Thursday, July 28, 2005

¿Donde Estan Mis Desayunos?

What the F is up with the lack of good Mexican food in El Cerrito? Not in the roach-infested backstreets that smell of axle grease. Not in Albany. EL CERRITO CENTRALE. Yeah, you know, the place with the Spanish name whose Mexican food isn't worth a hill of [sic] beans. I'm talking about the hundred or so blocks between Cutting and Solano, where citizens are plentiful and desire for la comida Méxicana goes unfulfilled daily. Good carnitas or even beans and rice are as rare here as a good bowl of pho in Berkeley.

Here are your options if you go diminutive burro hunting in El Cerrito (Which, yes, we affectionately call El Burrito).

Best Burrito: Best diarrhea. White rice, TERIYAKI glazed chicken (thanks to the owners) and a Central American staff that knows better than to serve what they're serving. On the plus side, if you are into a bowl of tofu they do make a really good vegetarian plate. Just avoid the Mexican food at all costs. I guess they couldn't really make it by pimping themselves out as "Best Dobu" (Korean for 'tofu').

Christopher's Nothing Fancy Café: Christopher's nothing Mexican cafe. Or perhaps Christopher's nothing affordable cafe. Let's make some fajitas out of crappy beef and charge 14 bucks for them. No, gracias.

Trevño's: Mal trabajo. This place's salsa makes Rubios' seem spicy. Talk about getting the gringo treatment - there is no way on earth to get a non-huero meal there. Hang out about noon on a Sunday and you'll find out why; droves of pasty, fat Americans straight from church, wheezing in the throes of a diabetic-style attack from not having consumed animal fat in the last forty minutes. Watch them sop sour cream (not créma) on everything and see how much of it ends up IN (not on) their mouths.

Rubio's: I shouldn't even mention it because no one expects anything from it. Not a mom and pop shop, just a huge faceless corporation so I can't attack any one person's character. In fact, the group of Hmog/Pinoy/Méxicanos that run the El Cerrito branch are quite competent and friendly. They can't help it that they're serving fried up nuggets of someone's regur. I see they're serving tortas now. How sad. If you really have to go here, do what I do: get something really cheap to go, like chips or a single fish taco. Then go over to the salsa bar. Ignore the salsa. Fill your bag up with the uncut lemons and limes at the bar and skip on out of there. As I say, the staff is rather vigilant, so you'll have to be crafty. Hell, if they catch you just act like you thought they were there for the customers.


Salsa Taqueria #2 (Formerly Fidel's Taqueria): El sabor autentico de la mierda Méxicana. This place is a shit sandwich. Nothing more need be said.

Unnamed Taco Truck, Central Ave.: Hooray! A taco truck in my own town! How pleased was I when this truck started parking on apparently random days outside of the abandoned lot on Central? Plenty. Unfortunately, it stinks. The carnitas (really the Ume-Shiso Maki of Mexican food--for the uncultured, that means it's the litmus test) is in cubes, always a bad sign. The salsas are abysmal. The service is ass and it's overpriced. Que désagreable.

Taqueria Del Palmar: This could get ugly.
E and I were so pleased two years ago when this place opened up. Like Guy notes, they do put nice little touches on things, like cool serapes under the table glass and little fake cacti. Hell, they even have Salsa Yucateco (a habanero sauce) for the patrons to use directly on the food or mixed with their once-good salsas, which at one time you could retrieve by yourself from their little salsa bar. The place is truly Mexican, at least when compared to the México that I know, in that you must allow four to six weeks for delivery of your food. This is not a problem for people who know how long a Mexican 'minute' is, and we always tip the cook and the server.

To begin with, we started off our experiences with this place by ordering a few faves. Chile Relleno burritos, sopes, tortas de carnitas, enchiladas, y otras cosas que buenas. We were stunned every time with how great they were. We got to be friends with the owner, Alfredo, who always knew us not just as another couple of hueros, but as hueros who liberally applied the hottest pepper on earth to their food and raved about it every time. Donning a shirt and apron as white as the sauce which bears his name, Alfredo would offer a big smile and pats on the back every time we came in. "Good to see you again!" and the like.

