By Tana Kosiyabong
My love for Mexican food started in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was the combination of cheap prices and great tastes that had won me over. The most delicious fish burrito from D’ Leons was priced less than $5. Or an awesome “Big Nacho” chicken at Oso was $6.50 with a free drink on a certain day of the week. They are so good, I still miss them to this day.
After moving to Vancouver almost four years ago, I have had a hard time replacing my two favorites. I’m not talking about the gourmet Mexican food that would cost me a fortune and a half. All I want is just simple Mexican food that won’t blow a big hole in my wallet. Although there are a few affordable burrito chains downtown, the tastes aren’t worth mentioning.
I’m happy to say that I’ve finally found authentic Mexican tacos from a couple of contenders that come very close to the tastes I have fallen in love with. They are from La Taqueria, possibly the newest Mexican Taco shop in Downtown Vancouver (just opened on September 8th), and Don Guacamoles, a well-established, urban-modern Mexican restaurant with a big fan base.
La Taqueria (literally means “The Taco Shop”) is an artsy and down-to-earth, better described as a “Taco Boutique,” mostly for its authentic Mexican taco specialty. It is located next to the Vancouver seed bank on Hastings Street where marijuana seeds are sold. This guarantees an endless supply of hungry stoners nearby. Just kidding. Kinda.
The storefront features a beautiful spray paint mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe in traditional Mexican religious style with a modern color palette (by a local artist, Steve Williams). The interior is small but vibrant with a Mexican color scheme. I feel really comfortable in the space. The owners are very nice, friendly, and attentive to the customers.
There are 12 different taco toppings to choose from (including the 4 vegetarian choices). All meat tacos are priced at $2.50 each or $9.50 for four. Vegetarian tacos are at $2 each. The authentic Mexican tacos are quite small compared to their large North American siblings. A normal person would need about 4 tacos to fill up. For budgetary reason, however, I will settle for two.
On my first visit, this place was already packed with customers. And they had just opened the day before. (I seriously need to learn how to promote my blog from them.) I ordered two tacos – Carnitas (pork confit with pickled red onion) and Pescado (grilled seasonal fish with pico de gallo). I also splurged on a Jarritos, Mexican tamarind pop, another $2.
Once the tacos arrived, I felt like I had finally reconnected with my long lost friends. They are by far the best tacos I have eaten since I moved to Canada. The fish was fresh and the pork confit almost melted in my mouth. The intense Mexican flavors were having a fiesta on my tongue. I got so distracted, I forgot to analyze the food in detail. All I remember is that I was still thinking of the tacos the next day. The tamarind pop was just ok. The fizzy bubbles did obscure the tamarind flavor.
La Taqueria offers 3 different salsas and two kinds of pickles – Chile de Arbol, Chipotle and Verde, and Red onion and Jalapeno pickles – at no extra charge. You just have to help yourself. I’m totally in love with the Chile de Arbol salsa, a traditional Mexican sauce that is very popular in Mexico. The shop also offers natural, free-range meats, organic produces, and wild, sustainable fish, locally sourced when available.
The next day I went to Don Guacamoles for dinner. (It was a busy day for my wallet. Earlier that day, I had to go back to Donburiya to finish my review on the new additional noodle menu.) Unlike La Taqueria, Don Guacamoles is not a “Taco Boutique.” They have wide varieties of Mexican food to choose from. But today, I will only focus on their tacos. In fact, a few tacos, or a bowl of tortilla soup is pretty much all that would fit my budget. The rest of the menu would put my wallet in a coma.
Don Guacamoles’ interior is uninspiring. It looks just like any other upscale Vancouver chains – Earls, Cactus Club, etc. I couldn’t help but wonder if they all use the same interior designer. Ironically, all of them are really popular among the locals.
There are 7 choices of meat on the taco menu. All tacos here are priced the same as La Taqueria. So is the size of the tortilla. However, vegetarian, and fish tacos are not available on the menu.
Once seated, I ordered a Carnitas (slow roasted pork) and an Arrachera (flank steak) taco. The waitress reminded me that the tacos were tiny. Perhaps I was being too paranoid but I sensed a hidden agenda behind her friendly reminder (something along the line of “You’re kidding me. All you’re gonna have is just two tacos?”).
First came a tray with free tortilla chips, pico de gallo, chipotle salsa, and salsa verde (green sauce). The pico de gallo was a bit mild. I had to add some lime to bring it to life. The chipotle sauce was pretty good. The green sauce was just ok. When my order arrived, I was quite impressed by the amount of meat on the taco. But it trailed behind in the taste test. Don’t get me wrong, their tacos were good, but La Taqueria’s were great.
Overall, I prefer La Taqueria’s to Don Guacamoles’ tacos. I also feel more comfortable with La Taqueria’s down-to earth atmosphere. It is the kind of place where I would like to visit for years to come although it would be challenging to stick with two tacos per visit.
P.S. I also had a chance to talk with a couple sitting beside me at La Taqueria. The young lady is very nice and friendly. She also loves the tacos. The gentleman is originally from Mexico. He confirmed the authenticity of La Taqueria tacos. “The corn tortilla is what makes all the different,” he said.
La Taqueria Carnitas Taco: ©©©© 1/2
La Taqueria Pescado Taco: ©©©© 1/4
Don Guacamoles Cranitas Taco: ©©© 3/4
Don Guacamoles Arrachera Taco: ©©© 3/4
LA TAQUERIA TACO MENU:
Asada (grilled AAA frank beef with cucumber)
Arrachera (house-marinated AAA canadian skirt beef)
De Lengua (braised pemberton meadows beef tongue)
De Cachete (braised chilliwack pork cheeks)
Al Pastor (chilliwack pork marinated in chile, archiote & pineapple)
Carnitas (pork confit with pickled red onion)
Pollo con Mole (maple hills chicken with chocolate mole sauce)
Pescado (grilled seasonal fish with pico de gallo)
Tinga de Hongos (sauteed oyster mushrooms in spicy chipotle sauce)
De Picadillo (sauteed ground tofu in chin chin’s secret recipe)
Frijoles Charros con Queso (refried cowboy beans with Mexican cheese)
Rajas con Crema (roasted poblano peppers with creamed corn, sour cream & Mexican cheese)
DON GUACAMOLES MENU:
Al Pastor (marinated pork)
Crane Asada (grilled prime beef)
Lengua (seasoned beef tongue)
Chorizo (fresh, deep red in color and filled with very finely ground meat)
Birria (fresh lamb)
Cranitas (slow roasted pork)
Arrachera (flank steak)
La Taqueria is located at 322 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada (T) 604.568.4406
Don Guacamoles is located at 1333 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada (T) 604.569.2295