West Regional Match 2: Caliente (1) v. Nico’s (16)

Caliente’s clearly established itself as the front runner for the title.  Even though it was forced to contend in a battle of cheese enchiladas-not exactly a taco shop speciality-it pulled through, and absolutely romped Nico’s 34-13.  Assuming enchiladas are not Cal’s tastiest menu item, it seems poised to be the first taco shop to break the 40 point barrier.

Nico’s (Carmel Valley)

Overall Taste (3/25 Points)

No, that is not a typo.  Nico’s actually accumulated only 12% of the possible points for flavor.  The enchilada’s were so horrendous that after observing the facial expressions of the other eaters, my sister was scared to take a bite.  The taste was so grotesque that the three eaters could not bear to consume the complete serving.  What made the enchiladas taste like regurgitated snail waste was a sauce that was so disgusting I am failing to come up with the proper words to describe it.  The tortilla not only looked rubbery as it jiggled on my fork, but it tasted so as well.  The cheese, which was at least edible, was not at all melted inside.  The three points were earned for two reasons: first, cheese whiz was not used, and second, I did not throw up following my two bites.

Service/Atmosphere (2/5 points)

Nico’s is located in a Carmel Valley shopping center.  It is moderately clean, and has a few pictures on the wall-none of which stand out or add to the ambience.  I was dissapointed  they had removed the game systems that had been a staple in the place for years.  Sans Pacman, Nico’s is left with little uniqueness.

Hot Sauce (2.5/5 points)

Nico’s serves 2 types of hot sauce: red and green.  The salsa verde was very watery, but at least at some kick to it.  The red sauce was much better-spicy and with some flavor.  The red hot sauce was thick, but not in a good way-more of a jelloey sort of way.

Freshness (2.5/5 points)

The previously mentioned enchilada sauce was obviously not fresh, but direct from a can.  The lettuce though was very green, and somewhat makes up for Nico’s other freshness shortcomings.

Presentation (3/5 points)

The enchiladas are presented in a very nice clear plastic container.  They are topped with the fresh lettuce and some shredded cheese.  If it were not for the presence of the very dark, nasty looking sauce they were drowned in, and the undesirable looking hot sauces, the presentation score would have been outstanding.

Value (0/5 Points)

Unbelievable.  Nico’s charged me $5.99 for two horrendous tasting enchiladas.  That is more than many sit down restaurants charge.  I guess it turns out you pay for that nice clear container.

Caliente (Sorrento Valley)

Overall Taste (15/25 points)

The fact that a taco shop was able to churn out an average tasting enchilada is pretty impressive.  The tortilla was soft and flavorful.  The enchilada sauce pretty tasty.  The cheese inside could have been more melted.

Atmosphere/Service (4.5/5 points)

A trip to Cal’s feels like a vacation to a quaint Mexican village.  I have never experienced anything quite like it.  The restaurant is part of a group of separately owned restaurants that share the same building-a small house on a street corner.  Cal’s is home to beautiful patio seating with chairs and tables that combine to place you at a comfortable eating height.  The patio is surrounded by lush flora and the entire facility is very clean.  To top things off, the restaurant buzzes with the positive energy of hungry cubicle workers on their lunch break.

Hot Sauce (5/5 points)

Wow.  This hot sauce was by far the best I have tasted so far.  It had a nice smokey flavor, and was spicy, but not too spicy.  Additionally, the sauce was mixed to the perfect viscosity.

Freshness (3.5/5 points)

If it were not for the amazing freshness of the hot sauce, Caliente(s) probably would have been given a 3 for freshness.  The enchilada’s seemed homemade, but nothing jumped out as super fresh.  Not bad, but could be better.

Presentation (2/5 points)

The presentation was not great.  The enchiladas were placed in a small, flimsy styrofoam container, which did not make me happy.  The garnishing though was not bad.  The enchiladas were topped with lettuce, shredded cheese, and some enchilada sauce.  The hot sauce though looked amazing.  It was rich in color, and even though not presented in a squeeze tube, made the rest of the food look more appetizing than it would have otherwise appeared.

Value (4/5 points)

Compared to Nico’s, Cal’s is the steal of the decade.  I paid only $3.25 for 2 cheese enchiladas.  I am sure I can find cheaper enchiladas somewhere, but this grade is somewhat relative.  Also, I doubt I can find them much cheaper elsewhere.  (Note: Caliente(s) offers a 20% student discount.  I elected to bypass the discount in an attempt at fairness.  Had I used the discounted price, the value score would have clearly been a 5/5).



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