T&T!

T&T!

Of course, by T&T, I’m referring to tacos and tamales. And yes, I’m again posting about the taco truck–well, it’s really more of a taco cart–on Dyckman Street here in Inwood. We hadn’t tried their tamales when we last posted, but now with a few in my belly from repeated visits, I’m happy to report that they rule. The tamales come in only two flavors: chicken mole and chicken with green sauce.

Mole Chicken Tamale

Mole Chicken Tamale

They’re both killer, but I like the mole one a bit better. That said, they’re $1 each and so you’re pretty much required to get 2. Add those to a meal that includes magnificent tacos that have been getting better each time I go there and that makes for some magnificent eats. If you can make it up to the Inwood taco cart on the weekends, you won’t be disappointed.

As always, there are more photos on our Flickr.

Bonita in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Bonita in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Ryan: We went to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to see Beirut a few weeks back and decided to grab tacos at Bonita, a Mexican restaurant we’d been to once before. Our first trip there was pretty underwhelming for me as I ordered the fish tacos and was left wanting more food–and tastier food. But this was about a year later, and with Tacos Por Vida in mind, I wanted to give Bonita another shot.

3 beef tacos at Bonita in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

3 beef tacos at Bonita in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Oh lord, what a mistake. We ordered glasses of sangria and they were watered down and overpriced. We ordered chips and salsa. Honestly? I can’t remember the salsa, but the chips were decent. Definitely overpriced ($6!) and we had to order the dang chips. What self-respecting Mexican joint doesn’t give you chips?! Oh, but their biggest affront was with their tacos. The three beef taco plate was only $11, but they were three of the tiniest tacos ever. The taco shells were, no joke, much smaller than any other tacos I’ve had here. I’m pretty sure they were the same size as the little tortillas that came with my entree at Rosa Mexicano. Baffling, to see them used for tacos.

Aside from being disgracefully small, the tacos just weren’t that great. The beef wasn’t cooked, spiced or even simply flavored in a way that would EVER make me want to eat there again. I’m actually a bit annoyed that we wasted our time and money at Bonita. Please, if you consider going there dear reader, don’t. Not worth it.

Chicken Burrito at Bonita

Chicken Burrito at Bonita

Elizabeth: I have to add something here.  I take full responsibility for urging the return trip to Bonita.  Last year, unlike Ryan, I quite enjoyed my food.  My chicken burrito contained nicely seasoned whole pinto beans, flavorful meat and a nice amount of cheese.  And–bonus!–it was warm and toasty on the outside from a light grilling.  I wanted another, or at least a different type of good burrito in this (relative) burrito wasteland of NYC.

As is obvious from the tone of this post, my repeat experience didn’t live up to my expectations.  For one, I’d recently had an amazing burrito at La Fiesta, and topping it would be unlikely.  However, Bonita’s burrito would have been a disappointment no matter what.  On my plate arrived a medium-sized burrito, a perfect proportion in my mind (I never understand why the slightly smaller version is never available these days.  Sigh.).  Instead of a medium-sized flour tortilla containing beans, meat and cheese, though, I soon discovered that the burrito consisted mostly of a giant tortilla wrapped in on itself.  At least one third of the burrito was nothing more than the flour tortilla, a providing a dry, tasteless and textureless experience.

Taco Truck in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Taco Truck in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Ryan: Fortunately, my foodie night was sorta saved by the Williamsburg taco truck. For $2.50, I got a single beef taco. Ah! But you could fit two and a half Bonita (maybe all three) tacos into that one taco truck feast–it was a big one. And flavor? Yes! Was it spicy? A bit; not too much, but enough to give it a lil’ kick. The beef itself was probably of the same quality level as what Bonita was serving.

Beef Taco, Taco Truck Style

Beef Taco, Taco Truck Style

Elizabeth: I was somewhat stuffed with flour tortilla (I know, I know, it’s getting old. I’ll stop harping on it.), so I decided to forgo extra food.  But I was extremely cold, so I ordered a Mexican hot chocolate.  It had just the right amount of spice and warmth to really get the night back on track.

Ryan: We were going to hit the taco truck up initially, since it’s stationed right outside the subway, but we decided not to due to the weather. And I damn near froze my fingers off that night while scarfing down the taco on our way to the Beirut show. But ya know what? It was worth it. Hooray for the taco truck! To hell with Bonita.

