Saturday, August 8, 2009

Apparently There CAN Be Too Many Taco Stands

One of the maxims of life in SoCal is that there apparently cannot be too many Mexican food huts. Every town has a plethora of them. In San Diego county alone, there are over 100 different huts or chains ending with "-berto's" (like Bend's Rigoberto's). Howie at writes that,
Whether you grew up in San Diego or have only been here a short while, you have no doubt been exposed to the “Berto’s” phenomenon. Like the cheese on their potato rolled tacos, these late-night carne huts are heavily sprinkled throughout the city. They don a variety of different pre-fixes including: Adal-, Ai-, Al-, Ali-, Ei-, Fili-, Gual-, Ham-, Hil-, Hum-, Juan- Jil-, Noel-, Nol, Nor-, Ram-, Rigo-, Ro-, Rol-, Roy-, and Ru-. In addition to the last syllable “Berto’s” these San Diego Taqueria’s have several other attributes in common. They almost all have red and yellow exterior walls and signage, drive thru’s that seem to have been installed as an afterthought, and a logo of an oversized sombrero atop either a man or jalapeƱo with a mustache. They also offer many of the same San Diego-style Mexican food staples including the rolled taco (drenched in cheese and guacamole), the California Burrito (complete with french fries… inside the burrito), and, last but not least, the Carne Asada Burrito.
SoCal can support an apparently unlimited number of these cheerful places. Low-quality but filling food made from low-quality materials and sold at low, low prices is a winning formula.

And I've never seen one of these taco stand, "-berto's" or not, go out of business in SoCal. I witnessed plenty of other fast food places go out of business only to open a few weeks or months later as a Mexican food joint, and forever remain in business thereafter.

So it was with surprise when I saw that Rico's Tacos/Tacos Rico on 3rd was closed. Maybe it's been closed for a while, I haven't been able to get out much these past few months, but I marveled at the sight. Not out of schadenfreude, the taking of pleasure from the misfortunes of others, but the novelty. It's true that westside's Rigoberto's was shut down last year for dealing drugs out the drive-thru window, but it wasn't closed for more than a few weeks before Phoenixing from the ashes as Taco Salsa. (Kudos for avoiding the "-berto's" thing, but Taco Salsa strikes me as the kind of name you get when you saw apart some other restaurant's sign and stick together two of the words. Eminently practical but lacking any spark of originality. But since no one goes to a Mexican food hut for originality, that's a quibble.)

The current downturn which has hit Deschutes county so particularly hard has certainly closed plenty of restaurants, and the damage has not been limited to the high end. Rico's Tacos/Tacos Rico may have had a less-robust business model than your average hut. Maybe the owners had a family emergency. Or they might have been a dreadful place to eat. It would have to have been pretty bad even by Mexican fast food standards if the bean and cheese burrito I got from the Rigoberto's on 3rd is anything to go by: the thing tasted like motor oil yet they're still in business.

Whatever the reason, I was taken aback to see a taco shop shuttered. I'm questioning one of the bedrocks of my belief system: that there can never be too many taco stands.


  1. I did try Louie's once.

    See -- I wrote:

    I was almost going to write an entry saying that I have yet to have a bad meal in Bend, but last night's dinner at Longboard Louie's proved that not all meals will be great. I reckon the place is a favorite among locals--several of the guys who have been working here have mentioned it--but our experience wasn't so hot. The young woman working there was disinterested, and while not exactly hostile, she was nowhere near friendly. That's the kind of service I'm used to in SoCal, but not the kind I've found everywhere else I've eaten in Bend. The food was okay, not worth writing home about.

  2. "The young woman working there was disinterested, and while not exactly hostile, she was nowhere near friendly."

    If I'm in a fast-food place (not talking about fine-dining establishments here) I couldn't care less about "friendly" as long as the server isn't actually rude. I really don't want 15 minutes of perky, chirpy dialogue -- "How's your day going?" "Got anything fun planned for the weekend?" etc. etc. -- I just want to place my order, get my food and eat it.

    (And you do know, I hope, that the servers in the chain establishments like Starbucks are instructed to be perky and chirpy, so their "friendliness" is just a performance. I actually think they work from a script. I know I get asked the same "friendly" questions all the time.)

    I like the kind of service you get in NYC delis -- fast, efficient, no phony chit-chat, no bullshit. Obviously we have very different types of personalities.

    I don't like Mexican food much -- too heavy and greasy. Louie's is one of the few local Mexican places where the food doesn't make me want to barf. But I wouldn't recommend it for dinner. I like to drop in, grab a veggie burrito and a beer and eat it out on the patio. It's fast, cheap and pretty good. As for friendliness, if I need friendliness I've got two very affectionate dogs at home. And their friendliness is sincere, not a marketing gimmick.

  3. Oops. My bad. I thought you were talking about Rigoberto's.

  4. @Blackdog: Earlier today Mrs Elliott recommended LL's veggie burritos, so I reckon I'll give it another go. Not looking for a server to be my friend, just didn't appreciate the disinterest verging on overt hostility. She might-a been having a bad day.


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