and the top taco award goes to…

January 5, 2010

After having spent six years in London wishing and hoping for some good Mexican food, now in California I’m running into as many taco places as I did pubs.  And I’ve tried a lot of them.  I’ll limit this list to the chain restaurants, not just because you can find most of them all over California and beyond, but also because they’re actually surprisingly good.  All of them come with a salsa bar as standard.  I’ll start from the bottom up.

In third place, my taco temptation is Chipotle.
I like Chipotle’s clean, modern look and overall lack of fiesta theme that all too many Mexican restaurants succumb to.  Decent veggie options here, including the tortilla-free burrito bowl in case you’re watching your weight (or your gluten).  The website’s pretty impressive, too.

Oh, but who am I trying to fool?  My taco number two goes to Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, with a decor as Monterey Jack cheesy as you can get.  They have a grilled portobello and poblano “gourmet taco” that comes with the all-important corn – not flour – tortilla.  My only beef (or should I say tofu?) with Rubio’s is that they use extra-tick tortillas.  It’s just a bit OTT.

Which brings me to my newest and coolest discovery, Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill.  When I ordered my two-taco combo plate made with grilled veggies, I was a little worried about how little I would get and how much it would cost – $5.99 that, believe it or not, is expensive in taco territory.  But when my plate was delivered (yes, you get table service here), with real plates and cutlery, no less – I was staring down at a massive meal of two over-flowing corn tortillas per taco, a nice helping of non-oily tortilla chips, and the kind of red rice and beans you’d find at a restaurant, not a fast-food joint.

Sharky’s bites on every point: organic rice and beans (served without cheese just for asking), ambience, price, and, most importantly for our purpose, the choice of either grilled veggies or tofu in almost every menu category.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so: the people sitting next to my table on Saturday were at the same table when I returned on Monday.  Amigos, Sharky’s has shaken up my world.

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