Photo: Erik R. Trinidad for AOL
It's ironic that perhaps a decade ago, "street meat" sidewalk food was frowned upon by uppity gourmands, because these days, it's all the rage. Food trucks and sidewalk cart vendors are now the go-to spot to get good, inexpensive meals, and the fervor over these portable eateries has spawned the Vendy Awards and food truck rivalries in different American cities. Restaurants, including fast food chains, have embraced the trend: Last year Taco Bell introduced street-inspired "Cantina Tacos," and now Qdoba Mexican Grill has jumped on the urban bandwagon with their Mini Street Tacos. Here's how they rate:
The Claims: An order of Mini Street Tacos is a "light meal, heavy on authentic flavors" consisting of "three snack-sized soft corn tortilla tacos with your choice of pulled pork or shredded beef, finished with diced red onion and fresh cilantro." Completing the combo is lime wedge for a squeeze of citrus, plus a small side of ancho chile baked beans.
The Price: $4.99 for the combo (480-510 calories). (Prices may vary at participating locations.)
The Verdict: C-. I should preface this review with the circumstances of my visit to Qdoba Mexican Grill. I went around 7pm to a New York City location, where it wasn't nearly as crowded as it often is during the lunchtime rush. I ordered the set of three Mini Street Tacos -- two with pulled pork, one with beef -- so that I could sample at least one of each. There is no special food prep pan for meats specifically used in the street tacos -- the pork and beef come from the same pans used to fill the burritos, quesadillas, and other tacos. With that said, the meats are nothing new -- there's no lengua, oreja, or sesos, like at a real Mexican street vendor -- but they're as good and standard as Qdoba can get, with a tender texture, but not much additional seasoning. The pork tastes like pork; the beef tastes like, well, beef -- both in a decent, yet no frills kind of way. (Perhaps this is because according to the Qdoba take-home menu, the shredded beef and pulled pork are merely "slow-roasted," and aren't preceded by the adjectives "adobo-marinated" like the chicken and steak is, or "seasoned" like the ground beef.)
According to Qdoba's description (which I only paid attention to after the fact), the street tacos should be topped with red onion and fresh cilantro. However, when I asked the employee there to prepare it for me "however it is you make it," I was simply given a smear of sour cream and a generous pinch of shredded cheese on each. I thought that perhaps the toppings were actually customizable, but when I asked for some pico de gallo, I was told, "That doesn't go on the street tacos." The next person in the assembly line gave me some lime wedges, along with the side of ancho chile baked beans.
It seems unfair that I would review this offering without getting the intended ingredients, but I will base my judgment on what it is I had. Perhaps it makes no difference in the grander scheme of things; after all, there are many different interpretations of what an "authentic" Mexican street taco is. Some say it should just be seasoned meat, some believe cabbage is necessary, others add avocado and/or a dozen other garnishes. At an elemental level, Qdoba got the double soft corn tortilla thing right, although there isn't much you could do to mess that up. The lime, which is almost obligatory in Mexican fare, definitely gives the tender albeit bland meat a much-needed zing. Other than that, everything else was just sort of satisfying in a mediocre way. These tacos definitely called for hot sauce, or anything to give it dimension, which I assume the cilantro and red onion would have done. Alas, I had it prepared the way I did, which I'll excuse; perhaps I was dealing with a new, confused employee. However, as much as I love sour cream and cheese, I still left the restaurant thinking that the side of beans was the tastiest thing out of the combo. In conclusion, if you have the means and live in a place with street taco culture, you're better off walking past the Qdoba and getting a tastier, more authentic meal out on the street.
- See what the minds behind Thatsfit.com have to say about Qdoba Mexican Grill.
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