A few weeks ago, Otis M. of the food blog Burnt My Fingers, wrote a Yelp review of a tiny Mexican restaurant in South Glens Falls, Taqueria GDL. And when I say tiny, I'm not exaggerating. The building is about the size of a two stall garage, with around 5 or 6 tables within. It sits on the southbound side of Route 9, in an area that's sort of 'urban barren', to coin a phrase.
Otis loved the tacos, claiming they're "Magical...". He tried three varieties and raved "...each was the best of its kind I have ever tasted."
The best he'd ever tasted? Heady claims indeed.
Coming from just anyone I'd write it off as irrational exuberance or inexperience, but Otis knows his stuff, and he has credibility with me. Plus, the photos he posted backed up his claim. Those tacos looked legit. Despite it being a 50 minute drive up the Northway from my home in Albany, I had to check them out for myself.
Before I get to Taqueria GDL; I had so much fun writing the piece comparing the lobster roll at Troy Kitchen to McDonald's, I wanted to do a similar comparison with tacos. So I also stopped into La Mexicana Grocery in Schenectady, and my local Taco Bell, eating a sampling of tacos at each.
The crazy things I do for this blog.
The tacos at Taqueria GDL are nothing short of fantastic. They are delicious. They are special. Each of the three tacos I had were full of flavor and a joy to eat. If you don't 'get' why tacos are up there with other universally loved working class comfort foods like burgers or pizza, these tacos will help you to see the light.
I ordered three tacos. Camorones, lengua, and al pastor. I was asked if I liked hot sauce, and after replying in the affirmative, I was brought a dish with three different house-made sauces, and a wonderfully spiced cucumber and onion relish.
The Camorones taco is three good-sized, tender shrimp that had some caramelization on them (that is a feat), topped with a cabbage slaw, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. The whole thing comes together exploding full of flavor, texture, and temperature contrasts. They're amazing. I swooned.
Next, I devoured the lengua taco (beef tongue). The tongue was so tender I almost fell to my knees while eating it. It appears to be slowly braised for hours. It's incredibly beefy. If you love beef, by all means, get three of these. It's beef heaven. It's topped only with onion and copious amounts of cilantro. I love cilantro, and this taco is also for cilantro lovers.
The al pastor didn't blow me away. I compared it to the al pastor taco I had at Big Star in Chicago, and that was a mistake. Big Star's al pastor taco is on a few "best tacos in America" lists, and it's an unfair comparison. Nevertheless, it's delicious and topped with gobs of fresh chopped cilantro like the lengua taco. All three tacos are stuffed to the gills with fillings, and they're reasonably priced at around $3.00 each.
I've been a fan of Schenectady's La Mexicana Grocery for some time. The tacos here are the most authentic Mexican street tacos you'll find in the area. When I was there, I sat at the bar. There was me, and six young Mexicans. These guys spoke in spanish the whole time I was there, and never uttered one word of English, including to the waitress. That says something about La Mex's authenticity.
I love La Mex's tacos, but after having eaten the tacos at Taqueria GDL, sadly, they didn't compare, and my opinion of La Mex's tacos has receded some.
As a side note, this is why it's imperative to try different versions of the same things within a reasonable amount of time. It helps put things in perspective relative to each other. It can be eye opening.
La Mex's tacos are good, I don't want to suggest otherwise, and if you want authentic Mexican street tacos, this is as close as you'll get in the Capital Region. But after the flavor explosion that is Taqueria GDL, these fell flat.
I started with a chorizo taco, and it was the best of the three I ordered. The chorizo was very finely ground, with a good salt and spice hit, topped (like all of La Mex's tacos) with onion and cilantro, on two small corn tortillas. I also had chicken and al pastor tacos. Both the chicken and pork and was almost bitter. There was no depth of flavor, the meat in both was very one note. I wanted more spices, or salt, or fat, or something, though the house-made sauces do help to improve them.
La Mex though is a steal. The tacos are just two bucks each, and with a beer, my bill came to a wallet friendly ten dollars.
And now, Taco Hell.
Going to Taco Bell, I had a decision to make. Do I try to recreate something similar to the authentic tacos at La Mex, and GDL, (soft corn tortilla, meat, onions, cilantro)? Or do I just order straight off the menu and eat what everyone else is eating there?
Taco Bell does not offer cilantro as a topping, nor do they have soft corn tortillas. They only have hard corn or soft flour. So much for any attempt of authenticity. I ended up getting a crunchy taco, soft steak taco, and soft chicken taco.
The crunchy taco I ordered without any changes, and it includes ground beef, shredded yellow cheese, and lettuce. The cheese and lettuce add nothing to the party. Both have little flavor other than salt from the cheese. As I was eating the beef, I was trying to determine what it tasted like, what spices, etc. were in there, and after a couple of bites, I realized it tastes like dog food. Yep, dog food. I'm being sincere. I'm not trying to be hyperbolic or sensational; it tastes similar to dog food. It is truly terrible.
The soft steak taco was better than the ground beef, at least the steak tasted like beef. I asked for it without the lettuce and cheese and added Pico de gallo. The Pico was bland and watery, though it did have fresh cilantro in it, which helped to save it. The soft flour tortilla is as you'd expect, it's a little gummy, doesn't taste like much, and is there just to hold everything together.
The soft chicken taco was delicious, but only because I added jalapenos. They have great flavor, with a good amount of heat, and a wonderful vinegary punch. They transformed Taco Bell's bland thing into something flavorful and surprisingly tasty. I have found something worth eating at Taco Bell.