#160: El Azteca Taqueria

Today for lunch I finally made it out to El Azteca Taqueria.  I attempted to come here a while back but found out that they were closed on Mondays.  During the rest of the week hours are pretty standard and they open early on the weekends for breakfast.  El Azteca is located a couple doors down from Panda Restaurant in the Bel Air shopping center at Foothills and Baseline/Main.  I’ve heard nothing but good things from lots of people, so I was excited to finally check it out.

I arrived with my parents just after 11:30AM.  I was immediately wowed by the size of the place and how nice it looked.  I’m fairly certain it’s the biggest taqueria in Roseville.  In addition to tons of table seating, there is a big and nice looking bar, which looked to be well stocked.  I wondered for a moment if this was actually more of a full service, sit-down type place, but then I noticed the menus and register directly to the back from the front doors.  They don’t have a website and were out of paper take-out menus, but the woman I asked was nice enough to let me take photos of the menu.  Click on any photo to go to a bigger version.  The menu was impressive and had everything I expected from a taqueria and more.  The beer list is particularly large for most restaurants and it even puts some bars to shame.  Most are Mexican imports and the sheer number of different bottles available is outstanding.  A small selection is available on draught.  It didn’t take me long to locate my favorite dish, the carnitas plate (or as they have it on the menu, Plato de Carnitas).  It’s either the most or tied for the most expensive carnitas plate I’ve ordered in Roseville at $13.95.  With a soda the total came to $17.68, including tax.

I filled up my big cup with Dr Pepper at the fountains located just to the left of the register and headed out into the dining room to look for a seat.  There weren’t very many people here at the time, so we had lots of tables to choose from.  Eventually we settled on a table near the front by the windows.  From here I had a good view of the entire taqueria.  A minute or so after sitting down we had chips and salsa brought to the table.  The chips were very average, room temperature but with a nice crunch.  The salsa had an instant kick to it and good overall flavor.  More than a couple bites in a row and the heat started to build very, very quickly.  I had downed half of my soda by the time we polished off the basket of chips as a result.  Being self serve I got up and refilled it before the food arrived.  By this time there was a fairly long line which kept up for a while.

Just over 10 minutes after sitting down I saw someone heading our way with a tray of food.  She arrived at our table and started naming each plate and handing them to each of us as we claimed them.  For mine she mistakenly said carne asada, but quickly corrected herself when I repeated “carne asada?” and looked skeptical.  It was indeed the carnitas plate.  We were all set.  My parents had an enchilada [$4.50] and 3 chicken taquitos [$5.49] a la carte since they had a late breakfast.  The enchilada was very gooey and cheesy, which I could tell by watching my dad dealing with long, stringy cheese in some bites.  The taquitos, along with my carnitas plate, came with a good amount of fresh, excellent guacamole.  I first tried the rice from my plate, and I knew right away that this was some of the best rice I’ve encountered.  Most everywhere it’s very boring and nearly flavorless.  Here it was incredibly flavorful.  So much so that I didn’t want to mix it in with the beans as I usually do anywhere else.  It was also very hot, which my beans were as well.  Like the rice, the beans were very good as well and I’d put them in my top 5.  I was starting this plate out very impressed.  On to the carnitas.  Just by looking at them I could see they would have the wonderfully crisp edges I love so much.  The first bite in I was sold.  Just past that crispy outside was an intensely flavorful and tender bit of pork that almost melted in my mouth.  Each piece, from one to the next, was very consistent and delicious.

Now I know why this place gets as much good word of mouth as it does.  It deserves it.  I’d put it right up there with my favorite taquerias, El Parian, Sabores and Plaza Jalisco.  The only thing that wasn’t totally excellent was the chips, which isn’t really a big deal.  This is one of the pricier taquerias, but I’d say it’s quality lives up to that price.

Website: NONE

#159: La Bou Bakery & Cafe

I stopped for lunch today at La Bou.  For the longest time I thought La Bou was a massive nation-wide chain.  Only when I was removing all the big chains from my list early on into this blog did I discover that it was actually just a Sacramento-area company which reaches up 80 to Auburn and East on 50 to El Dorado Hills at the extreme edges of it’s territory.  In Roseville we have just one, located in the Hobby Lobby shopping center on the Santa Clara Drive side.  The other one down Douglas is just over the border into Granite Bay, which I remembered just before heading out, and I avoided repeating the mistake I made with The Habit by going to the proper location on Santa Clara.

