Northern Baja Restaurant Scene

BY: CHERYL MILLER

Rosarito is home to dozens, maybe hundreds of taco joints. It seems like every Thomas, Ricardo, and Harry think they can make a buck in the business, possibly because it’s so cheap to get into. You need a grill and a Costco run and presto! You’re a taco vendor. But, these guys are not chefs, and I continue my quest for a gourmet taco. I believe I have found it.

photo 2.JPGMy boss stuffed me in her car and drove me way off the beaten path, going down an iffy street, all the way to the dead end at the beach, ending up at Tacos and Beers for a grand lunch of what else? Tacos and beer. We got lucky that the owner was there to bring out everything in the kitchen, as it turns out tacos was just the start of what this place has to offer.  It should be called Tacos & Beers Dinner House. 

 An L shaped counter seats about 15 diners, but weekends can be busy. I suggest dining on weekdays, (closed Tuesday), to avoid the substantial crowd and the noise the weekends bring. During the week it’s tranquillo. Taco chefs Cisco and Armando don’t speak much English, but we made ourselves understood.  You can always point to the menu board or describe what you want. They just turn the chalk board around in the morning and the back side shows everything for breakfast you would want. How many taco stands do you know that have a waffle iron and someone who knows how to use it? And with Aunt Jamima syrup even! My boss, still growling about how come there’s no Taco Bell in Mexico, grudgingly gave points for the waffles and the Aunti Jam. She even pronounced her shrimp taco to be killer.

If you don’t see what you want on the big menu board, just ask. Chances are, they have what you want and know how to prepare it. The prices are very reasonable, and the menu extensive. Egg dishes with beans and potatoes start at about 55 pesos. Omelets are a bit more expensive, a seafood omelet is about 80 pesos. Chilaquilies and eggs:  55 pesos. Pancakes, french toast and waffles are done right and offered cheap.

 For lunch the menu is wide-ranging. Tacos and quesadillas may include beef, fish, shrimp, chicken, marlin or beef “arrachera” (marinated beef strips with mushrooms and onion), priced 13 – 40 pesos. The salsa is super-fresh and mild, for those of you who like to taste your food through the salsa. The pico de gallo tops crunchy cabbage on many of the dishes.  I strongly recommend the garlic shrimp quesadilla, and my husband swore the marlin taco was the best he’d ever eaten. The Ixtapa-style ceviche is a good choice for a hot summer day.

Not in the mood for Mexican food? A man-size cheeseburger and steak fries is  just 75 pesos. Japanese? The shrimp tempura was deep fried in a light tempura batter to a golden brown, served with teriyaki sauce; or served in a shrimp tempura roll, side of soy sauce and wasabe. How about a yakisoba noodle bowl? The noodles are fresh, not dried or frozen. Are you getting the idea yet that this is way more than tacos and beer?

Okay, so their tortillas aren’t made on the premises. Not an issue. The food speaks for itself. The produce is fresh, the preparations tasty, and let’s not forget about the beer. This day there was Tecate, Indio, and Dos Equis, but the brands may differ.

I disliked not being presented with an itemized check. The chef calculated our bill out of his head and gave us a total, and it was reasonable, so we paid it. I suggest keeping a tab yourself, just in case.

This taco vendor is named Mauricio, and refused to give us his last name, saying he was afraid of being kidnapped. Sure, taco vendors who drive beat up old pickups are kidnapped every day, you bet. It’s more likely he wants to fly under the radar because he’s in a beef over his property boundaries. He’s fighting for control of a vacant lot in front of his taco stand, which on busy weekends he gets good money from charging for parking. He has taken out an amparo on it, which is like a restraining order, and that lets him keep control over the property until the case winds its way through the courts.

This property beef doesn’t make his food any less tasty, or his hospitality less genuine. If you don’t want to sit at the lunch counter, he will quickly spread out under a canvas shade, the usual white plastic tables and chairs and you can contribute to a possible squatting caper while gazing out onto what is everybody’s ocean. It’s an adequate setting for the dinner house this actually is, and it’s a grand setting for a taco stand it pretends to be.

Enjoy a day at the beach and ample parking. Squeaky clean banos and 20 peso hot showers are available to the beach-goers. Tacos and Beers may be crowded on the weekends, so take a sand chair, sit in the shade and eat yourself silly.

Tacos and Beers Dinner House is open daily (except Tuesday) 8:00 am – 5:00 pm, or until the last customer has staggered away. Dollars and pesos are accepted, but not credit cards.

In town, as you’re trucking down Benny Juarez St, turn toward the beach at Waldo’s and go to the end of the road. A colorful sign directs you to turn left to go another half a block. You can’t miss it. If you see a chick who’s eating a waffle at the taco stand, that would be our publisher. Sigh.