The stretch of Telegraph Avenue between Bancroft and Dwight is something of a wasteland for good food. There are undergraduate-geared restaurants and bars aplenty, but, unless you’ve got a craving for greasy pizza or a Chipotle burrito bowl, you’re out of luck. That is, until last week.
East Oakland’s Tacos Sinaloa has come to town. The popular group of taco trucks, which we visited in 2013, opened its first ever brick-and-mortar restaurant last Friday, Sept. 18. NOSH stopped in for lunch this week for a first taste of the joint.
Tacos Sinaloa is bright, well-designed (props on the orange tiles), and packed — even right after opening at 11 a.m. on a Monday. Much of its business seems to be take-out, but there are several counter seats for eating in house. These seats (and a fat stack of napkins) are ideal if dining on Sinaloa’s salsa-laden tacos.
Sinaloa has a sizable menu. Tacos ($2-2.25), burritos ($8-12), tortas ($8) and quesadillas ($6) are all on deck, plus seafood tostadas ($5-6) and cocteles (cocktails) with shrimp, octopus and/or crab ($8-15). Like most taco trucks, meat fillings are the main attraction, but Sinaloa does have a significant vegetarian menu. Unfortunately on our visit, the kitchen was out of the special calabasitas tacos (squash, tomato, onion and corn), a far more interesting option than the bean-rice-cheese combos that typically anchor meat-free tacos.
While Sinaloa does offer a fairly substantial range of meat cuts like buche (pork stomach), lengua (beef tongue) and tripitas (pork intestines), we chose to sample a few of the less-adventurous options on this visit. (Let it be noted that we do plan to return for an offal fest in the near future.)
Sinaloa’s sign boats a grinning shrimp, so we would have been remiss not to try some of its seafood. The shrimp taco looked picture perfect, piled high on a double stack of supple corn tortillas and topped with pico de gallo and salsa ranchera. Sinaloa’s attention to details on the toppings didn’t, however, translate to the shrimp itself — it was overcooked. Despite this error, we still ate the whole thing, enjoying the abundant, fresh toppings and well-balanced seasoning.
Better than the shrimp was the carne asada, which we heard the cashier recommending to anyone who asked. It is a simple thing, Sinaloa’s asada. There’s not much in the way of excess spice, so the true beefiness of the steak can shine through. A few sprinkles of onion, super-fresh cilantro, and the spicy salsa ranchera enhance and complement the tender meat. Our only quibble was that, when eaten alone, the asada was a touch dry.
The carnitas taco was on a whole other level. Sinaloa smashes its braised carnitas into a pancake of crisp, juicy pork, which rolls up into the tortilla with ease. The carnitas are likely the best match to the house salsa — the rich pork needs its slowly building heat and acidic punch for balance. How the Sinaloa cooks manage to keep the carnitas as moist and succulent as they do, while still giving the meat a serious sear, is a thing of magic.
Alongside our tacos, we sipped on a cup of hibiscus agua fresca, one of six rotating juice and horchata options. While pleasantly purple, the drink was a little on the sweet side. We would have appreciated a bit more tang, especially once digging into our hefty plate of tacos.
Tacos Sinaloa’s new spot is in its early infancy, so we can only expect its execution to improve. Yet even if the kitchen continues to overcook its shrimp, Sinaloa will still be your best bet for dining on this stretch of Telegraph. Get a plate of carnitas, let the juice dribble down your chin, and be happy (very happy) you’re not at Chipotle.