I’ve eaten tacos for years, decades really. Not too many tacos, though, because I never quite got the point of them. Often, I wasn’t fond of the toppings, or the taco sauce and the tortilla-to-meat ratio never seemed to make sense to me. Plus I’m not a huge fan of corn tortillas in the first place. So, for me, it’s been all about burritos. Until a few nights ago, that is, when my daughter had a taco hankering herself and decided to drive to Tacos Los Amigos in East Oakland to get some. I asked her to bring a single beef taco and boy!, it was love at first bite. I finally get tacos.
I can’t tell you what it actually is, but the combination of beef, diced onion, cilantro and whatever else was on those tiny tortillas just did it for me. I don’think it was the sauce because when I got them again, they had a white sauce (it was a more orange one that first night). But both sauces worked. The tacos just tasted fresh and authentic (though I think I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten tacos in Mexico, my travel adventures there are limited to the Yucatan, the land of salbutes and panuchos, which are delicious, but not really tacos). I actually appreciated, for once, the flavor of the corn tortilla. They were tiny, mind you, but they were gooood.
I was just as happy with the two al pastor tacos I got during my second visit (or rather, the second time I sent my daughter to get them). The slightly sweet pork was tasty and went very well with the other standard toppings. I might have even liked them more than the carne asada ones.
There are several problems with Los Amigos, however. One is that as it’s located in East Oakland, I don’t feel very safe sending my teen daughter to get me some (though she does), plus the truck is not really close to my house. Second, they are not cheap – at around $3.50 for pretty small tacos (think 4 tacos for a normal dinner). Third, Los Amigos seems to have eclectic hours – they weren’t there last Sunday evening when I sent my daughter to get more tacos (but they were Monday night). But the biggest problem is that I’ve been left wanting more tacos now.
Los Amigos Taco Truck
5401 International Blvd
Surprisingly tasty dinner is not the best deal in town
In the last couple of years, I’ve tried a few of Costco’s ready-to-heat meals and I have generally been pleased enough with them. I don’t remember exactly what tempted me to get this particular kit, but it got fairly good reviews online, it wasn’t as carb-heavy as Costco’s pastas and I probably had no other plans for dinner that night. In all, I was fairly happy with it but I found it to be overpriced at the $19 instacart price, so unless I’m actually at Costco and it’s significantly cheaper, I don’t think I’d get it again.
The kit consists of moderately spiced cooked chicken, shredded cabbage, shredded Mexican cheese, a quartered lime, pots of salsa and cilantro lime crema and 12 small flour tortillas. The chicken had a pretty good flavor and it was fairly moist. To warm it up I simply heated up some oil on a skillet and cooked it, stirring often, for a few minutes. It didn’t dry out but it did acquire a nice charred flavor on some parts. The salsa was pretty standard and also a tad spicy – I would have preferred pico de gallo myself, but then again, I often do. The cilantro lime crema was OK, but I also would have preferred plain old sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro. Now, I understand the difficulty of including cilantro in a kit like this, but the crema was really not a good substitute. Finally, I did miss the kit not including guacamole.
Altogether, the ingredients put together on a tortilla made very tasty tacos. Perhaps not as good as those from my corner’s Mexican restaurant, but still tastier than I had expected.
The main problem with the kit is that it’s just not very large. I’d say it feed 2 hungry people or 3 if you use up all the cabbage and tortillas. Now, that’s not bad for $19, but not great either, in particular when compared to the just-cooked and ready-to-eat fiesta packs from El Torito – which cost twice as much but give you more than twice the food, plus which you don’t need to heat up.
I started my Birthday Weekend Extravaganza (TM) last Thursday by getting Taco Bell for dinner. Yes, Taco Bell. No, I’m not kidding and yes, I think it’s worth blogging about it. Defensive much? (I ask myself, of course).
Despite living in California for over 40 years now, I don’t think I’ve had Taco Bell before. It’s not like I’m against fast food, I’ve tried all the burger chains (or almost), but Taco Bell just never appealed to me. I’m not a fan of crunch, and their crunchy tacos always seemed unwieldy. Plus, really, their meat looked nasty (and then there was the whole scandal about whether it was even meat) and their tacos seemed to be mostly lettuce anyway. So I’ve never been tempted to try them.
