La Vida Taco 

A month-long, taco-eating odyssey through Oakland's Fruitvale district.

Page 4 of 4

Comida: The pastor is Sloppy-Joe slushy — chopped pork is slightly stiff, but seasoned well. The real star here isn't tacos at all, but the tostada de ceviche de camaron y aguacate: on a crisp-fried tortilla, bits of semi-stiff ceviche shrimp in a hash of cucumber and tomato, with long slices of creamy avocado. There's the bite of chile, a puckery jolt of lime, and, well, the sullen-looking churro lady and her toxic cloud of oil don't seem to matter.

The takeaway: The ceviche tostada? A three-buck bong hit of beachy summer.

Tacos Alonzo. Parking lot of U & I Liquor and Market, 2730 Foothill Blvd. (at Mitchell St.)

Scene: A couple of stand-up tables clad in scratched Formica butt up against the U & I sign; the truck has its own patina, but from age and the weather.

Comida: Lengua? Perfectly respectable, in fine, tender cubes. The pastor is pregnant with orange grease. Tripa (chitlins) are in unusually thin slices, crunchy from frying, and with characteristic creaminess; they sit on the tortilla in a flurry of chopped tomato — it needs plenty of tomatillo salsa.

Extra cookie: The thin, salty, searing green salsa is delicious.

The takeaway: Nothing special — unless you're on a tripa jag.

Tacos y Mariscos el Mazatlan. Parking lot of East Bay Laundry, 2021 Foothill Blvd. (at Fruitvale Ave.)

Scene: Flyest lonchera in the neighborhood: shiny quilting, crisp paint, and a lift-up bug screen at the order window that actually gets used. And in Fruitvale terms, the setting at one of the district's most congested intersections is bucolic, including a gravel strip and mini streetlamp to forestall thuggery after dark.

Comida: Skip the shaky taco de cabeza and tough-textured shrimp tostada for the tacos dorados, a trio of deep-fried, ground-beef-filled finger slickers. It's the beef that makes 'em worth the artery plaque: fried to a mass as crumbly as spent coffee grounds, and salty, it's radically unlike any lingering Hamburger Helper memories of bulky, skillet-cooked ground chuck.

The takeaway: Not for everyday, but as a pre-sleep, post-Patrón grease curative? Priceless.

Tamales Mi Lupita. Parking lot at 3340 Foothill Blvd. (near 34th Ave.)

Scene: Wedged between a market and Pupuseria Lupita, a Salvadoran tamale, pupusa, and taco wagon with home-style cocinera chops. Burly guys park prominent asses on the narrow curb opposite the brightly painted lonchera, shoveling slaw-like curtido with plastic forks. You can wait for what seems like forever for the pupusas, but be patient, cabrón: food this good takes time.

Comida: Earthy, rustic grilled tortillas hold homely, cazuela-like fillings: choriso con papa (salty and electric, perspiring orange oil), chicharrón (unctuous stewed pork skin). The pupusas are toe-curlingly good, chewy, leaking finely crisped oozings of queso — a pupusa de calabasa contains a slick of cheese studded with green, delicately vegetal cubes of zucchini-like squash.

Extra cookie: The squeeze-bottle salsa verde is a thin slurry of stewed tomatillo, with a compost load of rough-chopped cilantro — perfect foil for rich, salty taco fillings.

The takeaway: Taste the pueblito, baby.

El Centenario No. 2. Parking lot of Hot Boys Auto Detail, 1911 38th Ave. (at Foothill Blvd.)

Scene: The detailing shop ensures plenty of man traffic (though, despite the name, not all of 'em are hot, believe me) to this lonchera with dull stainless quilting.

Comida: The taquero here is a whiz with carnes — think succulent lengua with a hint of delicacy in the taste. The cabeza is just as succulent — yeah, there's a small cluster of spongy fat, but it only adds to the lushness. Moderately spiced pastor has nicely hyped acidity, and the pork has a genial nubbly texture.

The takeaway: Guys, cars, and meat — savor the testosterone.

Taqueria el Güero. Parking lot of All Green Produce, 4095 Foothill Blvd. (at 41st Ave.)

Scene: Kind of a family thing going on, thanks to its proximity to a laundromat and the All Green market, plenty of abuelas treating their niños to tortas and bags of chips. The lonchera has an ice-cream-truck vibe, with white paint and roll-down striped-canvas awning.

Comida: Just say no to tacos — the tongue has a urine-y aftertaste, and the flabby cabeza has an emasculated, steam-table texture. If you've gotta eat something, try a torta. Michoacan-style carnitas have a pork roast quality (quite different from the shredded, crispy carnitas of Jalisco). The roll is oiled and toasted like garlic bread, stuffed with shredded cabbage and a bizarre slather of blended yellow mustard and Mexican crema.

The takeaway: Freaky and familiar.

Tacos el Pollo. Parking lot of the Chevron station, 4265 High St. (at Foothill Blvd.)

Scene: The shiny-bright lonchera sports a whack cartoon chicken. Saturdays, workers from the nearby carwash clomp over in rubber boots for hefty platefuls.

Comida: The taco al pastor? Eek — long, dry strips of pork, mired in a sugary, sweet-sour pineapple sauce. You figure the chicken should be fierce. Wrong: Stewed in cumin-spiked red sauce, the pieces are stiff and desiccated, unredeemed by the green salsa on top.

The takeaway: Sorry guys — this stuff needs serious professional detailing.

John Birdsall blogs at Birdman Eating.

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Readers also liked…

  • Racial Profiling Via

    White Oakland residents are increasingly using the popular social networking site to report "suspicious activity" about their Black neighbors — and families of color fear the consequences could be fatal.
    • Oct 7, 2015

Latest in Feature

Author Archives

Most Popular Stories

Special Reports

Taste, Fall 2016

Everything you need to know about dining in and out in the East Bay.

The Queer & Trans Issue 2016

Queer and trans coverage contributed by individuals who identify as queer or trans.

© 2016 East Bay Express    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation