El Taco Veloz [#2] defeats Taqueria Traspasada [#15]

At the end of the day, it was fairly obvious how this one was going to go down. Clearly, El Taco Veloz [review] was going to have an edge in terms of atmosphere and experience, but I thought Taqueria Traspasada [review] had a little bit of wiggle room to make up for that with superior food. In fact, however, the chorizo was not a particular specialty at Traspasada, and Veloz was superior in both departments.

In honor of the outstanding experience that Traspasada provided in its eat-in match, however, I am going to introduce a new feature: the Burrito Breakdown. This rates each taqueria from 0 to 5 chili peppers in six categories related to the quality of the food, and from 0 to 3 chili peppers in five categories related to the non-food experience (service, atmosphere, presentation, pricing, etc.) This means that there are a maximum of 30 points available for the food and 15 for everything else, which seems to be about the right ratio.

I am not always going to use the Breakdown. Nor, for that matter, do I necessarily promise to abide by the Breakdown's ruling -- if the final score is within one or two chili peppers, then I'm going to go with what my heart tells me. But, it should help to provide some insight into close decisions.

Overall, a decisive 8-chili margin for Veloz, confirming my initial impression.

Taqueria Traspasada: Round 1 Review

#15. Taqueria Traspasada No. 2
811 N. Ashland
Chorizo Tacos
3 @ $1.68 each = $5.04 (no extras)

Defeated #15a Taco & Burrito Express in Eat-in Match [verdict]

Our sense of taste is subjective enough that it has an awful lot to do with expectations. If you go to some $30 a plate restaurant, and the food is anything less than spectacularly good, you are probably going to walk away disappointed. If on the other hand you go to some hole-in-the-wall, and the food is merely pretty decent, you're going to be pleased, bragging to your friends about the diamond-in-the-rough that you found. The fact is that the food from the expensive restaurant is still probably better in an absolute sense -- if you were sitting in a conference room and each dish was delivered to you in a paper bag, you would probably prefer the fancy stuff. But it sure as hell doesn't taste like it at the time.

I went into last week's eat-in match knowing nothing about Taqueria Traspasada; I hadn't even been spelling its name right. And it surprised me by turning out a milanesa torta that was one of the best individual items that we've tried in the bracket so far. So this week, naturally, expectations were raised, particularly since one of the reviews over at Yelp hinted that the chorizo tacos were one of the best things on the menu.

The Food: Traspada's chorizo was more typical than the bacon-like meat that we tried at El Taco Veloz. The meat was not ground up as finely -- in places it was a bit lumpy -- and retained more of its natural reddish color. The flavoring was sound, although not particularly spicy, with the dominant flavor probably being garlic. So ... you've probably inferred by now that I was a little bit disappointed. And indeed, these were pretty good tacos, but I was a little bit disappointed. Traspasada does a lot of things well -- their salsa is great, their tortillas are good, their veggies and garnishes (onion and cilantro in this case) are always incredibly fresh. Lots of food for what you're paying. But the quality and texture of the meat were a little bit of a letdown after eating at Veloz on Tuesday, and that's the major point of differentiation here.

The Experience: As before, highly efficient and reasonably friendly, but the seating area hadn't gotten any more comfortable since the last visit. I also noticed that the Mexican dude sitting next to me was brought out a basket of chips while he was waiting for his food whereas I was not, but I'm about 80 percent sure that he must have ordered them; the counter guys aren't particuarly anti-gringo, actually reciting back in English orders that were placed in Spanish.


El Taco Veloz: Round 1 Review

#2. El Taco Veloz
1745 W. Chicago
Chorizo Tacos
3 @ $1.25 each = $3.75 (no extras)

El Taco Veloz did not become the #2 seed in the Burrito Bracket without a formidable reputation. I'd had only one experience with it in the past -- a drunken, late-night sojourn last winter in which I took advantage of its take-out counter to good results. But from reading the reviews, it seemed like it could capture the best of both worlds: the quality food of La Pasadita and the kitschy experience of Arturo's Tacos. On an unusually slow work day on an unusually warm September afternoon, it was the perfect day to check it out and indulge in some chorizo tacos and a bottle of beer.

The Food: Chorizo is one of my favorite Mexican goodies, but I had a little bit of reluctance about including it in the competition. One problem is that it is generally (although by no means always) made from the fattier, not-so-desirable parts of the pig, thriving more on its aggressive mixture of spices than the inherent quality of the meat. Another problem is that I suspect that at least some of the taquerias in our competition are buying their chorizo pre-ground and pre-spiced, which would tell us little about their ability to cook up a good meal. So my fear was that it would be hard to differentiate a good from a bad chorizo. Did Taco Veloz prove me wrong?

At first, it looked like it might not prove anything. I could not find a chorizo option under tacos on its colorful, but disorganized menu. Fortunately, my waitress didn't bat an eyelash when I simply ignored the menu and ordered three chorizo tacos up.

The distinguishing feature of Veloz's chorizo is that it is ground up quite finely and left on the skillet for some time, producing a burnt umber color rather than the red-orange that you might see at some other taquerias, and a flavor and texture that are reminiscent of good bacon. Although a long way from heart-healthy, the meat appeared to be of a fairly high quality, and was less greasy than you might think. The chorizo was not spiced exceptionally aggressively, and arguably could have used a bit more paprika, but the result was a mature flavor profile with undertones of roasted chestnuts.

The tacos were dressed with the standard accouterments of onion and cilantro; I also took advantage of one of the extra limes that my waitress had brought out with my Corona. (Veloz also offers a garnish of pickled carrots, cauliflower, and peppers, but I passed on that.) The tortillas were quite good with a distinctly strong corn flavor. Both the red and the green salsas were good as well; I liked the red better with my chips and salsa, with its roasted and almost smoky flavor, but the spicier green proved to create better dynamism with the chorizo.

This review has been a little ... clinical, but the bottom line is that these were quite satisfying tacos. On the dirty word scale, they were not worth the prized double expletive "holy fucking shit, these are good" nor probably a single expletive with a modifier ("holy shit"), but were certainly worthy of a solitary "shit" or "damn".

The Experience: We talked last week about the difference between "masculine" and "feminine" taco shops, the former tending to get you in and out quickly while the latter encourages you to take your time. To some extent, El Taco Veloz straddles the line between the two. The food itself is prepared very efficiently (veloz means "fast", after all) and the tacos were absolutely piping hot when they were brought out to me. At the same time, my very hospitable waitress seemed to be intent on getting me to relax, encouraging me to take my time with the menu; rather than bringing me my check when I was finished, she told me that she'd meet me at the counter whenever I was ready to get up and go.

There is quite a bit to keep your eyes busy while you're waiting for your tacos. The interior of the restaurant is dark, even in the middle of the day, but with lots of decoration and a weird, slightly tripped out lighting scheme. The restaurant was about half-full and almost uniformly Mexican, although within that boundary the crowd was fairly ecclectic (Mexican hipsters, Mexican gangstas, blue-collar workers on their lunch break, etc.) The music was good -- peppier and dancier than the standard norteƱo music. Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention the prices -- just $1.25 per taco, or fully 37% cheaper than "hole in the wall" Carnceria Leon. It's a fun experience, and could prove to be a difference-maker if Taqueria Traspasada puts up a challenge later in the week.