Monday, October 10, 2011


La Cocinita Cafe #2
701 West Rhapsody
(at West Avenue)

In the last year or so, I've more or less given up on finding any really good tacos in Loopland. Every place I've tried in that great abysmal swath of subdivision and traffic jam has disappointed. A couple of places managed a rating of three and a half chili peppers out of five for the food, but one had lousy service and the other is so far out that I just never go there if I can help it. The rest of the places I've tried kind of suck for air.

But this morning, when my friend Rick picked me up at the auto-repair shop to take me home, he mentioned having spotted another taquería just off West Avenue, and we decided to try it. We still live in hope of finding someplace, anyplace, in the general area of his house where we can find good breakfast tacos. Alas, this is not that place.

Tucked into a small space adjoining a convenience store at the intersection of Rhapsody and West, La Cocinita #2 has the appearance of a promising mom-and-pop operation. It is intimately small, having a square dining area stocked with a dozen or so tables, yet without a sense of overcrowding. This, despite the fact that there were quite a few people in the place, even though it was hardly prime breakfast hours. The décor is unassuming, unabashed taquería-normal, except for two posters on the wall touting sports teams from Texas A&M University. (I know that, as an alumni of The (Other) University, I should disparage Aggies as vaguely second rate, but I've never been able to summon anything more than a low level of ennui about either school, usually expressed, if at all, in sarcasm. Perhaps not surprisingly, some people take umbrage at that.)

I decided to vary my standard order. I normally will order two chilaquile tacos when trying a new place, or one chilaquile taco and one machacado. The latter option was foreclosed to me, as this restaurant doesn't offer machacado. Instead, I went with one chilaquile taco, on corn, and one fajita taco, on flour. Rick stuck to his usual breakfast of one fajita taco and one picadillo taco, both on flour.

After a brief and amusing conversation with the waitress about the nature of fajitas, and the difference between "fajitas" and "fajitas rancheras," we got our coffee and spent the interval in discussion of the past weekend's trifecta: a lost crown, a leaking roof, and a car in the shop.* Fortunately, the food came quickly, before I had a chance to get seriously depressed about everything going suddenly wrong in the world.

But the food, when it came, only added to the general feeling that I should be suffering from some sort of Carteresque malaise, and that there's something wrong with me, because I'm not. Maybe it was the joy that comes to the heart of a curmudgeon when he realizes he will get to complain about things. In this case, I get to complain about the food.

It was just boring. I mean just absolutely, unequivocally, unrelentingly boring. No panache whatsoever went into its preparation. Both the corn and flour tortillas were utterly unremarkable, and they were the best parts. The chilaquiles were barely edible. They were prepared using stale tostadas, tossed into the mix late in preparation, resulting in thick, chewy, unpleasant wads of soggy, over-large tortilla chips lightly coated with most of the things that are supposed to make chilaquiles enjoyable: egg, veggies, and cheese. (The seasonings were absent, or at least were not present in quantities sufficient to advertise their presence.) The overall result was as near an abomination as I've ever found in chilaquiles of this potosino style. 

Last city inspection: September 2011
8 demerits (pretty good)
The fajitas were nearly as bad. The meat was dry, almost completely unseasoned (!), and as tough as the toughest undernourished longhorn steer could make it. The peppers and onion were cut in huge slices, dosed with a little oil, and grilled for as little time as could be managed. None of the all-important flavours were allowed to come out in preparation. 

Even the picadillo was boring. It takes almost nothing — a few dashes of seasoning, maybe a few tiny chunks of potato — to make picadillo as perfect as it can hope to be, but that effort was not made. This was simply ground beef, grilled in its own juices and slapped into a tortilla. 

I don't know how long La Cocinita Cafe #2 has been around. If it were in my own neighbourhood, or anywhere inside the Loop for that matter, I'd say it wouldn't last a year. But being out there between the Loops, I guess it can survive. All those people that made it look so promising a venue have no convenient alternative to the generally low taco standards in Loopland. 
La Cocinita Cafe #2 on Urbanspoon
*and, just to make it worse, there wasn't any good soccer on TV. International weekend, you understand. Who can sit through Scotland v. Leichtenstein?

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