America's Taco Shop

Written by Gwen Ashley Walters Category: Food Reviews Issue: May 2009
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The vibe is hip, the seats are full, and hungry customers line up for the best part of this quaint new Mexican joint- the beef.  Staccato beats of chopping reverberate from the kitchen, often drowning out the up-tempo background music. The vibe is hip, the seats are full and the line of hungry customers snakes through the wood-floored old house from the counter to the door. Am I the only one who notices the thunk, thunk, thunk of a cleaver pounding away behind the tiny window to the kitchen?

It’s hard to miss the colorful red-trimmed, mustard-bathed bungalow on the corner of Seventh Street and East Monte Vista Road, and equally hard to forget after a single bite of the signature carne asada. Did I say signature? Heck, it’s practically the only dish at the barely 5-month old America’s Taco Shop, another eclectic, independently owned restaurant that’s helping turn that stretch of Seventh into a utopia: indie restaurant row.

The linear focus of America’s menu is the beauty of it. Besides the carne asada – available in various incarnations such as a taco, burrito, tostada (called vampiro), quesadilla or torta – there are only two other, albeit tasty, options: a smoky bean and cheese burrito ($3.25) or a quesadilla vegetariana ($3.25), stuffed with sublime grilled onions, melted Monterey Jack cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo and a smear of guacamole. Seriously, that’s it, not counting a side of simultaneously sweet, tangy and crunchy corn on the cob ($1.95) rolled in cotija molito (a salty, dry Mexican cheese similar to parmesan) and an unusually thick and creamy fl an ($3.50) – both worth the splurge. Hit the shop on Fridays or Saturdays and revel in another side – fresh ceviche ($5.95), a mouth-puckering combination of chopped shrimp, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and serrano chiles served with a basket of chips. Make no mistake: Th e reason to come is for the beef. For the explosively fl avorful, outrageously tender chopped carne asada.

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The meat – a choice cut from the belly, where fl ank and skirt steak are cut – is flash marinated in citrus and spices and grilled on an open-fl ame gas grill before the hackers mince the meat into miniscule pieces. It doesn’t really matter which vehicle delivers the meat – all are outstanding – but I’m especially partial to the burrito. A warm, chewy fl our tortilla wraps the carne nirvana with guacamole, pico de gallo and grilled onions, and it’s tucked in a paperlined plastic basket with a couple of hunky cucumber slices, radish wedges and a Mexican lime slice. It doesn’t even need the accompanying charred tomato salsa, although, it too, is delicious. Th e torta is a two-hand kind of sandwich – a heft y toasted bun slathered with mayo and guacamole and piled high with a generous heap of the carne asada topped with lettuce, tomato and pickled jalapeño slices.

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If there is crack in this Mexican Shangri La, it’s the service, and frankly, the food teeters so far toward ecstasy that the minor service hiccups are practically a non-issue. That said, you should know that getting a drink is occasionally a hassle, and sometimes food arrives out of order. Chips and fresh-made salsa ($1.50) delivered after the main meal is maddening, and it happened more than once. Th e good news is that the food delivery is fairly fast, even when the place is crowded, which is pretty much all the time during peak lunch hours. T e sign above the door on the way out reads, “good food… good friends… good times,” and despite the service bobbles, I couldn’tagree more. And did I mention that it’s cheap?

 

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