Our La Fiesta Feast!

Our La Fiesta Feast!

With a hankering for tacos and no desire to go too far from home, we ordered tacos and a mammoth burrito from La Fiesta, the taqueria Elizabeth found in Washington Heights a few weeks back. At $2 per taco, I decided to taste the rainbow of tacos and get six of ’em: steak, pork, chicken, spicy pork, al pastor and chorizo. Now, I’m not such a savage that I’d eat all six at once, but after downing the steak, spicy pork and chicken tacos, I damn near grabbed the other three.

The tacos at La Fiesta are exquisitely tasty, spiced wonderfully and very similar to the ones at Tehuitzingo Deli Grocery down in Hell’s Kitchen…though La Fiesta’s tacos come topped with a bit more onion and cilantro than at TDG. Still, they’re not just similar in terms of the rockin’ flavors–these tacos are a lil’ small. It’s easy and affordable to down three or four of these in a snap.

La Fiesta has officially become my go-to taco place when I’m at home. Hell yeah! More photos on Flickr.

Qdoba logo

Qdoba logo

Mexican-ish fast food joint Qdoba has a nifty little deal. Sign up for their frequent eater card, give them your birthday and every year, you get a free burrito or entree of your choice. Well, it’s buy one, get one, but it’s still kinda free. My boss, John Cerilli, and I share the same birth-date and last week we got the same email: free food from Qdoba!

Before I go into the tacos, I will say that I have a soft spot for Qdoba. The Q (as we…or I…called it back then) located in the Palisades Center Mall in West Nyack, NY was a frequent haunt for my friends and I who worked at Wizard Magazine. It wasn’t great food, but it was cheap, quick and sometimes one of their gigantic burritos just hit the spot.

3 tacos at Qdoba

3 tacos at Qdoba

Anyway, Cerilli and I decided to head to Qdoba to enjoy some free food–once last week and once this coming week. I, of course, chomped down on their three-taco plate during our first visit. I even went for hard tacos, cheese and tomatoes–no need to try and get something authentic when nothing there is authentic, right? I really didn’t expect good tacos, but they a little bit crappier than I’d anticipated. Bland meat (both the steak and the pork) and very little of it. Taco shells were crap. I don’t even think there was salsa.

And I’m going back. This week, I think I’ll go back and try the soft tacos. Mix it up a bit! Then, maybe, I’ll head to Chipotle and do some sort of crappy fast food taco face-off! Although, that means I’ll have to pay for (probably) lackluster tacos. Meh.

Superior Grill, Baton Rouge, LA

Superior Grill, Baton Rouge, LA

I had very  high expectations of Superior Grill before I even stepped off the plane from New York. Elizabeth had talked this place up so much that I expected Don Mattingly (former New York Yankees first baseman, my favorite player and my former childhood hero) and Jesus to cook and bring the tacos to us themselves. Hell, the family down here has made a tradition of going to Superior Grill for Christmas Eve dinner! It HAD to be good.

Welcome to Superior Grill

Welcome to Superior Grill

The decor, both inside and outside, said, “Hello Ryan, come in and eat our tacos. We want to fill your belly with deliciousness and make you happy. Be not afraid, just feast.” The wait staff was friendly and our table was immediately gifted with a heaping helping of warm, crispy chips and just spicy enough salsa. I’m a bit of a chip fiend, specifically when it comes to curled/folded chips.  I go ga-ga for ’em. The chips here were quite good, not overpowering in taste, obviously built more for dippin’ and enjoying the salsa. Good stuff! And when we devoured most of the chips and two containers of salsa, they quickly brought us a fresh (so hot!) batch of chips and four containers of salsa. Aces!

Meal-wise, we ordered a few things. I got the three taco plate (two steak brisket and one pork taco), Elizabeth got the one  beef taco/one chicken enchilada/one cheese enchilada combo, her sister Juli got the tortilla soup and her boy-toy Steven got the chicken fajita plate. I can’t comment on Juli and Steven’s food, though they seemed happy with their grub. I tasted Elizabeth’s dish and thought the beef taco (hard) was pretty decent, the chicken enchilada was real good and the cheese enchilada was great. My tacos?

Tacos!

Tacos!

