Shrimp tacos at Taco Bell

I love Mexican food and I love shrimp. Now, one wouldn’t consider Taco Bell to have authentic Mexican food, and I agree, but it sure does the trick when all you have time for is the drive-thru, or it’s all that’s nearby on a late night.

So when the taco chain announced their new Pacific Shrimp taco offerings, I had to try. Their site describes them as: “A warm, soft flour tortilla filled with six succulent shrimp marinated in a mix of spices, then topped with crisp shredded lettuce, Fiesta Salsa, and Avocado Ranch Sauce.”

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They were the size of any other soft tacos but still not much filling. There were six shrimp (I had to check), decent size, not huge but also not cup o’noodles-soup-size either.

The sauce absorbed the spices, probably from the shrimp, and it did have a little kick. All in all, it was a tasty shrimp taco, tasted as fresh as possible, considering it was from Taco Bell.

At 180 calories, these tacos aren’t bad, but I don’t know if I would have priced them at $2.49 each, (you can get a combo of two shrimp tacos with a very large drink for $5.99). I mean it is Taco Bell. But seafood isn’t the cheapest thing on any other menu either.

I would get the tacos again, whenever I’m craving shrimp and don’t have much time for a sit-down seafood joint. Or I could make a stop to Baja Fresh for their Diablo Shrimp Burrito - spicy and filling.  

Weekday special in West L.A.

I humbly admit this food blog may not always be the ultimate source for diners seeking somewhere new to eat or something new to try, but still I receive plenty of emails from restaurants near and far, offering me to come in and enjoy their new offerings so I can include them in the blog.

And although I am all for trying something new, most of the time I am not able to make it to these places for various reasons – the restaurant’s in New York, they are not in my price range or such as the recent one I was tempted by, their specials are midweek and are located farther than my 20-mile radius of cities I frequent. 

I don’t always have the time or energy to drive far for dinner after work, let alone in traffic to go to West Los Angeles. So even though I may not be heading here any time soon, maybe some of you out there are more adventurous than I, and are willing to go try Taco Tuesday at The Spanish Kitchen.

The special taco menu on Tuesdays sounds amazing, with tacos such as the Mexican BBQ Pork with chipotle cabbage and cotija cheese, or the Beer Battered Halibut with corn avocado salsa – YUM! There’s also some vegetarian selections. 

Let me know if you go and if the tacos are as tasty as they sound.

Dining on a budget: Casa Blanca in Hacienda Heights

Craving something other than fast or frozen food for lunch, I thought I would search for something authentic.

I had tried food from Casa Blanca Mexican Restaurant in Hacienda Heights many years ago. Though I couldn’t remember what I had, I know I liked it for some reason.

I headed towards the restaurant on Gale Avenue just east of Hacienda Boulevard. Though the drive was long and hot, it was worth the trip.

The line in front of me ordered so fast that I didn’t have enough time to look through the entire menu posted above the cashier. (Even if you are eating there, you order before sitting down.)

The picture of the carne asada plate looked and sounded good, so I went with that and a small horchata for $1.65 to quench my thirst. The waitress also advised that it would be 75 cents for each refill.

The plate, at $9.75, came with rice, beans and cheese, fresh salsa complete with some jalapeno seeds still intact and fresh guacamole.

The waitress served me my drink with chips and salsa as soon as I sat down.

When I tried the chips and salsa, I remembered why I liked this place – everything is fresh. The chips looked and tasted like they were made that day. 

The salsa also tasted like it fresh and was just spicy enough.

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My carne asada (steak) plate came pretty quick. The size of the carne asada was not what I had imagined, it really was thick like a steak, not the thin slices I am used to barbecuing outside on a grill.

Though I didn’t specify, my steak was medium with a little rare inside. I usually order my steak rare, but if you don’t I would specify when ordering.

Nicely grilled on the outside, the steak was tender and juicy. I had only a few bites before I was full, so come with a big appetite.

The rice and beans tasted homemade like my mom’s. The guacamole and salsa were perfect.

