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Entries in Mexican (7)


Roberto's Cafe, Mammoth Lakes

Roberto’s Café, Mammoth. Carnitas Burrito with Special Sauce

I ordered the ubiquitous mega-burrito now served at every Mexican-American restaurant in California. I asked for the carnitas filled burrito, topped with special sauce and cheese. The burrito also had refried beans stuffed into the middle along with the carnitas.

I’d say my carnitas were a cross between honest to goodness refried carnitas and chile verde. Plenty of meat and not much fat, but not entirely crispy carnitas either. In the end, when you mixed the pork with the refried beans, it just tasted like generic quasi-chili verde “Mexican Pork”.


The “special sauce” was a red ranchero sauce, which basically kept the dish moist, but didn’t add much in terms of spicy heat. Nothing distinctive, but it didn’t detract from the burrito either.

I’ve been traveling to Mammoth for the better part of 15 years, nearly every summer and or winter. Roberto’s has tested the time in a tough town for restaurants. And there still isn’t a single taco truck in town. I guess I’ll continue to eat at Roberto’s...

...Unless of course I'm looking to party like a rock star, slam tequila, and check out the "scene" at Gomez's in the Village.

Roberto's Mexican Cafe on Urbanspoon


Central Valley Ramate, Swap Meet, Flea Market Trifecta

"Shopping Made Fun" Slogan of the Cherry Auction

I've been to the Cherry Auction, Selma Flea Market, Madera Flea Market in recent months and had a few wonderful dining experiences. 

I remember as a child hearing about the Sunnyside Swap Meet, something my parents never brought me to. In recent years commuting through Fresno on a Saturday or Sunday, I’d notice the Selma and Madera Ramates just off Highway 99. Sure, I’d see the food trucks, but I was usually in too big of a hurry to stop and grab a taco.


So, after nearly 40 years of never going to a swap meet, I went with my Dad to the Selma Market and wandered around for a couple hours looking at everything from cooking to contractor supplies. Dad actually picked up several packages of high-grit rotary sandpaper at a cost lower than Harbor Freight. From the foodie perspective, The Selma Market had some nice looking portable flat-top grills for a pop-up meal, as well as huge cauldron style deep fryers for carnitas. I remember being at the market in Tlachichuca seeing these type of deep-fry cauldrons being put to work on a daily basis.

In the last couple weeks, I’ve been to the Cherry Auction and the Madera Flea Market. Each of these markets have their own character, their own groove. Madera had a nice layout and entry way which brought patrons through the fruit and veggie section first. The Cherry Auction greets patrons with food. The upside of the Cherry Auction? Animals are for sale.

Looking for a prize fighting cock? Oh wait, that’s illegal. Perhaps an exotic bird? Rabbits to cook…I mean a pet for you children? The Cherry Auction has all of this and more. If I were looking to raise some chickens for eggs or rabbits for meat, this is the place I’d come to buy them. Of course, I’d finish my animals on specific diet before I slaughtered them.

Call it what you like, a Flea Market, Swap Meet, Auction, or Ramate as far as I’m concerned it’s the Central Valley’s version of Off-the-Grid in San Francisco and the original food truck scene for Fresnans.

Off-the-Grid in San Francisco has a variety of cuisine, from simple sandwiches, to Chinese dumplings, to dessert trucks. The Ramate has Mexican food, plain and simple. If a reader would like to quibble with me about the errant pizza guy or the coffee guy that shows up at these things, yes, there are always exceptions like the one-and-only Chinese Food truck that shows up at all the Ramates in the area, but in terms of frequency and volume, Mexican food rules. I’ve already highlighted the Selma Ramate in a previous post.

Cherry Auction, while it’s great for live animals, the food was coming in a distant third when compared to Madera and Selma. There is an upside at Cherry though, the Espresso guy in the converted van.

Be on the lookout for pupusas at the Madera Flea Market from a small trailer with an address marked from Chowchilla. It looks to be a family operation, with every age group represented from the family; 12 year old girl making tortillas from scratch up to Grandpa opening up bottles of cold Mexican Coke. Another truck of note in Madera, the one with Mikas sort of rubbed out, had fabulous al pastor tacos. 

I continue to head to the Ramate for food and I’m curious what else I’ll find around the state.


