Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Taqueria Mana

Ojan has been talking about wanting a burrito for a while now, and although I don't like burritos, his constant mentioning of Mexican food got me craving a fish taco.  But I was too lazy to go all the way to the Mission, so I went somewhere a bit different for Mexican cuisine: Union Square, to Taqueria Mana.  It is really not the sort of place I normally visit, but it it fun to mix it up a bit.  And you never know when you'll discover a hidden gem.

I placed my order at the register, and saw that they accept mobile PayPal.  I’ve been a big fan of using it lately, as it is so much easier than many of the other more cumbersome mobile payment systems.  The cashier however didn’t know how to use it, so the chef came over and showed her how.  He used his hands to touch the register, the computer, etc, and then went right back to cooking.  Ahh.  (On all subsequent visits, the cashier knew how to use PayPal with no problem, so perhaps the system was still new on that first visit).

Cleanliness is not their strong point.  I went to use the bathroom to wash my hands while I waited for my food to be prepared on my first visit, and somewhat regretted it.  The bathroom was fairly dirty, and had no toilet paper.  But, I wasn’t there for the bathroom …

I waited patiently at a table, for what seemed like much longer than I’d expect for a simple fish taco, but at least that implied it was being made fresh.  I had ample time to check out the inside of the restaurant, which featured a counter with single stools along one wall, and several tables for 2-4 diners.  It was very loud inside, partially because there was a family with very, um, spirited children, but partially due to the general acoustics of the place.  Not really a comfortable place to wait.  I was never asked if my order was for there or to go, which I didn’t realize until my order was finally called out, and I saw it was packaged to go.  Whoops.  I planned to eat there.

The staff were friendly on all of my visits, pointing out the condiments in the fridge that I could grab when I picked up my order, and generally being cheerful.

I've returned many times, however, not for the food.  For ... the horchata!  And, I'll continue to swing by for a horchata whenever I'm in the area on a warm day, but I'll likely continue to skip the actual food.
Catfish Taco.  $4.
I had the classic fish taco: deep fried catfish, with lettuce, tomato, and sour cream.

It was impossible to eat as a taco, the filling spilling out everywhere.  I guess I'm complaining that the piece of fish was far too large.

The shell was a flour tortilla, somehow both a bit too crispy on the edges and soggy at the same time.  It seemed rather stale.

The catfish was a large chunk, clearly freshly fried to order.  They get points for that, and I liked how crispy it was, but it was heavily battered and tasted way too oily.  Not as oily as the fish from Nick's Crispy Tacos, but still unpleasant.  Much crispier than the fish from TropisueƱo, although I liked TropisueƱos fish more, as the tilapia was more mild and less fishy than the catfish Taqueria Mana uses.

I appreciated the wedge of lime I could squeeze over it, but the rest of the garnish failed to impress.  The tomato cubes were flavorless, out of season tomato.  The lettuce and sour cream were both very generic.  Nothing else to add any zing.  It made me wish for Rubio’s with all their flavored creams rather than simple sour cream.  And their non-fried seafood tacos.  Mmm, Rubio's.

$4 is a fine price for a fresh fish taco, but I certainly wouldn’t get another.
Salsa on the table.
There was a single variety of salsa on the table, a red salsa, very watery.  No additional salsa bar.  Interestingly, for those with takeout orders, there was a fridge with two types of salsa, red and green.  Both very watery and flavorless.
Horchata. $2.
The horchata on the other hand was really quite good.  It did not have any ice in it, and it was a rather large cup, even though I ordered the small, so at first I thought that even this size was going to be too much.  And then ... I literally drank the entire thing in about 2 minutes.  It was gone before I knew it.  I wanted the large!

It was sweet but not too sweet, it was creamy but not too thick so it was still refreshing, it was well spiced ... it was really the best horchata I've found in the city.  Much better than the version from Nick's Crispy Tacos that is too rice-y, not sweet enough, and not well spiced.  Far more spicing than the one from Toma.

On each visit, I was even asked if I wanted it topped with cinnamon, and they sprinkled some on before handing it over, which adds additional spicing, and a lovely aroma.

I enjoyed this quite a bit, and I swing by regularly for horchata now when I'm in the area and want something refreshing.  Or something sweet.  Or, just because.  Great horchata.

And $2 is a reasonable price for a very large small!
Taqueria Mana on Urbanspoon
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