Cabo Blue Taco Shack’s matriarch gives downtown Monterey authentic Mexican.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
I should have been born Mexican. I love the burn-so-goodness of a jalapeño, make my own tamales from scratch and perpetually seek the best chile relleno the country has to offer.
As I set my sights on the newly opened Mexican joint, Cabo Blue Taco Shack on Alvarado Street in Monterey – which opened its doors just before the holidays – my expectations were high since I heard it was owned by a hard-working Michoacán family with a madre en la cocina doing all the cooking and her own hijos waiting tables.
My friend and I took a shortcut through the back door and found ourselves in the middle of the kitchen with the surprised mama (whose name is Chiqui Ramirez). Hallelujah, the word around the campfire was true. More good news: The kitchen was very clean and the aromas escaping from the pots were supremely comforting. We made our way to the front and were told to sit wherever we like by an excited server, who began to explain that the simple-but-colorful décor was inspired by the the Corona beer label – “We want Cabo Azul to be reminiscent of a beach resort in Mexico,” he said – which made me thirsty.
“Una cerveza por favor,” I announced, only the server responded that he wouldn’t be able to bring me a beer until later this month when the alcohol license kicks in, so I ordered an horchata from the agua fresca options ($2).
The menu included all the regulars: tacos, burritos, enchiladas and the like, and my editor reports the tortas ($5.75) – particularly the “Chiqui torta,” with al pastor – are excellently authentic and the super veggie burrito ($7.75) is huge and above-average on flavor.
With a closer look at the menu I happily discovered a selection of traditional breakfasts (think chorizo and eggs and huevos rancheros for only $6.25), dinners including chile colorado ($11.75), pork ribs in chile sauce ($10.75), chile verde ($10.75), steak ranchero ($10.75), and fiesta grilled chicken breast ($10.75). Seafood was also featured, including the classic “Siete Mares” seafood soup ($12.50), camarón al mojo de ajo (a mild garlic and onion shrimp sauté, $12.75) and camarón a la diabla (a spicy chile, garlicky tomato sauce shrimp sautéed, also $12.75). Cabo draws its fish from standard wholesale outlets.
They bring out their portable wood and metal taco huts on Tuesday afternoon for the farmers market, and keep the patio open late to catch the hungry barflies on Alvarado. A bunch of drunks can order The Big Sombrero – 20 tacos with fresh-made corn tortillas – for $39.50, and come back in the morning and cure their hangover with menudo ($7.25) or pozole ($7.50).
On our visit, crispy chips with a very mild tomato salsa – which tasted more like a marinara – arrived quickly. I ordered the two-taco plate ($7.25) with a pork taco and carne asada to accompany the rice and beans and promptly learned the corn tortillas are handmade by the server’s mother.
The plate arrived with two beautiful, handmade-tortilla tacos topped with onions, cilantro and shredded green cabbage, fluffy yellow rice and a bowl of pinto beans with a nice-sized hunk of queso fresco sitting on top. There was an intricately carved red radish rose perched on top of a pile of cabbage, a charming and time-consuming touch on such a reasonably priced plate.
The mild beans seemed more like a freshly made soup; I remembered seeing a big bag of dried pinto beans, which means they were also homemade – very nice. The carne asada taco satisfied my taco craving and tasted better than a street taco in Mexico. The pork taco, on the other hand, disappointed with its dryness, possibly the result of microwaving. It would have been nice if the pork was stewing on the stove in some stock or broth to keep it moist. Two grilled serrano chilies, meanwhile, made this chili freak very happy, and two types of salsa brought out with our meal were superb – one a smoky, red ground chile salsa and the other a bright tomatillo salsa with chopped green onions that ran circles around the one that came with the chips.
My friend ordered the two-enchilada plate ($10.75) con pollo. The oregano seasoning was a little strong for my taste, but my friend enjoyed it. The enchilada was tasty with a homemade smoky sauce coating, though we wished the handmade corn tortillas were served with more than just the tacos.
Though we were full, out of duty to my mission I had to try the two-chile relleno plate for $11.75. The big, fat poblano chile landed hot and stuffed to the gills with real Mexican queso fresco, smothered with a balanced sweet-savory tomato sauce, with sautéed onions on top as a sweet touch.
Cabo Azul stole my heart with this one. May mama keep busting out the homemade goodness. Hopefully the business will follow. I know I will.
CABO BLUE TACO SHACK 11am-9pm Tue, 11am-3am Wed-Sat, 11am-2pm Sun, closed Mon. • 481 Alvarado St., Monterey • 920-1692.