Taqueria Curenavaca
1117 N. Ventura Ave.
Ventura
653-8052
$1.50-$9.50

Ventura Avenue was bustling with activity as we entered Taqueria Curenavaca. Inside, the friendly chatter of families, and a soccer game lightly buzzing from a television set greeted us. We sat at one of the heavy wooden tables in the center of the room, and our waiter promptly brought us menus and a basket of tortilla chips.

We helped ourselves to the salsa bar, which featured one red and two green salsas, (including a chunkier avocado one), radish slices and pickled carrots. All the salsas had a bit of heat to them and I enjoyed a cooling cinnamon horchata between bites. The menu was comprehensive but Taqueria Curenavaca is probably best-known for its street tacos, which only cost $1.50 each. We ordered a sampling of several items, including the tacos, enchiladas, sopes and an alambre.

One side of the restaurant consists of windows overlooking Ventura Avenue; and as we were eating chips, one of my companions asked, “Hey, does that woman have a tail?” Sure enough, upon looking up I spied a woman across the street casually strolling along with a large fox tail affixed to her jeans. Part of the intrigue of eating on the Avenue is the cast of unique characters you get to watch walk by.

When our food arrived, everything looked appealing. I first tasted a cheese enchilada and as I chewed, I realized it was only lukewarm, which detracted from that first bite moment. I could still taste how lovely the chile verde sauce was and appreciated the little sprinkles of queso fresco on top but it was missing its spark. The rice accompanying this was moist with just the right hint of tomato flavor, and the beans were rich, smooth and slurpy.

A companion first sampled the “veggie taco #2” mushroom taco and groaned in ecstasy. Each street taco was served in a small, fresh corn tortilla and the mushroom taco also included pasilla chiles and cheese. I picked out a crisply cooked mushroom with a hint of cheese from the top of a taco and popped it in my mouth.

“This little crispy edge …” but before I could finish my sentence my companion interjected, “tastes like bacon!” He was right. The meaty, crispy, well-seasoned mushrooms had the fatty, seasoned appeal of bacon. The potato taco (veggie taco #1) was also enticing. The cubed, browned potatoes were moist and a bit sludgy and warm and cheesy, and a hint of pasilla added zing.

We’d also ordered an al pastor and an asada taco. The asada had small bits of chopped beef and shredded bits of onion. The al pastor was drier, seasoned sliced meat and featured a piece of grilled pineapple. The meat itself was a bit salty but I loved how the pineapple enhanced its flavor.

My other companion had ordered one of each type of sope and, sadly, his sopes were also of a tepid temperature. One was tinga (chipotle)-marinated chicken, another chorizo, and the final sope was bean. He preferred the chorizo sausage over the others, and I enjoyed the simplicity of the bean sope. Each little handmade sope was thick and hearty.

We all sampled the “Gringa Alambres” together, which featured marinated pork, pineapple and cheese sandwiched between toasted tortillas. The pork in this dish was also on the dry side and it was similar, overall, to the al pastor taco.

For desserts, the choices were three flavors of jello or a dark wedge of flan. One of my dining partners ordered the neon-green lime jello and looked like a kid as she scooped wobbling bites toward her mouth. I’d forgotten just how fun lime Jell-O could be! The rest of us tasted the flan, which was dense, dark and rather straightforward.

In true “Avenue” style, we’d had both a homey family night and an eclectic people-watching event. By far the most craveable dishes of the night were the veggie tacos. The fun of having such well-prepared mushroom and potato tacos that left us so satisfied is something we’d all order again.

For more of DK Crawford’s food writing and photography go to www.thefoodsavant.blogspot.com.