Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Taqueria Acapulco/La Caridad

Shortly after my recent posting about Senor Taco, FOB Eric R. suggested that I try out another local taqueria, this one (called Taqueria Acapulco) located quite a bit closer to the Canteen in South Tampa (1001 N. Macdill, to be precise). As luck would have it, I happened to be headed to this part of town one day a few weeks ago to return a light fixture, so I decided to pop in for a quick lunch on my way home.

The building's exterior isn't much to look at (you'd probably fly right by without a second look if you weren't seeking it out) as the proprietors share the lot with, among other things, a chiropractor clinic. When researching details on the Web, the business comes up on the search engine as being a Mexican grocery - there is, in fact, a grocery area when you first enter, although it's probably the smallest one I've seen, more on the order of a convenience store (still, the selection of dried chiles for purchase is impressive). The back 2/3 of the space holds the taqueria, a collection of counters, tables (maybe 8 total?), a deli case, couple of TVs tuned to (what else?) telenovas and a food prep area. Behind the counter, two older ladies who appeared to know their way around a comal pretty well were making tortillas and chopping vegetables in preparation for the lunch rush.

After flagging down one server who didn't speak English, another came by to take my order. I spied a number of tasty-sounding items on the menu (sopes, for example), but decided to stick with the basics and ordered up my usual round of lengue, carnitas, and al pastor tacos, plus a horchata to wash everything down. While waiting for the food, I noticed a handwritten sign on the wall that read "We have pork skin tacos (cueritos)!" and, although I hadn't seen the term cueritos before, asked if I could have one of those as well. The 4 tacos arrived at my table with a simple garnish of cilantro and chopped onions, to which I added a drizzle of fresh lime juice and a couple of hot sauces of indeterminate origin (one red, one green). I had a little bit of trouble identifying which meat was which, but every taco was nonetheless delicious, with just the right mix of textures and flavors (some crunchy bits, some fatty bits), much like my experience at Senor Taco (the homemade flour tortillas were also excellent). I managed to determine later that cueritos are a version of pork skin that's been pickled in vinegar instead of fried (like chicharrones) and I can tell you now that they're much better than you might imagine from their description.

Feeling alternately full and inspired, after paying the check I opted to make one more stop before heading back to the homestead, this time at a bakery on a busy stretch of Hillsborough Avenue (4425 W. Hillsborough) that I've passed a hundred times going to/from the Toyota dealer. The eye-catching yellow sign out front says "Angelito's at La Caridad Bakery - Panaderia y Dulceria" and purports to be a specialty purveyor of Cuban baked goodies. The bakery cases were full of enticing-looking pastries, cakes, and sandwiches, most of which eluded easy identification (my favorite kind of bakery). Like the last joint, English is mostly a second language here, so I had to pantomime a bit with the sales girl when making my selections, which included a couple of cream cheese and guava pastelitos, a coconut pastelito, a chocolate and peanut corona, and something called torrejas.

As you can see above, most Cuban baked sweets are of the puff variety, that is, consisting of many thin layers of pastry (much like phyllo dough) surrounding some sort of filling (like guava or coconut). The pastelito seems to be the basic unit, with the corona representing a slight variation on this concept where the filling is more on the outside (the top, or crown, hence the name "corona"). These 3 were all very good, if not a bit similar, and held up surprisingly well for the couple of days it took us to consume them (I recommend refrigeration). The surprise of the bunch, however, was the torreja (top right in the photo), a preparation for day-old Cuban bread that's like French toast on steroids, eggy, syrupy, and riotously sweet with evaporated milk and sugar (even my kids liked this one). The sales girl sounded a little surprised when I told her I had only wanted one piece (they're not large) and now I understand why - I'll be picking up an easy dozen of them on my follow-up visit...

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