Monthly Archives: January 2009

REVIEW – El Habanero

Noyen stands in the fairly full parking lot of El Habanero as we make our entrance

Noyen stands in the fairly full parking lot of El Habanero as we make our entrance

El Habanero

3500 S 8146 W

3 stars out of 5

There is so much good Mexican food around Salt Lake that we cannot be everywhere at once.  This is where you come in.  I recently received word from a fellow taco enthousiast named Collette that we needed to try a restaurant which serves great Cochinita Pibil.  As I am a fan of Cochinita Pibil (click here if you didn’t read the bit I wrote about it), I had to try it out.  So Noyen and I jumped in the car.  And we headed west.  We continued heading west.  And then we headed west a bit more. We saw many amazing things, but I will leave that to Noyen.

We snapped this photo to illustrate how far west we went.  8164.  WEST!!!  I think in the phonebook its probably listed as DEEP MAGNA.  I didnt know it was possible to go that far west without crossing state lines.

We snapped this photo to illustrate how far west we went. 8164. WEST!!! I think in the phonebook it's probably listed as DEEP MAGNA. I didn't know it was possible to go that far west without crossing state lines.

Finally as we thought we were going to start ascending the mountains which make up the western rim of of the Salt Lake Valley, we arrived at El Habanero to find a packed parking lot.  This apparently is a very popular Mexican joint.  So popular that we noticed it had been applauded by Hollywood celebrities.  But we will get to that in due time.

As we were told that the Cochinita Pibil was the thing to try here, we asked the waitress if this is what she would recommend and she acquiesced that it was their best item on the menu.  Noyen and I both ordered that and checked the place out.  The interior is bright and colorful.  The walls have been refinished so that they almost look like adobe.  The interior might even be higher quality than The Mayan or Denver’s original Casa Bonita.  OK, so it’s not up to that high calibre, but we did enjoy and appreciate it.

My Cochinita Pibil.  I used more tortillas than the 3 depicted here.

My Cochinita Pibil. I used more tortillas than the 3 depicted here.

The horchata was delicious, although it was probably from a simple mix.  The chips were delicious and hot and the salsa was pretty good.  Finally we both got our Cochinita Pibil and dove right in.  The meat was extremely tender and melted in your mouth.  This is usually the case with pibil, but to get this result does require some acidic citrus.  The citrus flavor was much stronger than other pibils that I am used to.  So much so that it was hard to eat with a fork on its own.  I had to eat it in tortillas and beans to help balance it out.  The taste was great, but the citrus was just too strong.  The rice and beans were standard fare.  I would say they compare to a typical restaurant like Chubby’s or La Hacienda.

So while my Pibil was good, it was not as good as others I have had before.  I would say that the pibil at Red Iguana is far and away more enjoyable.  I even think that the Rico’s Cochinita Pibil that you can find in your local supermarket might be a better option but I haven’t had one of those in a long time.  I’ll have to snag one again soon to compare.  So on the whole, the food at El Habanero was average.  Middle of the road.  However, what we didn’t expect to see were signed photos of celebrities who love El Habanero which included :

  • Danny Glover
  • SheDaisy
  • Local girl’s swimming team
  • A creepy looking Santa (watch for it)
A photo and signing expressing Mr. Danny Glovers enthousiasm for El Habanero

A photo and signing expressing Mr. Danny Glover's enthousiasm for El Habanero

I would like to try El Habanero again, but I should try something besides the Pibil.  Do you have any thoughts or comments on this restaurant?  Something I should try next time?

In parting, I leave you with a few scenes from the career of Mr. Glover.  First is the unforgettable moment of Danny sharing his first taco with the Predator.  Thansk to taco enthousiast Collette for this one :

Tacos.  Friend.  Intergalactic borders are melted.

Tacos. Friends. Intergalactic borders are melted.

And here is a wonderful re-enactment of the scene in Lethal Weapon where Mr. Glover hands his hilarious aussie sidekick a taco.  Big thanks to OVENMIT for providing this photo.

Here!  I made you this taco!  Lets make 7 more tacos.  One for each movie!

"" ..riggs, im getting too old for these grande chorizo breakfast burritos!"

Cochinita Pibil

Sweet delicious Cochinita Pibil surrounded by his best friends Red Onions and sleeping on a banana leaf blanket.

Sweet delicious Cochinita Pibil surrounded by his best friends Red Onions and sleeping on a banana leaf blanket.

