Until recently, a dearth of Mexican restaurants along the Paseo del Norte corridor meant that folks seeking a fix on the busy road had to settle for the assembly-line productions at Chipotle.
Enter Guaca Guaca Tacos & Beer. The restaurant, opened in August by the operators of the local Mexican market El Mezquite, fills a void on Paseo with its assortment of street foods from south of the border.
The location on the corner of a strip mall at Wyoming and Paseo means lots of natural light fills the place through windows on two sides of the restaurant. The light and the metal chairs painted lemon yellow inject some life into what’s otherwise a run-of-the-mill industrial-style interior.
Guaca Guaca’s menu of Mexican street foods runs the gamut from familiar stuff such as tacos and burritos to more off-the wall choices. Two examples of the latter are bacon-wrapped burritos called momias, from the Spanish word for mummies, and vampiros, a tostada-like dish served on a fried corn tortilla shaped vaguely like a bat’s wing. Much of the raw materials for the food are shipped over from El Mezquite. Prices range from $2.75 for a taco to $8 for the aforementioned momias.
Guacamole comes in four varieties: guac crema, a mix of avocado and sour cream; guac Hatch, made with Hatch chile; guac pico, with diced tomatoes and onions; and guac inferno, the spiciest variation. You can get a small bowl of each with a basket of chips for $5.99.
The chips were fresh, and the guacamole had good flavor and color, but the texture of all but the guac pico was unusually smooth and airy, as if it had been whipped. There was none of that appealing density and lumpiness of the homemade stuff. Despite its name, the guac inferno was only mildly hot.
The fillings for an order of four street tacos ($10) arrived piled generously over a plate of tortillas. There was enough there to fashion another four tacos at least.
Best was the carnitas, slow-cooked pork pulled and chopped into shards that still had some caramelized bark on them. The shrimp also had good flavor and a pleasing amount of caramelization.
I also tried the rust-red al pastor, grilled pork with a sweet and spicy flavor from a chile and pineapple juice marinade, and the carne asada, small chunks of beef with plenty of smokiness. Only a few fatty pieces marred the presentations.
The tacos were served alongside an inventive two-tiered, rotating condiments caddy stocked with salsas, limes and cilantro. The two salsas – tomatillo and a tatemada salsa made from charred tomatoes and jalapeños – added considerable heat. Some Mexican cheese would have been a welcome addition.
The guaca dog ($6.50) is served Sonoran-style, which means wrapped in bacon and filled to overflowing with guacamole, beans, diced tomatoes and cheese. It’s a promising mix, but the preparation needs work: The bacon was crisp only on the ends, and the hot dog was just barely warm.
Guaca Guaca beers on tap include three Mexican varieties and a couple of locals. For nonalcoholic alternative, it serves a fantastic watermelon agua fresca ($2.69) with a free refill. The horchata, made at El Mezquite, was a little heavy on the cinnamon.
Service on both occasions was prompt and friendly, and the food came out quickly.
Guaca Guaca’s concept is promising. More attention to the food preparation would go a long way to cementing its place on the Paseo del Norte corridor.