El Taco's bartender Cesar Hernandez.
Paul Wellman

It’s hard to fight the urge to abbreviate the alliteratively named El Taco Tequila Taqueria “TTT,” but after eating there you might be more apt to call it TNT, as much of the food is explosively flavored, starting with a hot salsa that is “singe your mouth for a month of Sundays” potent. Matthew Chrestenson, who co-owns both El Taco and Union Ale with brother Ben, put it this way about the spot, which has been open almost three months: “The concept of the taqueria was our first plan, but the Union Ale space was too big for it, so we waited. Our focus from the beginning was after the taco, and when we found the location with the liquor license, we decided to go after tequila. It’s like a taco truck with a tequila bar on the front.”

That focus on the taco is even more evident if you hanker after chips, salsa, rice, or beans, for you won’t get any of them at El Taco. “We want you to enjoy the tacos and not fill up on chips and salsa,” Chrestenson explained. “At most Mexican restaurants, you end up eating two baskets of chips, and when your food finally gets there, you’re not hungry.”

You need to go hungry to El Taco to sample the range of styles, from the more traditional (cerdo de pipián verde is a flavorful roasted pork shoulder in green-chili pumpkin-seed sauce) to the less so (pato con mole is duck in mole) to the exotic, like alligator (temporarily out of season), buffalo, and rattlesnake. “The steamed meats, the broiled meats, the simple sauces — they’re wonderful, but they’ve been done everywhere,” Chrestenson said. “So we’re introducing different cheeses, more developed sauces.” They even have three vegetarian options, not to mention guac, cheese quesadillas, a stuffed poblano relleno, and elote del mercado, which is super savory street-style corn on the cob, grilled and slathered with lime, chili-powder mayo, and Cotija cheese.

Just as the taqueria is expanding our notions of the taco (yes, that is tofu in one), it also hopes to teach us about tequila. “People know the hangover tequila, but don’t know the good stuff,” Chrestenson asserted. “Women, in particular, are usually, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ But if you give then a 100-percent agave tequila with a bit of agave nectar, that shot, when you get someone to try it … the results are tremendous.” In addition to a five-buck house margarita and a host of high-end tequilas (those come in a glass, not the plastic used for other drinks to ape the street-food feel), there are also refreshing agua fresca coctels, zippy with horchata (rice milk), tamarindo (tamarind), or fresa y melocotón (strawberry and peach).


Take a trip to Mexico one tortilla at a time at El Taco Tequila Taqueria, 14 East Cota Street, (805) 845-6226, eltacotequila.com.


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