So recently we talked a bit about Tacos al Pastor.  Now let’s travel to the Yucatan peninsula to explore a dish whose roots come from Mayan tradition : Cochinita Pibil (pronounced ko-cheen-EE-ta pee-BEEL) .  This dish (also called Puerco Pibil) is a dish with pork.  It is slow roasted and it results in extremely tender and delicious meat.  The word cochinita itself is the diminuitive which signifies “little pig” or “baby pig”.  However, I don’t believe that a baby pig is necessary.  If all you have in your own backyard is a pig which has already reached its midlife ennui, then by all means use that pig instead.  The meat is marinated in an extremely acidic citrus juice such as Seville oranges.  Lemons and limes can also be used so that the meat becomes tenderized.

The color comes from the delicious achiote oil which comes from the seed of the annatto which grows in the tropical regions of the Americas.  When it comes time for roasting, it is usually wrapped in a banana leaf.  Traditionally it was buried and fire roasted.  Hence the Mayan word pibil which means buried.  I originally thought it meant delicious, but it turns out I do not have a grasp of Mayan.  Only a grasp of how tasty it is.

Seed pod of the annatto.

Seed pod of the annatto

The dish is usually served with Red Onions (as pictured above).  Some like to eat it plain and others on tortillas.  However you prefer, it’s a delicious treat whose delicious pork melts in your mouth.  Like tacos al pastor, this is something that varies from cocina to cocina so it should be tried everywhere.

Recently while dining with Noyen he mentioned to me that on Robert Rodriguez’ films he provides special features of him making some great mexican dish in his own kitchen.  I looked this up, and lo and behold Youtube had exactly the clip we needed.  Right there.  Waiting for me the whole time.  It turns out that on the DVD for “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” he includes a “ten minute cooking school” lesson of Cochinita Pibil.

In this clip, he also references the great scene in the film where Johnny Depp’s character explains his obsession with “Puerco Pibil”.  During the scene he explains that he tries this dish wherever the wind takes him as he does his business around Mexico.  If the dish is too good, he kills the cook to maintain balance.  Here’s that clip too, because I love it :

Over the next little bit we will explore SLC restaurants (and even grocery store products in your local Smith’s!!!) making Cochinita Pibil and see what we think.  If you have a restaurant making Pibil that we should try or you want to talk about, make it known.

President Obama promises increase in taco consumption

Yup.  Obama supports tacos.  Why didn’t he say that before the first debate?  We could have avoided a lot of yelling to simply vote for the man…

President Obama holds an example of what a taco should be

President Obama holds an example of what a taco should be

P.S. thanks to Dave for providing this moment in presidential history.  He has more genius to share very soon.

REVIEW – El Jaripeo (the other side of the table)

El Jaripeo Restaurant

1259 South Redwood Road

3 stars out of 5

This sign out front..

This sign out front..

My review follows up the other side of the table, on our visit to the new El Jariepo Restaurant, located where La Hacienda used to reside. I have fond feelings of the building used, and the old murals inside. However, this is a review of El Jariepo, so i’ll try not to let it’s past inhabitants relinquish any ill feelings towards El J.

The interior, is straight up mid-west diner. It’s a pleasant combination of colors. Yellow, brown. Big new mural on the wall. It’s not a looker. Let’s get that out of the way up front. It might even be considered intimidating to some. But don’t let it’s exterior, or interior push you away from this little treasure.

I don’t know much history on anything Oaxacan. I do know, that it usually means it’s going to be good, though.


Chips and Salsa

I was blessed with a wonderful friendly (and in english, which was unexpected) greeting from a cool dude probably in his 20’s, and a bowl of chips and salsa. Of course, Kelly had told me the story of reading about the dude in the Slayer t-shirt. It turns out of course, that this is the same guy. Dude. Friendly, helpful, excited and a great waiter. I wish i remembered your name. As, you should be addressed, because you kicked so much ass you were actually wearing a Slayer tshirt today, as well, underneath your “uniform”.

I looked at the menu. I was pleased. The previous owners, after La Hacienda, were a group called Guelaguetza. These previous occupants were VERY much, if not the same in feel as the current cooks. The last mole i had tasted similar, if not the same as the last restaurant. Oh, and i must tell you what i ordered.

1 carne asada torilla taco
1 chorizo tortilla taco
1 Burrito Zapoteco

The Horchata

The Horchata

The Horchata: This is different stuff, folks. It’s delicious and soothing, but it’s not your cool down splash of sweet that you might be used to. The horchata we have here is THICK. It was topped with fruit, nuts and some sort of fruit jelly. It was also not very cold, despite the presence of ice. This may be the drink’s fault. Loved it, however. You must try this if you think you’ve ever tried “different” horchata. This is the stuff.

