Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Let's taco 'bout it: Once a truck, Vaqueras flourishes as a sit-down restaurant
You know the place from its taco truck days, with its constant, frustratingly long lines and famous lime-spritzed Cali fries. It hasn’t even been two months since Vaqueras graduated to a brick-and-mortar establishment, but it seems to have stepped into the swing of things quite nicely—or so was my experience.
It was 3 p.m. on a Thursday, so not exactly lunch hour, but there was still a line in front of the counter. An employee came out to take my order as I waited, which I appreciated, and I opted for my first-time taqueria staple: two carnitas tacos, which at Vaqueras totaled to a little more than $4.
If you glance at Vaqueras’ Yelp reviews online, you’ll notice the most consistent complaint is of their customer service (see: “a tone worse than the soup Nazi,” “extremely rude,” and the good food “barely makes up for the service.”) In my case, however, while I must admit that the service was a little bit stilted and awkward, I didn’t think it was anything worth whining about in a Yelp review. (Otherwise I’d be whining about myself in Yelp reviews on a daily basis.)
After ordering, I snagged a table by the window, listened to the Ranchera music playing overhead, and surveyed the spacious venue. Vaqueras is going for a sort of Western vibe, with decor featuring wagon wheels, longhorns, cowboy hats, cow skulls, Western-style boots, and the like. The restaurant is big, with entire tables set aside for waiting take-out orderers (at which a Del Taco employee sat, having forsaken her employer for its next-door neighbor on her lunch break).
The free chips and salsa (which I didn’t actually know I’d get) came out first. The chips were good—not warm and fresh, but not dripping with grease. The salsa was sweet and flavorful with only a bit of a sharp kick to it, perfect for the white girl who wants to love spicy foods but can’t actually handle them (me).
And then came the street tacos: double bagged in corn tortillas, rich with onions, light on cilantro, and loudly threatening to soon become the greasiest food I’ve ever put in my body (not an empty threat, by the way). Nonetheless, I basically inhaled those tacos, and they lived up to the raving reviews I’d heard from Vaqueras fans in the past. The carnitas were tender and rich, and even when I peeled away the second tortilla layer in a vain attempt to shave some calories off of my intake for the day, the taco held up well.
The restaurant has taken some strides since its wheel-bound days, now offering a rotating breakfast menu and accepting credit cards.
Brenna Swanston is always on the hunt for a mind-blowing street taco. Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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