Tag Archives: al pastor

A Return to Taco Land

After a few months out of the United States, i returned craving one of the things they do not do well in Canada; TACOS. Well, they don’t do Mexican food well at all up there (apart from El Trompo), so getting back into town i was relieved i would have no problem finding some good, cheap food.

We decided to check out Latino Mall, located on the south west side of Salt Lake City. While we probably didn’t go at the best time (after 7pm on a cold Wednesday night), i was impressed with this little Latino treasure i had no idea existed in our city. A mini-mall of sorts, it hosts an old school arcade, a full on Mexican market, and dozens of shops including all sorts of food, and even a little frozen treats shop.

As we entered, there were only a few shops open. The first one being directly to our right immediately caught our eye and we proceeded forward to check out the menu. The Paisa grill had the usual fare on it’s menu, but it’s specialty was the Molcajete. The Molcajete is pretty much how it translates to english. It is a mortar (minus the pestle) lined in foil, and layered from bottom to top with cheese, cactus, grilled jalapenos, onions and meats including steak, chicken or a “Supreme” version adding shrimp.

The full size easily feeds at least two people, and would probably feed 3-4 realistically. We were unable to eat the entire contents of our molcajete, but we were particularly fond of the molten cheese at the bottom. Armed with a stack of warm tortillas, this is great comfort food and something good to sit down and share with a friend or two.

Now we needed desert. Thank goodness only a few feet away from Paisa, was Palateria or “The Beautiful One” which specialized in frozen fruit popsicle and drinks, ice creams, etc. There were dozens of flavors to choose from, so we figured we should try something a bit exotic and not just go for a chocolate or straight up fruit popsicle. Kelly opted for the Cucumber and Chile pop, and i went for the Tamarind and Chile pop. Let’s just say these were interesting. Maybe after a messy, drunken trawl across the city is required to truly appreciate one of these Chile infused pops, but it was just a bit too much to handle, for both of us. While mine was not spicy, the conflicting flavors just weren’t happening on my flavor flap. They may go well while smoking crack or eating pickled eggs. That sort of thing. So, not a fan of those – especially after a few burps an hour or so later. Cucumber and Chile just don’t taste right coming up the wind pipe. I almost felt like puking is a better alternative to burping up these flavors. Ever have radishes and then eat some toothpaste and do a shot of tabasco? If you haven’t tried yet, i highly recommend you go out and try it so you know how unnecessary it is in your life.

Something strange to note about Latino Mall, is that while it caters exclusively to Latinos, there is a strange section under construction that will soon host a Vietnamese restaurant. You can be sure we will be checking this place out, as rumor has it it will be spanish speaking friendly and i’m just dying to find out if there is gonna be some traditional mexican flavors blasted into this stuff from the other side of the continent.

Not quite defeated we cruised up north on Redwood Road in hopes of encountering a rogue taco truck or two. While we didn’t find any worth our immediate attention, we did pass a curious little dive that had road construction literally blocking it from all view aside from a glowing “OPEN” sign. The name of the restaurant is El Maguey (I need to double check this as i can’t find them again on Google Maps, so the name may be updated next time you read this).

We had to traverse a bit to find the entrance and park. After we exited the car we were greeted with the back side of a pretty shady looking place with “ENTRADA” sharpie signs all over the place. I felt a little like i was soon to be pounced and stuffed into a potato sack and sold on the black market to pornographers looking to cash in on my pretty boy looks and make some donkey-porn. Sadly, nothing like that happened and we were instead greeted with a Hola! from a tiny woman inside. This place obviously did not cater to those looking for a sanitized, mormon-friendly chow house. This is for all the real dudes. Probably a hit with the blue collar crowd, this place is a little run down and in a bit of disarray given it’s structural integrity and obvious impediment the construction had on it’s attraction. However, the tacos KICKED ASS. We took a seat on the yellow and orange booth seats and were pleasantly surprised with chips and two types of salsa – a traditional tomato salsa, and something else i was not sure of, but was cream based with cucumber and probably a bit of avocado. The al pastor and carnitas tacos were delicious. The pork marinade for the Al Pastor tacos was not as glamorous as, say, Chungas, but these had an undeniable flavor that prompted both of us to make guttural moans of pork eating pleasure. Thoroughly impressed with the food, this is another one we need to put on our list of “must visit again”. Hopefully the construction situation improves and they can maybe clean up the place a bit, and it would be a surefire hit. By the way, the also sold cell phones. So, maybe they like this place looking a little seedy to keep out anyone of an unwelcome ilk (ie; pigs, ignorant caucasians, and mexican food haters). Check it out if you’ve got the time and can speak a little spanish, because the only one who did in this restaurant was a young lad who looked like a skinny version of me. His mother probably shoved him out into the dining area to ask us to speak English with us. Luckily, Kelly (burgersmoke) is 1/8th Latino and speaks Spanish.

