Every good bracket style tournament has a 5-12 upset, and this tournament is no different. In a battle of chicken quesadillas, Mucho Gusto defeated Karina’s 42-31. Karina’s was good, but Mucho Gusto rose to the challenge with a lethal combination of great food, service, presentation, and freshness. Unlike most match ups, this battle featured taco shops with two different styles. Karina’s played it by the book, offering cheap, greasy cuisine. Mucho Gusto offered a more unconventional approach, serving fresh, healthy food items, but at a hearty premium. Karina’s was unprepared for Mucho Gusto’s style, but I am sure subsequent opponents will be more adequately prepared.
Mucho Gusto (Del Mar/Carmel Valley)
Overall Taste (24/25 points)
Mucho Gusto delivered a quesadilla that was light on grease, but heavy on flavor. A high quality jack cheese was used, and the perfect amount was measured out and included in the quesadilla. The all white-meat chicken had a unique curryish spice, which tasted excellent. Guacamole, and homemade chips were provided on the side. Both tasted amazing.
Service/Atmosphere (4/5 points)
Ordering was a pleasent experience as the cashier was very friendly. The clean establishment had a hand written menu that helped further develop the theme of a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.
Quality of the Hot Sauce (4/5 points)
The lovely salsa bar included 3 salsas, lime wedges, fresh cilantro, pickled carrots, and whole jalapenos. The three salsas included: “salsa fresca”, “picosa”, and “verde mild.” The salsa verde in particular was less watery than found at most eateries. All of the salsas were refreshing, but not quite as flavorful as at Caliente(s) or Santana’s.
Presentation (5/5 points)
The presentation was the best I have ever seen at a taco shop. Since some say a picture is worth 1,000 words, I won’t even bother to describe the spread, just take a look at the pic…
Freshness (5/5 points)
Fresh tomatoes, fresh cilantro, fresh guacamole, real chicken. Not scared to try the pico. FRESH, FRESH, FRESH.
Value (0/5 points)
The owner of this place clearly has no idea the word “value” exists. I paid an unbelievable $8.98 for my small chicken quesadilla. I was tempted to give a half a point because all of the ingredients were super fresh, but $8.98 before tax for a quesadilla is criminal.
Overall Taste (17/25 points)
Not bad. The chicken was seasoned and grilled nicely. The sauteed onions tucked inside the quesadilla were tasty. Unfortunately, the queso was way too hot, so much so that I was unable to tell whether the cheese lacked flavor, or whether my taste buds were just burnt.
Atmosphere/Service (3/5 points)
Karina’s has a decent location on the corner of the 101-Leucadia Blvd. intersection. The menu has pictures, and unlike at Ricos, the food in these pictures actually looks good. The interior has seen better days, and the tables should have been wiped down, but overall cleanliness was not a major problem. The food took a little too long to prepare.
Quality of the Hot Sauce (3/5 points)
The hot sauce was flavorful, but way too spicy. The hot sauce (which does come in a squeeze bottle), could have been thicker.
Presentation (2/5 points)
The quesadilla was placed on a very flimsy styrofoam plate. The plate was garnished with pico de gallo and carrots, neither of which looked remotely appetizing. Props though for the squeeze bottled hot sauce.
Freshness (1/5 points)
A key indicator of a lack of freshness is the onset of nausea on the drive out. The red light on this indicator was flashing brightly, as I felt a bit dizzy upon exiting the eatery. The pico was so discolored that it reminded my fellow taster of the tomatoes banned by the FDA just a few months ago in the salmonella scare.
Value (5/5 points)
At Karina’s, I paid a very respectable $4.85 for a hearty portion of quesadilla. Considering the relative nature of this category, Karina’s clearly earned a full 5 point advantage in value over Mucho Gusto.