with a group. Lights are low, suggesting intimacy. The bar area (mantra's bar looks the same) is paired off with couples. It's really pleasant and if they've done even a little work they'll have good drinks.
Oddly, the Tacolicious web pages says "Stanford! We're not Chipotle!" which kind of says it all. If their competition is Chipotle, they've distanced themselves by the lighting and the alcohol. It is kind of like Sancho's, but with enough seating, and without burritos.
Compared to Reposado --- no comparison, except R also has bustling atmosphere. I think R is a very good restaurant, punching well above it's weight with complex dishes like mole in the last visit - and I am very skeptical about mole.
At best Tacolicious is a place to suggest if you want to have a drink or two, with a taco added. It's a step down from the Mantra Happy Hour (the joy of squeezing so many appetizers and two rounds of drinks before cut-off time and rewarded with HALF OFF your bill).
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