Well folks, this concludes another episode of Taco Land adventures, and we hope to bring you more soon! I have severely neglected writing here, and hope to rectify that situation by stuffing my face with more tacos, frequently. If you have a place you want us to check out, email us and let us know. If you run a restaurant and want the professional Taco Journalists of SLCTACOS and our staff of expert Taco Tasters to come sample your food, hit us up as well and we’ll have no problem coming out to eat on your dime.

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REVIEW – Tacos Don Martin (in Sugarhouse!!!)

Tacos Don Martin stands as a guard which watches over the glorious Sugarhole in Sugarhouse.

Tacos Don Martin stands as a guard which watches over the glorious Sugarhole in Sugarhouse.

Tacos Don Martin

Highland Drive and roughly 2150 South

(right in front of the Sugarhole in Sugarhouse; across the street from the library and Barnes and Noble)

3.5 out of 5 stars

801-414-6182

Slctacos.com is back.  I apologize for a bit of a lull in taco journalism, but since last year I was nearly robbed of my entire summer I decided to grab the summer of 2009 by the reigns to make sure I could enjoy it as much as possible.

But this post is not the true miracle I want to talk about this evening.  Tonight I want to talk about how dreams come true.  Some of you remember that I have lamented the fact that while in the past there was a pre-SUGARHOLE taco stand in Sugarhouse.  I actually scribbled this on the top of my Christmas list to Santa :

“a taco stand in sugarhood”

Christmas has come early for this young man because now there street tacos which are walking distance from his home!  What else could you want?  You wanted a burrito?  Tacos Don Martin has you covered.  Oh, you want a vampiro?  Tacos Don Martin has those too!  Excuse me, you wanted a full plate of asada? Done.  Tacos Don Martin is back.  It may very well be the driving force which revitalizes the heart of Sugarhouse.

 

The SUGARHOLE in March, 2009.  Notice the lack of buildings, but more importantly notice the lack of TACOS!!!

The SUGARHOLE in March, 2009. Notice the lack of buildings, but more importantly notice the lack of TACOS!!!

Years from now, our children will be sitting in class and learning about history.  They will learn about the settlers of the Salt Lake valley and they will learn about how Obama made good on his promise in 2011 for every child to have his own jetpack.

Even more importantly, they will learn about the magnificent return of street tacos to Sugarhouse.  They will read about the events leading up to this : Wallstreet greed, credit shortages, recession, and finally SUGARHOLE.  Finally they will read about the singular event which changed Sugarhouse as we know it and ultimately ended the Recession in the United States.  This event is the return of tacos with the opening of Tacos Don Martin.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  You are a taco enthusiast and you want to know more about the tacos.  Taco Enthusiast Dr. Wilkin was the same way when I called him up a few weeks back.  He was chomping at the bit to try out the tacos at this new stand, so we decided to make a date of it.  Dr. Wilkin is a medical doctor and the only thing he loves more than saving lives is eating tacos.  Dr. Wilkin leads a fast-paced life of medical breakthroughs sprinkled with miraculous events of saving the lives of orphans.  Since his time is precious, I was sure to be on time when I walked down the street to his home for our taco adventure.

 

FILE PHOTO : Dr Wilkin on another taco.  He works hard, but he plays even harder.

FILE PHOTO : Dr Wilkin on another taco adventure. He works hard, but he plays even harder.