Unfortunately Alfredo's friendly nature was taken advantage of by friends and family. I can't say how many times we walked into the restaurant to see groups of people eating and not paying, a bunch of hangers-on who preyed on the restaurant to the tune of huge meals all the time. I'm not going to say that I know how the business end of things works there, hell, maybe Alfredo owed these guys money. Maybe he had dozens and dozens of co-investors in the restaurant who as a rule would always eat for free, but I doubt it.

After a while, in the tough, tough restaurant business and for whatever reason, Alfredo began cost-cutting. The torpedo-shaped tortas piled high with carnitas and fixins slowly morphed into squatter versions...and then finally into the dreaded burger-bun torta that signals the end of all things good. During all this, the service declined along with the quality. As mentioned above, E loved the sopés that they made/make there. Once, she ordered them from a girl we'd never seen before to the reply of "We've never had sopés." (insert bitchy teenage flip of the hair here)"EVER." How fucking infuriating is that, when someone tells you you're not gettting a ticket as you both watch a meter maid writing you one? So, the anti-gringo sentiment grew. Could we have done something wrong? Maybe they were angry that we always paid our bill and tipped heavily? Or was it our friendly attitude and constant patronage that tipped the scales against us?

I brought my Mexican friend José there once during this transition to crappiness period, when I still held out hope that Taqueria del Palmar was going to pull itself out of the tailspin it so deliberately set itself up for. José is even from the same city as these folks, Guadalajara, as his surname Jara attests to. Long story short, he didn't even finish his meal. Ol' Joe Spears (the gringo name we kid him with) lost a lot of respect for our palates that day.

Whatever reason there may have been, the place went to hell in a handbasket. It's really sad when a once-great establishment gets wrecked by a staff of suck-ass, good-for-nothing teenagers and a bunch of freeloading asshats. The taqueria was really poised to show El Cerrito the meaning of good Jalíscan Mexican food, but instead all it did was to tease our taste buds for a few months until crappy circumstances turned it into a dungheap, pulling the serapé right out from under us. Palmar, I shed a selfish tear for thee.


Blogger drbiggles said...

Hey man,

Well, uh check out the demographics of El Cerrito. Kinda white bread, and all.
Best Burrito:
I like the curry chicken burrito, heh. I thought the fact they used nice large juicy shrimp that they pan fried in sauce for each burrito was nice. But it isn't Mexican, that's for sure. Especially when they squeeze teriyaki sauce over any and every burrito.
You sure it isn't the building giving you the shivers? I've always had solid Americanized Mexican food there. Lunch or dinner and they have an extensive menu for dinner.
Rubios: ? WFO (what the fuck over?) I don't consider that "food".
Old Fidels: Salsa #2 is ... what it is. Fidels on the other hand was wonderful. But little Fidel was getting older and really getting quite bored being in the restaurant all day, so they sold it. I forget the woman's name now, but she promised they were going to keep her recipes for the salsas and sauces. Not for even a second. Fidel's Crispy Taco Lunch was amazing.
Del Palmar:
I knew the previous place and it was so bad I ditched Palmar too. That's how bad the previous place was. So, I got no idea what to compare it to. But for the area, Del Palmar is the best we got pal.

You want to have some of the worst Americanized Mexican food? We need to hit up The Hacienda down on SP Avenue and MacDonald some time. In fact, I'm going soon just to see. I see a banner out front that has a deal for lunches.
My grandmother and uncle took us kids there starting maybe 35 years ago and I don't believe it's changed. My uncle and I sat down once and figured out how many times I've been and it came to approximately 550. Eeek.


3:17 PM  
Blogger uncle jazzbeau said...

I've always wondered about the Hacienda. It's been on again off again, open and closed, and has had strange to nonexistent hours throughout the last decade or two. (Usually, there's a huge chain locking the door, even when it says it's open.) It's supposed to have a huge (in length) bar, but my late neighbor (a pre-WW2 Richmondian) used to complain about the owner's watered-down drinks. Now that the Lucky's/Albertson's has gone out of business next-door, the Hacienda seems even scarier.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Dr. Jones said...

