October 20, 2006

For the Vecinos:

Tacos Salceados, Come to Taste, Come to Appreciate, and Come Sober

By El Vecino

Okay, tacos in Tijuana, you’ve had them already, I know. The guy with the un-gloved hands peels off flakes from a pork reel with a rusty machete, tosses them in a little cracking corn tortilla, slaps about four different toppings down the midsection with grease lightening speed, and somehow, it all tastes like a piece of Lateeno heaven.

My question, when are we going to get off the Polaroid posing, zebra-painted donkey and venture off of the beaten path that is Avenida Revolu-ción?

Let me tell you about Tacos Salceados and owner-slash-chef, Javier, last name Gutier-rez. If the art of making tacos was a movement, he would be Ernesto friggin ‘Che’ Guevara; his spot, utopia, and his tacos, victorious battles in the mouths of those who devour them. So readers, if you buy what I’m saying and decide to be a guest, these aren’t a cure for your after The Señor Frog’s nightclub, beer binging munchies. Respect the chef here.

That said, let’s take a short stroll down a long plank, my personal fav’s:

The Nueva York con Camaron. Flimsy corn tortilla laced with a paper thin slice of tender carne asada, plump little shrimp cuts rolled down the middle, huddling together as if they’re just waiting to have an illegal rave in your mouth, your taste buds being the dance floor, salsa de camarón (one of the estimated thirty salsas, sweet or steaming invented by Javier) sprawled across the top, aguacate sliced and spread out like a full house in the hand, this round, aces high.

The Quesataco. This one’s a bit unconventional for a taco because you don’t really need the tortilla to eat it. What Javier and his colleagues do is spread flakes of mozzarella cheese across the flat iron stove until it morphs into a six-inch quesa flat. When the bottom side is just crisp enough to flip (the top still sizzling), he takes those same shrimp cuts and lines them down the middle. He envelopes the camarón in the flat, forming a queso tamal. He places it on a tortilla, de harina o de maíz, whips it up with the same dressings, some sweet, some hot, aguacate, and there you are.

You can ask for a tenedor and eat it solo, or you can force the thing into taco submission by smashing the tortilla closed. Things will fall out, and God, you’ll love Javier so much more as you scrape it off your plate with animal instinct.

These exquisite inventions can cost anywhere from a whopping buck-eighty to three measly dollars, depending on what you desire inside your taco; the salmon; the trout; the marlon; the camarón; or the basic carne o tripa. Talk about diamonds in the ruff. There’s even tacos de jalapeño con carne or tacos de nopal. I hear the three dollar baked potato with cheese, salsa and tocino is great, but I’m not making this trip for papas. Sorry Javier, I know what’s on the menu.

Also, beer not welcome here. Javier has an etiquette: act right or don’t eat. You wouldn’t go into Bali Hai and start belligerently shouting at the cook, “Gimme some more of that Hawaiian Poke!” Would you? If so, do us all a favor and order a lifetime supply of t.v. dinners. My advice, nothing tastes better with these tacos than an ice cold Fanta Fresa, which they have plenty of, plus Coke and other flavors.

Lastly, when I was first introduced to Tacos Ermitas by friends from Calaca Press (no shame in my name-dropping game, but if you know Javier, it’s probably because of these National City lords of the libro), Javier used to ask me how many more I was going to eat. After devouring three, I’d say, “About tres más.” He’d serve me two more, my choice, the quesa-taco and the crispy taco de tripa. The third, his choice. Then, he would bringeth … The Taco Dulce.

Don’t be offended or jealous, but if Javier knows it’s your first time and doesn’t dress you up with this fine piece of postre, either A, you were yelling out your order over a crowd of people, or B, he doesn’t love you and he never will.

In essence, the taco dulce doesn’t stray too far from the quesataco, probably why I love it so much that I’d marry it. In actuality, it’s the dousing of raspberry salsa he’s created with his own genius mixed with the salsa de ca-marón and the sprinkled walnuts, plus the pineapples he mixes in with the shrimp hidden inside the quesa tamal that make this plate what it is, a mastery of mixing that people will wait up to a half hour to enjoy.

Tacos Salceados is located in Tijuana, México at 30-A, Avenida Ermita-Norte, Fraccionamiento Santa Cruz La Mesa, bus and taxi stops at Agua Caliente and Avenida Ermita. Closed only on Tuesdays.Open from 6 a.m. to midnight all other weekdays. Expect fifteen dollars per person, not including the propina.

(La Prensa’s For the Vecinos is a new weekly column that highlights homegrown San Diego indy businesses, favoring restaurants. If you can put up with a few minutes of El Vecino checking your scene, send us an invite at raymond.beltran@covad.net.)

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