Simply put: they rocked. Before adding the salsa, pico de gallo and guacamole to the tacos, I tasted them as they were. The steak brisket tacos perfectly cooked, juicy, extremely flavorful and pretty much made my mouth sing. It was a different cut of meat from what I’m used to in NYC, but hot damn that was excellent. That photo really doesn’t do it justice. The pork taco wasn’t quite as good. The pork was cut into chunks and a little dry despite being served with onions and peppers already in the taco, but it was still a pretty darn good taco nonetheless. By itself, I’m sure the pork taco would have pleased me, but against such a magnificent display of steak taco goodness, it just couldn’t compete.

The plate also came with rice and beans (good but not out of this world), pico de gallo, lettuce and serrano peppers (which I didn’t have, since I don’t like too much spice). The guacamole there was righteous and I suggest getting a side order for any dish you order.

All in all, Superior Grill won my heart and my taste buds with excellent food, great service and some damn fine tacos. When we figure out a proper review scale, we’ll add that in here, but I’d put this place somewhere in the vicinity of awesome.

See all the photos on Taco Por Vida’s Flickr gallery.

Airport food is not real food, as we all know. And, rather than judging my airport food by the normal, exacting standards I would implement in real life, I tend to go with the following questions:

1. Does it have any flavor at all?
2. Is it under $15?
3. Does it give me heartburn?
4. Can I get some alcohol to accompany it?

Perhaps I should move #4 up, as I *hate* airplane travel. So, that’s pretty much why I always hit up Pappasito’s Cantina when I fly Continental on my way home to visit the parents.  When it opened along with the E terminal in the early 2000s, it was a place with reliably decent and fresh Mexican food, certainly better than the other Houston airport options, and–rather amazingly–strong, tart, relatively inexpensive margaritas. While I wouldn’t have named Pappasito’s as one of my top five choices in Mexican restaurants, it was a bright spot in terms of airport food.

Sadly, much has changed in the past decade.

The past few times I’ve been through the airport and had a chance to eat at Pappasito’s, I’ve been noticing a change in the quality.  Still, I would convince myself that it’s better than most options there, thinking, “At least it isn’t Famiglia pizza” and, “Yeah, it’s chain Mexican and I shouldn’t expect much” and, “It is an airport, after all.”

Pappasito's Cantina, Houston Airport

This time, I had a Cancun burrito–chicken, black beans, guacamole, and pico di gallo–along with a 12-ounce frozen margarita.  The burrito was filled with ultra-sticky, rather tasteless refried black beans that overwhelmed and surrounded the rest of the ingredients.  I could hardly see the chicken in my burrito, let alone taste it.  The guacamole–well, there was a small dab of it, somewhere in there.  In short, in order to have any taste at all, I had to add a lot of the still-fairly-adequate salsa.  Damning with faint praise, indeed, to call the salsa “adequate.”

On the other hand, there’s that margarita: At $6.95, it is a remarkably good deal.  Not too sweet, not too tart, it also contains a significant amount of tequila.  If you have a long layover, as I did, it definitely does the trick and takes the edge off.  In short, it’s actually worth your money and time if you want something stronger than a beer and cheaper than an airport bar cocktail.

It sucked. How’s that for a review?! Seriously, though, I’ve heard good things about the Pappasito’s franchise and decided to sneak in a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast taco during my layover in Houston (between traveling from NYC to Louisiana).

I guess I expected a taco with flavor and substance, but all I got was some mediocre scrambled eggs, a slightly spicy sausage and some ew-y gooey cheese tossed into a bland tortilla shell. No sauce, no peppers or extras or anything. It was just bland food served in a bland way. I also got a side of potatoes and beans. That was just fatty and nasty. Yuck.

It’s airport food, so I shouldn’t have expected a taco revelation, but still: that blew.

Big plate o Dominican food from International Food House in Inwood, NYC

Big plate o' Dominican food from International Food House in Inwood, NYC

Oh, and I took photos of the sloppy mess but for some reason my Eye-Fi memory card destroyed the three photos I took. I guess that’s fitting since the food was nasty. So, instead, here’s a photo of delicious plate of mixed meats, veggies, rice and beans I got from International Food House, a great Dominican restaurant in Inwood, NYC. This is a standard dinner for me when Elizabeth (badcoverversion) is away and way better than that dang breakfast taco.

Speaking of Elizabeth, she’s got a much more in-depth and less ranty post about the airport Pappasito’s coming later.