What The Hell Are You Eating?

Las Brasas September 2, 2008

Filed under: tacos — whatthehellareyoueating @ 5:30 pm
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One thing I’ve noticed since I began my quest to find Tucson’s best taco is the sheer magnitude of places to find one.  From friends and family to roach coaches to well established restaurants there are myriad choices.  I’ve had many since I started searching that I didn’t even bother noting or even mentioning to friends or on this site.  I’ve come to find that though there are many tacos in Tucson there may be even fewer than I thought that deserve consideration.

So it is with great joy that I reviews Las Brasas, one of the few that merit high praise thus far.  Las Brasas is located at 2928 E 22nd Street between Tucson and Country Club.  It is fairly inconspicuous, tucked away in a recessed strip mall with a furniture store but I hope to sing its praise loudly enough for more to notice.  The decor inside is not complicated.  There are pictures on the wall depicting both Native Americans and turn of the century Mexicans plus a few “artifacts” like a tomahawk and some kind of bow and arrow.  The tables in the two small rooms are made of large sections of wood.  Two giant slabs make up each table.  The chairs are nice as well, constructed entirely of blocky hunks of wood.  It was old timey and rustic, two indicators, when present in a restaurant, that undoubtedly mean you will be eating meat.

Las Brasas delivers on that promise.  As you approach the counter to order, you can see, hear, smell, feel, almost taste the meat cooking on an open mesquite grill not five feet away.  One could almost be distracted from ordering were one of the cooks to throw a nice piece of flank steak on the grill.  Most, if not all, the meals are under ten dollars.  They had the standard combination plates, burros, tortas, red and green chile plates as well as tacos.  I was after tacos.

Las Brasas offers Carne Asada, Pollo Asada, Cabeza, Chicharron, Birria, Barbacoa, and Adobado (pork) and you can order a taco, burro or torta with any of them.  Because of my insane search to find the best taco in Tucson I always go taco.  The first night I ordered a carne asada, chicharron, adobado, and a cabeza.  All tacos are 1.58 and with my Sonoran dog and pop, I came out around ten bucks.  The Sonoran dog was not the best I’ve ever had, I’m still leaning toward BK’s on that one but my research is hardly extensive.  It seemed to be missing something.  I think the actual wiener might have been too skinny, marking a second instance wherein wiener girth is important.  Anyway, the tacos.  The cabeza was passable, though I’m learning that it isn’t my favorite meat in the world.  The adobado was less like al pastor and more like carne asada with lean cuts of pork, it was good but overshadowed by both the carne asada and the chicharron.  The carne asada was soft and tender.  It had the added benefit of being grilled instead of fried up with lard and such.  After the first bite I got the feeling that I could eat many multiple carne asada tacos, multiple times a week.  I’m guessing if I was really hungry, after a hike or something, I could drop ten to fifteen no problem.  They were of some other higher quality than most carne asadas I’ve ever tasted.  Yet somehow I preferred the chicharron.  Most chicharron that I’ve encountered is sort of stiff and crunchy, I have always kind of got the feeling like it was something I wasn’t supposed to be eating.  However, at Las Brasas, the chicharron tacos were full of semi fatty pieces of pork grilled then crisped on the outside giving it the most wonderful taste and texture you could possibly want out of a bite of meat.  It’s somewhere between bacon and really good pork chops.  They have a much stronger flavor than the carne asada. I wouldn’t dare eat them in the number or frequency in which I would consume the carne asada but I can’t imagine going to Las Brasas without picking one up.

Cal had a pollo asado and a barbacoa taco.  He said he’d had better barbacoa but the chicken taco was delicious.  He got a combo plate that came with rice and beans.  On a second occasion I did the same.  We were both disappointed with the rice in particular, it is sort of soaking in some kind of broth and really soupy.  Conceptually, I didn’t get it.  It didn’t really taste very good either.  Cal echoed my statement adding that he’d had better beans.  I liked the beans however, especially when mixed with pickled onions from the condiment bar that also features, cabbage, onion and cilantro, a couple of different kinds of fresh salsa and bottled hot sauces.  Henry had the green chile plate which he went after with the enthusiasm of a non roster invitee to training camp.

