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Archive for the ‘Mexican’ Category

Uno Mas

I pay a fair amount of attention to Mexican cuisine, or as I often say with an annoying and pretentious accent, “La Cocina Mexicana.” In our own backyard (all over North Charleston) lies an abundance of good, simple, real Mexican food. Sal Parco’s most recent venture, Uno Mas, attempts to recreate this food with upscale ingredients and ambience. At first glance–and to be fair I’ve only eaten at Uno Mas once since it recently opened–the food is really no better than what you can find in North Charleston (and in some cases much worse), only it is served to you by a guayabera clad waitron while Cuban music plays. I can forgive this intransigence because it exists everywhere. But imagine finding an American restaurant in Japan that serves American food but plays Irish Folk Songs and requires its staff to wear riverdance costumes. Though the irony may seem unimportant, it becomes hard to take such a place seriously (even if it is funny irony). Come to think of it, Taco Boy commits the same crime. I swear, it’s everywhere.

I like Uno Mas more for what it isn’t than for what it is. The menu is very unconfused–no stupid Asian Fusion on its periphery, no annoying Tex Mex dishes like fajitas or extreme burritos, and overall a pretty good sense of identity. However, for all of its authenticity, the menu’s items are pretty insipid and lifeless. I tried the taco sampler which features six of the meats also found on the entree list. While nothing was strikingly bad, nothing was strikingly great. The stewed meats lacked the rich confit fattiness of great carnitas or al pastor meat while the seafood, although fresh, did not seem to be anything more than just cooked. Of all the nice chiles mentioned on the menu–Ancho, Pasilla, Guajillo…none really popped or added any of that fruity, smoky richness characteristic of proper chile manipulation (might I suggest quickly toasting the dried chiles over open flame to release their flavors). The black beans were undersalted and tasteless and should be refried or at least mashed a bit—whole black beans are Yucatecan and/or Caribbean and do not match the rest of the menu.

Parco’s model for restaurants, judging by those that have preceded this one–Mustard Seed, Sette, Boulevard diner…is basically to shoot for middle-priced, good, accessible food. To this end, he has always succeeded and does so again. Uno Mas is not Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill (Chicago) which does a great job with its treatment of upscale Mexican cocina (Bayless has a formidable collection of cookbooks and you’ve probably seen his frontera brand salsas in the supermarket). It is definitely not one of the Mexico D. F. classics (check out this recent Bittman piece in the NY times: http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/travel/28Choice.html). But I guess that is not the point…

Maybe Uno Mas doesn’t deserve to be thrown in the same pool with really serious Mexican Restaurants around the country. And truthfully it isn’t in that category—it will never surprise or innovate—and that’s fine. It’s just that when it calls itself upscale I get excited that something great and new has arrived in Charleston—only to find that it really hasn’t. Oh well, they have a great tequila selection and good enough Margarita’s.

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This post is basically an addendum to the la nortena post. If you turn left onto Ashley Phosphate from the 26 exit, you will find a small world of authentic Mexican streetfood from a number of carts and vendors and in restaurants as well.

Los Parados Taco Cart: This is the first taco cart I tried on this street. The tacos are similar to those found all along this strip with slow cooked meats, fresh onions and cilantro on a double stack of corn tortillas served with fresh salsas. This stand is good and similar to the one found across the street (though they have hot pickled carrots served on the side). Generally at these places younger employees will be able to communicate in English and older ones will not. But if you know what you want, all you need is to order that item followed by a por favor. The tacos al pastor are always a good choice as well as carnitas (or whatever you are willling to try…lengua, mejilla (beef cheek), tripe…)

Fruit stand cart: This is basically across the street from los parados taco stand and next to another taco stand (the one mentioned above). They sell some food but mostly offer fruits prepared, if you like, with lime juice and chile powder (a common way to eat fruit in Mexico). Try the cut up mango or jicama with lime juice and chile, cut to order on the spot by a nice abuelita.

Los Parados Restaurant: This was my first Mexican experience on Ashley Phosphate, and though I think the quality can be fickle, it serves some authentic stuff like huaraches (fried or grilled fresh corn tortilla cakes topped with meat, queso fresco, avocado…) along with flat tacos, soups, and other staples. I have to say that this place can feel uncomfortable for a gringo–not as clean and peppy as la nortena.

