Eating outside the big box

Taco’s De Acapulco, an oasis in a culinary desert

<i>COMIDA DE AMIGOS </i><br>The secret weapon at the Forest Avenue Tacos De Acapulco (the two local Tacos De are related, but are separately owned) is gregarious owner Cesar Carmona, here helping cook Amparo Saligan in the kitchen.

The secret weapon at the Forest Avenue Tacos De Acapulco (the two local Tacos De are related, but are separately owned) is gregarious owner Cesar Carmona, here helping cook Amparo Saligan in the kitchen.

Photo By Jason Cassidy

Tacos De Acapulco
1141 Forest Ave., #30Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m., seven days a week (530) 343-2935

There are a hundred places to spend your money on stuff in and around the Chico Mall, but the number of places to purchase a decent meal in that entire area is insanely small.

The mall itself has nothing. There’s not really a food court to speak of, just previously frozen foods warmed to serve and the most pitiful mall arcade in the history of mall arcades. And in the outside world, the sit-down chains with their highway views offer passable comfort foods, but the cost is comparable to a fine dining experience sans the food quality and atmosphere.

There are, in fact, just three places in Mall Town where you can get some really good food for your money. I would say that the bestest burgers around are definitely out there, at Burger Hut, of course (2451 Forest Ave.). There’s also nothing that can provide a solid foundation for a serious shopping jag like a fresh wholesome sandwich, salad or bowl of soup at the Great Harvest Bread Co. (1141 Forest Ave., #60). But in the competition for the warm confines of my belly, the winner will almost always be Great Harvest’s strip-mall neighbor, Tacos De Acapulco.

“Tacos De” (as the kids say)—not to be confused with Aca Taco or Amigos De Acapulco—has been my fave for great, cheap, Mexican food in this town full of great, cheap, Mexican food ever since I first braved the churning waters of Chico’s famed Fifth and Ivy intersection where the original Tacos De (429 Ivy St.) still feeds long lines of hungry college kids the biggest burritos in town.

The menu at Tacos De is much same as every other authentic Mexican restaurant and taco wagon in town. Whether tacos (hard or soft shell), burritos, tortas ("Mexican sandwich,” on fresh-baked roll), nachos or mulas, each dish is basically the same, with a choice of several flavors of pollo, puerco, carne or vegetables arranged in various flour and corn tortilla configurations with rice, beans, cheese, salsa, guac, sour cream, onions and cilantro added as you please.

My first of three recent visits was for a quick lunch after grocery shopping at Winco. I got three carnitas tacos ($2/each), no cilantro, no onions, just deep-fried pork with a splash of salsa and guac (and a blast of fresh lime juice) wrapped with two small, grill-fried corn tortillas. The crispy edges of both the tortillas and of the meat sealed in the flavor. The sensation of savory pork juice and the oil it was all cooked in running down my throat (and down my shirt a little) was pure heaven.

On my next visit, a quick dinner (Notice a theme here? Quick, quick, quick!), I went with my latest standby—the flour mula and a root beer ($3.75, plus $1.50). The mula is basically a quesadilla with meat added to it, and cups of salsa, guac and sour cream for dipping on the side. I got my pork al pastor this time (marinated and charbroiled) and though I lapped up every magic drop of the orange-ish barbequed grease that oozed out of each bite, I will say that the over-stuffing that Tacos De is heralded for made this night’s mula somewhat unwieldy.

My third return was for testing out the breakfast menu, which includes eggs mixed with your choice of bacon, sausage, chorizo, ham, machaca or potatoes, either as a breakfast plate ($4.50, with beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, salsa and a side of tortillas) or in a burrito ($3.75, with rice, beans, cilantro, onions and cheese). I got the machaca burrito with no beans, no cilantro, and extra rice. The boiled and shredded beef was sautéed with onions, with the egg stirred and cooked. I ate the whole enormous thing for breakfast and was so stuffed that I wasn’t really hungry again till the next day.

The ambiance at this location isn’t as fun as the downtown Tacos De. It is in a strip mall after all (and for some reason there are a couple of Matisse prints on the walls), but the blasting one-two beat of Mexican music bouncing of the adobe-colored walls does a reasonable job of keeping things real. It’s still worlds apart from the rest of Mall Town.