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"Do I have to eat all these? I can't eat all these."
Our resident taco connoisseur Alex Treviño stares bewilderedly at the platter of anonymous tacos before him. Having just come from dinner he claims to be satiated. But the man loves tacos more than you could ever know, and plowed into them like a real trooper.
For our taco showdown, we ordered one carne asada taco "with everything" from Taqueria Michoacan, Chris Meat Market, Alberto's, and Robertito's. All are open 24 hours, with the exception of Michoacan, which closes after dinner.
Before the blind taste test Alex, who has been eating tacos for 26 years, predicted he would favor Michoacan.
"That one's ok," says Alex of his supposed favorite taco. "The meat's tender, but it's kinda bland." There are no menus at Michoacan. When you order a taco, the carne asada is chopped up before your eyes by a sweaty man wielding a clever. Michoacan is also a butcher shop, where you can get a wide array of Mexican meat products. Animal hide hangs from the ceiling, drying out. Located on the corner of Belmont and Van Ness, it's always crowed with families doing the grocery shopping.
"There's not much spice, there's no cilantro- there's only cabbage," laments Alex. Each taco is severed with a couple lemon wedges.
"Oh, there's a tiny little piece of cilantro."
"The tortilla is kinda greasy," he observes. This makes sense because before your taco is made, the expert taqueros at Michoacan will dip the corn tortillas in a steam tray full of liquid pig fat. Mmmm.
With multiple locations and a drive thru, Alberto's seems to be the most sophisticated operation of the bunch. Weighing in at a whopping 8.5 oz, the Alberto's taco is packed with a generous heap of guacamole, onions, tomato, and cilantro.
"It's pretty good," declares Alex. "The guacamole is good."
But the carne asada isn't up to Alex's standards. "Meat is a little tough, but it's pretty good. No spice on it at all. This is more for the American clientele. Tortilla is not too greasy and I like the big chunks of tomato and the cilantro."
Alberto's is best known for its surf and turf: one fish taco and one carne asada taco. Ask for it by name.
The downtown Robertito's is a cinderblock shack behind a decrepit old car wash on Abby. You can order at the window or sit inside and watch the drunks and druggies. Or maybe you are one of the drunks and druggies. Make yourself at home and have a taco!
Alex takes a bite of the taco.
"Meh," he shrugs.
"The meat doesn't have any taste and is kinda chewy. The guacamole is good but there's no spice at all. No flavor; pretty bland. The tortilla is a little greasy." We could tell it was physically hurting Alex to continue chewing.
Chris Meat Market
Located on the edge of Chinatown, Chris Meat Market is the real deal. If you do not speak Spanish, you might feel a little uncomfortable going in; you may ask your boyfriend to go inside while you wait in your locked car trying not to stare at anyone the wrong way. But not to worry, the more you drink, the safer everything seems.
Alex examines the taco: "It looks really spicy because of the red salsa on it."
He bites into it: "That's good. Really good!"
Alex gushes: "Tender and flavorful meat and lots of cilantro. The tortilla's not too greasy."
"No cabbage or tomatoes though. But the spice is really good. Not too spicy, more like at the corner of the mouth kinda spicy. This one is more for, like, Mexican people, for people who really like spice. The other ones are just a step above taco bell."
So the white man couldn't handle it?
"Nah, even [Alex's pasty pal] could handle this."
Alex pauses and looks down at the platter:
"Can I eat the rest of the tacos?"
Chris Meat Market
1323 Kern St, Chinatown 233-8134
311 N Abby St, SOTO 268-3246
Taqueria y Carniceria Michoacan
Belmont and Van Ness, SOTO
2623 Tuolumne St near Abby, Downtown 237-1034