Sometimes these battles aren't fair. Sometimes they're political in nature, meant to further an ax we as food snobs have to grind. This is one of those battles.
Recently, on the way back from lunch, I heard a co-worker exulting about the existence of a 39¢ taco at Del Taco.
"Is it any good?" I enquired.
"Who cares if it's good? It's 39¢!" he replied.
Well, I care if it's good. Cheap eats are worthwhile only if they're also good eats. I'd never been to Del Taco before (yes, seriously) and so as I was expounding about Tacos El Chavito to this colleague, Battle Cheap-Ass Tacos was born.
For those of you who have strict Gustavo filtering turned on, Tacos El Chavito is a beloved taco truck that parks in Huntington Beach, just west of the intersection of Slater and Beach in one of Surf City's less picturesque neighborhoods. It is beloved because it sells two tacos for a dollar and gives out pineapple drink free with a purchase, just for the asking.
On a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we parked the car and headed up the uneven sidewalk to their weekend perch at the top of Queens Lane. Families stood in a short line. Every now and then, a head would poke out of the window and call out an order. "Dos de tripas y una torta de asada," called the disentrucked head, as someone headed over to pick up and dress their tacos.
My family and I ordered five pairs of tacos (tacos come in pairs; I don't think you can order them individually without a lot of weird looks) and received two large cups of agua de piña. Two asada, two chicken, two cabeza, two carnitas and two adobada (al pastor), each dressed with cilantro, onion and salsa, with a pile of radishes and a pickled jalapeño in the middle.
I will say this: they are the finest fifty-cent tacos there are in OC. They are worth more than fifty cents. The tortillas are small, yes, but there's a surprising amount of meat on those tacos. Of the ones we tried, the cabeza were the best, followed by the carnitas or the carne asada. The salsa, a tomatillo-and-I-think-serrano blend, has a little smokiness and isn't so hot it hijacks the taco. The pineapple drink is sticky and extremely sweet; it attracts flies, but it goes down easily after the tacos.
The next day, I headed out to pop my Del Taco cherry. I'm sure that there are things on the menu more interesting than plain ol' tacos--the fans of the Food Frenzy Facebook page have been taking me to task--but the assignment was cheap-ass tacos.
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I have to say, they were exactly what I was expecting: a fried taco shell à la Old El Paso with a small spoonful of some kind of seasoned beef, a little bit of shredded yellow cheese and a handful of shredded iceberg lettuce. Packets of salsa were on the counter for the taking.
I'm not going to say it was bad, because frankly every now and then I like the Taco Bell type of crispy taco, but there's flatly no comparison to Tacos El Chavito, and were I in the unenviable position of having two dollars for lunch, I'd sooner eat four tacos from El Chavito than five tacos from Del Taco.
Tacos El Chavito parks on Morgan Lane half a block south of Slater Avenue from Monday to Friday, and on Queens Lane one block north of Slater Avenue. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Del Taco is everywhere, but the closest to Tacos El Chavito is at the corner of Slater Avenue and Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach.