La Vida Taco 

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

Page 3 of 4

Tacos los Michoacanos. Parking lot of Sabeh Auto, 3524 International Blvd. (near 35th Ave.)

Scene: The little truck is scuffed and adorned in a way that charms, fronted with a big old mural of rancho life, which, like the best farm fantasies, begins with a chesty chica in a strappy top. A couple of gray, impressively scarred picnic tables facilitate hanging out in the cramped, broken-down little lot.

Comida: Weekends you can get Michoacan-style menudo and birria with handmade tortillas; the tacos are just as earthy and full flavored, reflection of the folksy, balls-out cooking of Michoacan state. Lengua and cabeza are both perfectly carne-licious, but it's their vinegar-spiked, charred-tomato-skin-flecked guajillo-chile salsa that makes these mouth burners among the best in the 'hood.

Extra cookie: The mustard-yellow tortillas — coarse, chewy, and gloriously warm tasting.

Oh, hell no: A taco al pastor smells as if the meat is about ten minutes from going off.

The takeaway: Gutsy and gorgeous — but skip the pork.

Taco Zamorano. Parking lot of Supermercado los Mexicanos, International Blvd. at High St.

Scene: Allegedly the site of Oakland's first taco truck, but as loncheras go, plain white Zamorano has something of a personality deficit; it anchors a sprawling, perennially car-choked lot at one of the busiest corners in Fruitvale.

Comida: The finely shredded cabeza is nicely done, dark tasting and richly beefy. The crumbly chorizo taco is salty, no more than predictably greasy, and delivers a bracing little jab of spices.

Extra cookie: Yellow-corn tortillas pack a delicious, mineral-edged sweetness.

The takeaway: Misplaced your car in the lot? Seek consolation here.

Tacos Guadalajara. Parking lot, International Blvd. at 44th Ave.

Scene: Neatly painted, with stainless quilting as shiny as a new ten-centavo coin; the nine-car lot is ringed with trees and a narrow strip of lawn — soothing touches on a corner known to get itchy with sex workers and their pimps.

Comida: Hefty tacos and, in addition to carrots and jalapeños en escabeche, the taquero loads up your plate with hunks of griddle-cooked onion. Best-tasting lengua on the street — clearly, it's been poached in well-salted water. But the texture is fatty and curdle-y in places, sign of poor trimming. The cabeza sweats oil, but it, too, has absorbed enough seasoning to coax out every drop of beefy richness.

Extra cookie: Fried pork tripa — lower intestine (chitlins) — are chewy, ever so slightly creamy, and masterfully seasoned.

The takeaway: Mad flavor, shaky skills.

El Taco Zamorano #1. Parking lot next to Santo Coyote restaurant, International Blvd. at 48th Ave.

Scene: The stainless-steel quilting is tarnished, but that only lends a measure of seasoned credibility. According to the Trib's Angela Woodall, this is Oakland's original lonchera (moved from High Street and International). No tables, so be prepared for car-hood dining.

Comida: The lengua racks up three stars out of five — big, reasonably tender cubes, without excessive fat or gristle. The cabeza is better: simultaneously chewy and soft, though the taste skews bland. Two squirt-bottle salsas: the verde is only passing, but the rojo kills, with a blazed-cannabis whiff of heavily toasted Mexican oregano.

Oh, hell no: The smell of piss haunts the little parking lot.

The takeaway: Hold your nose, mijo — you could do worse.

Tacos los Amigos. Parking lot, International Blvd. at 55th Ave.

Scene: Not the prettiest lonchera on the strip; boasts a funky picnic table and a few outsized Nixon-era patio chairs in quinceañera pastels. The truck? At face level, a Plexi window scarred and scratch-tagged, beneath a sign (complete with grinning emoticon) that warns, unconvincingly, "Smile, you're on camera."

Comida: Big cubes of lengua are just okay, and the cabeza, which oozes grease, is decidedly sub-okay. But the pastor? It drips oil, and the pork is overwhelmed by the dull, bitter throb of stale spices. Camera or no camera, smiling is not an option.

Oh, hell no: The menu board teases with birria tacos, but even on a Saturday, the goat is a no-show. Judging from the pastor, it may be just as well.

The takeaway: Pass, amigo.

Foothill Boulevard corridor

Tacos la Esmeralda. Parking lot of El Ranchito Market, 1534 23rd Ave. (at E. 16th St.)

Scene: The air can get funky from the less-than-pristine fry oil in the nearby churro cart, and the quilted-stainless lonchera, whose specialty is mariscos (seafood), has seen better days. But its painted decorations belong to a balmier, altogether more idyllic setting than this motor-oil-stained lot: a beach, a boat, a floating octopus, and thick, headless shrimp.

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