Taco Vs Taco: Chowing Down At Calexico & Taco Santo

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Calexcio: Tacos
If in Park Slope 2012 was the year of frozen yogurt and 2013 was the year of barbecue, then 2014 may have already become the year of the taco.

So far this year we’ve seen two new taco joints open: Taco Santo, which replaced Fort Reno, a favorite from the BBQ year; and Calexico, which opened last week after two years of anticipation. This is pretty awesome news for big taco fans like us, and we’re glad to start seeing more of the stuff our South Slope neighbors are already enjoying.

But how do they size up? We decided to check out both new spots and taste test some of their tacos (and chips and guacamole, and drinks, and…oh man are we full).

Taco Santo: Tacos
We started out at Taco Santo (669 Union Street), the first to open this year. Run by the same owner as the previous Fort Reno endeavor, who also owns Palo Santo up the street, it aims to differentiate itself from other taquerias by provide freshly made tortillas for each order. And those tortillas are very good, though we found them particularly delicious when fried as the chips that go with the guacamole ($7). The chips are thick and super crunchy, and stand up well to the dense avocado dip.

Taco Santo: Chips and Guacamole
The tortillas didn’t hold up as well to some of the taco fillings — unlike most taco spots in our area, these come with one tortilla per taco, rather than two — particularly any that were a bit runny, like the Baja fish taco ($4). The beer-battered fish, aioli, and cabbage fell through the tortilla a bit, though the others we tried fared better. We’ve found that the tortillas from another recent neighborhood newcomer, Fatty Daddy Taco (310 9th Street) have a more pronounced corn aroma and flavor, which we were hoping for, but didn’t get, from theses ones.

Taco Santo: Tacos
Tacos range in price from $2.50 for the taco placero (rice, beans, avocado, and half a hard-boiled egg, which was fine, the egg well-cooked, but it’s about as exciting as it sounds) to $5 for the mushroom or lobster tacos (we tried the lobster, and again, fine, but it could have used more than a slice of avocado to make it feel like a taco, rather than a bite of any old lobster roll). To spice up it up yourself, they’ve got three hot sauces on the table, all of which were really good, though we kept reaching for more of the yellow.

You can add rice and beans to an order of three tacos for $3, and besides tacos, they’ve got a couple items — a quesadilla, a jicama salad, an avocado flan — but the focus is definitely tacos. Too bad they’re not quite as delicious as you’d hope from a place that’s only doing tacos.

Taco Santo: Michelada
They’re also focusing on drinks, because what taco isn’t a little better with booze? The cocktails feature some creative drinks with mezcal (each around $10), though we went with a michelada roja ($7), a fancy version of the beer cocktail featuring chile de arbol, giving it a nice kick.

The space inside is cozy and dimly lit, which you’ll be familiar with if you ever went to Fort Reno — it’s a nice spot for a date. They only have evening hours, 5pm-midnight daily, though they hope to open for brunch soon on the weekends. Note that it’s cash only, and the nearby ATMs are iffy, and sometimes broken, so plan ahead.

Come summer, sitting out front on the picnic benches, drinking a couple micheladas, and snacking on chips and guacamole will be really appealing. But if we were enjoying beers at Mission Dolores and in the mood to get a few tacos to go, we might still stick with nearby Oaxaca.

Calexcio: Tacos
There are a lot of differences at Calexico (280 5th Avenue). To start, they’re open longer (11:30am-11pm daily at the moment), and the space is brighter and larger, perhaps a bit more appealing to families looking to dine with kids. They’ve also already built a bit of a reputation, with well-liked taco carts and two other locations in the city — and the tacos do seem like something they’ve got a bit of experience with.

Calexcio: Tacos
The standouts were the carne asada ($4), with moist, flavorful chunks of hanger steak topped with an avocado sauce, though it could have been a bit spicier — there’s a six pack of store-bought hot sauces on each table, which helped, though weren’t as tasty as the ones at Taco Santo — and the Baja fish taco ($4.50). Like the fish taco at Taco Santo, this one was a bit of a mess, though having two tortillas here helped the situation. It’s topped with their “crack” sauce (basically chipotle mayo), but the best part might be the mango salsa, which is spicy and sweet, though it’s too liquidy and definitely will require a few extra napkins. The gringo taco ($4) is also a good choice, with a soft flour tortilla wrapped around a crunchy one that’s filled with a nicely seasoned ground beef.

Calexcio: Chips and Guacamole
The chips and guacamole ($9) are pricier than at Taco Santo, but you get a larger portion. The chips are fine, but not as good as the ones at Taco Santo, though the guacamole here had the edge for us, because of the addition of jalapeño (though clearly we like to live spicy).

The menu goes beyond just tacos, with burritos, salads, enchiladas, rolled quesadillas, and more. But whether you sit at a stool at the bar for a drink (once they get their liquor license, which is still a few weeks away), or grab a table with friends, you won’t go wrong with a few tacos.

They’re hoping to add a brunch menu on the weekends soon (possibly starting this Saturday), so both these spots should be on your early weekend dining radars.

To sum it all up for the tl;dr set: We love tacos, and are glad to have another couple options in our area. If you’re looking for something tasty and filling, check out Calexico, and if you’re in the mood for a drink and a small bite, try Taco Santo. If you want to stick with cheap, authentic, really great tacos, our favorite spot that’s closest is still Girasol Bakery, 690 5th Avenue at 21st Street.

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