When you visit another town you will likely choose a) a familiar place, like a chain restaurant, b) some place you've read or heard about, or c) someplace that looks inviting and safe. That means that often you will never discover a local's hangout unless they take you there. It's not often that I just stumble into a totally unfamiliar restaurant. It's a shame, but that's often how it is.
Today I got taken to just such a local's hangout in Auburn. Maria's Mexican Tacos sits right off of I-80 on Bowman Road. It's right next door to the Auburn bowling alley. It's a very non-descript building. It has a sign, but nothing really entices you to try it out. It also appears to be a full-service restaurant when you might just be in the mood for more of a drive-thru – cheap and quick.
Upon entering, you’ll be surprised to see that it’s more of a counter order setup. There’s a register next to a couple of deli service counters. The menu is posted above on the wall and behind you are small grocery shelves with Mexican candies and snacks and coolers of American and Mexican soft drinks. In the center there is a small chips and salsa serving area and the rest of the room is bordered by an abundance of booths.
There is the usual Mexican fare on the menu: tacos, burritos, quesadillas. The choices for meat are pretty much the norm: chicken, beef, carnitas. The only more traditional meat is the barbacoa, which my friend was unfamiliar with. I explained that it was BBQ pork. It might be a case of they post the meats they have available. Their website says they have cabeza (head) and lengua (tongue), but they weren’t listed on the wall menu today.
It was a bit of a wait for our food. We helped ourselves to chips, which are bagged and not homemade, and the salsa. The salsa was a milled red one, mild to medium. Don’t expect chunks or anything spectacular. My friend knew to ask for hot sauce and came back with a small cup of a spicy tomatillo salsa. I prefer tomatillo and this one did have a kick to it. My friend chose to mix the red and green together to make his own mixture.
The food came out and was looking good. His burrito was one of those that is so big that you really need to eat it with a knife and fork rather than trying to battle it by hand. My quesadilla was an extra large tortilla folded to a half circle cut into four wedges. It was piping hot and the deep red barbacoa was oozing out the sides. There was no scrimping on the meat. I was extremely happy with mine and couldn’t finish it. I’ve still got some in my frig for later. The barbacoa itself was well spiced, although a little too salty. The carnitas burrito was also super satisfying with lots of fillings and melty cheese.
So here’s a local’s find that is worth a try if you catch yourself up in Auburn or on your way down the hill. Convenient off the freeway with good fare.
Note: Chips and salsa are free for in-house dining but extra for take-out.