We arrived at the taco stand on a beautiful summer evening as the sun was setting over the rugged shores of the Sugarhole.  We looked over the menu for a bit and decided to get down to business.  Here are a few items on the menu and their prices.  This is definitely one of the cheaper places to dine in Sugarhouse :

Tacos – $1

Vampiros – $1.50

Plato de Asada – $6

For those curious of what styles of tacos served here, the list is as follows :

Asada, Al Pastor, Carnitas, Pollo, Cabeza, Buche, Barbacoa, Chicharron, Birria, Lengua, Tripa

 

Dr Wilkin unwinds at the taco stand while other taco goers try to jump into the frame amidst serious taco journalism

Dr Wilkin unwinds at the taco stand while other taco goers try to jump into the frame amidst serious taco journalism

Our tacos were good.  For some reason I didn’t take any photos.  Maybe I was starving.  Maybe I was giddy that there was a taco stand in Sugarhouse.  Maybe I was laughing with a fellow taco customer next to me and the stand owner  when some other “gringo” walked away with paying.

At any rate, I enjoyed the Carnitas and the Barbacoa most.  The Al Pastor was also tasty and I will definitely order it again as I continue to revel in street food in Sugarhood.

Tonight I stopped by the stand and had a quick Barbacoa taco while I asked the stand owner how business was going.  She said that it is up and down.  Some good days and some very slow days.  I was surprised when she told me that her busiest time of the day is at lunch.  I would have assumed more people at night since I often see quite a few standing around when I drive down Highland.  If you want to make an order to go, or have them cater a party, you can call the number above and they can set you up with some delicious treats.

Reading the lettering on the stand at Don Martin, you wonder to yourself if they can live up to the claim of serving up street delights “a la altura de su buen gusto“.  In this humble reporter’s opinion, I believe that they do make delicious tacos at the height of your great taste.  Sugarhouse is back on the map!

-burgersmoke

REVIEW – Diego’s (Provo)

Taco enthousiast Jason stands in front of Diegos Taco Shop in Provo at the outset of our Taco Showdown

Taco enthousiast Jason stands in front of Diego's Taco Shop in Provo at the outset of our Taco Showdown

Diego’s Taco Shop
45 W 300 N
Provo, UT
(801) 377-4710

3 out of 5 stars

OK, so I started hearing about this place out of nowhere.  First, I read about an ex-Provo singer\songwriter writing ballads centered around a love for this restaurant.  Then I read in the annual “Best Of Utah 2009” in the City Weekly issue that this restaurant had earned their award for “BEST MEXICAN [RESTAURANT] IN PROVO”.  Let me share briefly what they had to say :

We suspect the real reason Utah County earned its Happy Valley nickname has something to do with the region’s bountiful supply of top-notch restaurants—especially Diego’s. The modest-sized Mexican eatery is home to some of the best tacos anywhere in the state. Really, everything on the menu is a hit, from Al Pastor and Carnitas to quesadillas and burritos all topped with a fiery green avocado salsa.

With a recommendation like this, I had to try it to I sounded the taco alarm to assemble a Taco Showdown and several of my favorite taco enthousiast amigos jumped in Taco Force 1 and Taco Force 2 and set a course for Provo.

In this photo, taco enthousiast Jason is visibly amped to try the tacos while taco enthousiast Dave is slightly more reserved.

In this photo, taco enthousiast Jason is visibly "amped" to try the tacos while taco enthousiast Dave is slightly more "reserved".

Upon arrival at Diego’s Taco Shop, I laied everything out on the table.  I told the woman behind that counter that we were taco journalists who had traveled from Salt Lake City after hearing legendary reports about their tacos.  For some strange reason she didn’t take us very seriously. Perhaps it was because we were not carrying our taco journalist credentials or since we don’t dress like your typical run-of-the-mill taco journalists?  At any rate, I ordered an Al Pastor and a Carnitas and sat down outside to prepare myself for what I was hoping to be an experience that might remove some of the unpleasant taste of Provo, Utah.

We waited outside for a bit and briefly considered getting tattoos at the tattoo shop next door.  I, like yourself Dear Reader, was also surprised to see such a thing in Provo.

