I’ve traipsed the Alsatian countryside along the Route du vin. I’ve been to the festivals and had my strawberries, my salsas, my craft beers and my barbecue. I’ve had lobster in Maine, crawfish in New Orleans and Dungeness Crab on the Oregon Coast. In short I’ve eaten my way through the world.
Now, I’ve eaten my way through Downtown Oxnard, and taken the “Tour de Taco.”
After a long Monday, I joined three hungry friends to sample but a few of the 21 Mexican eateries within an eight-block radius in Downtown Oxnard.
Rarely does a press release come into my desk and wow me, but in promoting Oxnard’s journey through gustatory delight, Ruth Ballin described an informal survey she did of 40 taco enthusiasts who work and eat Downtown, the “culinary adventure” offered at those 21 eateries and, of course, their tacos, ranging in price from $1.15 to $4 each.
She captured my heart, or, rather my stomach, (although I guess, being a man, that was the path to my heart).
“Much like wine tasting goes from white to red, dry to sweet, the Downtown Oxnard Tour de Taco runs the spectrum from white (seafood), to blush (pork), and even to red (beef).”
With six locations — including taquerias and full service restaurants — highlighted by Ballin as the “clear favorites” in her informal survey, my friends and I decided to take the low-key approach.
That meant visits to Tacos La Placita, an unpresuming but popular taco stand at 437 S. C St., Pilar’s Café, a colorful eatery at 746 S. A St.; and owned by the younger sister of La Placita’s owner, Jesse’s El Taco de Mexico, a no-frills, late-night Oxnard legend; and Sabor Mexican & Seafood, a new restaurant specializing in Baja-style tacos, especially fish tacos, at 128 E. Sixth St. In the interest of actually being able to move after all our tacos, we skipped Cabo Seafood Grill & Cantina and Barroco’s Organic Home-made Cuisine & Bakery, both of which were featured in recent “In Good Taste” articles, as well as the other 15 eateries on the Tour de Taco.
Sadly, our tour got off to a bad start. I hadn’t thought to check when La Placita would close, and we arrived minutes after its 7 p.m. shuttering. Undaunted, the wait for tacos just meant our appetites grew as we strolled to Pilar’s. There we sat down in a booth and ordered seven soft tacos (two shrimp, two fish, one carnitas, one chicken and one carne asada) as well as a hard-shelled chicken taco. While waiting for our tacos we were amused by a wandering jewelry vendor and we munched on tortilla chips, which came with excellent salsa. Although most of the tacos were solidly enjoyable, the fish tacos were a little heavy on the batter and sauce. Pilar’s, though, is still an excellent choice for authentic Mexican food, but when it comes to casual taco sampling, it may not be our first choice.
Our next stop, El Taco De Mexico, squarely met our expectations (although our non-meat-eating companion sat that one out). Before we even knew it, we were served our two asada, one carnitas and one chicken tacos. At $1.25 each, they’re perfect for late-night munching (and we’re told TDM is open late on the weekends), and those with more exotic tastes can also have cabeza and lengua (as they can at most of the other venues on the tour). The cilantro, onion and lime garnishes made for a more dynamic flavor than Pilar’s tacos. The jungle wildlife motif around the counter in the tiny restaurant also cemented one of my companion’s descriptions of our tour as a “taco safari.” With a ceramic eagle soccer mascot watching over the joint we four gringos were in high spirits when we left.
Finally, our moveable taco feast brought us across Oxnard Boulevard to Sabor. Owner Juvenal Correa has clearly put energy into the joint, taking pride in it with a sign outside reading “#1 in Oxnard.” Correa has taken an interesting approach to combat graffiti: a slough of greetings and affirmations of love are proudly displayed in sharpie on the orange dining room wall.
The chile verde taco I ordered was by far the most flavorful taco I enjoyed all evening, while the fish tacos enjoyed by two of my other companions were also well-received. I was disappointed I couldn’t order a Hawaiano concoction of juices to drink, but it was understandable as we were there somewhat late. Like Pilar’s, the salsa served with our chips was excellent.
In the end, none of the eateries disappointed. Clearly, there are many ways you can approach your own Tour de taco and we’d all recommend you follow in our footsteps or make your own path. As it turned out, our gastronomic propensity was satiated, but there was nothing to lament about the journey, except, perhaps, our pleasantly full bellies.
For more reflections on the Tour de Taco visit the Fir & Main blog here.