Taqueria Guadalajara2550 Fair Oaks Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95825
I know of one place that fits all of these requirements: Taqueria Guadalajara. It’s just a couple of blocks from the Pavilions on Fair Oaks, so if you haven’t got a ha’penny (in the immortal words of the carol) after an expedition to Williams-Sonoma or Borders, you can restore your plummeting blood sugar with a taco for just $1.70.
If you’re feeling a little more flush, there are plenty of other options, from quesadillas and tostadas to tortas and king-sized dinner plates. The latter come close to topping out the menu’s priciest options, at $7.99, though there are some seafood cocktails that run a tad more. Free serve-yourself chips come with a copious salsa bar that includes pico de gallo; a fresh and bright-green salsa; and two thin, smooth red salsas. One is darker and deadly hot, and the other is tangier, with a few tomatillo seeds here and there.
Better yet, the food is some of the best Mexican cooking I’ve found in this area. On a recent visit, my husband got a combination plate, and I went for one of the tortas.
The combination plate was excellent, especially a casually rolled enchilada filled with shredded chicken and topped with brick-red sauce redolent of mild chilies, with a bare sprinkling of cheese over the top. There was also a taco al pastor, marinated and barbecued pork chopped into flavorfully smoky bits and heaped on a pair of corn tortillas. The authentically minimalist taco (the better to taste the delicious meat) was topped with onions, cilantro and not much else. A couple of pretty slices of radish on the side created a red-and-green theme that was just right for the season. (As befits a Mexican restaurant, the super-clean interior of Taqueria Guadalajara also has a strong red-and-green motif going on, making it perfect for restoring a bit of pre-Christmas cheer when the mall has sucked every last ounce of seasonal joy right out of you.) Tasty refried beans and fluffy rice rounded out the plate.
I’m a bit of a latecomer to the joy of tortas, but I’m now completely sold on them. At Taqueria Guadalajara, they’re enormous, made on half a loaf of ultra-light French bread with a beautifully shiny crust. A smear of beans provides a foundation for a pile of the meat of your choice. I had the tender, flavorful pork loin, but I’m intrigued by the potential for over-the-top deliciousness and pure fat-gram overload of a carnitas torta. Slices of avocado, shredded lettuce, thin slices of tomato and onion, and plenty of sour cream make the sandwiches an extremely delicious challenge to eat. You’ll be glad, as I was, for the napkin dispensers on the table. Cheese is optional but not really necessary. (Believe me. I like cheese in all its guises and on pretty much anything, so if I say the cheese is dispensable, it really is.)
The giant sandwich is cut in half before it reaches the table, and I could barely finish the smaller of the two halves. The other, as of this writing, sits in a Styrofoam box in my fridge, awaiting lunchtime. That means I got two rather large meals for just $5.95. If you have a clamorous crowd to feed, a sign by the cash register notes that you can get a torta made on a full loaf of bread, but this would not be for the faint of heart. I was also strangely attracted to the “wet torta” listed on the menu. I haven’t had it, but apparently, for an extra 30 cents, you can get the whole thing dipped in some sort of spicy sauce. Interesting.
You’ll also find daily specials (note to self: Thursdays are chile verde days). There’s not much going on if you’re a vegetarian, regrettably. The vegetarian burrito and the chile rellenos are pretty much it. Even for those, I’d guess you’d want to maintain a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the ingredients in the beans. For carnivores, however, it’s quite literally hog heaven. The selection of meats runs from steak to something called “buche,” which the menu describes as “hog maw” and which I don’t think I need to try.
I must, however, try the breakfasts. Taqueria Guadalajara opens every day at 8 a.m., and clearly its huevos con chorizo will call my name some hungover holiday morning. Meanwhile, it’s a welcome and affordable respite whenever the holidays seem like a bit too much—and the sweet, cinnamony horchata can beat any eggnog, hands down.