¡Viva la comida mexicana! (Sacramento)

Chile en nogada. Alas, not available in Sacramento restaurants (yet)


If a place isn't listed, either I haven't been there or I was there so long ago that the review would not be current.

In the interest of keeping things muy sencillo, I'm limiting things to what I normally order.

Panchito's El Tepeyac Cafe (CLOSED)

6835 Five Star Blvd, Rocklin

There were apparently a number of issues that needed to be ironed out, but foremost was that the location just didn't pack people in. So, pernicious exhaustion of funds seems to have done them in. So the only way to get a Hollenbeck is to make something similar myself or cruise down Highway 5 to East L.A. just like the old days.

This is a true scion of the famous El Tepeyac Cafe from East Los Angeles. The Burrito Angel heard me, somehow and now they're open for business, serving the same unique burritos that made them an icon in SoCal. The menu is almost the same as the Southern California location, except for one extra hot burrito, the Pancho's Nightmare. I was jonesing for a Hollenbeck so I have yet to see if its as incendiary as the menu claims. Perhaps next time I'll ask for a side of Pancho's five chili sauce, my way of gingerly sticking my toe into the water before diving in. 

So, I'd recommend the Hollenbeck, Machaca burrito and Taquitos with Guacamole first, just because they're signature El Tepeyac dishes. Everything else I've had there has been good, too - Okie burrito, Oscar, Manuel's Special (for four people IMHO).

Chando's Tacos
863 Arden Way, Sacramento

Chando's is just a little shack with a guy grilling and spinning the al pastor (adobada) machine in the front and a few outdoor tables along the side and in the back. Parking in their lot is scary or challenging. Habañero salsa normally available on request.

Tacos: abobada and carne asada.  Burritos: carne asada
Tortas: carne asada, adobada, and carnitas (but only on a good day; carnitas van vary)

The place should be easy to find - just look for a line in front of a shack on Arden way. You might need to park on the street, or wait for someone else to free up a space.

5063 24th Street, Sacramento
If you're eating there, just sit down and someone will bring you a menu. It's just a big room with funky old furniture that was never exactly luxurious. You might sit at a long table squeezed in next to total strangers, especially during weekends when they're serving barbacoa.

Quesadillas: huitlacoche (seasonal, for the adventurous), flor de calabaza (squash blossom!), hongos (mushroom), other.
Tacos: any. If you get the buche, be aware that the salsa might be hotter than the ordinary stuff.
Barbacoa (weekends only). I put this last because you can get the other stuff any time.
Aguas frescas. They make some great, interesting flavors from time to time, so you're not stuck with the usual horchata/jamaica/tamarindo.

Palenque Cocina Mexicana
2598 Alta Arden, Sacramento

This is the place to go when you want something different without going to a fancier, "sit down and order" type establishment. You can get pork cooked in banana leaves (they throw the leaves away - you don't eat them). You can dine on rich, savory Mexican soups. You can dine on... I don't know what else, since they often serve special plates, things they loved in Mexico that aren't served anywhere else.

They've had tortilla and poblano soups, but this is an area where they like to show off new recipes. If there's something different, try it. Like that poblano soup, made from fresh poblano chilis. Rich, with just a bit of heat with a good stock and spice base to back things up.

Palenque, the city, is a long way from here. So far that the food is completely different from the typical Mexican fare you'll find here in the North. It's the land of cochinita pibil instead of carnitas. Although they serve both these meats, go for the pibil. It's tender, marinated pork with a Yucatan spice mix, more fragrant than picante. If you want heat, they might have a bit of habañero salsa - also from the Mayan region.

Their taquitos are a more minimalist, street food take on the usual. Light, dusted with queso seco, a light snack instead of a heavy tube of fried masa in grease. Likewise for their other antojitos.

El Pollo Feliz
4717 Whitney Ave, Carmichael

Chicken. This is a no-brainer. They marinate the birds, then grill them over what smells like mesquite right in the parking lot. Buy them by the piece, get some sides and you've got a great meal. The dining area is now clean and comfortable, with more seating so eating there is a perfectly good option. They have other things, too - but try the chicken first.

Carniceria Familia Lopez Market. CLOSED. GONE. ADIOS.
4132 Manzanita Avenue, Carmichael, CA
This was the best place for tacos in the area. Alas, the Great Recession (heading for Depression #2) was more than they could endure.

Tacos and sopes: Great lengua, chile verde, chile colorado. Decent carnitas, OK carne asada.
Plates: the special plate is normally quite good, and authentically spiced. In other words, if you're not a chili head you might want to stick to tacos with the salsa on the side.

Taqueria y Carneceria 
San Juan
7850 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento
Another grocery store. Just walk to the back to place your order, grab a chair at a table and enjoy. They have a good salsa selection to try with your food, and you can head for the store for your very own bottle afterward. Pay at the register for everything.

Chicken: This is an alternate to El Pollo Feliz, although I'd give the Pollo the edge in flavor.
Frijoles: Extra tasty. Their beans have what appears to be bacon, along with sliced up bits of something that could be hot dogs. Maybe there's some chicharon in there, too.