Jason holds my tacos to be photographed in optimal lighting conditions as the sun sets

Jason holds my tacos to be photographed in optimal lighting conditions as the sun sets

Finally, our tacos arrived and I started testing out the Al Pastor.  I was immediately underwhelmed.  Normally I like an Al Pastor full of flavor unique to the marinade recipe of the taco preparer.  Instead, I was met with a taco which was not unappetizing but did not stack up the explosion of flavor which I typically expect from an Al Pastor.  My fellow taco journalists looked to get an early idea of my review by the look on my face.  Instead, I continued eating quietly and started work on the Carnitas taco.  This taco was better but once again I could no longer hide my expression showing that I was a little bit disappointed.  Had the shop not been hyped by musicians and other journalists, I would have been able to enjoy these a bit more.  But given the hype, it was almost crushing that these tacos were to be filled under “middle of the road”.  It was even more crushing that the road we found ourselves on was in the middle of Provo.

Taco enthousiast Ryan (blackground, black shirt) is seen contemplating the menu while the rest of the crew prepares to order

Taco enthousiast Ryan (blackground, black shirt) is seen contemplating the menu while the rest of the crew prepares to order

But don’t despair.  The Taco Showdown doesn’t end here.  We also visited another location in Provo.  A location which is clearly a favorite by many slctacos.com fans given the number of comments we have received about its Provo location alone.  Read on and follow us on the dramatic conclusion of this taco adventure.

Its clear that taco enthousiast Amanda is not going to let Provo get her down and she happily poses as we leave Diegos in search of better tacos.

It's clear that taco enthousiast Amanda is not going to let Provo get her down and she happily poses as we leave Diego's in search of better tacos.

Taco enthousiast Ryan takes a large bite as taco enthousiast Quinn wonders if anyone around recognizes us as taco journalists \ rockstars.

Taco enthousiast Ryan takes a large bite as taco enthousiast Quinn wonders if any of the Provo locals recognize us as rockstar taco journalists.

REVIEW – Chunga’s (Provo)

Taco enthousiast Jason checks out the Chungas official vehicle as a woman prepares her daughter for stroller travel

Taco enthousiast Jason checks out the Chunga's official vehicle as a mother prepares her child for stroller travel

Chunga’s (Provo)
664 N. Freedom Blvd.
Provo, UT
(801) 607-1570

5 out of 5 stars

In 2008 I first ate at a little restaurant called Chunga’s in Salt Lake.  That night I met the owner Gilberto who is an incredibly nice gentleman.  We ate and laughed.  I even cut a cake with them that evening and found a plastic Jesus inside.  That night Gilberto told me that he hoped I enjoyed the food since he was already planning to open a second location in Provo.

I fell in love that night with the delicious array of tacos and other offerings that Gilberto and his crew were serving up and I vowed that night to travel all the way to Provo (not a small feat for those less brave) to visit his location there to ensure the same level of quality and write a review of the location.

Let me just skip ahead and tell you that the tacos you get at this Provo location are the same delicious tacos we have come to know and love from the Salt Lake location.

I arrived at the restaurant with my taco enthousiast amigos as part of the second and final round of a Taco Showdown of taco restaurants in Provo.  The first round was not bad, but failed to live up the taco hype we had traveled for.  My amigos seemed a bit nervous.  Were we about to end this taco adventure on a high note?  I could tell from their demeanor that they were not sure how this was all going to turn out.  However none of the taco enthousiasts in our crew had eaten at either Chunga’s location below.

Taco enthousiast Quinn points for all viewing to check out his nopal (cactus) taco he is about to enjoy

Taco enthousiast Quinn points for all viewing to check out his nopal (cactus) taco he is about to enjoy

Once again I ordered an Al Pastor and a Carnitas burrito to hold the variety of tacos constant to compare to the other round of the Taco Showdown.  Meanwhile my fellow taco enthousiasts ordered a full battery of tacos ranging from the lengua (tongue) to the Al Pastor to the nopal (cactus).  We sat down and sipped on our delicious fruit aguas and watched Mexican soap operas on the TV as we waited for our tacos to arrive.

Jason starts counting how many tacos he intends to devour

Jason starts counting how many tacos he intends to devour

I sat back and watched my compatriots as they took their first bite of the Al Pastor.  I sat back and watched them taking their first bites of an experience which reminded me of first bites of a true Al Pastor I had on the streets of Mexico city.  One by one they started smiling and it was clearly agreed that this taco adventure was a complete success.  Our trip to Provo, although treacherous, had not been in vain.  It was immediately decided that there was no contest as to the winner of this particular Taco Showdown as it was evident that Chunga’s was the winner.