The Tacos

The Tacos

Carne Asada Taco: Standard street taco fare. I found the meat to be a bit too dry, and a bit too processed, with smaller pieces than what i would have liked. Accompanied with onions, cilantro, tomato and slices of radish, this was a tasty taco. The tortilla was fantastic. In fact, it blew away the rest of the taco. Good stuff, but you can do better.

Chorizo Taco: See above… really not much to expand upon, other than the meat was even more dry and chopped up… I can’t wait to tell you about “The Special Place” that Rose Park is blessed with… anyway!

The Burrito Zapoteca... Damn

The Burrito Zapoteca... Damn

The Burrito Zapoteco: WOW! This thing is freaking HUGE. Hopefully, by the time you read this i will have pictures uploaded. Basically, this was a massive burrito in a tasty, massive tortilla. The filling consisted of roasted cactus, chicken, rice and was covered in an amazing, almost too rich, mole. It was like chocolate sauce. It needed salt… It was good!?! I’m confused here as i really enjoyed it, but it could have been better. I think i may even have the suggestion! If the mole were used sparingly, it would actually add to this, overall. The meal was fantastic, and i ate every bit that i could, sans mole, and a bit of tortilla. Oh, and i must also tell of you the wonderful cheese that is sprinkled on top! Let’s focus on the cactus here, because really, this is the shining star of glory and hope in this burrito. The chicken is okay, but i have had so much better. The cactus, however is special and tasty and a unique suprise of splosions of taste blasting all over your mouth. It took me about half-burrito to get to it, but once i found it, i was in love. I want to try more cactus dishes here.

Overall: This place is cheap in price and is just on the border of something special when it comes to it’s food. The torillas and chips are FANTASTIC. The ambiance is chill and friendly and the food is pretty unique. I think overall, the Red Iguana has a definite plus over this place, but you can’t say you’ve tried em’ all until you try this little jem. I think i would like to return and try some of the other dishes. What i tasted of what Kelly ordered was quite different. There was an overall feeling of bland..  but there is salt at the table! The salt helps! Really, i’m not joking. I liked this restaurant, but i was not blown away. I have a review in progress on one of the best restaurants i’ve ever been to, and i hope putting these two places side by side will explain the trancendental feeling of an amazing meal. It was okay, it just wasn’t the best food-sex i’ve had.

REVIEW – El Jaripeo Restaurant

El Jaripeo Restaurant

El Jaripeo Restaurant

El Jaripeo Restaurant

1259 South Redwood Road

3.5 stars out of 5

Prepare yourself for a jaripeo (rodeo) of delicious specialties from Mexico.  What you find at El Jaripeo is different from most other Mexican restaurants around Salt Lake City.  First, you need to realize that the standard fare you might be tempted to order from other joints is probably not going to be the specialty of the house.  Printed in cool new green text on the front is Comida Oaxaqueña. So after a bit of spanish spelling gymnastics, it’s certain that the specialties of the house come from the city and state of Oaxaca,  a beautiful part of Mexico with its own special brand of cuisine unlike the rest of Mexico.

In the many years I have been enjoying Mexican food in this building, there have been several murals of a woman making tortillas.  This is the one that is currently standing.

In the many years I have been enjoying Mexican food in this building, there have been several murals of a woman making tortillas on this very wall. This is the one that is currently standing.

El Jaripeo’s building is one with a history of Mexican restaurants.  Most recently it was called Guelaguetza which was also a restaurant which served up Oaxacan delicacies.  While many of the menu items have remained the same, some of them have changed.  When I asked, I was also told that the owners are completely new but they are also from Oaxaca and I was told that the same menu items which I had previously tried at Guelaguetza would taste differently now given the difference in recipes.  Given the difference in recipes, Noyen and I asked for recommendations of their best items.  I ordered the Empanadas with mole amarillo and Noyen got the Burrito Zapoteco with grilled cactus leaves.

My Empanada de mole amarillo

My Empanada de mole amarillo

Before I talk about how my empanada was, it’s important to talk about a few of the items that you can get here.  First of all, the horchata (here’s a picture of Noyen’s) is homemade with nuts and melons mixed in.  It’s a delicious treat and a nice change from the horchata from most restaurants and comes from a fountain.  On the topic of drinks, you can also get Champurrado here.  This drink is not for everybody as it’s very thick drink typically mixed with hominy flour.  I usually don’t like thick drinks like this one (it’s practically a meal) but after being dared to drink it by my students at the Guadalupe School, I have developed a taste for it.  Also for the adventurous types you can actually order chapulines here (grasshoppers are a delicacy and popular in Oaxaca).  Another dish I have tried before is the Nopal Zapateco which is a dish of grilled cactus, which I and some co-workers have found to be delicious.

