Author Archives: tacodrew

Merendero Catracho

honduran food truck columbus ohio Merendero Catracho
Honduran food truck
3868 Sullivant Ave
614.207.6340
Friday-Sunday 11am-10pm

2011 update: The truck formerly known as Las Catrachas is back with a new truck and a new name, but it’s the same delicious Honduran food cooked by the lovely Isolina with help from her daughter Angela. If you are curious about the new name Merendero is an outdoor kiosk and catracho means Honduran. We were excited to see them open again. New on the menu this year are pastelitos (empanada like pastries) made either with flour or cornmeal. Here’s the menu:

merendero catracho

and here’s evidence that the food is just as good as always: the tajadas con pollo with guineo (fried chicken with green bananas, cabbage and picked onions)

fried chicken green bananas, honduran food ohio

For more information about the food – our 2010 post is below.

3868 Sullivant Ave (parking lot of Country Food Store)(Verified August 2010).
Open 11am – 10pm, Fri-Sun
614.778.7416

Click here to map it!

Note: Due to the ‘crossover’ nature of this particular food find (it’s a mobile food vendor – which is typically taco truck territory – but they’re selling some offerings that are entirely unlike anything we’ve covered yet on TTC), we are posting this write-up both here and on alt.eats.columbus.

We’re often asked just exactly why we do what we do here on this blog – it looks like a lot of work (partly true) and doesn’t pay (entirely true), so what gives?  Our list of possible responses usually includes some or all of the following:

• We want people to be aware of the diversity of offerings in Columbus
• We enjoy learning about new cuisines and sharing our findings with others
• We like how the blog provides us with the motivation to expand our horizons and try new foods for ourselves
• We derive pleasure from the idea that our recommendations may help small business owners who have excellent (though perhaps unfamiliar) products to achieve much deserved success.

To this list, we have to add a new item:

• Pure unadulterated selfishness.  Put simply, we want to be able to return to places like Las Catrachas again and again.  Your patronage is requested for the purpose of keeping this new truck afloat through its infancy, thereby guaranteeing our continued, unfettered access.  So please, go to Las Catrachas.

Deal?

Alright… so this isn’t your first rodeo, and I’m guessing you wanna know what’s in it for you before you sign on. Fair enough. To start, there’s Las Catracha’s Honduran interpretation of a pupusa:

Made to order, these brilliantly fresh cornmeal patties pleased like none we’ve had before, and were filled with a delicious mix of refried beans, mildly spiced chicken, and cheese.  The curtido (cabbage slaw) was bright and refreshing, and the thin red sauce had deep savory undertones with just a hint of spicy heat.

The baleada, a traditional Honduran snack, was similarly satisfying.  While very similar to a taco in form and concept, this dish distinguishes itself with a light, thick, soft cornmeal shell containing your choice of cheese & refried beans, scrambled eggs, or carnitas & beans.  We opted for the carnitas, and couldn’t have been happier.  As with the pupusa, each bite exudes an ineffable freshness.

As we were contentedly munching on the above, the main attraction came out. Here’s where things get wonderfully weird:

This hot mess of a dish is called tajadas de guineo verde con pollo, or, in English, ‘french fried green bananas with chicken’. All of this was topped with pickled onions, cabbage, a sauce similar to the pupusa’s side sauce, and a rich, creamy dairy-based sauce.

Upon tasting, revelations abounded… and since we’re making lists today:

• The crispy french fried green bananas are way better than they might sound, don’t particularly taste strongly of banana, and were excellent when bathed in the mix of sauces that accumulated at the bottom of the plate.

•The chicken is fried, and very skillfully fried at that.  The included leg/thigh piece we sampled was, by itself, easily the best piece of fried chicken I’ve had in Columbus. A bold claim, perhaps, but I’m betting you’ll agree.

•This chicken was even better when smothered in the creamy sauce… I think I detected a hint of buttermilk in there.  Niiice.

•The whole strange motley mish mash of a plate adds up to one hell of a counterintuitively cohesive and spectacularly satisfying dish.

In fact, I’d wager that this dish has just the combination of oddball, inspired, and sublime that cult followings are made of.

Finally, we tried the pastelitos de carne molida – essentially a ground beef & potato empanada topped with cabbage, tomatoes, and pickled onions.  While carne molida translates roughly as ‘ground meat’, the meat in the pastelito seemed more like finely cubed beef.  No problems there, though, as the pastelito was fried to a pleasing crispness, the carne/potato mix had a nice flavorful spiciness, and the whole package struck us as resembling an endearing Central American interpretation of an Indian samosa.

