Carnicerias Guanajuato [#14a] defeats Carniceria Laura [#14b]

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is an infographic worth? We'll go ahead and run a breakdown, even though this one was really no contest. All Carncieras Guanajuato [review] had to do to defeat Carniceria Laura [review] was basically to be edible, and it managed to do that.

A couple of notes on the grades you see above:

  • Close decision between three and four chilis in the Flavor/Seasoning category for Guanajuato. The carnitas were certainly a bit oversalted, but I'm somewhat more inclined to excuse this after our experience today.
  • I'm awarding Guanajuato zero chilis in the Atmosphere/Decor category because it was not cleanly on this visit. The atmosphere itself isn't inherently all that terrible, with all the zany, colorful displays throughout the supermarket. At Laura, on the other hand, you're really sort of stuffed into the back behind a couple of aisles for cleaning products ... it is decidedly uncomfortable.
  • I sort of glossed over this in my review, but Guanajuato's tortillas were really quite special, with almost sort of a buckwheat flavor. They were a little different, but in a good way, and their texture was excellent.
  • The total score of 16 for Carniceria Laura is really quite low. If I went back and applied a rating to Flash Taco and Lazo's Tacos, our worst efforts in the bracket before today, they would probably have received a 19 and an 18 respectively.
Carncierias Guanajuato will have a much tougher foe next week, in the form of #3 seed Tecalitlan.

Carniceria Laura: Eat-in Match Review

#14b. Carniceria Taqueria y Fruteria Laura
1051 N. Ashland
Carnitas Tacos
3 @ $1.25 each = $3.75 (no extras)

The idea of having a lunch counter at the same place you have a meat counter is pretty darned logical. In Anglo culture, we have our version in the deli. They have a bunch of fresh meats and cheeses. You can either take some home, or you can have them prepare a sandwich right there in front of you! Either way, you're consuming the same high-quality product.

Why is it, then, that the performance of the carncerias-slash-taquerias in the Burrito Bracket has been underwhelming? Carniceria Leon's al Pastor was overpriced and not much better than passable. Carnicerias Guanajuato did have some things to recommend it, but also some things to disrecommend it. So Carniceria Laura, which I "discovered" on a whim a couple of months ago, was sort of carrying the banner for the genre. And to put it bluntly, if this is the alternative, the carnicerias and taquerias probably ought to break up and throw away one another's phone numbers.

The Food: We're going to keep this fairly brief, on the theory that if you can't say anything nice ... I knew from the start that it was going to be a little bit of a challenge to eat these puppies*. They had a somewhat off-putting smell ... the meat wasn't rancid or anything, but it certainly wasn't at its peak of freshness. The seasoning wasn't adequate. I can't believe I'm saying this after Carnciera Guanajuato's sodium bomb, but they really could have used some more salt; if nothing else this might have helped the meat to preserve a little better. Moreover, the pork was dry, overcooked, and tough, and its texture was inconsistent and unattractive (see close-up below). Even the tortillas were a little off, being somewhat too tough in places.

Basically, since I was pretty darned hungry, the strategy was to douse these tacos in salsa and make it through as far as I could, which was about one-and-a-half tacos worth.

The Experience: Carnciera Laura is considerably smaller and less well-trafficked than Carnicerias Guanajuato, and the small taqueria in the back of the establishment was not even staffed when I got there. It took about five minutes for somebody to show up and take my order. So immediately I had the impression that the taqueria was sort of an afterthought for them; its function seemed to be as a place for the leftovers from the butcher counter. The quality of the tacos today did nothing to disconfirm that notion.

Possible that it just had a bad day? This is always a possibility when you eat out. But with La Pasadita, De Pasada, and Taqueria Traspasada all within a two-block walk, there's no reason to roll the dice.

* "Puppies" is used idiomatically in this context. I think.


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.


Burrito Bracket Gets Its First Free Taco (Still Working on Burrito)

Burrito Bracket has now earned exactly one dollar and sixty cents in advertising revenues, which should be just enough to buy me a taco at Dona Naty's. This next taco is on you, readers!