Thursday, January 7, 2010

Extra Helpings: Taco Happiness At Taqueria La Loma

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.


Mahala said...

Oh boy, Tom, here you go again. How am I going to stick to the New Years' resolution to lose 30 lbs. when you keep pointing me in such delicious directions? Yesterday it was Wonton Gourmet, and this weekend it will probably be Taqueria La Loma. My son is a Chipotle addict, but these burritos sound vastly superior. It's his birthday so I will probably treat him to lunch on Saturday. I knew that NE Ohio is a great place for good food, but finding your blog is going to make eating here a much more satisfying experience. Thanks again!

Tino said...

@Mahala: Trust me, you're not the first person to take me to task for ruining a diet plan, and you probably won't be the last.

I think that La Loma's food is definitely superior in flavor to Chipotle (and honestly, I don't mind a Chipotle burrito every once in a blue moon). The fact that it's cheaper than Chipotle and the meat filling choices outnumber Chipotle's is also a big plus. The one thing that Chipotle-goers might have a hard time adjusting to is that La Loma isn't really a build-your-own burrito kind of place. That being said, I've never had a problem with them adding or leaving off toppings at my request.

Unknown said...

Thank you for mentioning the grocery store! I'm going to add it to my list of Akron ethnic markets.

I will also pay them a visit, if we ever stop getting winter storm warnings. (They're on the far side of town from me.)

I'm looking forward to a lunch from the truck, followed by a visit to the grocery store.

Tino said...

@MikeV: And after just reading your latest blog post on Mexican Hot Chocolate (wasn't that timed well?), I'm curious to see what kinds of Mexican chocolate that La Loma carries in the supermarket.

Unknown said...

I couldn't wait, so I headed over on my lunch hour today. The grocery store has both types of Mexican chocolate I mention in my post.

They have a well-stocked dry goods section, good produce, and a GREAT butcher's counter - all sorts of different Mexican cuts of meat. The deep-fried pork belly was amazing, and I bought some chorizo and thin-sliced pork adobo for grilling. (And chocolate, tostadas, some dried chiles, avocados, cilantro...)

I'll back up everything you said about the taco truck out front. I had barbacoa and lengua tacos, and chorizo, asada and carnitas sopes. And a bottle of coca-cola, which if I'm not mistaken is the "real sugar" Mexican version. It was great, and I'm still stuffed hours later.

Thank you for the find! It was great.

Tino said...

@MikeV: LOL! The pull of that taco track is apparently stronger than the crappy roads right now! I'm glad to hear that your experience was every bit as good as mine.

I'm eager to check out the supermarket myself, so thanks for the inside scoop on what to find inside. I'm sure I'll be back soon and I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for the real Coca-Cola. Were they selling the bottles in the market or at the truck?

Unknown said...

The Mexican coke I bought was from the taco truck; I saw someone else order it while I was waiting for my food, so I added it to my order.

I'm assuming it's in the store, but I glossed over the beverages aisle. Though I will be back to pick up some Bohemia from the beer section...

Anonymous said...

Having lived in the Chicago area for 17 years (home of the most authentic Mexican food outside of Juarez) and tasted some of the best, we had to give this a try. My wife's family is Mexican, and very particular as to what they consider "good" Mexican food.

Taqueria La Loma did not disappoint.

First, the folks in the supermarket and at the stand were exceptionally friendly and helpful. (I won't go into the details on hte supermarket much, but they have the best variety of Mexican-prepared meats I have EVER seen) The tacos were simply splendid. The lengua was tender but not mushy. The salsas are tempered as one would expect for Ohio, but very flavorful, and very authentic. The Burritos are large - they do not skimp on the meat.

Of the meats, I found the asada (beef) to be a bit dry, but tasty. The barbacoa is fantastic, as is the lengua. I did not get the chance to try the chicken this time.

There is no formal, sit-down restaurant area. However, they have a small (and comfy considering the 21 degree temperature) "indoor picnic area" with a couple tables and chairs. The folks there brought us limes to squeeze over the tacos, along with some sliced cucumbers and radishes. A nice tasty addition.

I highly recommend this place for a VERY INFORMAL, authentic Mexican treat!!!

Unknown said...

my family and i are responsible for the creation of la loma supermarket, as we strive to offer great mouth bursting tastes and good customer service at great prices, we are so happy to see that you guys gave us such a great review. watch out for spring and summer as we offer the best bbq special package deals for people to bbq at home or at the park. weekends will be designated to the best menudo, carnitas, and barbacua. check us out again. 330-784-9300 la loma supermarket.

Tino said...

@David: I want to thank you and your family for opening up such a wonderful store and taqueria right here in Akron. When I stopped by the other day for my burrito fix, I noticed the addition of Tacos de Tripas (Tripe Tacos) on the menu and I am happy to hear about some of the other spring and summer menu changes. I'm looking forward to experience more of the authentic Mexican dishes that La Loma will be serving up.

I wish you and your family much continued success.

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting about this authentic taqueria. coming from California and having grown up with Hispanic friends where i was invited to dinner periodically, i miss having the authentic taste of hispanic food. this place did not disappoint! the proprietors are so friendly and helpful, and the store is more than happy to share samples of their prepared food. I had talk to the lady proprietor there and she was very excited and happy about the free advertising that you've given to their place; they've been seeing more and more customers because of your review. I too am appreciative of your tasting adventures and your finding of this little gem of a place where i can get a taste of "home". keep up the good work!

Unknown said...

The radishes and cucumbers are to kill the heat if you use to much salsa habanero, they also freshen up your breath.

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