De Pasada: Round 1 Review

#4. De Pasada
1108 N. Ashland
Tacos al Pastor
3 @ $1.65 each = $4.95 (no extras)

You had me at tomatillo.

The quality of the salsa is not an absolutely foolproof measure of a taqueria's ultimate quality, but it's a pretty damned powerful leading indicator. In just one bite, you can tell whether the salsa is made from fresh ingredients or has been sitting in a vat for several hours, and whether the chef has a good tongue or is just running through the motions. De Pasada's salsa, which I first experienced about a month ago, is absolutely wonderful -- the roja, yes, but especially the verde. It is an aggressive blend with plenty of character and texture, and you can see from the residue of seeds and tomatillos that De Pasada does not skimp on flavor. It's very much worth the walk down Ashland to try De Pasada, the quieter, younger sister of La Pasadita that sits almost literally in its shadow; even its sign is partially concealed by an overgrowth of trees.

The Food: De Pasada does have tacos al Pastor after all! A quick search of an online menu indicated that the closest substitute was probably barbacoa, but al Pastor is right on the chalkboard, as presumably it has always been.

De Pasada's Pastor follows the same basic formula of Mr. Taco's, the pork accompanied by onion, cilantro, and a double tortilla (it did not feature a lime, as Mr. Taco's did). Each taco is wrapped in its own sheet of wax paper, which is not very photogenic (nor very green) but helps to keep the tacos nice and warm.

Since my central criticism of my last set of tacos was with the quality of its meat, the first thing I did was to gnaw on a chunk of the pork. The difference was recognizable immediately; this pork was nice and tender with subtle hints of smoke, and it was cut into attractive, even-sized pieces. You'd be happy to eat it on its own.

Really, though, that's not how you should be eating al Pastor. Rather, you should be folding the taco into a U-shape and taking a big, aggressive bite, because that way you'll get the spice of the pork to compliment the onions, cilantro, and salsa. My friend has a saying that the hallmark of a good meal is that every bite tastes a little different, and that was sort of the case here; some bites were more mild and others were more potent, depending on the onion-to-cilantro-to-salsa ratio. The spicing on the pork itself was good, though perhaps not quite as nuanced as Mr. Taco's, but taken as a coherent entity, these tacos were real winners.

The Experience: De Pasada has a cheerily-colored interior with perhaps six tables, which are spaced out comfortably rather than bunched together. The service was fast and friendly, and the waitress spoke very good English. The waitress had her 9-year-old son with her (she spoke English to him too), and it's evident that this place is family-run and takes a lot of pride in what it does; they're really deserving of your business.

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