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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

El Paisa Taqueria (San Jose)

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These very well might be contenders for the best tacos in San Jose.

El Paisa Taqueria in San Jose

El Paisa Taqueria in San Jose

We've driven by this taco stand/truck at the corner of Senter Rd and Southside in South San Jose many times. We would always see a long line of customers stretching back from the stand into the full parking lot. Long lines are a good sign. I made a mental note to stop in one day.

I've Got a Craving

A few days ago, we were out running errands and I asked Annie what she wanted to eat. I was thinking she'd go for some Vietnamese banh cuon at Banh Cuon Tay Ho #8 on Senter Rd, our favorite place for that special dish. But she surprised me.

"I'm craving tacos," Annie said.

Tacos? Annie hardly ever craves Mexican food, let alone tacos. "How come you're craving tacos?" I asked.

"I was reading this article in "Best Food Writing 2007" about this guy who went on a ten week taqueria hunt in the Bay Area, and the way he was describing the tacos and burritos was making me hungry for some." (FYI, the article is called "In Search of the Transcendent Taqueria" by Bill Addison of the San Francisco Chronicle.)

"Let's hit that place down on Senter Rd, the one with the long line that we've always wanted to go."

"Okay!"

As luck would have it, the parking lot was not full when we got there, and there was only one person waiting at the stand. There was another fellow lighting up some mesquite charcoal on a grill out by the sidewalk. I pulled out my camera and took a snap of the truck.

The guy manning the grill came over and told me that the owner said no pictures. Wha-a-a? Well, the guy had a big knife with him, so I put away the camera.

I walked up to the truck. There's an open window on the left side. The guy inside asked if I had ordered yet. I said no, how do you order? "You order from the girl over there," he pointed to the cashier/condiment stand on the right," then you pick your order up here.

"Cool." I approached the cashier, who asked me what I wanted. "What do you have?"

"Tacos and burritos."

"What kind of meat?"

"Carne asada - beef. Lengua (beef tongue). And al pastor (barbecued pork)."

"No carnitas?"

"No carnitas."

"Okay, I want tacos. Can I have one lengua, one al pastor, and two asada?"

"Six dollar."

Buck-fifty per taco? I can deal with that! I paid my money, took my receipt stub, and waited. The taco truck's large windows provide a great view into the making of a taco. Inside the taco truck, a woman was taking chunks from a huge mound of masa dough, rolling them into balls, and pressing them into tortillas. She would then toss the corn tortillas onto a griddle next to her.

The man that I had spoken to earlier seemed to be in charge of assembling the tacos. He would put the freshly cooked tortillas on a plate, add the requested meat, and top it with chopped white onions and cilantro. I took our plates, went back to the condiment stand to load up, then brought the tacos back to our car where we could eat (and take pictures) in peace.

The carne asada tacos came piled high with chopped, grilled beef. You could barely see the tortilla under all that meat!

Carne Asada Tacos From El Paisa Taqueria in San Jose

Carne asada tacos from El Paisa Taqueria in San Jose

For the lengua taco, the cubes of beef tongue were scooped out of a large, simmering pot. The meat for the al pastor taco was shaved off of a big hunk of pork that was slowly turning on a vertical rotisserie (like the kind they use for Greek gyros). Both tacos were again garnished simply with white onion and cilantro.

Lengua and Al Pastor Tacos from El Paisa Taqueria in San Jose

Lengua and Al Pastor Tacos from El Paisa Taqueria in San Jose

In addition to the lime wedges and radish slices at the condiment stand, I filled up on three different sauces: a red hot sauce, a creamy green avocado-based sauce, and a rustic roasted salsa. We liked all three sauces, but our favorite was the avocado sauce.

But enough about the sauces, how were the tacos?

Awesome. Superb. (I would say "sublime" but that word has gone past its usefulness.) So good, I took a bite and heard angels singing (well okay, that might be pushing it!).

The carne asada tacos were seasoned just right, and had a nice, smoky, charred note. They were not greasy or chewy. The tacos went down way too quickly. Four (large) bites, and they were gone. Mmmmmm...

