10/3/07

Carnicerias Guanajuato: Eat-in Match Review

#14a. Taqueria Guanajuato @ Carnicerias Guanajuato
1438 N. Ashland
Carnitas Tacos
3 @ $1.60 each = $4.80 (no extras)



My friend Jason talks fondly of his quest to find the best torta in Mexico City, one which ended in an odd, overcrowded, triangularly-shaped supermarket that contained a small taqueria stuffed into the back of the store. That's what I think of every time I step into Carncierias Guanajuato. It's like something out of an Anthony Bourdain special on the Travel Channel, full of brightly-colored sigange for products that you've never heard of, stuffed to the rafters with bottles of Jarritos and cans of beans; and featuring a meat counter, fresh produce area, and taqueria all tucked into a store that might have one-fourth the square footage of the Jewel-Osco down the block. You're not at Walmart anymore, Dorothy.

Somebody who had walked into Guanajuato on accident might find the supermarket part pleasant enough, but he would certainly be put off by the kitchen. Think empty bottles of salsa lying limply on the tables, and unbussed baskets piling up, and families of eight holding court in the center of the seating area. Naturally, all of this led to the conclusion that the food must be absolutely spectacular. Más sucio, más autentico!

The Food: Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, talked about the Coke-Pepsi Paradox. If you have people sip from a urine-cup sized sample of Pepsi and then one of Coke, most people will prefer the Pepsi. But if you ask people whether they prefer Coke to Pepsi, most people say Coke, and Coke outsells Pepsi year after year. The paradox is not resolved by the fact that Coke has superior marketing to Pepsi, or anything like that. Rather, the catch has to do with the way those taste tests are administered -- you're only trying a couple sips of each drink. Pepsi is sweeter, which tends to be more appealing when it first hits your palate. But by the time you're finished with a whole can, that sweetness has become a little saccharine.

I was reminded of this today when eating my carnitas tacos. The first few bites were wonderful. The salsa is spicy, the meat is salty, the onions are sour, the cilantro is bitter, and the torillas have a slightly sweet, mealy character. All of the taste centers on your tongue are stimulated. For that matter so are the ones in your nose, since these tacos have a distinct, but relatively appealing odor that tends to linger on your fingers after the fact.

By the time I was finished with my third taco, however, one of these tastes had prevailed, which is the salt of the carnitas. Carnitas by their nature are salty, and Guanajuato's helpings are generous, so this was perhaps an inevitable problem. Nevertheless, it was a little bit much by the end, especially after I'd encountered a big chunk of fatty pork in my third taco. I'm not saying that Guanajuato's carnitas are to be avoided. On the contrary, the quality of the meat, which must be sourced directly from the deli counter, is quite high. And the first bite is worth a visit unto itself. But rather than getting three carnitas tacos, you're best off mixing-and-matching one of them with two of another variety.

The Experience: As I've intimated, Guanajuato's seating area was flat out dirty at this time of this visit, about 5 in the afternoon. This hasn't been such a problem when I've visited in the past, but the trash must pile up over the course of the day, and it's certainly being created faster than it's being cleaned up. We might need to create a new category for comfort/cleanliness in the Burrito Breakdown. The rest of the service experience wasn't really a plus either. The counter guys seemed distracted, and at different times ran out of change and ran out of salsa bottles, one of which I had to retrieve from an abandoned table. The polite way to put this is that Guanajuato isn't passing along much in the way of overhead costs -- you can get tacos as cheap as $1.00 or tortas as cheap as $1.95. And the food is still quite good on balance. But it's not a taqueria for beginners.

Edit: This post was originally labeled as a "Round 1 review", but in fact it's the last of our three eat-in matches. Guanajuato's opponent this week is another supermarket, Carniceria Laura. The winner of this week's match will face Tecalitlan next week in Round 1 proper.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Looks fucking NASTY. Would have to pay me to eat there.