Boise street-taco throwdown! Eateries put their best carne asada forward

SPECIAL TO THE IDAHO STATESMANAugust 2, 2013 

  • Lorena’s Mexican Grill

    In the parking lot at Mister Car Wash, 5950 Fairview Ave., Boise

    (208) 484-7185

    Check out Lorena’s on Facebook.

    Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

    Opened: 2005

    Basilio’s Tacos

    In the parking lot at Paul’s Market, 10565 W. Lake Hazel Road, at Five Mile Road, Boise

    (208) 830-3772

    Check out Basilio’s on Facebook.

    Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

    Opened: 2003

    Calle 75 Tacos

    (208) 309-0770

    Calle75Tacos.com (check website for weekly schedules)

    Hours: Capital City Public Market, Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; Ketchum Farmers Market, Tuesday 1 to 6 p.m.; Hailey Farmers Market, Thursday noon to 6 p.m.

    Opened: 2008

Taco trucks and taco stands dot the streets around the Treasure Valley, but is one roadside place really better than the other? Is this carne asada tastier than that carne asada?

Well, let’s find out.

Here’s a look at three distinctly different taco slingers in Boise who are out on the streets feeding the hungry passers-by.

Get ready. It’s time for a street-taco throwdown.

Lorena’s Mexican Grill is housed in a beige shack next to Mister Car Wash near the corner of Fairview Avenue and Curtis Road. Here, owner Lorena Jimenez offers gorditas, flautas, tortas, chiles rellenos, enchiladas and, let’s not forget, lots of traditional tacos — served on double white corn tortillas.

Jimenez is a friendly woman with a permanent smile who hails from Hidalgo, a state in east-central Mexico that is probably best known for its brick-red mole sauces and barbacoa, which involves slow-cooking meat over an open fire in big pits. You won’t find any barbacoa pits in the parking lot at Mister Car Wash, though.

It’s safe to say that Lorena’s carne asada tacos ($1.50 each) are not the best thing on her menu, yet the flattop-grilled steak, which is bland on its own, comes alive with a lime wedge, chopped onion, cilantro, thinly sliced cucumber and freshly made pureed green and red salsas.

You may want to skip the carne asada tacos and go straight for the carnitas gordita ($3.99), a thick patty of masa harina (think fat tortilla) that gets grilled and filled with tender shreds of pork, aged Mexican cheese, cilantro, lettuce and sour cream.

Also good are the chicken mole enchiladas ($5.50), a plate of corn tortilla tubes packed with tender chicken, topped with fragrant red mole sauce, shredded lettuce and crumbled queso fresco. The plate includes refried beans and tender Mexi-rice dotted with peas and carrots.

Basilio’s Tacos is another taco joint that seems out of place. This sleek food trailer is well worth the drive to the corner of Five Mile and Lake Hazel roads.

Owner Basilio Toledo, who was born and raised in Morelia, Michoacan, has dished up traditional Mexican eats at this same spot in the burbs for 10 years. Step up to the window and order from a menu that includes tortas, gringas, flautas, alambres and tacos galore.

Basilio’s carne asada tacos ($1.50 each) definitely kick Lorena’s to the curb. Expect to receive double corn tortillas packed with juicy and flavorful chopped steak, flecks of cilantro and chopped white onion, served with the most delicious green salsa around these parts. The salsa verde here is really more of a pureed guacamole — similar to the stuff served at taco stands in Mexico City and in other parts of southern Mexico.

You should also try the al pastor tacos ($1.50 each), made with tender pieces of pork steak in an ancho chile-kicked red sauce. The fish tacos ($1.50 each) that get passed through the window at Basilio’s are akin to the ones served on the East Coast of Mexico — not the battered-and-fried variety that are so pervasive on the Pacific Coast. Here you’ll get a flattop-seared tilapia fillet (seasoned with cayenne and other piquant spices) on a warm tortilla with chopped tomato, shredded lettuce and a lime wedge for spritzing the flaky fish.

What happens when a Basque boy and a Guatemalan gal get together and open a mobile taco cart? A tasty fusion of Latin flavors, perhaps? Calle 75 Tacos is the brainchild of Mike and Rosie Weems, a married couple from Hailey who sling their tacos on Saturdays at the Capital City Public Market. Calle 75 also sets up midweek at the Hailey and Ketchum farmers markets, not to mention at a multitude of other events around the region.

Calle 75 goes beyond just chopped onion and cilantro as taco toppings, though. These tacos may be a little more expensive than the ones served at Lorena’s and Basilio’s, but the Weemses fill their tacos with local meats, produce and eggs, much of which is organic. Plus, the locally made corn tortillas they serve are incredible. Calle 75 also dishes up burritos, quesadillas and torta sandwiches.

Comparing Calle 75’s tacos to the others is kind of like comparing papayas to pineapples. Take the chan chan taco ($3.50 each), for example, a hybrid creation of succulent pork carnitas, sauteed spinach, tomatillo pico, cilantro aioli, avocado crema, crumbled cotija cheese and verdant chimichurri sauce. That’s one busy taco, albeit a little goopy if not eaten immediately.

Vegetarians will surely enjoy the huevos rancheros taco ($5 each), made on a grilled flour tortilla with saucy black beans, corn, avocado, pico de gallo and an oozy fried egg. This breakfast taco is especially good with a squirt of Rosie’s fiery habanero salsa.

This brings us to the carne asada taco ($3.50 each), the Baja-style grilled steak taco to be exact. Calle 75 tosses tradition out the window once again with this one. Steamed corn tortillas are topped with seasoned and incredibly juicy steak, bright pico de gallo, shredded cabbage and a peppery crema sauce. Without a doubt, this modified carne asada taco is the hands-down winner of the street-taco throwdown.

Email James Patrick Kelly: scene@idahostatesman.com

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