Taco ’bout it
El Original Tacos Tijuana has a pretty short menu, so I was half expecting a taco stand. Instead I found a dining area with booth and table seating and a drive through window for take-out. The salsa bar includes the usual garnishes and four housemade salsas ranging from medium and fruity to “let’s get this party rolling” hot. You’ll have to go elsewhere for a beer, but with fresh, handmade corn tortillas, I had eyes only for the food.
Tacos ($2.25-$2.50 each) are available with a choice of 10 meats. They come standard with onion, cilantro and medium salsa, with optional toppings of nopal (cactus, 50 cents extra), guacamole, sour cream, etc. I stuck with the basics and ordered one each of cabeza, lengua, carnitas, buche, al pastor, asada, tripa, pollo and Azteca.
Each taco was loaded with meat. The Azteca is a mix of carne asada (marinated, grilled steak) and nopal. The steak had a ton of flavor and plenty of smoky char from the grill, a great contrast with the slightly citrusy, tart cactus. Some folks don’t care for nopal because it can be a little slimy, but I really enjoyed it.
The cabeza (beef head) was soft, fatty and mildly seasoned. The lengua (beef tongue) was smooth and tender. The carnitas (slow cooked pork) was tender, moist and pulled apart with ease. Although the buche’s (beef stomach) flavor was quite good, it was a little on the squishy side. Al pastor (spit-roasted pork with pineapple) was a little crispy and spicy, with a perfect balance of pineapple. When done right, tripa (intestine) has just a hint of livery gaminess that reminds you you’re eating offal. Though a tad chewy, this example tasted great. Last was a better than average grilled pollo (chicken) taco that was well seasoned, moist and smoky.
Out of curiosity, I ordered a guacamole chorizo (sausage) vampiro ($4) and flour tortilla mula with saudero (brisket) and nopal ($4). A mula is essentially the contents of two (or three?) tacos, stuffed between a pair of five-inch tortillas. There was nothing wrong with the flour discs, but they paled by comparison. The brisket was fattier than the cabeza and could have used more seasoning, but a healthy dose of salsa helped out. The vampiro was stuffed and then grilled on both sides, to the point of seriously charring the corn tortillas. The oil from the chorizo drenched the whole thing, and it was delicious—a little crunchy, a tad chewy and supremely spicy. The guacamole got a little lost in the mix, but I hardly noticed.
I’ve had mixed results with the popular combination of French fries and carne asada, but an order of campechana fries ($10) was absolutely fabulous. The mix of grilled steak and adobada (marinated pork) was killer, and there was plenty of it. I had to dig to find the cheese fries under all that meat, guac and sour cream. The fries could have been a little crispier, but I really didn’t care. That combination and contrast of flavors is now on my list of favorite things. I had to force myself to stop uttering wordless sounds of contentment, lest I embarrass the family name in public—nom nom nom.