El Progreso Restaurant: Though this is not on Ashley Phosphate (It’s on Remount) it deserves comment–it fits into this category pretty well. Progreso has a lunch buffet that I would stay away from but does have good huaraches piled high with meat and fixings, all served to us by a very cynical puerto rican waitress who made us laugh by telling us not to order anything and asking why we liked this food.

La Nortena Restaurant: The Nortena on Ashley Phoshate has had some renovations and its Remount location is now closed. Apparently, another Nortena will open soon on Rivers. In the meantime, this Nortena is up to par and is usually full for dinner. Try the torta jalisco or the torta carnitas which are delicious grilled sandwiches with meat, cheese, beans, jalapenos; the kind of food you dream of after the bars. Also the veracruzana fish is pretty good. Avoid the shrimp cocktail though–it is not that fresh and swimming in a sickly sweet tomato sauce. Strangely, the spanish speakers in these restaurants love the shrimp cocktail.

There are a number of other spots along this strip–feel free to add your input–one day we will rottenoysters them all. In the meantime your info would be appreciated. Buen Provecho!

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The first time I ate at this place left me feeling bad for the guys. The next time made me never go back. I walked into this dumpster smelling shanty of a room adjacent to a Folly Road surf shack and proceeded to have a truly third world dining experience. And seriously, the room smelled like the inside of a wet dumpster. During the thirty minutes of waiting for two burritos, I also noticed a roach infestation problem. Apart from the ridiculous wait (thirty minutes for 2 tiny burritos), the environment was so terrible that my friends and I decided to leave. Up until this point, I had never walked out of a restaurant in my life.

How could this happen? How is this place in business? Does the staff notice the trash smell? And finally, how do they have an A rating? I really feel bad for these poor guys and wonder if they shouldn’t just stick to selling weed. Also, though it’s almost of no consequence, the food sucks as well. Wait, I did have one good thing; amazingly,¬†the grouper¬†fish taco. Pero que podrida eres tu, La Cocina!

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Santi’s

Though Santi’s improves on mediocre gringo mex in Charleston, I have had a few bad experiences here, namely funky meat. I like the moles, cactus, and other interesting things on the menu but on a few recent visits the quality of the meat has been very poor, from 2 bad chicken mole dishes to 2 bad cactus with pork dishes. I wish the ingredients were of better quality because the food is otherwise delicious. On a positive note, the soups are good and worth trying (chicken, azteca..) That Santi has revitalized an old huddle house in the neck area is another big plus. I look foward to more restaurants in that area.

Visits to Santi’s: 8
Prices: entree $6-10

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Taco Boy

15 Center St, Folly Beach
588-6187

I have heard a lot of slander about this new edition to the fb center street (from the raval/poe’s people). A few people have told me that it is the worst food ever. I’m pretty sure that those people are not well. If you want to experience some severely messed up taco/burrito food, refer to La Cocina (Folly Rd). I think Taco Boy is doing it’s best.

Taco Boy has a well designed atmosphere and good, almost authentic taqueria food. Though you wouldn’t find most of these tacos at an authentic taqueria (who use simpler, more humble ingredients), a lot of the elements are well done–you are offered corn tortilla tacos which are far more authentic than the gringo grocery store flour alternative along with interesting fresh salsas and good guacamole. Taco Boy also has a good tequila selection and decent margaritas. As a taqueria not as good as La Nortena or any of the taco trucks that circle N. Chas but as a restaurant it’s pretty decent.

visits: 4
price: $2-$4 per taco, around $6 for a margarita.

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La Nortena

3760 Ashley Phosphate Rd
760-1662

La Nortena is the finest taqueria/mexican restaurant in the charleston area. Everything here is basically great though i don’t recommend the whole fried fish. Carnitas are excellent, burritos are good, and the tacos are the best and a great value at $1.25 ea. Also, try the horchata drink to cool you off from the intensly hot fresh salsas served with the tacos. Not much English is spoken here so be patient or learn spanish. Usually no more than 1 other table of gringos in here. Very friendly staff.

Nortena’s sister restaurant with the same namesake on remount rd is a bit different with a mexican butcher/grocery in the same space as the restaurant. Apparently owned and run by the brother of the man who runs the ashley phosphate location, this location feels more authentically mexican with its carniceria. Though the menus are exactly the same, I prefer the Ashley Phosphate spot because the food seems slightly better. Maybe this is owed to the fact that this location is cleaner and better lit and feels more like a restaurant. But for a unique experience, I do recommend the remount location. If you are not hispanic, you will be the only gringo in site.

visits: +10
price: $1.25 per taco, $5-$10 entree

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