Leveling up on Mexican Avenue Food at Santa Barbara’s Taqueria La Unica

In yet a different indicator of the upward trajectory of Santa Barbara’s foodstuff scene, the upper State Avenue setting up which once held Taco Bell is now property to Taqueria La Unica, the newest restaurant from the Los Agaves Cafe Group. 

Speaking of symptoms, the a person for Taqueria La Unica states, “Est. 2021,” the birthplace of the idea, say the owners, but the real location at 3771 Condition St. has only been open a couple of months. Launched this spring as an outpost for traditional Mexican avenue tacos and other taqueria favorites, the cafe took a whilst to discover its footing. Setting up with the reality that the neighbors in close by San Roque and Hope Ranch were keen for a new quickly casual concept, but desired a menu they could fully grasp — the initially rendition of the fairly comprehensive menu was in Spanish only, which slowed down the line simply because people had a Good deal of questions. 

The exterior of Taqueria La Unica | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Now happily translated — with extra explanations for some of the significantly less familiar items — the menu and kitchen area of Taqueria La Unica are swiftly getting to be a community mainstay under the guidance of Chef Gerardo Marin, one particular of 3 cooks (the other people are Richard Garcia and Danny Reyes) who oversee all of the delicacies for the Los Agaves group. That organization now involves 5 locations of the flagship Los Agaves (the initial Milpas Avenue, De la Vina Avenue, Marketplace Generate in Goleta, Westlake Village, and Oxnard), as well as Flor de Maíz on the waterfront, and Santo Mezcal on decrease Point out Road. 

The idea of elevated Mexican meals is the principal throughline for all of homeowners Carlos and Christian Luna’s concepts, and even with the name, the emphasis at Taqueria La Unica is extra on meats (al pastor, skirt steak, sirloin steak, chicken, strip loin, tongue/lengua, head/cabeza, picanha steak, quick rib, cheek, lip, rib eye, bone marrow, beef birria, suadero, chorizo/longaniza, tripe, and campechana/seafood) than it is on tacos. 

Chef Gerardo Marin | Credit score: Ingrid Bostrom

These are the flavors of street foods you’d discover in Mexico Metropolis and Guadalajara, shared Chef Marin. He just lately walked us through some of the menu highlights, all of which had been new to me, despite the simple fact that I experienced been to Taqueria La Unica a couple times prior to, which offers you some strategy of how substantial the menu is.

For starters we experimented with the home designed guacamole with tostadas with a generous portion of chips. Then there was the Elote De Pueblo, which is their version of the common corn on the cob with mayo, contemporary cheese, sour product, and pequin pepper. It is not effortless to eat gracefully — or to share — but this just take on genuine Mexican street corn is unquestionably tasty. This was followed by pinto beans with cheese, an elevated version of the refried bean dip my mother utilized to make when I was a kid. 

Next up, the Taco Al Pastor, garnished with pineapple, onion, and cilantro. “Everyone loves and understands Al Pastor,” claims Marin. “Al Pastor is king because Al Pastor is incredibly common in all areas of the world.” Wanting to extend our horizons even further into what he phone calls “the serious cuisine and flavors of Mexico,” the Mexico Metropolis native then experienced us attempt the Costras with tongue, which has a cheese crust wrapped around the tongue (it tastes like, uh, meat, and was perfectly seasoned — if I did not know it was la lengua I wouldn’t have given it a 2nd believed) on best of a corn tortilla. It was tasty, but a bit tricky to consume with a plastic fork and knife, which is all they have accessible.

“Alambres La Unica is our most common menu merchandise,” states Marin, as he had us consider this incredible (and huge) mix of sirloin steak, picanha steak, chorizo, onion, anaheim chili, mushrooms, and deliciously melty cheese. No surprise that this was in all probability my favored item of the evening. The shrimp alambres are my go-to get at Los Agaves, and even nevertheless the taste of the La Unica Alambres — also obtainable in variants with skirt steak and bacon (Norteno), and al pastor, rooster, and picanha steak (Que Me Ves) — is a bit heavier and heartier, the winning combination of savory meats and melty cheese is hard to beat. 

The Skirt Steak Volcanes, served on a corn tostada with refried pinto beans, were being superior, but unquestionably necessary salsa — and fortunately there is a lot. Every single of the Los Agaves’s group dining establishments has its possess intensive range of salsa. The Salsa Puya, with puya-dried chile sauce, is my most loved of this bunch. It is a little bit identical to guajillo but has a little bit much more kick to it. The Tacos Santa Barbara — a residence specialty, built with grilled anaheim chili, al pastor, cheese, and avocado on tender corn tortilla — were rather excellent as nicely. I liked the dazzling crunchiness of the radish garnish. 

Clockwise from prime remaining: Tacos Santa Barbara, Tacos El Pastor, Pinto Beans with Cheese, Burrito Del Rey, Alambres La Unica, and Costras La Lengua | Credit rating: Ingrid Bostrom

Even with trying tiny bites of every thing I was stuffed at this place, but Marin brought out the Burrito Del Rey, produced with al pastor, chihuahua cheese, refried pinto beans, rice, pineapple, onion, and cilantro, a intelligent concoction which stayed intact as I dug in to check out a bite (a person of my pet peeves is exploding burritos). I took it house for lunch the upcoming day and it was just as great reheated. We did not even get to the Tortas, Mexican sandwiches readily available with a selection of meat possibilities, together with al pastor, suadero, head, campechana, birria (braised beef), and milanesa (breaded beef).

I had the quesabirria (beef birria with cheese tacos) on a earlier go to and loved it immensely — the birria torta is absolutely on my list for upcoming time. Marin also encourages the desserts, which contain strawberries with handmade whip cream and cookies and standard Mexican rice pudding. Typically although, he just desires individuals to, “Come to the taqueria and check out the real flavors of Mexico and the most effective taqueria in town.”

“Where our relatives is from in Jalisco, some of the really ideal foodstuff can be observed proper on the streets — it is amazing, there is almost nothing else like it!” stated owner Carlos Luna when Taqueria La Unica 1st opened. “We desired to recreate the practical experience that transports our attendees to the streets of Mexico, wherever the flavors are bold, the spices are fiery, and the tacos are normally refreshing.” 

I don’t know about the streets of Mexico, but on the uptown streets of S.B., Taqueria La Unica is absolutely on its way to reputation: I observed 5 folks I understood in line in the course of my take a look at! 

With a energetic open up kitchen area idea, a great deal of indoor and outdoor seating, and a beer and wine license in the is effective, there is no motive not to imagine that Taqueria La Unica is very well on its way to starting to be as substantially of a mainstay as the Los Agaves Group’s other eating places. My only complaint: the plastic silverware does not quite lower it (actually) with this degree of cuisine. That one particular correct and they’ll have a crystal clear winner on their fingers.

See taquerialaunica.com.

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