Now Oaxaca is known as the “land of seven moles” and there are several to choose from at El Jaripeo.  After asking our waiter, I decided on trying the empanada with mole amarillo.  Most mole amarillos I have tried have been very hot and flavorful but this one was not very hot at all.  The flavor was good, but not overpowering.  Still, I would have liked a bit more interesting flavor in my mole.  Noyen’s mole negro on his burrito was delicious.  I would say that while it is not as good as Red Iguana, it’s a close second.  The homemade tortillas were delicious.  Very warm and a nice amount of toasting to them.  Also on sale at the restaurant are tortillas and “pasta de mole negro” so you can take some stuff home and have your own little festival de moles at home.

Here is a mural which is still around from the previous restaurant.  Guelaguetza is an annual celebration in the city of Oaxaca.

Here is a mural which is still around from the previous restaurant. Guelaguetza is an annual celebration in the city of Oaxaca.

The service was excellent and much improved over the slow and sometimes frustrating service we had previously grown accustomed to with Guelaguetza.  Our waiter was very polite and made great recommendations.  He’s also a fan of metal which I personally appreciate.  After reading about the previous incarnation of El Jaripeo (3500 S) on another blog, I read about a waiter who liked Slayer shirts.  So I asked him if he was the guy at the other location who liked Slayer. He said that it could easily been him and he lifted up his shirt to reveal a pretty damn cool Slayer shirt underneath.  So you will be in good hands.

Overall, the food was not as great as I have tasted in other restaurants and could be less dry and more flavorful.  However, there are not many other restaurants in town which serve up some of these delicacies from Oaxaca so I would definitely recommend it.  Make sure to leave comments if you do try it out and let us know what you think.

More reviews to come next week…

Reviews coming very soon

I’m out the door in a couple of hours to go to the NAMM trade show.  I’m really hoping I can get a picture of Slash holding a taco, or at least him running away as I try to hand him a taco.  Meanwhile, Noyen and I are working on a few reviews right now of some places that you may or may not have experienced yet.

So we’ll be setting up a reviews page totalling up all the restaurants, stands, carts, and taco trucks that we review on this site.

If there are any taco locations missing from our TACO MAP, make sure to point it out.  I know there are some missing, but it’s hard to be everywhere at once.  So e-mail us those locations and also let us know if there is a particular restaurant which should be reviewed.

Also, please light candles and say prayers that I can get close enough to Slash to drop salsa on him.

death, and tacos

I wanted to take a few minutes and introduce myself to the site. I will be here to help The Taco Master, Paco, with lots of taco content and taco related fun. My name is noyen. My name is nairb. Some will call me brian. I will be whoever you want me to be. Sometimes, i am someone else entirely. Sometimes, i feel like a lion chasing a butterfly.

Some of the things to look forward to in the taco future are:

The Virgin Taco Stand Experience – Only taco stand virgins need apply. We’ll hold drawings periodically to take a random being out to a taco stand of our choosing, documenting your every thought, movement and possible bowel-movement. But let’s throw that pre-conception out the window. Street tacos will not make you any more prone to getting sick or food borne illness than anything else! Someone would have to blast one off in your mouth with a slap of day old raw chicken carcass for you to get sick. In fact, taco stands in Salt Lake City generally have far cleaner food inspection reports than chain food establishments, because they are under such scrutiny. It is an injustice to hassle our street taco gods. Sure, there is violence associated to them in the media. The media are not worthy of addressing. We’re not that stupid. Anyway. TACOS! I LOVE THEM. I think you should too.

Band vs Taco – Here we will team up with local, national, and international bands and take them out for a taco and a good talking to about the first single off their new album(s), but more importantly; do they like tacos? Before i support a band, i need to know how they feel about tacos. Here, we will help you make an informed decision on how you have nocturnal emissions about. Hopefully during the upcoming Sundance festival we will have some interesting names and faces appearing at taco stands throughout the valley. If you are in a band, an artist, a business owner, or a taco lover, send us a shout and we’ll work things out! You can even buy us tacos, because the economy has hit us pretty hard and i havent been able to afford a taco a day. Times is rough. Let’s all share.

Taco Flash Mobs – Look for these coming in the spring! These have happened in the past have been a hit. Small in size, yes. Ambitous? That was the point. Many friends were made, and babies were born under the Taco Moon. And many more taco babes shall be shat forth into humanity.

