Tacos & Beer: Michoacán pride

Tacos & Beer

5701 Franklin Blvd.
Sacramento, CA

(916) 428-7844

Last summer, I took a trip to the beautiful colonial city of Morelia, the largest city in the state of Michoacán in Mexico. When I stepped off the plane, it was immediately clear that the surroundings were very different from anywhere else I’d visited in the country. The airport was a long car ride into the city, and everywhere I looked, I saw deep-green foliage. The weather was also unexpected: cool and overcast most of the time. Michoacán is a diverse state; it’s the home of the pre-Hispanic P’urhépecha indigenous people (and the awe-inspiring pyramids they built) and extends west to more than 100 miles of unspoiled coastline.

As such, Michoacanos take a lot of pride in their origin (if you haven’t noticed this, just start counting the Michoacán stickers you see on truck windows), and Sacramento is home to quite a few restaurants specializing in the state’s cuisine. Tacos & Beer is one of the area’s best, specializing in “comido al estilo Apatzingán”—a city of 90,000 in Michoacán.

Of the regional dishes, the restaurant’s enchiladas Apatzingán are very unusual, filled with only a smattering of sharp cheese and diced onion soaked in a vinegary sauce and smothered in very lightly pickled, shredded cabbage with raw hunks of radish, and avocado slices.

A selection of meats is available to be ordered on the side, including guilota—quail—but you know what? Sometimes I get sick of being the one ordering the most obscure meat, especially since the restaurant is invariably out of it. So, instead I ask for the specialty of the house: cecina, which the server recommends ordering with chicken. Cecina is dried beef, but that description doesn’t do justice to this deeply weird dish made up of slices as stiff as a board and permeated with the flavors of smoke and gamey meat.

Another regional specialty here is the morisqueta—pretty much the ultimate comfort dish due to the unique texture of the white rice, which is as soft as an angel’s buttock (and this is a description coming from an atheist). The steaming rice is covered with a thin layer of refried beans nestled next to short segments of pork ribs swimming in tomato sauce. I once had this dish at an open-air market in Uruapan, and this version is even better.

Things falter a bit, however, when it comes to the common taco, of which Tacos & Beer offers the usual selection of chorizo, asada, lengua, pollo and pastor. The meats are all a bit bland and don’t come with any salsa. In fact, there’s only one kind of salsa on offer, and it’s uncomfortably close to Pace Picante sauce.

The ceviche is also boring, tasting mostly of cucumber and onion. However, it’s important that I mention that Tacos & Beer does give the option to order hand-shaped, griddled-to-order tortillas. They are warm, soft and taste like corn—these babies barely resemble those cardboard things you get at the store.

I’m in a kicky kind of mood, so I decide to get the queso fundido, a.k.a. “Mexican fondue.” This is an appetizer made up of sizzling cheese and chorizo, so I can’t fault it for tasting exactly like hot cheese and chorizo.

Speaking of sizzling, my molcajete arrives bubbling like a witch’s cauldron. The tortilla-souplike broth is roiling with chicken, shrimp, steak, panela cheese strips, avocado and, best of all, droopy slabs of tart nopal. I make a taco out of it all, using a fresh tortilla and a spoonful of broth.

On the weekends, Tacos & Beer is lively, filled with dudes watching soccer, eating molcajetes and drinking enormous micheladas. Sometimes the blaring banda music makes things a little too lively; the songs have lots of earsplitting plaintive wailing about being homesick for Apatzingán. And no wonder.