My curiosity was finally piqued and I knew it was time.
I could only drive by something so uniquely non-Akron so many times before the epicurean gravitational pull eventually caused me to stop and pull in for a closer look. Perhaps part of me was in disbelief that something so small and unassuming could really produce anything of quality. Perhaps it was the somewhat vicarious location, an open parking lot in front of a set of stores that had seen previous owners, but were now vacant and lifeless. Whatever it was that kept me away for so long, I began to notice things. Things like the place always seemed to be open. Things like the place always seem to have a line. Things like they were open on major holidays when every other store was closed.
I am speaking, for those who don't live on the east side of Akron, of Taqueria La Loma. When a Mexican supermarket actually opened up in the storefront on the same lot as the taqueria, it all began to make sense and fall into place. Both La Loma Supermarket and Taqueria were located at 421 Darrow Road, Akron, Ohio 44305 and can be reached at 330-784-9309. There was no website associated with the store at the time of this writing.
While the opening of the storefront supermarket added legitimacy to the little taco truck out front, I still wondered about the authenticity. I began to examine who was in line waiting for food. While there was the occasional non-Mexican waiting for food, the overall majority of the clientèle seemed to match the food coming out of the truck. I tried to do a bit of research ahead of time, but then as well as now, there just wasn't much available on the Internet. One night, a full four months after the taco truck opened for business, I basically bit the bullet and decided to pull into the parking lot. Between my broken Spanish and their broken English, I managed to order myself a chicken burrito. I paid my $5, took my meal home and discovered that in addition to the burrito being enormous, they had thoughtfully included both salsa verde and salsa picante. I dug in and discovered that to my surprise, this was really good. The salsas were fresh and flavorful and really added so much to the already flavorful burrito. Since then, I've returned numerous times and explored other options on the menu. I finally feel that I'm ready to tell you, gentle reader, about this crazy-good little taqueria.
I already knew that I was going over to my grandmother's today to take care of a few odds and ends. Being that I left right before noon, I decided that I would stop at La Loma and grab lunch to go. After pulling into the parking lot in front of La Loma Supermarket, I snapped a few pictures to start out my adventure.
Here was a shot of the supermarket:
While I haven't been inside the supermarket, if this was what the taco truck was using to source the ingredients for their menu offerings, then there must be many, many wonderful grocery items for sale inside the store. To the right of the supermarket was the taco truck:
Once you got close to the ordering window, the available menu was posted on the wall next to the window:
The menu was simple and was comprised of tacos, burritos, tamales, tortas, quesadillas, chimichangas, flautas, sopes, and alambre. You essentially pick the "vehicle" for your meal and then tell them what kind of meat you would like on it. Choices range from chicken, pork, beef, chorizo, and lengua. For those of you a little rusty on your Spanish, that last one was beef tongue. Up until now, I was a bit reluctant to give the lengua a try. Today, however, was a bold new day and if I was going to write up a representative review of the La Loma experience, I knew it was time for a bit of tongue action.
Once I ordered my food, it took them just a few minutes to assemble my lunch. I paid the check, loaded up my car and headed over to my grandmother's condo. Once I arrived, I began documenting everything before finally sitting down to taste it. I had noticed that on the left side of the ordering window was a small plastic holder containing an almost flyer-like paper menu. Here was a shot of the paper menu:
First up on today's lunch was the burrito pastor:
This burrito was HUGE. The takeout container the burrito was sitting in was the standard large styrofoam box that restaurants typically have available. The burrito only fit in this container because they laid it in diagonally. Here was a close-up of the side of the burrito:
I ordered the burrito sin cebollas, but even without the onions, there was plenty of pork, beans, rice, queso fresco, tomatoes, pineapple and cilantro. According to this site, pastor is pork that has been marinated in achiote, sliced thin and then served with various accoutrement. Achiote is actually made from annatto seeds and flavored with garlic and lime. Regardless of how they do it, it was wonderfully tasty and the pork was nicely crispy and chewy at the same time. All of the other ingredients in the burrito were also fresh and tasty. I added a little bit of salsa verde and salsa picante before taking each bite and the flavors just sang in my mouth. Of all the items I've tried at La Loma, this one is still my favorite. At only $5 for this massive flour tortilla-wrapped meal, it's also an excellent bargain.