Until Thursday night. My daughter was home from college, none of us could figure out what we wanted for dinner, and then she suddenly mentioned she wanted to try Taco Bell’s Black Bean Crunchwrap. I had no idea of what that was, but ordering Taco Bell solved the problem of what to get for dinner, so I jumped at the idea – much to my husband’s surprise (“Taco Bell? Really?”).
For my first incursion into Taco Bell cuisine, I ordered a Steak White Hot Ranch Fries Burrito with extra guacamole ($4.4) and a Steak Quesadilla also with extra guacamole ($6.2). Neither were as bad as I feared. For one, by ordering “steak” items, I was able to avoid the dreaded “seasoned beef”, and while the steak was just low quality meat, it wasn’t actually offensive. Indeed, the steak quesadilla tasted like something I would make at home (which, btw, is why I don’t make quesadillas at home, and instead get them from Taquería Los Pericos). It wasn’t great, it wasn’t bad, it just was. But it wasn’t was a particular great value. At that price, I might as well get one from Los Pericos. The burrito was pretty similar except that it had french fries inside. I had french fries in souvlaky pitas in Greece in the past, so I was intrigued by the idea of french fries in a burrito. Alas, I’d forgotten that I no longer like french fries and I didn’t like them inside a burrito either. Still, it was perfectly acceptable. Both items were too much for a single meal – I didn’t have a good sense of how big they would be -, one will be enough next time.
I also ordered the cinnabon delights (12 for $5), which are cinnamon roll balls filled with glaze cream. They are deadly. Super, super sweet and I’m surprised I didn’t die of a diabetic coma. But they were very tasty and one goes a long away.
My daughter tried the black bean crunchwrap supreme ($4.4). This is supposed to be a crunchy tostada wrapped in a flour tortilla but it lacked the promised crunch. Instead it was soggy and yet it tasted dry and would have benefitted from a sauce. She wouldn’t order it again. She also didn’t like the spicy potato soft taco. This was just potato, cheese and lettuce in a tortilla, with no sauce or anything to bring it together. IT’s just $1, but not worth the calories. Fortunately, she did like her veggie White Hot Ranch Fries Burrito ($3.3), so at least she didn’t go hungry. The Cinnabon twists ($1) were also good, but not as good as the delights.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised that Taco Bell didn’t suck, which is good to know for road trips and if I’m ever hungry and with nothing to eat at 2 AM – which has yet to happen.
Update: my daughter wanted to stop at Taco Bell for a breakfast burrito today so I had her get me a chicken quesadilla ($5.4). As we were in the drive through I didn’t customize it, but I was actually quite satisfied with the results. It had plenty of gooey cheese and it was slightly spicy. It wasn’t particularly big but works for a snack. My daughter got the Sausage Hash Brown Toasted Breakfast Burrito ($2.6) and she was quite happy with it. She’s liked other breakfast burritos before but this one became an instant favorite.
At 797 Marina Blvd
San Leandro, CA
Dine In M-Su 7 AM - 10 PM
Drive Through Su-Th 7 AM - 3 AM, F-Sa 7 AM - 4 AM
We’ve continued to get these fiesta packs every once in a while over the last couple of years, and right now they’re back to being a good deal. That’s because while inflation has hit the US hard, the prices have not gone up significantly. The fiesta fajitas are now $48 while the fiesta tacos are $38 (note that El Torito charges a $2 surcharge on all online orders – and maybe in person as well). Given that they offer enough food to feed 6 people (and even more if they fill up on rice and beans), they’re pretty much the best deal in town. For now, I’m sure prices will go up soon.
What hasn’t changed, at least at El Torito in San Leandro, where we get take out from, is the randomness of the included side dishes. I truly don’t think they can remember which sides are supposed to go with the fiesta fajitas and which ones with the fiesta tacos. This last time we got the fiesta tacos and they came with a lot of meat, large trays of rice and beans and the big bag of chips, plus shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole and tomalito. We didn’t get the sour cream that’s supposed to come with this pack, but the guacamole and tomalito are supposed to come with the fajitas one. So all in all we scored 🙂
And the food was very tasty, the meat was tender and not too fatty. I’m sure we’ll order again soon, at least if they don’t raise the prices.
Update 1 – My last two experiences at El Torito have been less than stellar.
