Curiosity saves the taco

    It all happens because of the tongues. First I found out that Ashley’s and Kaily’s favorite is Mexican food. Except for one taco at Taco Bell a few months back when I was starving in San Francisco and unable to find any cheap and quick filler, I haven’t had Mexican food for a few years, simply because the burritos, tacos, quesadillas, tamales, and other Spanish names that crossed my path didn’t impress me the right way. Then I hear Michelle praises the churros with such enthusiasm that makes me rethink about the cooking affairs south of the Rio Grande. Then Mudpie’s birthday comes up, for which Mexican is the desired course, and Tacubaya the desired destination. Two things on the menu catch my glance: churros and taco de lengua (beef tongue taco). Heck, any tongue is worth a try.

    Once you’re there, you can’t just get one thing, especially when each taco is the size of a tea saucer. So we each opt for two soft tacos and share one sweet potato puree (camote).

    Camote (sweet potato puree, left) - $4.25, and frioles pintos (refried bean, right) - $2.95

    taco de lengua ($3.55) and taco al pastor ($3.55)

    Turns out the beef tongue is less chewy than expected, rather too soft, like a beef-flavored gelatin cube, but its accompanying tomatillo salsa brings in a refreshing limey zest.

    taco de asada ($3.55) and taco al pastor ($3.55)

    Mudpie thoroughly enjoys the taco de asada, grilled beef cubes with salsa roja, onions and cilantro, and we both feel good about the adobo-smothered crumbly chunks of spit-roasted pork topped with avocado salsa, labelled taco al pastor. Thumbs up for no cheese in tacos. The only setback is two thick corn flour tortillas that feel almost undercooked and a bit too soggy. Meanwhile, the sweet potato puree is a creamy dream.

    On our return for dinner, the hot pink wall enclosure is packed to the door, patrons sitting elbow to elbow, and dishes take four times longer to reach our table. But the wait is worth it, at least for our respective choice.

    Mudpie’s $5.50 miniature sope de chorizo y papas is a ripoff to me but a smile to Mudpie. The combination of mushy refried black bean, crumbly chorizo, fried potato, a mildly sour crema Mexicana, zesty feta-like cotija cheese, pickled jalapeno and diced carrot boasts wholesome Mexicanness, compactified in fewer than ten conservative bites.

    Torta al pastor - $7.50

    On the other side of the table, my voluptuous torta al pastor, spit-roasted pork with avocado sandwiched in a fresh, toasty, buttery bread, completes my night. Mudpie shrugs off, not too impressed by its lack of vegetable and thinks that the sope is better.

    Churros - $5.25

    We sweeten things up with three churro sticks, faintly cinnamon-flavored with a sandy coat of brown sugar crystals. The sticks are dense but light and all around crispy, though I wish they serve them with hot chocolate, the way they do it in Spain.

    In the end, I’m glad I have a good reunion with Mexican food. Some might say it was only Tex-Mex, not real Mexican, during those few years of first impressions, or maybe the more upscale taqueria makes it better. Maybe it’s a different expectation. But overall, Tacubaya gives me some surprises: 1. the Fourth Street Shopping area, and 2. beef tongue is more tender than duck tongue (maybe it’s the acid from the tomatillo).

    Address: Tacubaya (in the 4th Street shopping area)
    1788 4th Street
    Berkeley, CA 94710-1711
    (510) 525-5160

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