This is E speaking.

Biggles: Curry chicken burrito? WTF? You need a serious talking to from your local New Mexican. See you at the pic-nic.

Jim; A. says you have been wondering about the Hacienda for as long as he's known you. Whatsay we four go there some time and enjoy the hell out of its mediocrity?


11:20 PM  
Blogger drbiggles said...

Been through a major bacon weekend, insane. I've had more than a few people dropping off and picking up of the cured/smoked bacon love. And, to put a notch in it? My sister is coming back today from Oregon, nice. Why Oregon you axe? Because they got BACON pal !!!

9:51 PM  
Blogger uncle jazzbeau said...

Herr Doktor Fünfschoppen. You're on. The next time we meet at Macdonald and S'Pablo. And the Hacienda is open.

5:18 PM  
Blogger drbiggles said...

I want to go to the Hacienda so bad.
Contact me and lets go tomorrow or next week. Just to see.

5:46 PM  
Blogger chilebrown said...

You did not mention Pollo Loco. It would proably complement your rave. It has a Salsa Bar with no salt at all. They are the KFC of mexican food. Lots of sides and main dishes with no flavor.
I can feel your anger to a point. I am a gringo looking for an authentic Mexixan Meal in the Richmond Corrider.Portamex,Pepitos, and ? are decent. Leave the Bay Area and you will love Taco Bell! Peace Paul

8:24 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Recently moving from san diego to berkeley, I too am truly disappointed with la comida to be found in the east bay. I ordered a chile verde burrito at Taqueria Cancun on Allston and recieved a bready abomination of a tortilla filled with frijoles negros. The two or three pieces of meat were chicken, not pork. Their salsas are ok, but you have to be selective--don't go for whatever watermelon mango relish crap that wastes about half of the salsa bar space.
One place that I have found to be decent (though nothing compared to Fidel's in Solana Beach) is Juan's in west berkeley. Good frijoles and arroz, and the salsa is acceptable (they give you unlimited red and verde with a kick). Service is very good and friendly (the owner cooks i think; he came out and talked to me as we were paying the bill). My one complaint is the guac; it doesn't seem like its house made--too runny and bland. My quesadilla had a rediculouly high cheese/meat ratio, so that can be good or bad depending on your tastes. I was excited to see chili colorado on the menu, i think I will try that next time...

1:28 AM  
Blogger Dr. Jones said...

Argh...look at what the idiots on tribe have to say about Best Burrito. I couldn't even join in this conversation it is so offensive:

105 Thu, June 30, 2005 - 11:00 AM
In the East bay I LOVE Best Burritos in El Cerrito on San Pablo Ave a few blocks north of Central. Best is run by this terrific Korean woman and they have a few unconventional items on the menu. Beef or Chicken Teriyaki Burrito. Curry Veg Burrito. The Teriyaki Steak and Shrimp is my personal fav.
A good selection of drinks, but lacking on a good beer selection. Locally made desserts as well.
reply to this post

105 Thu, June 30, 2005 - 12:51 PM
Re: burritos
I go to that burrito place in El Cerrito too! They are awesome and made with very fresh ingredients!

12:30 PM  
Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

wow I fit right in in this all guy comments section.

well maybe Mexican people can't afford to live in El Cerrito. And why would they want to fell all y'all anyway?

If nothing else Christopher's Nothing Fancy is fresh food with a charming back porch with pretty flowers. And it has been there over 15 years. it's gotta have props just for that.

11:24 AM  
Blogger E said...

Christopher's Nothing Fancy Cafe?

You mean christopher's nothing under ten dollars pretenious/expensive cafe, right?

7:24 PM  
Blogger Dr. Jones said...

I'm just rereading this post and it struck me as kind of racist. I hope that everyone gets my sense of humor and doesn't think that about me. Hell, it's only my friends reading this anyways.

12:17 PM  

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