Tuesday, November 16, 2010

El Paisa Mexican Grill (25th & Imperial in Logan)

El Paisa Mexican Grill
As any local taco freak will tell you, when you've found your way to the intersection of 25th and Imperial (whether by accident or by design) you have pretty much arrived in taco vahalla, with several of the most noteworthy taco spots in town well within spitting distance. Right on the corner, one of the neighborhood's highest signposts hypes "the best tacos in town" like a lightning rod, but the actual building is so far recessed from the street behind its deck and parking lot that it's easy to miss. And that would be a shame for sure. 

Machaca torta to go!
I'd been putting off a visit to El Paisa for some time and made a point of grabbing something from their drive-through one recent morning, even though I'd already had breakfast. My machaca torta was great - the grilled bun overflowing with the "Mexican scramble" of onion, green peppers, shredded beef and egg topped with hearty guacamole and melty cheese, with pickled jalapeños on the side. The accompanying fries were still crispy at lunchtime (even if the bottom of the sandwich wasn't), and it got me thinking I should go back to sample something else, and soon.

Carne Asada Fries
Walking into El Paisa, it's impossible not to notice their wood-fired grill, and this confirmed that carne asada fries would be my next order. The ordén chico was more than I could eat after the complementary cup of beans, chips and salsa, and it took a whole large horchata to wash down what I managed to finish. That's not to say it wasn't the best plate of fries I'd had in a long while, though. More heavily seasoned than the typical, grey takeout equivalent that too many San Diegans have come to accept, El Paisa's carne asada is more of a homestyle recipe. It appears to be a dry rub, and it has some picante bite of its own, so be advised before you pour that red sauce! All the condiments you expect in the most absurdly decadent of taco shop standards are included, and in ample quantities: the guacamole is creamy and flavorful, not watery; the cheese, orange and oozy; the crema, sour. I still haven't figured out how a person is supposed to eat a plate of carne asada fries besides awkwardly with a fork, but I kept doing it anyway - even though the fries this visit were not nearly as crispy as the ones that had come with my torta.

Mini tacos: al pastor y buche
Now I know what you're wondering at this point - when is he gonna get to the TACOS? Well, that's one area where I am unlikely to disappoint. El Paisa serves two sizes of tacos - regular (Tijuana style "minis") and medio (which cost about a third more and are at least twice the size of the small ones). Unless your appetite is light or you came for a taco sampler, you should probably go big. The selection of meats is extensive and includes most of the classic beef, pork and chicken options as well as a few of the organ meats that I think of as the real measure of a taqueria. 

Tacos medios de buche y al pastor
I've raved about some tacos al pastor in the past, but El Paisa's are really superlative and arguably lives up to their claim of "best tacos in town"... the layering of flavors in the spice rub is sublime - pure porky bliss folded up in a corn tortilla, with nary a trace of the glowing orange achiote oil that one expects from the spit-roasted swine. There are few pleasures this great to be experienced for less than two dollars. Cabeza and buche were coarse-chopped and mouth-watering, savory to the point of seeming too salty when they hit the tongue but giving way to succulence with each successive chew. The sweet and thick tomatillo-based green sauce also helped tame the salty bite, which had me craving tequila.

One thing that I shouldn't neglect to mention is the service factor: El Paisa has a faithful clientele, and it's not only for their consistently high quality. In an increasingly self-serve taco scene, El Paisa is run much more like a restaurant, and even if things get a little crazy at peak hours, you definitely feel like your five dollar lunch business is appreciated! It's great places and dining experiences like this that keep me excited about tacos, even as my list of "must reviews" keeps growing. 

Tacos El Paisa on Urbanspoon


  1. Taco Taster you have certainly set my dining plans for the weekend in concrete!

  2. Much obliged, stranger. I'm told I can be quite persuasive on a good day, especially on a full stomach!