As for my formal introduction, i was born in the year of the taco, 1976, in a small town called Topeka, which almost sounds like Taco Eeka! Located in a very flat state, much like an uncooked tortilla, Kansas feared me and my carnal desires for tacos, and quickly ejected me to Germany, where not a taco was to be found. Only sausage. And i wanted no part of this sausage festival. I wandered aimlessly through life, passing through countries such as Japan and Canada. Not a taco was to be found. Only eskimos holding crepes and filled with chef boyardee like substances to be passed off as tacos. These were not tacos. I was not fooled.

17 years passed. I found myself confronting two fates. 7 years in a jail cell in Tokyo, Japan (charged with seeking the taco without a license) or a free ticket to Salt Lake City. I chose the free ticket to Salt Lake City. It took me a few years to say “This is the Place”, but it happened. It happened just like it does in the movies. I was down on my luck, had no money, and my girlfriend was cheating on me with a gay dude. I was shooting heroin and sleeping on hardwood floors. Then, out of the blue, a kind man named Paco, dressed in fancy robes and cloths, frolicking down the street, passed me by and i just got up and followed him. Just like Forrest Gump. Just like that full on retard moment. He pranced and cartwheeled for many miles until reaching a strange place i had never seen before; a taco stand on state street. And not just one, but many. And there was music, and sights, and smells. Oh, the joy. Oh, the heaven. I am still chasing that high.

I will save the play by play chews and swallows for a later article, but let me tell you. My balls danced. My ass got into the mix. It was a pornographic taco party in my mouth. Ever since, as i just said, i have been chasing the taco. Loving the taco. Trying to wrastle that crazy taco into submission. To hold it’s magic in my hands just a little bit longer. Just long enough that i can feel it in my soul. Long enough that i don’t just swallow it whole and ignore it’s simple, complex beauty.

So, here i am. Here to write poetry to the taco. To spread the good word. To get you off your ass and not just walking, but running to the street taco stand nearest you. Inspired. Invigorated. Passionate. 2009 is the year of the taco. We have the technology. We can do this.

Tacos al Pastor

Tacos al Pastor

Tacos al Pastor

Anytime I try a new taco stand, I always try the Tacos al Pastor.  To me, they are a good indicator of the overall quality of the tacos there.  There are some restaurants in Mexico which are dedicated entirely to this style of taco and in Mexico City it is practically an institution.  However, nearly every time I order one of these someone asks  me what a Pastor taco is and why it is called that instead of “pork taco”.

Let’s dive right in and learn more.

First of all, “al Pastor” means “sheperd style” and many sources cite that its origins come from Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Mexico during the 1960’s and with them came the Shawarma.  Today, tacos al pastor are made from pork  shaved from a spit much like a Shawarma sandwich, a Gyro or a Doner Kebap.

Shaving off some pork into delicious tacos

Shaving off some pork into delicious tacos

After marinating the meat, it is cooked on a rotisserie with a pineapple on top.  The pineapple provides a very sweet flavor which can be nice alongside some strong cilantro or salsa. The marinades are the real unknown factor as you go from stand to stand.  Different regions in Mexico have different recipes for their pastor marinades and these recipes also vary at each restaurant or stand.  These recipe secrets are highly guarded and they also make each taco pastor unique and a reason to come back to that establishment.
These tacos are also often called “tacos de trompo” named after the trompo which is the cylinder that the meat rotates on while slicing it off.  Also, when you see a gringa offered on a menu, this is similar to a pastor, but instead it is served on a wheat tortilla with cheese.  I ordered a gringa once in Puebla on accident and it was one of the greatest things I have ever tasted.

So there we have just one example of a mezcla of different cultures (Middle East meets Mexico) which results in a very delicious treat.  We’ll come back and talk more about tacos al pastor and I will let you in on a little secret : where to mind my absolute favorite tacos al pastor in Salt Lake City.  Stay Tuned.

Taco enthousiast Ethan shows how to properly care for properly care for tacos al pastor while dining at the yet-to-be-disclosed establishment which makes the best pastor in town.

Taco enthousiast Ethan shows how to properly care for tacos al pastor while dining at the yet-to-be-disclosed establishment which makes the best pastor in town.

In the beginning, there was the tortilla

And after that came the meat.  Then the salsa.  Later there was a bit of cilantro.  Just when everything already seemed perfect a fresh lime was squeezed over the top. After folding it up and finding that it was indeed delicious, this invention called the taco found its way north to Salt Lake City, Utah.

This site is all about tacos and the enthousiasts who love them. Particularly street taco stands.

If you are interested in participating in this site by writing or adding reviews, please go to the about page and contact Kelly.

Thanks and let there be tacos!