Restaurant Review: Highbrow, Lowbrow?
Pub grub gone posh and gas station gastronomy
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., May 13, 2011
Tierra Linda Taqueria8540 Research, 922-0309
Monday-Saturday, 6:30am-8:30pm; Sunday, 7:30am-7:30pm
A young friend accompanied me on a recent restaurant-scouting excursion, and while we had some difficulty locating our original destination, she introduced me to an unexpected treat. "Oh, quick, turn in here, right here at the Shell station – it'll be worth it, I promise," she squealed with enthusiasm. She directed us into the parking lot of a gas station and convenience store at the corner of the southbound Research access road and Fairfield, home of La Familia Market and Tierra Linda Taqueria. A hand-written sign on the convenience store door advertising tortillas calientitas diariamente (hot tortillas daily) immediately caught my attention. Inside, we found convenience store stock reflecting the needs and tastes of the Mexican-American population in the surrounding neighborhood: lots of canned and packaged products imported from Mexico; a small, full-service meat market offering fresh carnitas and barbacoa a couple of days a week; plenty of Mexican beers in the cooler, and those remarkable tortillas – tender rounds of fresh, white corn goodness prepared daily in a nearby local bakery, only $1.99 for a 2-pound package! The little store is a mini-Fiesta with very reasonable prices. The taqueria in the far end is another worthy discovery.
Husband and wife Luis and Rachel Lopez have been operating Tierra Linda ("beautiful country") for a little more than two years. On our first midafternoon visit, the little cafe wasn't crowded, but returning at peak business hours revealed that it has a strong neighborhood following. My friend swore by the gorditas al pastor ($3) with the house green sauce, and mine was indeed delicious, a soft, thick pillow of corn masa split and stuffed with tiny chunks of toothsome pork, savory refried beans, slices of avocado, and tart Mexican crema. Add a dose of the tangy green sauce for a messy but very satisfying handful of lunch.
The day at Tierra Linda starts with breakfast tacos ($1.19 with two ingredients, 25 cents for each extra ingredient), and although I've yet to make it there early enough, the prices look good and the tortillas are fresh. On a subsequent lunch visit, we tried more gorditas, a quesadilla, some flautas, and a torta, and were pleased with all of our choices. The chicken flauta plate ($5.99) features four crisply fried corn tortilla tubes stuffed with flavorful white-meat chicken and topped with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and a generous sprinkling of Mexican cheese, plus fluffy Mexican rice and well-seasoned refried beans. The torta Milanese ($3.95) is a huge, buttered soft roll filled with wafer-thin slices of fried beef, avocado and tomato slices, and more crema.
All of the meats offered here – carne asada, pork al pastor, carne guisado, chicken or beef fajitas – come in various preparations such as tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tortas. Because of the proximity of the fresh meat market, Tierra Linda also offers beef tongue and barbacoa tacos at lunch and dinner. My only suggestion here is that the quality of the beef dishes could be improved by using better cuts of meat. I found the house red salsa too fiery for my personal taste, but I love the green sauce. Everything here is made from scratch and by hand, so the service can seem slow and deliberate, but the food is simple, affordable, and satisfying. Tierra Linda is worth a look when you're in the neighborhood.