A second trip with Sean on the weekend showed Las Brasas as a busier restaurant than it seemed when I was there earlier in the week.  There were people popping in picking up large family orders for the duration of our dinner and I could tell there were a lot of regular customers.  I’ll be counting myself among them for many years to come.  I give Las Brasas 9 of the best carne asada tacos I’ve ever eaten.

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El Sur May 16, 2008

Filed under: Mexican,tacos — whatthehellareyoueating @ 1:29 pm
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I checked out El Sur at the behest of Cathy.  It’s at 22nd and Craycroft in a renovated house which lends it a certain charm.  I had driven by many times and been intrigued but never gave it a shot.  Cal and I met Cathy and Matt there and were also promptly joined by Colin who sat at a weird angle at the table and made me look into his fake eye while he gulped Dos Equis.  Cathy and Matt same sided and ordered the exact same thing, which in restaurant people watching terms is the “double whammy.”

Same siders  they’re into it.

I had heard so much hype from my fellow companions that I wasn’t sure if I was even going to like El Sur.  But it turns out that you can forgo Public Enemy’s sage advice and believe the hype on El Sur.  It’s got a wide range of dishes, from chicarron to cabeza, as well as your standbys.  I went a la carte on them ordering a carne asada burro, a cabeza taco, and a chicarron enchilada.  The carne asada was perfect, well seasoned and sans fatty pieces of grizzled up steak (Thanks a lot, Nico’s).  The  cabeza taco came topped with cabbage, so much so that it made the taco impossible to eat with my hand.  I had to eat it with a fork, nobody wants to eat tacos with a fork.  The chicarron was delicious (if you don’t know what chicharron is it’s fried pork skin) but didn’t really work in an enchilada.  Cal had some sort of carne asada platter that came with rice beans and extra tortillas.  He raved about it as he always does.  At first I thought Cal just liked everything he ate but I’m starting to suspect now that he just orders well.  He also demanded a cheese crisp as he is wont to do and was rewarded with a green chile and chicken combo that was neither soggy nor burnt though still somehow lacking real punch.  Cathy and Matt’s carnitas seemed more akin to chili verde.  I’m actually going to call El Sur out on this one and say they should change the name on the menu.  Carnitas should be roasted at some point, or the skin should be crisped in some way.  But I don’t want to disparage El Sur too much, the dish Cathy and Matt ordered was tasty, I just think it should’ve been called chile verde.  Cathy and Matt had also received an order of guacamole before Cal and I arrived.  It was rich and creamy, they avocados are supposed to be.  It was also just slopped on a plate the way guacamole should be.

I also have to mention the prices and the service.  El Sur is fucking cheap.  I didn’t see an entre over ten dollars and I think they may have capped out at 8.50 for shrimp fajitas.  Shrimp fajitas are easily running you double that anywhere else.  Though I can’t vouch for their size or deliciousness, based on what I ate, they gotta be pretty good.  I think it worth mentioning as well that Matt’s horchata came with free refills. The service was impeccable as well.  While we may have encoutered our best individual sever at Kingfisher, the best overall service we’ve ever received was at El Sur.  At one point Cathy dropped her fork and before it could even stop bounching around a server was at her side with a new one.

I was pretty impressed with El Sur, I’m going to give it 8 and a half dropped forks (forks dropped because food tastes so good).  As for our vegetarian friends, I’m afraid they may want to skip this one.  There’s plenty of other good Mexican restaurants with better meatless options.

Dorks on the ‘net:

“The food is great, especially anything with Chicken.” – Eric D.

“John’s good-sized chimi…” – Tucson Weekly

“I just prefer the thinner ones.” – Tucsontravlero