Try to pin an apt description on Las Cazuelas – just give it a shot.
Mexican? Sure, they serve cabeza and buche and tend to pots of menudo on Sundays. But what’s with the taco bowls? And the super nachos? There are enough Tex-Mex elements scattered across the menu to raise questions about authenticity, if it weren’t for all the Mexican staples.
How about taqueria? Certainly – except that they list combination plates and bring out spatting fajita platters.
So the owners share a broad definition of “traditional.” The staff just want to make it accessible. And whatever questions the menu raises, there is one word that properly defines the place: value.
Meat spills from the tacos. The burritos struggle to contain the generous helping rolled inside. And it’s almost frightening to consider the Man vs Food portions that must be heaped on the super nachos – or the super burritos, for that matter.
The regular burrito is challenging enough, especially with plastic utensils. Stuffed with a healthy (that may be a matter of opinion) mound of beef in the carne asada version, with just enough beans and rice to lend a rugged earthiness, underscoring smoky scars from the grill.
Carne asada also stands out when tucked – or piled, may be more precise – into tacos. It carries a campfire appeal, austere in seasoning, so husky red meat and that bittersweet score from the long flattop dominate. The grating crispness of onion and a dusting of cilantro fall into the background, providing depth without contrast.
It’s difficult to find any real standout, beyond the carne asada on one visit. Tacos al pastor are less memorable, though no less hefty. Strands of tender pork glisten with juice, but there’s no weight to the simple presentation. The result is something meek, craving a hit of chile – or anything that might liven things up. Maybe the powerful chile verde, which helped smother cubes of fatty pork on one of the special plates.
On the flip side, an order of cabeza – meat and gelatinous stuff pulled from the head of a cow – has an intense, root cellar funk. Some people steer clear of this cut (it may contain eyeballs), but this is beef at its most fundamental. There is nothing delicate about it – just deep, swarthy flavor.
At least that was the experience on one visit. A second visit found the meat tame and watery. In both cases, the cabeza is surrounded by a relatively bland supporting cast. There are mundane refried beans. They sit next to the equally aimless “Mexican rice.” And there’s a spread of unearthly green goo masquerading as guacamole, similar to the pre-made stuff found at discount groceries.
Why make the effort to grill up what could be a wonderfully unrefined plate of meat, only to mistreat it in presentation?
Las Cazuelas raises many questions. And given the hit-or-miss performance, do you feel lucky?
LAS CAZUELAS 3156 Del Monte Blvd., Marina. 9am-10pm daily. 901-3741, lascazuelasmexicanrestaurant.com