Since I wrote this post the fiesta/party packs – at least at my local El Torito in San Leandro, California – have both increased in price and decreased in quality. The packs now cost $5 more, and the last couple of times we ordered, they were missing some of the sides we originally got. I’m not sure if this is because the fiesta packs no longer include them or our El Torito was particularly busy now that California has reopened, and the workers were careless with what they packed in our orders.
The Fajita Fiesta Pack
The fajitas pack is now $48 and our last order included the beef fajitas (and we felt we got less meat than in previous occasions). Still, it was very tasty. In addition to the meat, we got rice and beans, warm tortillas, guacamole and sour cream and chips and salsa. What we didn’t get was the corn pudding we enjoy so much.
The Tacos Fiesta Pack
We ordered the taco pack once before and in addition to the stuff shown in the photo (meal, rice and beans, tortillas, chip and salsa and corn pudding) it came with sour cream, pico de gallo, shredded cheese and shredded lettuce. This time, the last four listed items were unavailable. That made for very, very boring tacos.
That said, the beef for tacos is very tasty, flavor wise it’s better than the fajitas. The chicken, which we got the previous time, isn’t as flavorful and it’s a bit dry. They also offer carnitas.
El Torito, a California-based chain of Tex-Mex (or Cal-Mex, for that matter) restaurants, is offering a great take out deal during the pandemic. For $30-$40 you can get a tacos, carnitas fajitas or combo (enchiladas, tamales or chile relleno) deals that feed at least four people. Given that an order of steak fajitas for just one person is $21.50, $40 for four times that amount is as good a deal as you are likely to get. Indeed, at $10 per person (or less, depending on how hungry you are), it’s the same or lower cost than the mid-priced meal kits I’ve used so much. For $20 more, you can add a pitcher of margaritas (not my thing).
The fajitas pack comes with large containers of beef strips and onions, Mexican rice, beans (choose between re-fried or de olla), corn pudding, salsa and guacamole, a stack of warm tortillas (your choice of corn or flour) and a huge bag of tortilla chips.
They tell you at what time the food will be ready when you order (or you can specify the time), and it’s very, very quick. El Torito offers delivery (sans alcohol) for something like $3, as well as curbside and in-restaurant pickup. The food is ready when it says it’ll be.
I used to be a huge fan of Chevy’s back in the day. Then it declined, and then the one in San Leandro closed, and then most of them closed. At some point, the remaining ones were bought by the same parent company from El Torito, which carried Chevy’s influence into El Torito’s kitchens.
You can taste this influence in the fajitas pack. The beef marinade now resembles Chevy’s, as does the salsa – while the corn pudding is practically identical to Chevy’s sweet corn tomalito. The chips are still not as thin as Chevy’s, but they’re thinner than other restaurants.
All in all I’ve enjoyed their meals, and I think I will give their other offerings a try later.
5 Monarch Bay Dr,
San Leandro, CA
M-Th 11 AM - 10 PM, F 11 AM - 11 PM, Sa 8 AM - 11 PM, Su 9 AM - 10 PM
The key to the dish is the sauce, of course, so I imagine I’ll have to experiment and find one that my daughter might like. Safeway has a pineapple peach salsa that might fit the bill. The cauliflower for these tacos is basically sauteed for 3-4 minutes with green pepper (which she didn’t like so I’ll omit next time), you then add some cubed pineapple, 1/4 cup of water and the al pastor sauce, and put it in a 400F oven for 15 minutes.
This kit also taught me how to make mashed black beans – you put the canned beans in a pot with a little bit of water and a teaspoon of vegetable stock concentrate, cook it for five minutes and then mashed.
The cabbage in the kit was supposed to be mixed with a cilantro aioli, but this wasn’t vegan, so I had to skip it. The cabbage was sort of blah on its own, but it added some crunch to the tacos.
Again, all in all she liked them and she wants me to make them again.
And I will, because I’m certainly not going to pay $26 to make this meal. I paid $10 with a promo, and for that it was a bargain.
Tacos & fajitas seem to be one of the most common meals offered by meal kit companies. I’ve ordered them a few times, simply because I didn’t see anything else they offered that we might like, but it’s not a top choice for me. I can get three ready-made tacos of a similar size at the Mexican Restaurant in the corner for $13, and I don’t have to spend the time cooking them. Or, of course, I can make them myself for a few dollars.