Overall, our experience at Las Catrachas led all three of us to be infected with the kind of giddiness the food-obsessed get when challenged by the unfamiliar (who knew Hondurans ate fried chicken?  Who would’ve thought to put it on a plate of banana fries and cover it with all sorts of stuff?!) and made utterly content by it.

Ready to sign on?

Please be aware that La Catrachas is only open from Friday through Sunday (though they suggested they might be open for Memorial Day Monday and perhaps some other holidays.)  Vegetarians might find some happiness if they’re inclined to be lenient with some of the minor ingredients in the beans and cornmeal preparations – we can’t confirm the use of lard, but the likelihood is there. The staff is very friendly, and happy to work through any language difficulties.

Just for kicks, a look at the tajadas de platanos verde con pollo (which we intend to try next time):

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Los Chilangos

homemade tortillas

3911 Sullivant Avenue
614.599.7365 or 614.360.6053
Open 10am – 10pm, 7 days a week.

Click here to map it!

Update – Los Chilangos have a new location on Demorest Road. They are working towards opening a restaurant at that location and at the moment you can sit inside the restaurant while you eat. Once the kitchen is finished they will transition from the truck to the restaurant. They continue to make homemade tortillas (really good) and we’d recommend their lengua as well.

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Los Chilangos marks our first find of the 2011 taco truck season, and it’s an interesting one. Tortas are their calling card, and they quickly distinguish themselves by having a selection of over 20 of them to choose from.

And, they distinguish themselves in the super-sizing game as well – your average torta is already a big meal, but these things are out of control:

They’re good, too. Pictured above is the ‘nortena’, a satisfying behemoth that includes egg, chorizo, and milaneza.

Beyond tortas, the offerings are minimal – tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and huaraches round it out. Surprisingly, though, these were every bit as satisfying as the tortas (we’ve tried all save the burrito). Corn tortillas are made in-truck, make for a delicious differentiator, and are used not only with the tacos but also for the quesadillas. The thicker, also cornmeal-derived huarache base was also conspicuously handmade.

 

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Los Guachos Opens Sit-Down Restaurant

That’s right, perennial TTC favorite Los Guachos just opened a brand spankin’ new bricks & mortar restaurant serving all of the favorites (spit-roasted al pastor, anyone?) from their truck and more. To get the skinny, see our write up on alt.eats.columbus ->here<-.

If you haven’t subscribed to the alt.eats feed, we’d encourage you to do so. There are a couple of other trucks poised to make the leap to full restaurant operation, and alt.eats is where sit-down restaurants will be covered.

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HonduMex

3868 Sullivant Ave
614.405.1465
Open every day, 10am – 10pm

Click here to map it!

Weird happenings on the west side: Las Catrachas, until recently our city’s only Honduran truck, moved to a location on Sullivant Ave. across from Otro Rollo, and Hondumex has assumed its original location. What does Hondumex do? Burritos, tacos, and pretty much every Honduran menu item that Las Catrachas carries.

This curious converted RV’s pupusas and baleadas don’t quite live up to the high standards set by Catrachas, but their tajadas de guineo con pollo (a Catrachas specialty) is almost identical… which is to say very good… and, as of our visit, not listed on the menu.

If you crave tajadas or baleadas on a day when Las Catrachas is closed, Hondumex will scratch the itch.

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‘Cantina’ vs Taqueria: The Taco Bell Challenge

We can’t count the number of people who have asked us about Taco Bell’s new ‘street’ tacos.  While admittedly curious, our first instinct was to shrug it off – I mean, how much competition could they really give the real taco slingers? – but the frequency of the question wore us down, so… what the heck, let’s at least give it a google.

On our first click, we found this:

“Our Cantina Tacos are based upon authentic-style Mexican street tacos, which are designed using simple, fresh ingredients, that customers regard as high quality.”

-David Ovens, Chief Marketing Officer, Taco Bell Corp., Irvine, Calif.

Now that right there is some serious smack talk (“Mexican street tacos”, “simple, fresh”) mixed up with some world-class bet hedging (“authentic-style,” and “that customers regard as high quality”).  Furthermore, the news release that the above snippet came from also made hay out of Taco Bell’s new ‘carnitas’ offering. Whoa… carnitas? At Taco Bell?  They’re sure seem to be grasping for authentic Mexican street (food) cred… and, no two ways about it, that’s taco truck territory.

Ah, screw it, we’ve got to check this out.

It just so happens that one of our go-to trucks, Taco Nazo, is located directly across from a Taco Bell.  As Taco Bell only offers steak, chicken, and carnitas (while Taco Nazo offers 10 different meat options) we ordered one taco with each of Taco Bell’s meat options from both locations.

