Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Taco Fiesta (4920 University Ave)

There are basically two kinds of taco shop menus: the short kind, listing a variety of meats of fillings and the various ways they can be served (tacos, tostadas, etc.) and the huge kind, which lists every possible variation of the same basic ingredients in expansive detail, along with a long list of combo plates, specials and sides. My early memory is littered with images of red-on-yellow and yellow-on-red hand-painted script listing "flying saucers" and (gasp!) chingaderas. Whatever the size of the menu, most taco shops do a few specialties with more flair than the bulk of their menus. Insiders filter out all the filler and order the house favorites, avoiding the lesser dishes that are included only out of obligation. Order the wrong thing once, and it might sour you on ever returning to sample the good stuff!

Taco Fiesta in City Heights
Taco Fiesta is a "huge menu" taqueria that offers all the local favorites, from old-school crunchy chicken tacos to modern-day carne asada fries. I first stumbled upon Taco Fiesta at its Mission Gorge location years ago and had fond recollections of their tacos al pastor (a relative rarity in San Diego in those days), their "bucking bronco" logo, and their comical name (perhaps the corniest taco shop name I can recall) - so when I stumbled onto their City Heights location on University at Winona, I couldn't help but stop in for some tacos.

Tacos al Pastor
The tacos al pastor were as good as I remembered them. Overflowing with spice-rubbed pork and topped with finely chopped onion and cilantro, they are among the finest greasy indulgences I know. These were almost too lean, and could have been even juicier given how much meat was stacked on the soft, double-stacked white corn tortillas.

When I mentioned Taco Fiesta to a friend who lives nearby, he insisted that I return to try their carne asada fries, a San Diego favorite that I generally find questionable. Usually soggy, this heavier alternative to nachos is best ordered when drunk, in hopes the starch will help soak up residual booze. I did have fond memories of the chips at Taco Fiesta, though - they had been hot and crisp, made by someone who knew how to operate a fryer - so I took a chance and ordered a plate of the fries. The portion was huge, easily enough to fill three people with french fries, chunks of steak, sour cream, guacamole and refried beans. Visually, though, it was unappealing - a huge pile of grey-tinted carne adasa atop a heap of cheese and dressings over a bed of thick-cut fries that were not quite crispy, and undercooked in the middle. I picked at it (the guac was oversalted) and quickly gave up; my friend took the bulk of my portion home with him. I suspect the carne asada would have been better enjoyed in a burrito: the fries themselves were the chief disappointment.

Crunchy potato tacos!
Given that disappointment (and fry failure), I was very pleased with the potato tacos, crisp-fried tortillas filled with a seasoned soft potato filling. These are becoming popular as a meatless option at many local taco shops (though unless you consider yourself a "lardo-vegetarian," I advise you to inquire about what fat is used before ordering), often in rolled taco form. I prefer this folded variety of potato taco: the hard shell gives way to a soft and mildly spicy filling that is reminiscent of curry. This textural interplay is further enhanced by the cool snap of thin-sliced iceberg lettuce and finishes with a sharp sprinkling of hard cheese.

So what if they failed to sell me on carne asada fries, then. If the name says anything about the food (and I think it should), then Taco Fiesta can't be faulted for honesty - their tacos are really cause for celebration. Taco Fiesta on Urbanspoon

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