Tasty Tacos Central, South, and East
2300 East Cesar Chavez,
Juan in a Million
472-3872 or 472-4382
Open daily, 7am-3pm
Juan in a Million's "famous breakfast tacos" have earned the restaurant a reputation for serving lots of food at a very reasonable cost. The plump tacos, all in the $1.25-2 price range, offer more filling than a single tortilla can handle. Juan regulars advise ordering a single taco and a side of tortillas, and divying up the filling to make several breakfast rolls. At $1.50, the Don Juan taco is a full-meal deal. You get your morning quota of eggs, bacon, and cheese, and the typical slab of dry toast is replaced by a soft tortilla that cradles the mix. Breakfast taco fillings include the standard egg, cheese, chorizo, and beans in addition to the more exotic nopalitos and machaca.
Lunchtime at Juan in a Million can produce a standing-room only crowd willing to wait for the changing daily plate-lunch specials ($4.95) -- enchiladas, flautas, fajitas, etc. with a basket of chips and salsa, and a drink included. The restaurant's enchiladas are nothing stellar, just good solid Tex-Mex. Corn tortillas are filled with seasoned ground beef or cheese and topped with melted cheese and ranchero sauce. Lunch plates come with charro beans, Spanish rice, and a mound of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. The fajita plate produced a pile of well-marinated beef accompanied by large wedges of lime and a foil-wrapped packet of warm tortillas, corn and flour both. A la carte possibilities include a wide selection of specialty tacos, among them carne guisada and guacomole varieties. On cold days, Juan in a Million's caldo de res ($2.95/small) is the perfect meal opener, a hearty melange of tender beef, zucchini, cabbage, carrots, and celery swimming in a tasty, peppery broth.
-- Rebecca Chastenet de Géry
4230 Duval Street, 452-1040
Mon-Sat, 8:30am-9pm; Sun, 9am-3pm.
One thing worth remarking about Julio's food is its low grease quotient. The tiny restaurant turns out Tex-Mex standards -- tacos, fajitas, chalupas, enchiladas -- that look and taste like they were made to order, with no telltale pools of fat. Combination plates, like the fajita and chicken enchilada plate ($6.25), win favor for their size. Julio's beef fajita showcases little bits of moist, well-marinated beef in place of the standard strips, in addition to translucent onions, stewed tomatoes, and soft red bell peppers. The chicken enchilada's green sauce offers just the right tang, and the plate comes with a puddle of refried beans and mound of brown rice. Julio's à la carte choices are ideal for penny-pinchers. The chicken chalupa ($3.30) features a puffy, fried tortilla base festooned with shreds of roasted chicken, refried beans, grated cheese, fresh tomatoes, and lettuce. Hot sauce comes on the side. And though it isn't your typical Tex-Mex, Julio's roasted chicken half, with its moist flesh and crisp exterior, deserves special mention. Dessert at Julio's is limited to a moist, jiggling flan, but drink options are plenty, including Mexican beer and a wide array of exotic fruit nectars.
-- Rebecca Chastenet de Géry
2414 S. First, 441-4878
El Borrego de Oro
Mon-Fri, 7am-9pm; Sat & Sun, 7am-11pm
El Borrego de Oro
Like most taquerias, El Borrego de Oro has a diverse menu but little space. Out of the seven or so tables, one is home to a TV that blares COPS during lunch hour. In other words, the atmosphere, though clean, lacks the depth and richness of the food. But for a full meal for under $6, you couldn't ask for anything more. The al pastor (a platter for $5.75), parcooked on a spit but finished on the stovetop in a salty orange chili sauce, flaked off of the fork like tender stew beef. A requisite portion of lettuce and tomato helped temper the richness of the meat, and while the accompanying rice was non-descript, the refried beans smacked divinely of bacon -- not lard.
Unfortunately, the house specialty, Birria Estilo Jalisco, left me cold. Described on the menu as a barbecued lamb stew, in truth came off as little other than stringy bits of mutton in an unappealing, musky broth. Cilantro, chopped onions, and a wedge of lime garnished the stew but without the aid of some aromatic oregano, served in a shaker on each table, I was unable to enjoy it. On the other hand, the ranchero sauce drowning a cheese enchilada was so savory that it made me wonder if this ostensibly vegetarian dish might actually have meat in it. Even the salsa has depth. Full of green onion, chili seeds, and cilantro, it imparts subtle heat, and the rich, salty splendor that, in my mind, sets Mexican food apart from (and above) Tex-Mex.
-- Meredith Phillips