Still, some of the taco recipes I’ve made have been good and I’m always up for a discovery. This recipe for carne asada fajitas with pickled onions and lime cream, however, did not produce one. The tacos/fajitas were pretty straightforward and just OK flavor wise – indeed, they might have been better without the southwestern flavoring.
They were fairly easy and quick to make and at $13 for a meal for six tacos, they were pretty cheap.
I got this kit for free, with a special one-time code that someone gave me. The regular cost for the two serving kit is $13, including shipping. Use this link to get $20 off your first box.
Of all the Home Chef’s meals I got on my first week, this kit for jerk steak tacos with caramelized pineapple slaw was my least favorite. The biggest issue was that it wasn’t very filling. With no starches to speak of (3 small flour tortillas don’t count for much), 5 ounces of beef won’t take you very far.
I also wasn’t thrilled with the flavor of the jerk sauce. Don’t get wrong, it wasn’t bad – but it wasn’t anything spectacular either.
On the plus side, I did enjoy the pineapple slaw as part of the tacos. By itself, it wasn’t very good, but in the tacos it added crunch and sweetness to the meat and worked very well. The quality of the meat was good and the meal was very quickly put together. It just needed something more.
I paid $8 for this meal as part of a first week deal. Regular price is $20.
My oldest daughter is a vegan and I always find it challenging to know what to cook for her – or even to want to cook for her at all (fortunately, she’s learned her way around a wok). So I was very curious to see how these meal kits would work for her. Alas, while HelloFresh – the meal kit subscription I’m currently trying – seems to offer three vegetarian meals a week, they don’t really do vegan food. No matter, some of the recipes can be easily made without the diary. This recipe for Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Avocado Crema and Cilantro, for example, only uses diary in the crema – a blend of avocado and sour cream with lime zest and juice -, and it was easily enough to just omit the sour cream altogether and turn the crema into a simple guacamole.
As this kit did not contain any meat, all the items came inside a paper bag. My first week with HelloFresh, I just put these paper bags in the fridge without bothering to open them. But after reading about wilted and missing items in HelloFresh kits, I decided to check whether all the items were there and in the right condition.
That was a good idea, as I found out that part of the cilantro was wilted and that the avocado wasn’t ripe. I was thus able to discard the spoiled cilantro, keeping the leaves that weren’t yet gone. It turned out that the only item in the kit that needed to be refrigerated was the small sachet of sour cream (which I wasn’t planning to use anyway), so I was able to just keep the kit inside its paper bag in the pantry, which allowed the avocado to ripen quicker than it would have otherwise.
All in all this kit was “OK,” but not one that I would buy again
The overall flavorof the food was underwhelming. My daughter liked it well enough, but wouldn’t be eager to have it again. Note that as a vegan, she is not particularly picky.
There was too little food. The kit has six tortilla, but enough filling for just 4 tacos – and this despite the fact that I used the whole box of black beans, and not just half as the instructions called for. Two vegetarian tacos (and these are a little larger than those at your average taqueria) are just not enough food for dinner, without rice or something else to accompany them. Fortunately, I had made the whole kit for my daughter thinking she’d have leftovers for the next day, so she was able to eat a third taco and not go hungry. But had she had to share this whole meal with someone else, she would have been.
The avocado wasn’t ripe when the kit arrived. Had I wanted to make this meal kit that day, I’d have had to go buy another avocado. Fortunately, by the time I decided to make it, two days later, it had ripened enough to use it.
The avocado was too small. Really, it reminded me of the tiny avocados you can get in the California cost for 5-for-$1. There just wasn’t enough to cover 4 tacos.
There wasn’t enough cilantro and part of it came wilted. I threw those parts away, but it left very little left. Fortunately, this was the only non-fresh item I’ve gotten from HelloFresh.
The meal is greatly overpriced, not just in comparison with what it would cost to make this meal at home, but in comparison to the cost of tacos at taquerias (not that sweet potato tacos are that common). And those generally come with free chips & salsa.
In all, because I bought this kit with a discount (and you can find an ever greater one by following my referral link) and only paid $7.50 for it, I wasn’t too disappointed. It was cheaper than what I’d spend at a taqueria. However, I’d be horrified if I’d bought it at the regular price ($22-24). For that amount of money, you can have something much better at a top gourmet Mexican restaurant.