Jim hit the Taco Bell drive-thru while the rest of us ordered at Nazo.  About 15 minutes after we received our Nazo tacos, Jim arrived in the Nazo lot with a sack in hand.  We hadn’t really given any thought to ‘speed of service’ as being much of a differentiator, but it must be noted that from a fast food perspective, the Bell wasn’t particularly fast… against expectations, Nazo clearly won on efficiency.

Upon our initial visual inspection of Jim’s haul, though, the Cantina contingent seemed to be reasserting itself. They definitely had all of the authentic Mexican taco elements with their 2 soft corn tortillas, meat, onions, cilantro, and a lime wedge.  I couldn’t have imagined that Taco Bell would feel obligated to be so bound by tradition… we were beginning to feel just a bit uneasy about things.

The next impression was of the striking size difference between the two.  The Cantina tacos were huge – probably half again the size of Nazo’s, yet they were even with Nazo in price (actually a cent less). Hmmmm… there’s that sinking feeling again.

Nazo swung it back around a bit with their overall presentation, though – the three tacos looked particularly nice on the plate with the bright green cilantro jazzing things up, and the cucumbers and grilled pepper were both appealing and conspicuously missing from the Cantina array. Hard to fault the Bell too much for that, though – perhaps if we were having the Cantina tacos in the Taco Bell dining room, it’d be fairer?

But enough with the window dressing, time to dig in!

Steak Tacos:

Appearance – No contest here, Nazo nails this. The Cantina steak consists of slightly pale and disturbingly uniform rectangular beef chunks, while the competitor’s steak looks like… diced steak. The Taco Nazo onions and cilantro were obviously stored separately, put on the taco separately, and as a result looked extremely fresh while the Cantina toppings looked like they had been mixed together hours prior to use. Their nod to cilantro consisted of small flecks of dull dark green that clung to the diced onion bits.

Taste – Nazo takes it again – theirs actually tasted like steak, and good beefy steak at that. The cantina ‘beef nuggets’, as Jim astutely noted, tasted like they were fished out of a Campbell’s soup can. The Cantina tortillas seemed steamed rather than grilled ‘a la plancha’, and were significantly chewier and tougher as a result. There was no cilantro flavor to be found in the Cantina taco.

Chicken Tacos:

Appearance – This match was much closer than the last.  Nazo’s chicken bits were about the size of pea gravel, and showed obvious char from grilling, while the Bell chicken was cut into larger strips, and had an yellow-orange-ish tint from the seasoning. Neither were particularly appealing or unappealing, though the cantina taco still suffered from the pallid onion-cilantro mix.

Taste – Nazo takes it by our show of hands, though well-meaning people might legitimately disagree on this one.  The rub here is that Nazo’s chicken tasted of grilled poultry – which is good – but the Taco Bell seasoning was quite pleasant as well (though one found it to be overpowering).  The texture of both poultry renditions was well within acceptable range. The Cantina chicken tacos still suffered from the same tortilla and topping issues as found in the steak tacos.

Carnitas Tacos:

Appearance – I still haven’t recovered from the sight of Taco Bell’s carnitas, and have to wonder if it ever, at any point in its processing, even vaguely resembled pork. It didn’t so much sit in the tortilla as stick to it, and looked like the answer to a question nobody (should’ve) asked, like, “What would meat stucco be like?”, or “how do we make this tortilla look like it was used as a diaper?”   Even more disturbingly, the adobe-hued grease stained the onions and further darkened the cilantro.

Taste – On the Taco Bell side of things, flavor matched appearance. There was some mention of it tasting like Bac-Os, but that didn’t seem to quite capture the full scope of the catastrophe.  And, really, why try? All you need to know is that it was just awful. If there’s any justice in this world, the food scientist that helped to bring this crime against humanity (and pig) to market should be peering over the edge of a very tall building and contemplating the worst.  And, should the worst come to pass, honesty compels me to admit that I’d eat the results of it before ever considering putting any more of Taco Bell’s ‘carnitas’ in my mouth.

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So, Taco Nazo takes it, right?  Well, sure, but that’s not quite the full story – truth be told, we’ve been putting our thumb on the scales in Taco Bell’s favor all along. As all but the most casual of taco truck touristas know, it’s not a taco without salsa, and Taco Bell’s comedy hour cayenne catsup packets were so inferior to Nazo’s fresh salsa that it wasn’t even funny.

In conclusion – if you want a good taco, go to a good taco truck.  If you want a bad taco, go to a bad taco truck.  If there’s no taco truck around, go to Chipotle.

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