Taco Crawl

2009.Apr.16 Thursday · 13 comments

in Restaurants

“You’re Hispanic. You speak Spanish. You’re doing ethnic jokes. Taco Bell is one of your first targets.”

– Carlos Mencía, comedian

Mole Tacos Fonda Mexicana

Buenos Aires – Let me just start by saying that I’m disappointed that none of you showed up. I mean, isn’t that what twittering is all about? Gave it a shot with a “Taco Crawl tonight, starting at 7:30 at Mole Tacos on Cabildo, come join us” and not one of you jumped to the challenge. So, it was just one friend and I who met up in front of this long running spot at the clearly too early hour. In our defense, Mole Tacos Fonda Mexicana, Cabildo 1372 on the border of Belgrano, Palermo, and Colegiales, lists their open hours as 12.45 – 23.45… what they didn’t mention is that that’s just for the takeout counter there on the right. The sit-down restaurant part opens at 20.00 (8 p.m. for those of you not on a 24-hour clock)… well not really, because while the staff, by the time we returned at about 20.15, had finished setting the tables and all, the gate was still down, and the three of them were standing inside, eating and drinking, then they took a cigarette break out on the sidewalk. At 20.19 I asked the manager who was standing inside the takeout side when they were opening, he looked at one of the guys from the restaurant side and said, “you’re not open yet?” The guy said, “No” as he sipped at his soda. The manager said, “You were supposed to open twenty minutes ago.” The guys said, “I’ll open when I’m ready to, maybe ten or fifteen minutes” and went back to his soda. Back on the sidewalk, we considered leaving, but decided to wait it out, and it turned out to be only about five more minutes until he sauntered back and raised the metal grate, then sat down behind his little cash register to read the newspaper. One of the two waiters, amazingly, snapped into action and brought us our menus – we ordered, and clearly with the takeout side in full swing, the food came out fast – one interesting note, since the two halves of the restaurant are opposite sides of the same building, separated by the entryway to the upstairs, the waiters carry stuff back and forth via the sidewalk when they serve and clear.

Mole Tacos Fonda Mexicana - chips and salsas

First, chips, and a whole big basket of them. Not bad, fairly commercial, lightly salted, the two sauces, stated as suave and picante, were, respectively, creamed tomato and tomato that might have had a near brush with a jalapeño. We asked if there was something spicier, he said yes, and returned about the same time as he brought our tacos, with a bowl of pureed chiles – more or less the canned jalapeños en escabeche, still, a better kick.

Mole Tacos Fonda Mexicana - mole tacos

The menu is short, basically listing four options – meat, chicken, mole, and vegetarian – under each of enchiladas, burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. The tacos come in plates of three, and they won’t do a combination plate (for takeout it appears you can order tacos individually, but not for the restaurant side). So, though it was more food than we wanted for our first stop, we opted for one plate of the mole tacos and one of the dorados, which were the only ones listed as fried. The former were soft corn tacos, open-faced, topped with chicken and mole sauce. The tortillas, bland. The chicken, bland. The sauce, sweet and bitter, no spice – tasting pretty much of pureed raisins with some chocolate in it and not much else. This, by the way, is the option listed as the spiciest on the menu.

Mole Tacos Fonda Mexicana - dorado tacos

The dorados, the only crispy taco option, were better, but not by much. The same tortilla, still bland, but at least with a nice crunch instead of sitting soggily on the plate. The filling, chicken again, we should have ordered something beef, perhaps dusted with some salt, the topping, a slice of cheese and some sour cream. Again, pretty bland. With a couple of Negro Modelo beers and a modest tip, 60 pesos. I twittered our next stop, but we were not to be met (okay, I wasn’t really expecting it, but thought I’d give it a shot just for fun – did get a response at this point from a local friend saying we were headed for the best spot).

The Taco Box

While it was pretty much empty on our arrival at The Taco Box, Soler 5581, in Palermo, which bills itself as a “Tex-Mex Bistro”, it filled up pretty quickly. All the signage is in English, the crowd is mixed local and not, the menu is a couple of strips of paper about 2″ wide, one for food and one for beverage, a pencil provided, and you fill in quantities in little circles as to what you want. The waitress returns after a bit and simply picks up the slips and goes, coming back with your order – a bit at a time (one drink arrived a good ten minutes before the other from the bar).

The Taco Box - chips and salsa

Not that we, given our mission, needed more chips and salsa, but this barbie doll sized basket with maybe fifteen chips in it, was dropped on the table. The salsa – tomato puree, right out of a can, with a couple of pieces of chopped green onion in it. We asked for hot sauce and got a half-sized dish with a nicely picante puree of orange chilies. We also each received a shotglass with a sample of their frozen margarita.

