11/3/07

De Pasada [#4] defeats Dona Naty's Taco [#12]

Thus far, our second round has been a little anticlimactic. La Pasadita was expected to defeat Arturo's Tacos, but the margin of victory was a little bit of a surprise. Likewise, we expected Dona Naty's Taco [review] to provide a formidable challenge to De Pasada [review], but it had an off-day whereas De Pasada was at the top of its game. In fact, De Pasada's composite score of 42 is the highest score recorded to date in the Burrito Bracket. Although that score strikes me as a little bit high -- purely in terms of the quality of the food, this torta wasn't quite as good as the one at Taqueria Trespada, for instance -- it goes to show you what can happen when you combine very good food with very good service.


This sets up a real grudge match between De Pasada and La Pasadita in the first of our Final Four matchups, two virtual next door neighbors with more shared history than you might assume at first glance (more on this in the coming days). The item for that match-up will be the Chicken Super Burrito, as we have not sampled the chicken at either establishment thus far (at least within the context of 'official' Burrito Bracket business). The super burrito -- as opposed to the simpler, regular burrito -- is one of De Pasada's strengths, and so this matchup should be closer to a toss-up than you might think.


Odds to Win Bracket

La Pasadita ............... 2-1
De Pasada ................. 3-1
El Taco Veloz ............. 3-1
Irazu ..................... 6-1
Tecalitlan ............... 12-1
Picante Taqueria ........ 100-1

Dona Naty's Taco: Round 2 Review

#12. Dona Naty's Taco
1813 W. Chicago
Torta de Milanesa
$3.49 (no extras)

Defeated #5 Taqueria Super Burrito in Round 1 [review]
Defeated #12b Carniceria Leon in Eat-in Match [review]

On its best days, Dona Naty's Taco can remind me of De Pasada. Both restaurants take their time, and put some extra care and forethought into how their food is prepared. In Dona Naty's case, that meant the spicy ground chicken mixture that made an extraordinary meal out of an ordinary chicken burrito, and the grilled onions that provided a little extra flair to its tacos al Pastor. It's those little things that had made Dona Naty's the lowest remaining seed to survive in the bracket. Unfortunately, this was not one of Dona Naty's best days.


The Food:
In a word? Meh. There were no signs of Dona Naty's subtle knack for innovation in this torta. In fact, it was one of the most ordinary dishes that we've tried so far. In contrast to De Pasada, which cut its steak into individual slices and breaded each one individually, Dona Naty's reverted to the standard route of providing one big "wafer" of meat. Although the breading was reasonably good, the meat was smashed so thin that you could barely even taste the animal product. Likewise, the toppings were a little lackluster. Whereas De Pasada's torta featured fresh guacamole, Naty's had ordinary avocado. And for some reason, the combination of the avocado plus the grated cheese, both of which were at refrigerator temperature, made the torta a little cold; the idea of the hot staying hot and the cool staying cool has been a dicey proposition ever since the McDLT was launched.


The Experience: Speaking of which, Dona Naty's service can run hot-and-cold. If you'll recall from Dona Naty's eat-in match two months ago, we encountered a waitress who was a little anglophobic. Maybe that's too strong a term, but considering that she didn't even try to take my order, instead having the counter guy do her dirty work for her, I don't know how else to characterize it. That pattern completely reversed itself in our Round 1 visit, when we had a pleasant, English-speaking waitress that made us feel right at home. This time around? Back to Mrs. No Habla Ingl├ęs, and her running point with the counter guy to have him take my order. To make clear: I'm not even asking for the courtesy of a waitress who tries to speak English. Rather, I'm asking for the courtesy of a waitress who lets me try and speak Spanish. If I'm completely embarrassing myself, then you can call the counter guy over to serve as an interpreter. Again, all of this was in stark contrast to De Pasada, which has perhaps the most welcoming service of any taqueria in Chicago.

11/2/07

De Pasada: Round 2 Review

#4. De Pasada
1108 N. Ashland
Torta de Milanesa
$3.75 (no extras)

Defeated #13 Mr. Taco's Restaurant in Round 1 [review]

When my parents were in town a couple weeks ago and they wanted to check out one of the taquerias from Burrito Bracket, the place I took them to was De Pasada. That does not necessarily mean that De Pasada is my favorite -- if I knew which one was my favorite, I would never have started Burrito Bracket in the first place. But it does mean that I wanted them to come away with a good experience -- and De Pasada was the choice for its exceptional consistency.

The Food:
Standard operating procedure when you order a milanesa torta -- and if you're new to the torta world, this is the kind of torta that you want to be ordering -- is to be presented with a large, amoeba-shaped piece of steak, brutally beaten down until it's thinner than Calista Flockhart, and coated with a light breading. Oftentimes, as in the case of this otherwise very good torta from Arturo's, the shape of the meat will not particuarly match the shape of the bread, leading to a sort of overbite effect.


At De Pasada, this is not a problem, because rather than giving you one big slab of meat, they instead give you a series of individual slices, all of which are breaded individually. This undoubtedly requires more preparation time than the common method, but careful preparation is what De Pasada is all about. And it really shows up in terms of the results: you can actually taste the steak and not just the breading, and you don't run into any tough or stringy portions like you might elsewhere.

De Pasada also has what might be the best salsa in Chicago, rating plenty high on the Scoville scale without blowing out its character. All the veggies and toppings are very fresh, particuarly the guacamole, which is a nice perk to have on a $3.75 torta. I wasn't in love with the bread, which was also very fresh but could have been somewhat toastier, but nevertheless this was an outstanding torta.

The Experience: De Pasada truly is a family affair -- I actually have a little bit of an inside scoop on this, which I'll present at a later time -- and that's reflected in most every aspect of the experience there. The service is warm, inviting, and for lack of a better term, motherly -- on a previous visit, I was commended when I returned by plate to the counter before I left, and told that my mom must have raised me well. Yes, you might have to put up with the fact that the 9-year-old son of the owner has decided to commandeer the TV and hook his XBOX up to it. But for this kind of quality, it's a small price to pay.