My lengua taco was also very well done. Nice, beefy flavor that wasn't overpowered by other spices. It was very, very tender - must have been simmering for hours!

Our favorite, though, was the al pastor taco. It was out-of-this-world good! Not too fatty, perfectly seasoned, and well balanced with the fresh, sweet onions. It was gone before we knew it.

Round Two

"That was GOOD! I want another one!" Annie exclaimed.

"I wanna try their burrito."

"You sure? That's a lot of food."

"I only want to try it. I won't even eat half."

"Okay then."

I ambled back over to the stand. By then, a lot more cars had pulled in to the parking lot, and even more people had walked in off the street. When it was my turn to order, I exclaimed to the cashier, "Those were so good!"

She smiled knowingly.

"I want one more taco al pastor. And I want a carne asada burrito - no rice."

This time, because the line of customers was so long, the production in the truck was starting to back up. I had a lot of time to kill so I watched the grill master working in that heady mesquite smoke, tending to the grill that was loaded up with thinly sliced beef.

"That the carne asada?"

He nodded. As the beef slices were cooked through, he piled them onto his cutting board and vigorously chopped the beef into small pieces, which he then transferred to a large, deep tray. When it was full of steaming, smoking beef, he took it inside the taco truck.

I'm a Pig

Finally, after what seemed like an hour (but probably more like 15 minutes), my order was called. I brought the plate back to Annie, where she tucked in to her al pastor taco. My carne asada burrito was large. Not as large as the ones from Super Taqueria, but still. My first bite revealed just how much meat they had put inside.

Carne Asada Burrito from El Paisa Taqueria in San Jose

Carne Asada Burrito from El Paisa Taqueria in San Jose

It was like that all the way down to the bottom.

Yes, that's right. I ate the whole thing (minus a few bites to Annie, of course)! I'm a pig. *oink oink*

In my defense, all I can say is, "it was a very good burrito." Clearly, the meat is the star. No overdoing it with beans. And no meatless spots where the only thing you get is onion or rice (ever had that happen to you? blech).

The farther down the burrito I ate, the better the bites became. All the combined juices from the meat and the various sauces I tried on it (still liked the avocado sauced the best) collectively sparked my tastebuds and overrode my hunger killswitch. My only regret is that I didn't order an al pastor burrito. Because Annie didn't save me any bites of her al pastor taco.

Oh well. I guess we'll have to go back. *oink*

Aloha, Nate


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Got a favorite taco stand? Leave us a comment and tell us about it!

10 Comments:

Sonya said...

I love that Annie was reading "The Best Food Writing" - one of my fave reads, particularly the 2005 edition.

Still loving your blog!

Courtney said...

Oh man that looks amazing. I live in Hawaii now, but I've got to say that taco stands are one of things that I miss about most from California!

Life 2.0 said...

Wowwwwwwww! Those tacos look incredible. The next time my husband is in San Jose, he is going to stop by "El Paisa Taqueria." He is also going to stop the Golden Gate Bakery for a few Egg Tarts.

Lando said...

Your post reminds me of my trip to Mexico and buying up delicious $1 tacos. I still have to find a place out here to give me that same feeling I had. Your finding may be the one. You can't beat that price too!

Robert said...

Good taco trucks are the best deal for good food in the Bay Area. Those look very tasty.

Cate said...

LOL, wonderful, now you have ME craving tacos!

dynagrrl said...

Mmmmm. Tacos....

Nate-n-Annie said...

@all - thanks for your comments!

@Sonya - the "Best Food Writing" series is so inspirational!

@Courtney - you may not have taco stands, but you do have plate lunch trucks everywhere. I miss that!

@Life 2.0 - you do realize that Golden Gate is in San Francisco, right?

@Lando - nothing like tacos in the land of tacos!

@Robert - do you have a favorite taco truck / stand?

Fosco Gamgee Whitfurrows said...

Outsatanding, Nate. I love a good taco truck, but to hook into one that makes its tortillas and slices its pork to order is an incredible thing. Save me a spot at the big table.

Nate-n-Annie said...

@Fosco - whenever you decide to come down here to SJ, this will be the first stop!