We tried a few of the different tacos available at Chunga’s.  The nopal was another crowd favorite and taco enthousiast Quinn and Jason ordered a few more at the counter to prolong our taco experience as long as their stomachs would allow.  Although he is probably not ready for the famous 27 Taco Challenge at Chunga’s which was attempted by taco enthousiast Seth, Jason was the winner of the most tacos eaten trophy.  I can’t remember how many he ate in total, but I certainly do remember being impressed.

Taco enthousiast Jason cools his tongue with a cucumber after eating a large number of tacos

Taco enthousiast Jason cools his tongue with a cucumber after eating a large number of tacos

As we left the restaurant, we were presented coupons for a free taco.  We had not mentioned that we were taco journalists, but still we were treated and fed like kings that night.  The great folks at Chunga’s are always warm an inviting — no matter whether you are a taco journalist or not.

So the next time you are in Provo dropping off a family member at the MTC, stop by Chunga’s.  Treat yourself to a taste of real Mexico City.  It’s a lot like Provo… Just with a few more people…

While visibly displaying his own internal critical analysis, taco enthousiast Dave decides that the tacos exceed his expectations.

While visibly displaying his own internal critical analysis, taco enthousiast Dave decides that the tacos exceed his expectations.

REVIEW – Tacos El Ranchero

Standing outside Taco El Ranchero.  A North Temple institution

Standing outside Taco El Ranchero. A North Temple institution

Tacos El Ranchero

Taco Stand

900 W North Temple (parking lot of Century Cleaners)

4 out of 5 stars

For many years I worked at a place of business near the SLC airport and during this time I learned about the available food options round abouts.  The first location was in the Salt Lake International Center.  There’s a gas station there with potato logs and there’s also a “food” court there called the Admiral’s Galley which offers a man nothing but a serious case of the ol’ galley stomach.  Want to know what that is?  Ask a pirate.

The other location I grew to love was North Temple.  Co-workers and I tried places up and down North Temple when one day we noticed there was a taco stand buried behind a crowd of cars, vans and fellow taco enthousiasts.  This stand is Tacos El Ranchero.

Noyens tacos from Tacos El Ranchero.  I cant even remember what he ordered.

Noyen's tacos from Tacos El Ranchero. I can't even remember what he ordered. Today I have failed you as a taco journalist. Maybe Noyen remembers?

I recently spoke to the good hombre named Martin who owns the stand.  Martin is from the town of Chihuahua and told me that Tacos El Ranchero has served taco lovers at this location for over 4 years.   The stand currently resides in the parking lot of Century Cleaners but Martin tells me while the cart itself has only been at this location for 4 years, it has already seen 10 years of active service.  So this taco cart is a veteran.  Possibly even a general.

I give this general a ranking of 4 well earned stars to add to its decorated career.  Let me show you the delicious tacos I enjoyed there :

Clockwise from the top : Al Pastor, Barbacoa, Carnitas, Lengua

Clockwise from the top : Al Pastor, Barbacoa, Carnitas, Lengua

I’ve been to this taco stand a couple times in the last 3 weeks.  I went once with Rob Tennant whilst helping with an article about taco stands for City Weekly.  Then I came back with Noyen since we hadn’t been to this place in a long time (we worked together at our place of work near the airport).  On the first visit with Rob I tried the barbacoa and fell in love.  This is one of the best barbacoa tacos I have tried at a stand in SLC.  Delicious stuff and very tender.  I don’t often order this one, but I had to try it again a second time and it was worth the repeat.

The Al Pastor was also delicious.  It’s certainly not as sweet as the Al Pastor you get a few blocks away at Chunga’s, but that might be a plus for some taco readers and I do believe this is the best Al Pastor I’ve had at an outdoor stand in the last year.  I’m looking forward to having another one of these.  Finally, the carnitas were a savory delight and the lengua was tender, but neither was as great as the Barbacoa or Al Pastor.

Vans (left), Tacos El Ranchero (middle), church (right)

Vans (left), Tacos El Ranchero (middle), church (right)

So go hop down to North Temple and say hello to Martin and his smiling helpers.  On these trips I only had room for tacos, but I have to recommend their tortas as well.  I used to have their tortas back in the day when I worked closer to this area.  So go have a taco and a torta.  While you’re at it, feel free to drop off your dry cleaning at Century Cleaners.