I arrived at about 11:20.  This La Bou has a spot at the end of the building which gives it a big wrap-around area of outside seating.  There weren’t many customers there when I showed up, maybe just over a dozen, but being nice out more than half of them were outside.  I missed out on a good opportunity to take some photos of the restaurant when it was pretty empty early on because a steady stream of customers flowed in after I had placed my order.  I try to avoid taking photos with customers in it whenever I can.  I did get a clean shot down the side area which should give you an idea of what it’s like inside, if you’ve never been in a La Bou.    This location is a big one.  The dining room wraps entirely around the kitchen, with large wings on both sides of the building and lots of open spaces in between.

I took some time looking over the menu.  I kind of figured I would get a sandwich and either a salad or a bowl of soup.  The salads menu is not detailed at all, only listing the names of salads.  Some are self explanatory, but I would have liked to see what was in each anyway.  Their online menu is much better.  I was pleased to see they had Thai Iced Tea on the drinks menu.  I’ve been on a Thai Tea kick recently.  They have a good selection of other beverages including lots of hot & cold coffees.  Years ago when I opened Round Table in the mornings I would swing through the Granite Bay La Bou drive through and get a White Mocha to kick off the morning.

Just a moment after I started reading the menu, one of the employees turned around, noticed me and greeted me, waiting by the register for me to be ready.  Eventually I stepped up and placed my order.  I went with the sandwich I pretty much always get here, turkey on a croissant (all sandwiches are served with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce and tomato with choice of bread: croissant, baguette, sourdough or whole wheat)[$6.50].  With that I got a small bowl of Creamy Tomato Bisque [$3.70] and the Thai Iced Tea [$2.95].  I was given my receipt with order number and she said she’d have my tea out on this side of the counter in a moment.  In just a few minutes, which I spent meandering around the dining room and deciding where I wanted to sit, my number was called and almost simultaneously at the other end of the counter my tea was ready, being mixed up to it’s uniform orange color by a few twirls of her wrist before setting it down.  I grabbed both and headed to a table near one of several doors and windows, grabbing a spoon and napkins from the end of the counter on the way.

The tomato bisque was just a little too hot to eat right away, so I slid that aside to cool off and started with the sandwich.  I don’t come to La Bou very often, but when I get this sandwich it’s always very consistent.  Even between the different locations I can expect pretty much the same exact quality and proportions.  It’s not the big, filling sandwich that you find at Beach Hut or Mr. Pickles, or of the quality that a place like Better Foods Deli serves up, but it’s a very reliable and satisfying one.  The lettuce was nice and crisp and the tomatoes ripe and juicy.  There was just the right amount of both mayo and mustard (some dijon-type).  Enough to taste each in every bite but not overpower the turkey or be squirting out the sides when you take a bite.  The turkey was standard, thin-sliced deli turkey, but good nonetheless.  The croissant was nice and flaky, and had that nice buttery flavor to it.  The creamy tomato bisque had cooled down after I had eaten half of the sandwich.  In it were a half dozen croutons which, on top of being soft to start with, had by now soaked up the soup and were mushy little sponges.  Served alongside were a couple slices of bread to dip.  This tomato bisque was quite good, above average for sure, but it was lacking just slightly on the creaminess and was a touch thinner than I would have liked.

One thing I’ve never figured out about La Bou is if you’re supposed to clear your own table or not.  I think the general consensus in this country is if the restaurant has customer garbage cans than you should do it yourself.  No La Bou I’ve been to seem to have garbage cans or clearly defined places for trays to go.  What they do have is a cart with tubs and a garbage on it, and I’ve always put my stuff there when I was done since I’ve seen others doing the same.  This visit included, I’ve never walked out of a La Bou being anything but satisfied.  Nothing less, nothing more.  The Thai tea was a nice change up that I haven’t had here before.