It looks like the tournament committee got the seedings right after all. In the battle of the carnitas torta, Mexican Viejo prevailed over close neighbor and fierce rival, Ricos (28-22). The match, while the closest yet, was sloppily played on both sides. Mexican Viejo better step it up if it plans on defeating the highly regarded Filiberto’s or Kotija Jr. in round 2. While their food was relatively tasty, Mexican Viejo stumbled in some of the other categories. This may prove to be problematic for Mexican Viejo, because overall taste is probably the most variable of the 6 categories.
Mexican Viejo (Encinitas)
Taste (17/25 points)
The carnitas in the torta was juicy and flavorful without being overly greasy. The guacamole, clearly made with ripe avocados, thoroughly satisfied my taste buds. The bread was nicely toasted, which prevented the juices from the carnitas from seeping in and creating a soggy experience.
Atmosphere/Service (1.5/5 points)
Mexican Viejo is located in a small shopping center next to Brett’s BBQ (pretty decent for SD BBQ), and a Dairy Queen. It is a large establishment, and while not spotless, cannot be considered dirty by taco shop standards. While it was disappointing that there was no outdoor seating, the real problem is the place has no charm about it. Too big, not enough energy.
Hot Sauce (1/5 points)
Like Aiberto’s, Mexican Viejo displays an offering of 3 different types of salsas at a bar with pickled carrots, cucumbers, and spicy peppers. There were 2 red sauces, and 1 salsa verde. The hotter version of the red sauce tasted less like salsa and more like tomato sauce. The more mild version was nothing more than an extremely watered down version of the hotter sauce. The salsa verde was spicy, but contained a higher proportion of H20 than the human body. It’s aftertaste was bizarre, and not in a good way.
Freshness (4/5 points)
Props for fresh guac, and reasonably fresh tasting tomatoes and onions. I do not expect taco shops to bake fresh bread daily, or even bake it on premises, but it would have been a nice touch if they had done so. Overall though-much fresher than most taco shops.
Presentation (2/5 points)
The torta, which came in the standard yellow wrapper, appeared soggy. Luckily, it did not taste soggy, but this category is all about the appearance, and I was put off by the soggy looking torta.
Value (3/5 points)
Mexican Viejo charges $3.99 for their carnitas torta-no complaints.
Taste (10/21 points)
The taste is really what did Rico’s in. The carnitas was dry and not as flavorful as Mexican Viejo’s. The guacamole did little but add color. The refried beans in the torta were just unnecessary and detracted from the overall eating experience. The only good part about the sandwich was the bread, which was toasted to perfection, and added a pleasant grilled flavor.
Service/Atmosphere (3/5 points)
The classic Mexican music that accompanied the dining experience was set to a proper volume. Nice murals that depicted Aztec civilization graced the walls. Rico’s was busy, but not too much so. Nonetheless, the place is located in a shopping mall, and posts cheesy pictures of the menu items that do little to sell the food. Not a bad atmosphere, just not necessarily a selling point.
Hot Sauce (1.5/5 points)
Boy was I excited to try this stuff. The hot sauce was not only presented in a squeeze bottle, but was retrieved from a mini-fridge on the counter just as my torta was ready. The mini-fridge concept is unique, and worked for me. Here’s the problem: the hot sauce was terrible. It contained plenty of flavor-bad flavor. Like Mexican Viejo, the hot sauce tasted like tomato sauce. Additionally, it contained what tasted like way too much liquid smoke. The flavor of the hot sauce was so repulsive, I was forced to eat my torta “dry.”
Freshness (2/5 points)
The guacamole was not fresh. The tomatoes were not vibrant and lacked color. The cilantro sagged, and was beginning to display signs of going bad. Somewhat comforting was nothing tasted frozen.
Presentation (2.5/5 points)
Nice toasting marks made a huge difference. The problem was the tomatoes looked more white than red, which gave me pause prior to my first bite.
Value (3/5 points)
The $4.25 torta was slightly pricier than at Mexican Viejo, but not enough so to constitute being docked a point.