The Taco Box - taco set

Again, no options to order individual tacos, though the basic plates come with just two of either beef or chicken. We considered one plate of each, but that was pricier than ordering the “taco set”, which is a trio of each, served in this cute metal rack. Our waitress had no clue which were the beef and which were the chicken – apparently no one ever asked her before, they just dove in and ate (given the crowd, perhaps not a surprise, drinking seemed to be the raison d’etre for most, and the tacos probably just provide an alcohol sop). She did, however, go back to the kitchen and ask, returning to tell us they alternate…. We figured it out by taste if not by look. The tortillas, crisp, lightly salted, perhaps a trifle oily, but not at all bad, and with a nice grilled smokiness. The fillings, definitely on the “tex-mex” style, with a slightly barbecued flavor, i.e.,, in addition to a bit of mild chili seasoning, there was something sweet going on. Good toppings – lettuce and sour cream, and on the beef ones, cheese. All very fresh tasting and really pretty darned good. The taco set will set you back 58 pesos on its own, the drinks, a little pricey – beers running 10 pesos for a simple local Quilmes chopp, or mug, on up to 18 for the same bottled Corona or Negra Modelo that Mole was selling for 9 pesos apiece. Frozen drinks like margaritas and daquiris run about 17-20 apiece. Twittered our set-out for the next stop….

La Fabrica del Taco - room

This is a spot I first heard about a couple of months ago when a local publicist sent me an e-mail asking me to come check it out. Not a “for free” invitation, she was just fishing for a SaltShaker review as it turned out. I put it on the list but didn’t get there – at the time La Fabrica del Taco, Gorriti 5062 in Palermo, was only open for dinner, now they’re open for lunch starting at 1 p.m. The glowing neon from a block away clued us in on the locale – the only thing missing was some sort of blinking, flashing light. Garishly lit, tackily decorated, picnic style tables and a high bar outside, with a service counter open to the sidewalk, this place reminds me of fried fish and beer places on the local lakes back home in Michigan. The crowd, mixed, but much heavier on the American European side than Argentine it seemed.

La Fabrica del Taco - salsas

You’ve gotta love a place with a sense of humor, and given the look of it, they clearly have one (there’s also a backyard with a glowing, blue, glass-block bar and tables in the grass. But the humor really shows up in their hot sauces, a trio which, at first glance were labeled, poco picante, picante regular, muy picante, served up in little bottles on the table. It wasn’t until we turned them around that we noted that the opposite side of each is labeled (English translation), For Argentines, For Mexicans, For the Daring. The first at least still had a touch of heat, perhaps the level of tabasco sauce, without all the vinegar. The second, a nice smokiness, maybe something along the lines of a mix of ancho (smoked poblano) pepper with something else slightly hotter. The third, a nice kick to it – a real hot sauce. No chips served gratis, you have to order them.

La Fabrica del Taco - tacos

The tacos themselves, unfortunately, are just okay. One plus is that they’re all ordered individually, so you can sample a variety if you want. The tortillas – wheat flour and soft – cooked to order on a griddle, a trifle greasy, but fine – I have to admit, I prefer corn tortillas for tacos though. The filling, for the carne asada, was beef carved off of a shawarma style rotisserie thingie that was sitting on the service counter – lightly seasoned, pretty much tasting of a bland shawarma. Nothing added, though a dish of chopped onions and cilantro was brought to the table to be used to taste. The al pastor, a marinated meat version, was quite a bit more flavorful, and definitely the better option, still, just okay. Individual tacos run from 7 to 10 pesos depending on what kind you want, and they do have a variety, beers are reasonable, all told, the same pricing as Mole Tacos, and certainly better.

Winner of the three spots, no question in terms of the tacos themselves, The Taco Box. Winner for ambiance and service, hands down, La Fabrica del Taco.

We had originally planned on a fourth spot, the newly opened Palermo branch of CBC (California Burrito Company), but given that we’d had to go for the big plate combos at the first two spots, we opted out – we’ll get there another day. I did, however, get this missive from another friend who’d hit both La Fabrica and CBC for a mid-afternoon lunch yesterday – I leave it unedited:

The taco I had at La Fabrica del Taco was just okay. The tortilla was a bit greasy, skimpy as I ordered just one ($10). The meat, prepared on a mini shwarma thingy, wasn’t great; the cheese was flavorless; their pico de gallo, which accompanies the taco, was just diced onion and a bit of cilantro. Nothing more. Didn’t make it to the place on Soler — though I wish I had. I stopped by a place called CBC. I had no idea, at first, that it was the california burrito co. but ate there anyway. Really poor. I had a 3 taco combo; lomo, pollo, and cerdo. I found all 3 flavorless. the guacamole had no real flavor, and the tomato in the pico was too ripe. As I was leaving one of the owners asked me in spanish how the food was. I answered that flour tortillas were not interesting for tacos — he then asked if I was from mexico. Putz. Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Almeida April 16, 2009 at 12:22

Hi Dan,

I have hit all three spots and I still have to go to the new CBC in Palermo. I really disliked The Taco Box. The frozen margaritas were the absolute worst. I really wondered if they had any tequila in them at all. The sauce was awful and the portions of the sauce with the chips was very small. I just felt like it was a ripoff even though the tacos ended up costing similar to other places.

