23 Taco Station
May 1, 2010
1265 E Green St, Pasadena, CA 91106
This place is new – there was a blurb about it on the Eater blog last week, and it sounded worthwhile and even heartwarming: family opens little taqueria in ancient, preservation-worthy filling station, serving cochinita pibil tacos on homemade tortillas for $1.50 each. So there was ample reason to head uptown for some uptown tacos.
Carmen and I got there and found a cute little filling station with some old-timey gas pumps and about eight tables where cars once would have fueled – outdoor seating near the sidewalk of quiet Green Street in Pasadena. I ordered one each of the carne asada (hold the guacamole), barbacoa de res (“shredded beef in chilli sauce” [sic]) and cochinita pibil (“marinated pork with pickle onions” [sic]) tacos. They were $1.50 each and smallish – one should order five of them.
First I ate the carne asada, which comes by default with guacamole, but came to me unadorned even with cilantro and onion. Taco Station cleverly provides their red and green salsas in refillable squeeze bottles, so I reached for the rojo and applied liberally. It’s fairly spicy, and reminded me greatly of rooster sauce, or maybe a mix of rooster sauce and rooster chili-garlic paste, which mix would probably be great on any beef taco. The carne asada was good, moist and fairly subtle with some slight overtones of buttery fat flavor. The first impression was dominated by the handmade tortilla, however – amiable and strongly corny in flavor. Unfortunately, this taco was the smallest of the three, and one of the smallest heretofore this year.
The next candidate was the cochinita pibil. It looked just right, and the citrus-pickled onions were good, although it could have used a little more of them. Carmen was disappointed by the pork’s blandness, but I thought it had some charm – there was a slight cola flavor. The tortilla was fantastic, nicely griddled and a little crispy.
The barbacoa de res was Carmen’s favorite, and probably mine too. It was juicy and flavorful, although a little overly watery, dampening the tortilla. If I had a do-over, I would eat this one first to limit saturation.
Afterwards I was still a bit hungry, and was thinking about patty melts. Fast-forward to the late afternoon. Picture the scene: I am listening to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack and internet-search-engining “Taco Station Pasadena” to find its address and vital statistics. I find its entry on popular website “Yelp!” and read the first review, four stars from Mr. Aaron F., who claims:
“Last summer this little plot of land was empty save the old style gas pumps (note it was NOT an old gas station, those pumps were never operational, they haven’t been there for more than a year. They were bought and put there for a store which used to be located next door, which is no longer there.). My girlfriend and I actually did a photo shoot there. Then last week the sign went up and the place became Taco Station.”
Aaron F. is raising serious questions about the authenticity of this Taco Station. If Taco Station is not an adaptive reuse of a gasoline filling station into a belly-filling station, but rather a phoney facsimile thereof, has the integrity-having and authenticity-seeking customer been betrayed or misled? Just what the hell is Taco Station, some kind of sanitized, theme-park rendition of the classic gritty L.A. image of the taco truck parked under the canopy of an abandoned service station? Not sure what to think, head tumbling in a ball of confusion, I access the Google Street View for clarification. The shocking result is here: http://tinyurl.com/27ncepd
Aaron F. contented that a year ago the lot had been empty, save for the old-timey gas pumps. Google Street View’s window on some unknown date in the past shows us, irreconcilably to the contrary, that the filling station building existed, but the pumps weren’t there! Instead of gas pumps there was, what is that, a blurry Karmann Ghia? The irreconcilability of these “facts” unearthed on the internet calls into doubt the very possibility of Truth in these rickety times. By what standard, then, can we presume to adjudge the “authenticity” of Taco Station? While writing this, I am simultaneously confronted by another conundrum of (in)authenticity, as by this time I am listening to Neil Diamond cover a Leonard Cohen song. I plunge into an unfelt, cerebral pseudo-despair.