Felipe's Mexican Restaurant 
7959 Auburn Blvd
.Citrus Heights

A neighborhood
institution, Felipe's serves
a mean chile verde plate. This is not comida muy autentico, but it tastes great and the staff is very friendly and helpful. Plates: chile verde. Yeah, I probably should try something else, even if it's just the chile colorado.

Taqueria El Portal
6209 Watt Avenue, North Highlands
The building looks like it needs some love. You may not get much either - these guys are pretty serious. However, the food is good and the place is definitely worth a visit. Maybe if you go often they'll see you as a regular and crack a smile or two.

Their tacos answer the question of just what is the maximum amount of meat you can pile on a tortilla. The sopes are mountainous too and the fried masa base has the right amount of crunch. The carne asada had the edge over the al pastor and carnitas on my last visit. Bold and beefy, just what the carnivore doctor ordered.

Puerto Vallarta Seafood Bar and Grill
1901 El Camino ave, Sacramento

Worst. Lighting. Ever. Harsh flourescent tubes douse the place in brilliant greenish glow. The good side is you really can see what's in your food. So, just enjoy the food and ignore the ambiance. The staff is friendly and the food interesting.

Good Mexican seafood. Haven't tried everything, but the mojarra frita was good, and the plate was reasonably priced.

They seem to get a bit crowded on weekends.

Taqueria Guadalajara Grill
417 Mace Blvd, Davis
One of the best outdoor patios in the area. Go inside, order, grab some chips, salsa and lime wedges, bring your drink and relax.

Tacos: cabeza (good, not great), chile verde (nice!), al pastor (tasty), chorizo (nicely made, not too greasy, better with a dash of lime) and carnitas (competent).
For some reason, they don't automatically dose the tacos with salsa. This is your job. Ditto for lime juice, so make sure you stock up with both limes and salsa before you head to your table.
Taqueria Los Compadres
2550 Fair Oaks Blvd, Sacramento

These guys have daily specials, a large menu and better yet, breakfasts. The chilaquiles aren't bad, either - and you can add meat if you're feeling carnivorous. Anything with carnitas in it should make you happy, and you can wash it down with a beer. 

They don't give you a very large container for chips, so you'll probably end up going back several times and wasting a few (or pigging out). The salsas are hit and miss, but there's usually a couple worth pouring on your food.
Todo un Poco

9080 Laguna Main St, Elk Grove
There's a fanatical crowd of people who absolutely rave about this place. I'm a big fan of the art on the walls, not so much for the food. Not that it's bland, bad or boring. It's not. Call me a crank, but the thrill factor often just doesn't justify the price. 

Sometimes the fusion thing works, sometimes it's just "Darn! I just paid how much for that?". No, these are not cheap taqueria prices. More upscale, more ambitious, more risky. 

I still haven't found the memorable, totally brilliant, inspired, mouth-blasting dish here. Not that I haven't tried. 

Still, the ambiance is good, the place is not just another branch of the typical Elk Grove Restaurants Inc. chain food, and where else can you get Mexican ingredients on a pizza?
Los Gallos Taqueria 
2990 Northgate Blvd, Sacramento
Although they have lots of hand-written specials (including mariscos), I wimped out and just went for the tacos.

Tacos: My favorites were lengua, al pastor and pollo asado. Carnitas in the middle, and a somewhat dry carne asada bringing up the rear. The carnitas could have a bit more flavor, but a couple of pours of hot salsa give it a needed kick.
Taqueria Garibaldi  
1841 Howe Ave, Sacramento

Very fast service, excellent chips, good salsas. Order at the window and your food might beat you to your table while you're getting your chips. They've got nice cold beer, too.

Torta: ahogada con carnitas. Brush bun with vinegary hot sauce, add carnitas, close bun, drown entire thing in salsa. Serve steaming on a big plate. 
Campechana: not the best I've ever had, but competent. Something light and cool for a hot day.

El Parian Taqueria

4834 Watt Ave, North Highlands

Run by the same folks as Taqueria Garibaldi. For some reason, things are a bit less crowded here. The food is not identical to Garibaldi - the al pastor seems better here; the tortas better at Garibaldi. The service here is usually friendlier, too. This is probably the best place along this strip of Watt Avenue, unless someone else has moved in that I haven't tried.

Dos Coyotes Border Cafe
1735 Arden Way Ste 230, Sacramento and elsewhere
Wait in line, order, get your drink, sit down. Give a unique name, unless you like getting someone else's food. You won't get chips until your meal arrives, although you can get all the salsa cups you want. Put a little in each cup for a taste, then go back for more of your favorites since the salsas aren't all of equal interest. The Folsom location has a great outdoor patio overlooking a natural area.

Burrito: Southwest, steak. Not the fancy one with all the fillers. This is the one, filled with grilled steak. I suppose the grilled chicken could be decent, too if you're bovine averse.

La Soga Taqueria
7233 East Parkway, Sacramento
Basic strip mall Mexican restaurant. Order at window, get chips and salsa, eat, leave. What could be simpler?
Tacos are good, too and they have all the usual suspects: carnitas, carne asada, chile verde, pollo, pollo asado, al pastor...  plus milanesa and buche. There are Maseca bags in the kitchen, so maybe they're not buying in their corn tortillas?

Sorry about the formatting. It looks like to get what I want, I'll have to code directly in HTML instead of trusting this treacherous text editor.