Taco Withdrawal

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The best food isn't always the most expensive or the most glamorous. Some foods, in fact, are better when they are eaten off paper plates or out of wax paper. Tacos fit this bill perfectly. Mexican food can easily be gussied up to appeal to the gourmet crowd, but the result, while potentially tasty, has often lost much of what makes Mexican food great in the first place.

Our favorite shrimp tacos came from a shack in Los Angeles. The building, if that's what you would call it, contained probably less than one hundred square feet of floor space, and jutted out awkwardly from the side of a market. We ordered through a tiny window with smoke from the grill wafting into our faces. We devoured our tacos in the adjacent alley, sitting at plastic tables, swiping at the occasional fly, and taking in the scenery, which consisted mostly of pawnshops. It was the only available seating, and the tacos were so good that nothing else really seemed to matter. The succulent shrimp, accompanied by cabbage and dripping a garlicky pepper sauce, were served on two lightly charred corn tortillas. The paper plates, soon covered in shrimp juice, were adorned with limes, a few slices of radish and bright orange peppers. What else could you need?

Anyone from the southern portion of California most likely understands (depressingly) that tacos like the ones from home are difficult to find around UC Berkeley. A friend argued that the high cost of living pushes away many of the immigrants who would bring good, traditional Mexican food to the area. It's a shame, as most of us college kids could use a few more excellent yet cheap options for dinner. Instead, because we live in Berkeley, we are left with foodie Mexican food and vegan Mexican food. Foodie Mexican food is usually just bad, because who really wants some Thai fusion sauce on their carne asada? On the other hand, vegan Mexican food is just impossible, because even the beans are supposed to be made with lard.

Walking past Doe Library late one night, we encountered a student who was in a panic. He told us he had moved here from Long Beach because he missed his girlfriend, but now he missed something else even more tacos. Where could he get Mexican food, like the kind from home, in this area? We tried to help him out, as we too had racked our brains to find a suitable solution. Our first thought was the Fruitvale district of Oakland, where rumor has it there are some excellent taco trucks. But what if you don't have a way to get there? You may be out of luck. Here are our thoughts on some of the Mexican eateries close to campus:

GORDO'S

Located on College Avenue, just a few blocks south of campus, is a small, family-owned Mexican restaurant. The enormous wooden menu, hung above the array of meats and salsas, is welcomingly simple. Gordo's offers burritos, tacos, quesadillas ... and that's basically it. Place your order on the left with a stern-looking man who will prepare your fare before passing it on to a very loving woman at the cash register. We have only ever seen this man smile once, when we were fighting over who would take the other out for burritos, confusing the cashier. The stern man's lips curled upward, then abruptly back down into place. Go to Gordo's for the people. And the beans.

EL TAQUERIA TACONTENTO

Lower Sproul is certainly the closest you can get to campus. There is a mad rush during the lunch hour and the line can get long at El Taqueria Tacontento, so get there early for brunch and you won't be disappointed. The food is actually pretty good, the steak flavorful. This place makes an intense breakfast burrito with eggs, potatoes and lots of other things that may seem weird but are in fact very good in a breakfast burrito. A bit unconventional, but we love it.

CANCUN

Bordering the western edge of campus, Cancun boasts the most extensive salsa bar we have ever seen. Try the mango. Or the garlic. Or the pumpkin. Cancun is a great option if you are looking for a place to have a sit-down Mexican meal. It verges on foodie Mexican food and can be a bit pricey, but it's still good.

LA CASCADA

Not far from the intersection of Oxford and Center streets is La Cascada. Stepping into this eatery feels like a tropical trip-bright paint on the walls creates a vibrant ambiance. For a brief moment, the pounding rain of Berkeley disappears and you can almost feel the sun of Mexico. Our friends swear the La Cascada burrito is the most authentic and some don't bother eating anywhere else. La Cascada has risen to first on our list of places to try.

LA BURRITA

Sorry, but we really have nothing good to say about this place. At the end of a drunken night, going to eat at La Burrita may seem like the most fantastic idea of your life, but you will probably regret the decision. Hey freshmen, try somewhere else. Top Dog?

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Stay away from fusiony Mexican food with Maria and Graham at [email protected]



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