The “New” El Toro Tambien?

Posing as a take-out joint, Antonio’s Mex Express on Willow and Herndon tastes suspiciously like the old El Toro on West and Bullard. I’ve eaten here a few times now and only take out. The wet chili Colorado burrito is made in exactly the same style as the now dead El Toro Tambien on West and Bullard, may it forever rest in peace. I’ve had the chile Colorado 3 times now just to see if it was a fluke. It’s not. Whatever the cooks are doing at this particular Antonio’s, it sure isn’t being replicated at the other Antonio’s.


Simply for nostalgic reasons, I hope Antonio’s continues to taste like El Toro.

Antonio's Mexican Express on Urbanspoon


El Jardin, Manteca

I think there are 3 kinds of Mexican food places in California, taco trucks or stands, Mexican-American restaurants, and specialty regional Mexican restaurants more similar to the food that would be served in Mexico. El Jardin is the Mexican American variety.


Chips and salsa are automatically given when I sit down. The chips are a mix of fried corn and flour tortillas. I’m partial to corn 99 out of 100 times, and when I occasionally get tricked by a fried flour tortilla chip, I’m a little bugged because fried flour tortillas always taste a little too greasy for me or just not crunchy enough. The salsa that came with the chips is weak, too much tomato sauce.

I ordered two tacos carnitas they came with almost every fixin I could get, piled high (think American Super Size). Beans and rice came with the meal and as usual, if they’re there, I’ll try them. Beans = fine. Rice = didn’t care because I’d rather eat corn chips. Good overall flavor to the tacos and served on regular corn tortillas. But these things are huge and certainly a mess to eat. Stuff is all over the plate and not in the taco, where I’d like it to be. The side of salsa that came with the tacos is different and much better than the salsa that came with my tortilla chips. While each bite is a good one, there wasn’t a lot of fat detected on my carnitas but solidly salty, which translates into a tad dry for me. Luckily, there is a half an avocado on each taco to lubricate the meat. The final verdict? I probably would have saved 20 minutes, $7 dollars, and been more satisfied finding two carnitas tacos at a truck somewhere else in Manteca, probably near a gas station.


El Jardin is a good Mexican American restaurant to bring the family, have a blended margarita, eat a lot of chips, and probably have leftovers if you’re into that sort of thing, but I’d rather have a couple well-balanced tacos out of a truck.

El Jardin Fine Mexican Food on Urbanspoon


Las Casuela’s, Manteca

Las Casuela’s is a local Mexican American chain serving up massive plates of food for a good price with lots of kitchy, gimmicky food and drinks. And yes, there are vats of blended margaritas ready to pour at a moments notice. They’re a big player in town and the crowd is evidence they’re doing something very well.

It’s a big menu, but I narrowed my choice to the “taco truck” area of the menu; four, yes four tacos of carne asada combined with chorizo, bacon and grilled onions, topped with cilantro and lime and fresh salsa, aka Tacos Don Jorge. No beans, no rice, just a lot of tacos. I’m liking this, simply because I’m not going to eat beans and rice anyway.

But wait, as my plate of tortilla chips arrives, I’m brought not only salsa but refried beans to dip my chips in. I’m pretty sure no one walks away hungry from Las Casuela’s. The salsa for the chips has heat, but lacks flavor or depth, sort of like Pace picante with Tabasco in it. Boring.

When my tacos arrive after a fairly significant wait, it’s a massive plate of beef and pork. Literally, the entire platter is spilling over with four tortillas and a carpet of beef, pork and condiments. As I mentioned, no way anyone walks away hungry from this place. As I dig to find the edges of each corn tortilla and take my first bites, I have to say I’m reasonably impressed with this concoction. I find carne asada a bit dry usually, however, with fat from the bacon and chorizo lending a hand to moisten the asada, the tacos find a nice balance. I will say the asada beef is a little chewy, a little sinewy. I actually took two of the tacos home with me to eat for lunch as leftovers.

Getting past all the lights, drink specials, and book of menu items, the Tacos Don Jorge are pretty good. I’d love to see a version done by a taco truck or with a better quality of beef, say cabeza tacos with bacon and chorizo.

Las Casuelas on Urbanspoon