Some people think a good taco shop should be as clean as an abandoned port-a-potty. They argue the grungy atmosphere adds to the experience. I disagree. A good taco shop should be sanitary, relaxing, and have friendly employees.
Best Service: Mexico Viejo
I visited Mexico Viejo three times. In each of the three visits, my food was ready within ninety seconds of ordering. All of these visits took place during the peak lunch hour. Taco shops are known for their quick service, but Mexico Viejo was so quick I am still trying to uncover their secret.
Caliente-Second only to Mexico Viejo in speed of food readiness, Caliente is staffed by wonderful employees who rise to the challenge every lunch rush.
Worst Service: Roberto’s
On one visit, I waited over thirty minutes for an order of beef tacos. Unacceptable.
No other shop came close to the remarkably slow service found at Roberto’s.
Best Atmosphere: Roberto’s
Roberto’s may have room to improve in service, but it’s atmosphere cannot be beat. Seating is on a large, clean, outdoor patio overlooking a lagoon that filters into the nearby Pacific Ocean. The smell of the sea salt permeates into the air, and combined with the presence of a beachy clientele, Roberto’s takes on a nice Southern California surfer vibe.
Caliente-You have heard it many times before, but its true: a visit to Caliente feels like a vacation to a quaint Mexican village. 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.
Worst Atmosphere: Aiberto’s (Who else?)
Everybody in this place, from the workers to the customers looked miserable. After trying the food, I could tell why: the customers probably wished for a barf bag, but were just too embarrassed to ask. The interior was dirty, and the pickled carrots had flies swarming around them. The music was too loud and inconsistent-alternating between punk rock and spanish genres. The only reason I awarded a single point for service/atmosphere, was I found it kind of cool that the place had a drive-through.
Rudy’s-Taco shops should not be located in liquor stores.
Nico’s-Their decision to remove the video games left eatery, located in a bland Carmel Valley shopping center, with no charm.
Juanita’s-Juanita’s is small, dirty, and loud. The indoor seating is disgusting, and the outdoor seating is subpar, basically located on the very busy, and very loud 101. Juanita’s looks and feels like a shack. The bars on the windows give the joint a sketchy feel.
Best Overall Service/Atmosphere: Caliente
Runner up in both service and atmosphere, Caliente was the easy pick for best overall service/atmosphere.
Santana’s-Pretty solid on both counts.
Roberto’s-Chances are food does not typically take 30 minutes to prepare at Roberto’s. With even slightly better service, Roberto’s would be an absolutely delightful place to grab a bite.
Worst Overall Service/Atmosphere: Aiberto’s
The depressing atmosphere rubs off on the employees, all of whom mope around lethargically.