Monday, July 19, 2010

Tacubaya in Berkeley

Tucked in a corner behind Sur La Table, Tacubaya is easy to miss, as I apparently have for the past seven years. What drew me to the sister restaurant of Oakland's upscale Mexican eatery Don Tomas was the $8.50 weekday siesta deal that included 2 tacos of your choice and a bottled beer. It was a great way to try what otherwise would have cost $3.50 a pop.

I never expect anything authentic on Fourth Street, and Tacubaya was good for what it was, a quick bite in between shopping. The pork in the taco al pastor was what I'd expect from a street taco, with just the right amount of oil dripping off with each bite, but the avocado salsa was disappointingly bland. The taco de pollo was simply underwhelming. The first few bites were decent until I got past the cheese and salsa topping to realize the chicken was dry. At that point, I wished there were a free salsa bar to add some flavor. But, chips and salsa/guacamole must be purchased separately. The guacamole was delicious, but at over $5 it had to be.

The setting is casual, as you pay at the counter, get a number, grab a seat and wait for your food to be delivered. Before seating, grab utensils, napkins and chili sauce near the registers.

Lacking any real ambiance, the atmosphere is like a cafeteria as you sit at heavy wooden tables and listen to the echoing chatter of the bus boys hanging out near the kitchen. Tacubaya is definitely not a date place, unless you just want to be friends.

Technically you can also dine al fresco, but I wouldn't recommend it. Instead of an enclosed patio, tables are situated on the sides of a major walkway, so regular foot traffic is passing within a foot of your dining experience. That may work in Europe where the scenery makes up for everything, but not in a shopping mall where unruly dogs, strollers and children run rampant.

I would be hard pressed to return without the weekday promotion since the food is overpriced for a Mexican taqueria, but not for Fourth Street. I appreciate the use of local and natural ingredients, but other establishments like Cactus Taqueria in Oakland also aim for sustainability and freshness and are able to do it at lower prices.

Photo: Kris G.

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