Nowadays, I just go for and expect just okay tacos. For the Taco Factory, the corn tortillas are new. When they opened they only had soft flour tortillas. What I like about the Taco Factory, besides their sense of humor and “style” are their sauces. A combo of the “daring” one with the “Mexican” one tastes pretty good. Also, they do remind me of taco places in Mexico that just give you meat in a shell.

As for CBC, I would mostly go for the burrito.

matt April 16, 2009 at 13:30

See, had I been in town or lived in BA I would have been ALL about this. I may have to print out this list and bring it with me and do a Taco Crawl myself.

dan April 16, 2009 at 16:02

Frank – yes, I forgot to say that we ordered both a frozen margarita (unintentionally, I thought I was ordering a regular margarita, but it took so long to get it, I didn’t feel like sending the frozen one back to get it replaced) and a mojito. The margarita definitely didn’t seem to have much in the way of tequila in it – its flavor was fine, it just had no kick, nor effect. The chips, as noted, a small amount, and the sauce was terrible, though, again, we just asked for actual hot sauce to replace it and got it, and that was quite good. At La Fabrica, unless they were hiding them away, all they had last night were soft wheat flour tacos, no corn, no crunchy – I think you misread the paragraph.

By the way, I don’t object to soft wheat flour (nor soft corn flour) tortillas. While, having grown up in the midwest U.S., tacos were always crunchy and made of corn, I found when I used to travel to Mexico that the soft were far more common and wheat were as likely as corn to be offered. I sort of chalk the crispy corn version up to the Tex-Mex as opposed to Mexican cuisine. Still like ’em better, but don’t always expect ’em.

Matt – we’ll have to figure out a good “crawl” while you’re down here visiting next month! Something we haven’t done yet…. hmmm….

Ken Sternberg April 17, 2009 at 12:03

Holy guacamole, Dan! We MUST hit the best taco place in BA when I visit (as well as pizza). These spots really look good. Great photos.

Frank Almeida April 20, 2009 at 14:07

Hi Dan,

You are right, in Mexico I mostly had the soft corn tortillas. The only times I had crunchy ones were when the whole taco was fried and you had to pick out the toothpick holding it all together.

When I went to the Taco Box, I asked them if they could make me a regular Margarita and they said no, they only made the frozen kind so I just went with beer. One other thing that I did not like at all was their guacamole. I really dislike the puree variety where it is all creamy without any chunks of tomato, onion, etc. That is also what I got and I just don´t like it that way.

At la Fabrica, they did have corn tortillas. On the menu´s they were handwritten in and “new” next to them so it was a new item for them. Maybe you got a menu that they did not write that into? Just to clarify, I also do not like the cheese on the tacos at La Fabrica. I always order them without it.

dan April 20, 2009 at 17:03

It’s possible simply because it was late they were out of them, but I didn’t see any, and we were right where we could watch the cook making the tacos. He was cooking soft flour ones to order. And I didn’t note them on the menu – perhaps they stopped carrying them…. Didn’t try either the guacamole at TB or the cheese at La Fabrica, so can’t say.

Barbara Hansen April 23, 2009 at 15:07

Gosh, I’m glad I live in Los Angeles. Good tacos all over the place here. You were brave to undertake a crawl that led to such less than terrific experiences.

dan April 23, 2009 at 19:00

Someone’s got to!

Frank Almeida April 27, 2009 at 17:46

Hi Dan,

I just went back last week to the Factory and they had new menus where they added flautas. The still did not have the corn tortillas on the menu and they did not have them written in either, but I was able to order them.

dan April 28, 2009 at 09:13

Ahh, so that’s the secret, you have to be “in the know”… you heard it here first folks!

Wayne Bernhardson May 17, 2016 at 13:03

Desperately in need of guacamole, on a Saturday evening, I went to the Taco Box on Cerviño for takeaway. When they told it would be 20 minutes, I ordered a margarita, upon which the guacamole and chips appeared immediately. I stayed to finish the margarita was awful but strong; the guacamole was adequate but the portion was small. In fact, it was nachos without the cheese, which I did not want. I doubt I’ll ever go back to Taco Box.

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