Soul searching is a very complex task that is often boiled down to “Only you can do this for you”.  The journey takes many forms and no two experiences are the same.  Some find life’s meaning through meditation, others through exercise.  Here at Living Gourmet, we recently went on a soul searching experience and have done our best to record our findings below.  Taking some advice from these guys our particular method of divination was an exploration of the taco.  These are not your average Taco Bell tacos, or even the elusive left-over Taco Bell taco(because really, if they don’t get eaten the first time, who is going to keep it around to let it age).  These are your true authentic tacos that we liberated from some local taquerias.

We visited two places on our journey, Rancho Grande in Pleasanton, CA  and Taco Azteca in Dublin, CA

Rancho Grande is you stereotypical taqueria: the menu is in two languages and the pictures have Spanish captions, Radio Español is blaring over the old speakers and they serve more flavors of Fanta than Coke.  It also passes the Living Gourmet Litmus test for Cultural Foods; if the people whose culture the food comes from eat there, you know it is good.  Based on looks alone, this place should serve good food.  The Living Gourmet Executive Staff (one of who you know, the other is hiding in the shadows, secretly controlling the operations MUWHAHAHAHAAHA) ordered two tacos here: the grilled chicken taco and the BBQ pork taco.  For the record, each of these has a Spanish name, although neither of us wanted to butcher the language by attempting them.  At $1.85 a piece, we weren’t quite sure what we were going to get.  This falls into the grey area in taco pricing where it isn’t obvious if you are going to get a low price on a good taco or an overpriced wanna-be taco.  Fortunately, we got the former.  Both tacos were delicious and came with a hidden, but very tasty surprise.  In the tacos, there were grilled onions which went very nicely with meal.

In addition to the tacos, the remainder of the meal was good.  Chips are complimentary if you spent more than $5, so if you bring a friend they are free.  While we only had one each, if would be very easy for one moderately hungry person to eat three of these tasty snacks.  While it was no Pleasanton Hotel, there was a certain charm to the place.  It had just enough grime to feel right.  We both gave it 3 out of 5 stars in terms of an overall experience.

Next, we wanted to try a different kind of taco experience.  We wanted a place a little more, shall we say, experimental in their approach to tacos.  We decided on Taco Azteca, which traded in the Spanish music for one of the best decorated Mexican restaurants I’ve ever been in.  In lieu of scientific consistency, we ordered the Chili Colorado taco and the Carnitas taco.  With two tacos and a drink coming in at just over $8, we were expecting something special.  Chips and salsa were free, which was nice, at the restaurant itself was spectacular, but the tacos were found wanting.  The Chili Colorado drowned out the beef flavor leaving us with a slightly disappointed and reaching for our drinks.  The carnitas was boring.  Not bad, but it just lacked in the something special that made you want to take that next bite, nothing justified the jump in price.  We decided that they would only get 2 stars out of 5.

Before you decide to hunt us down and correct our erroneous conclusions, hear us out.  We spent a single afternoon going to these two places, trying a grand total of 4 tacos, two sodas, a basket of chips and some napkins.  You could go into either restaurant and order something different on the menu for a month and still not have tried everything.  What I’m trying to say is the easiest way to find a hidden gem of a Mexican restaurant it to go out and try a bunch. You will find your favorite little hole in the wall and the place that does them just right.

But neither of us think we have found our favorite little hole in the wall Mexican food place yet – so this summer when the Executive staff of Living Gourmet get back together (we run the biz virtually) we will try a few more of the TriValley Mexican holes in the wall to see if we can find our 5 out of 5 stars!  So if you have a suggestion of a place we should try let us know and sometime this summer we’ll pick a few and check them out.

One of the staff had an opportunity to try the fish tacos at the Lodi Beer Company the other day (I know not even close to the tri valley) but they were very good – 3 fish tacos for $10.50 – not worth the 2 hour drive in traffic, but if you are going that way – the Lodi Beer Company and their fish tacos were a good find.