Archive

Mexican

Ok – so I haven’t had much to say lately, mainly because I’ve been working a ton and haven’t had much time to hit a lot of new places.  Worse than that, the ones I’ve tried have been definitely on the disappointing side, especially since a couple have actually been close to being good.  In both cases, I had a very promising first experience but on the second trip was seriously let down.

Because I hate to trash some obscure little restaurant which, for all I know, I just caught on a bad day, I’m not going to name names, but the first one was a Mexican place on Railroad Avenue in Pittsburg (and that doesn’t narrow it down really at all).

Anyway, my first time in I had a gordita, which was good, and my son had a pastor sandwich which was excellent and made me wish I had gotten that instead.

Everything about this sandwich was great – bread, meat, just right.  (The price was reasonable at $5.99 but no steal.)

So, when I was back in Pittsburg last week I thought I’d give it another shot.  Now, I really love pupusas and so I decided to go for the pupusa, rice and beans plate which, at $3.95 seemed like it would make a fine lunch.

So, to be fair, the pupusa and the ensalada were decent enough – nothing special but one might reasonably ask what one wants from a $3.95 lunch these days?  Well, the problem was that the rice and beans weren’t hot – they were barely even warm.  (As you can see in the picture, the cheese wasn’t melting even a bit.)

Cross it off the list.

My next disappointment was at a cavernous but promising-looking Salvadoran place which opened not too long ago in Concord.  Here, on my first visit, I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of pupusas (revueltas) which were really an excellent lunch at $2.25 each.

So far so good.  I stopped back by there earlier this week, looking forward to enjoying some Salvadoran tamales but instead faced the crushing disappointment of 2 mushy, over-steamed, disintegrating, poor-excuses for same.

To top it off, I encountered a large chunk of chicken bone halfway through the second one.

Cross that place off the list as well.

(Actually, I might go back again, but just for the pupas.)

PS If you don’t know what a pupusa is – and I can’t imagine that being the case with yougo here.

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I’ve been up in Martinez a lot lately, since I have several clients buying homes there at the moment. I was over there today around lunch time, scheduled to be back in the office for a 1:30 appointment and needed a quick bite for lunch.  Since I was heading up Pacheco Blvd, past the Shell Refinery, the obvious choice was the La Primavera Restaurant and Lunch Truck.

The truck is regularly (as in every day) parked in the lot of Bob’s Ace Truckbox Center, across the street from and just south of the refinery.  It’s got a couple of picnic tables alongside it, so you don’t have to eat in the front seat of your car if you’re not getting things to go.

The menu’s got the usual taco truck fare – tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, etc – as well as the typical meats.  The prices are quite reasonable, with the tacos at $1.25 each and regular burritos at $3.75-$4.50, depending on the filling.  Super burritos are $5.50+ and there are a few other items not so typical for a taco truck, such as enchiladas and tostadas.

Since it was really hot and I had work to do, I got my regular al pastor burrito to go and headed back to the office.

As you can see, compared to my keyboard, the regular burrito is a good size for lunch – filling but not coma-inducing.  (And, by the way, did you recognize that keyboard as one which started life attached to an SGI O2 workstation?)

Unwrapped.

If it was in East Oakland, I probably wouldn’t be writing about this truck, but it’s in Martinez and it’s the only taco truck (or, at least the only taco truck I know of) in town.  It serves a perfectly acceptable burrito – not great, but tasty enough. (Perhaps a little light on the meat – but what do you really expect for $3.75?)

Anyway, all in all, La Primavera is a fine place to stop and grab something quick, cheap and decent to go or, if you’re in the mood, to kick back there in the parking lot, enjoy your meal and admire the view.

The address of Bob’s Ace Truckbox Center is:

3550 Pacheco Blvd
Martinez, CA

It’s always nice to get something a little different – especially when it comes to Mexican.  Don’t get me wrong – I can eat burritos, tacos, tortas and quesadillas, etc all day long, but sometimes mixing it up a bit really works.

Recently I was heading down Monument Blvd, returning from  a Costco run and decided that a torta would be in order.  Now, anyone who has driven along Monument knows that choosing a Mexican restaurant there can be a daunting task, given the number of very credible options which the street offers.  In this case, however, I opted for a Mexican market I know with a decent lunch counter attached – but when I got there, the restaurant section was closed.

It was then that I noticed just a few storefronts down in the same strip mall (right next to the Afghan Market) the Pancho Villa Birrieria y Carnitas (as the sign out front says, or Birrieria y Barbacoa, as the card says – you choose).

I have to say that the strip mall itself appears a bit on the seedy and ill-kept side, but the restaurant is bright and appears to be very clean.  Even better, the employees (proprietors?) are friendly and enthusiastic.  They seem honestly glad you’re there and really want you to enjoy your meal.

The menu transcends the usual burritos-tacos-tortas-enchiladas-chile rellenos choices. Similarly, the selection of meats is not the typical asada, al pastor, cabeza, etc.