Along with my standard burrito, I decided to mix it up a little bit and try two other popular menu items, a taco and a sope. At $1.50 and $2.00 respectively, each offers a smaller snack size treat that you could mix and match to your stomach's content. Here was a shot of my taco and sope:
The taco was in the back and the sope was in the front. Here was a close-up shot of the sope:
I decided to get my sope with pollo (in this case, cooked pulled chicken) and it was also topped with queso fresco, crema, cilantro and some frijoles refritos, or refried beans. The circular masa dough used as the plate on which to build this tower of flavor had been expertly fried and was crispy and not soggy. The corn flavor from the masa was particularly nice and melded in with the ingredients on top. Topped generously with salsa verde, this was delicious. The only criticism, and it was a very minor criticism, was that the sope was a bit hard to eat. With each bite, additional toppings would tumble down into the waiting styrofoam container on the table.
My final luncheon item today was going to be my most challenging. Here was a shot of my taco lengua:
Consisting of two small flexible corn tortillas topped with beef tongue, onions and fresh cilantro, I knew that tasting this was going to be a two step process. First, I needed to try the tongue by itself. My grandmother's eyes nearly bugged out of her head when I told her what I was about to eat. But, I've come this far and I'm not about to turn back. I picked a representative piece that wasn't covered in onions or cilantro, gave it a slight sniff and popped it in my mouth. Having never had tongue before, I wasn't sure what kind of flavor and texture to expect. My first reaction was to the texture. While it certainly wasn't filet mignon, it also wasn't too far off from other beef cuts I have had in Mexican cuisine. It had crusty bits and it had chewier bits. Not chewy in a bad way, mind you. Once the spices and seasonings from the meat began to excite the taste buds in my mouth, my second reaction was to the flavor. This was really very tasty. It tasted very much like the chicken or beef you get when you order fajitas. It had that same savory "cooked in a cast iron skillet" kind of flavor.
Having survived my taste of tongue, I decided to add both the salsa verde and the salsa picante to the top of the meat, folded up the corn tortillas around the filling and took a bite. Wonderful! Just wonderful! At that point, any issues with the fact that I was eating beef tongue went right out the window. The combination of flavors was really compelling and I found myself eating bite after bite to get more of them. Watching from the chair next to mine, I wasn't sure if my grandmother was looking on in horror or amazement at my display of pure gluttony. At that point, I simply didn't care.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the sauces and extras that you receive with every order. Unfortunately, they were out of the salsa habanero, which you must specifically request, but as always the salsa verde and salsa picante were fresh and delicious:
The salsa verde had a lovely fresh tomatillo flavor to it and a mild herbaceousness from the cilantro. The salsa picante lived up to its name and added quite a bit of zing when sampled on its own. However, this wasn't a one-note salsa; the fruitiness of the chillies were also present and even though I'm sure there weren't ground up nuts in the salsa, I could almost taste a bit or peanut or sesame seed note to the flavor. Used sparingly, the flavor of the salsa was what I noticed when eating it on my taco. A heavier handed application would've resulted in more of the spice being found in every bite.
Along with the two salsa, every order also comes with a small plastic bag of peeled sliced cucumbers, sliced radishes and lime wedges. The lime wedge seemed obvious to me, as a few drops of lime juice on any of the products I tried today would've added a nice little brightness (although wholly unneeded, I might add) to them. Were the radishes and cucumbers simply an edible side garnish? Most times I will simply squeeze the lime juice in the bag, marinate the cucumbers and radishes for a little bit and throw in a touch of salt. It turns into sort of a faux salad of sorts. Any way you decide to eat it, it has always been delicious.
Seeing as I wouldn't be able to eat everything I had bought today in one sitting, I returned the other half of my burrito the the refrigerator along with my salsas and salad and am looking forward to the leftovers later today.
I have a funny feeling that today won't be the last time I order the lengua again. Or the sope. Or the taco. And certainly not the burrito. Everything was fresh and delicious and very well balanced. The addition of the two salsas provided with my order was not to correct seasonings, but to marry two flavors together to produce an even better third. If I had doubted the authenticity of the food prior to my first visit, I now embrace it. I know of no other Mexican place in Akron that serve such unique and tasty products. Clearly the word has gotten out about this little truck as the line today was comprised of more non-Mexicans than Mexicans. I know that they will be getting a lot of my business whenever I crave this sort of food ... which is pretty much every single time I drive by. Taqueria La Loma is an absolute must visit if you live in Akron and quite honestly, a very big suggestion for a day trip to those in Cleveland and Canton.