Instead the menu offers goat in several forms and lamb. Other items include quesadillas with huitlacoche (“corn smut”) or flores de calabaza (squash blossoms), huaraches (no, not the sandals), machitos (“ingredients in machito include the internal organs of the kid goat and the goat’s intestines used to wrap and tie the resulting mixture”) tlacoyos, and lots more.

I opted for the goat, which I really enjoyed.

The order comes with a pile of really excellent home-made corn tortillas – almost good enough to be a meal in themselves.

I liked the place enough to have been back several times.  I’ve had pupusas there, which were good but not outstanding.

Most recently, however, I had a borrego (lamb) burrito which was, in fact, outstanding. It was a monumental thing, loaded with meat. The lamb itself was very flavorful and the rest of the ingredients complemented, rather than overwhelmed, it.

I still need to get back to try all of the various unknown (to me) items on the menu. (I expect there to be another posting or two on this place in the future.)

By the way, I’m told that on weekends (and Fridays?) after 5 PM they have $1 tacos – yet another reason to go back.

Pancho Villa Birrieria
1500 Monument Blvd
Ste F13
Concord, CA 94518

Richmond’s 23rd St runs north from the old downtown’s main drag, ending at San Pablo Avenue. It is a border street, separating the more “desirable” (but still quite modest) “North and East” neighborhood from the grittier “North and West.”

The street is lined with a dense profusion of small businesses, many of them restaurants. Towards the southern end, these are mainly Mexican, but as you move north, passing Richmond High, there is more of a mix, (including a Laotian spot which I’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t made it to yet). Overall, it’s one of those streets whose restaurants you could spend a good year blogging over without repeating yourself (especially if you are as lackadaisical a poster as I am).

Anyway, when I’m over that way, as I often am, I’ll stop at my favorite non-vehicular taco truck, at the corner of 23rd and Esmond.

El Tapatio, which at first glance might deceive you, is actually a traditional sit-down Mexican restaurant with a faux taco truck hanging off the side.  I’ve never actually eaten inside, preferring the excellent and super-cheap offerings of the “truck.”


Everything I’ve had here has been a least very good, but I’m most partial to the burrito al pastor. The carnitas and asada are good too, but, to be honest, I most recently had the cabeza and thought it was a little bland.

(The tacos are also an excellent option here. I have not, however, tried the tortas since typically these are tough to eat in the car without ending up with half of it down the front of your shirt and they don’t travel as well as a burrito if you’re doing take-out.)


The prices are awesome. At $3.00, the regular burrito (rice, beans and whatever filling you order) strains the stomach. The $4.00 super burrito is also a bargain, although I find that all that guacamole and stuff is a distraction from what the burrito is all about – ie, the meat.

Here’s the cabeza burrito that I picked up a few days ago. (That day I brought home dinner for myself, my wife, 2 of my kids and 2 of their friends and the whole meal didn’t even set me back $20.00!)

The truck is open 24 hours a day – so if you’re desperate for a burrito at, say, 3:00 AM, head on down there. Personally, though, I’m never that desperate. While 23rd is a bustling street during daylight and I’m pretty comfortable there, after dark – and especially in the middle of the night – well, I’d just have to be really hungry.

(And, correct me if I’m wrong – but isn’t that a bullet hole there in the side of the truck? Hopefully it was just a stray…)

El Tapatio
910 23rd St
Richmond, CA 94804
(510) 215-6999

If you find yourself driving down Clayton Rd, about half-way between downtown Concord and the Clayton border you will pass the Taqueria Los Gallos Express #4, one of the seeming dozens of Mexican restaurants along that 6 mile stretch of strip malls and condominiums.

Los Gallos Express is part of a small local chain (4 stores).  While I don’t say that its has the best Mexican food to be found in Concord, I still often stop there if I’m in the neighborhood at lunch or dinner time, as I was a few days ago.

To digress a bit (and not to whine) – many, if not most, of my meals out are in the course of an often very long work day, during the course of which I may find myself pretty much anywhere in the East Bay.  Sometimes just having the chance to take a break in a pleasant environment, turn off my phone and relax for 15 minutes or a half hour is almost as important as the quality of the food I’m served.

Los Gallos fits that bill perfectly – it’s comfortable, the staff is friendly without being intrusive and the crowd appears to be mainly neighborhood folks, probably from the condos and town homes that lie directly to the southwest or the seemingly-endless subdivisions of 50’s and 60’s ranchers which make up much of central Concord to the north and east.  Overall, it’s a nice place to sit for a bit and decompress.

Don’t misunderstand – the food at Los Gallos is fine, although the real stand-out is the chips and salsa bar. They offer unlimited baskets of excellent (and perhaps made-on-premises?) chips and a great spread of various salsas, peppers, roasted onions etc, asking only that you “don’t waste” them. (I especially like the grilled jalapenos.)

I had my usual – the chile relleno plate

At $5.75, like everything else about this place, not the best deal in the world, but good and comfortable.

Note: Not to imply that any of my visitors are unlettered enough to need the reference in the title explained, but in the event you don’t have your copy at hand and want to read it again, click here.