If you can’t handle salsa that is too spicy be careful with this stuff. I caught a really strong seed on one of my last bites. 

I coughed a little and the hot taste stayed on the back of my tongue for a good while.

They serve breakfast all day with plates starting at $6.50. They had chilaquiles, cut tortilla strips cooked in a spicy sauce usually with meats and vegetables and eggs. I would definitely want to try that next time.

A variety of burritos start at $3.35, while tacos and tostadas begin at $2.25. They are also offered with appetizers, soups and a la carte items. Lunch is served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Casa Blanca is at 15922 Gale Ave. in Hacienda Heights. For take-out orders and more information, call (626) 330-9549.  

Larry Wilson chimes in on local eats

Looks like we’re not the only San Gabriel Valley News folks looking for good eats in the SGV.

Check out our Public Editor Larry Wilson’s Public Eye blog as he dishes about great little finds in the east and west side of the valley to enjoy a delicious, fresh meal. 

Although I’ve tried a few different dishes at Chang Thai in Irwindale, a thai joint Larry mentions, I can’t resist the silver noodles salad with shrimp, chicken and black mushrooms in a tasty spicy sauce (and yes I would say it’s 7 or 8 on a 10-scale of spiciness.)

And although I’m on a week-long high protein/low carb diet, I am now tempted to return to Birrieria y Cenaduria in Baldwin Park for some of those ropa vieja tacos. The first time I went to this local joint, a sweet older lady working there served me a yummy warm bowl of albondigas soup as I waited for my to-go order. So sweet and motherly (sigh).

Is there value in value menus?

Now that we’ve touched a little on bringing lunch from home in ‘Brown bagging it’, let’s talk about value menus.

With many people tightening their wallets, restaurants and fast food joints seem to be trying anything to get you to part with your money in increments of $1, $5 and $10 at some places, thinking that we’ll believe it’s a great deal if it’s on the value menu or the special of the day.

I like the new Sizzler commercial about getting great values that include chicken, steak and fish dinners, and the salad bar, all starting at $9.99. That’s the catch right there – starting at. I like Sizzler on occasion, if I’m in the mood to create my own monstorous salad my way, but I wouldn’t say it’s always a great value for what they have. Sometimes the meat or chicken can be a little plain and dry, and adding a drink or any sides brings your total lunch to about $15 or more.

Not necessarily value.

And I don’t know what it is, but I got over Subway sandwiches about a year ago. Maybe it’s the fact that I know I can get a better tasting, fresh sandwich at a small family-owned little shop for less than $5 – AND I get a drink and chips.

So when they try to tempt me with their $5 foot long specials, I am not enticed at all.

It seems that almost every fast-food place has a value menu now, even Pick Up Stix – go figure.

Here are my top 5 favorite value menus:

1. Wendy’s – Can you say baked potato, chili cup, original frosty, jr. bacon cheeseburger – all for about $1 each?? Now that is value. 

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2. Taco Bell - I can definitely fill up for $5 here with choices from soft and crunchy tacos, burritos, nachos and more. 

3. Jack In the Box – Make your own combo meal with choices of two regular tacos for $1, small fries, egg rolls, a good old classic Jumbo Jack and more.

4. Burger King – I must admit I’m not always tempted by new items the King has, but I like that their value menu has plenty of classic items like the Whopper and Whopper Jr., as well as new like the Spicy Chick’N Crisp sandwich, AND even breakfast items – score. 

5. Carl’s Jr. – I love Carl’s Six-Dollar burgers, as I have mentioned before, and the taco salad is pretty good too. But as far as a value menu, the only thing I enjoy there is the spicy chicken sandwich. It’s delicious but a little plain – there are a few Carl’s locations that will add tomato and/or lettuce for free, but others will charge an extra fee – ridiculous.

 

TELL ME WHAT YOUR TOP 5 ARE BELOW.

 

Taco Nachos from Jack

On a recent trip to a nearby Jack in the Box here in Irwindale, I was tempted by a new offering.

Originally there to order up a teriyaki bowl that I like (and had a coupon for), I saw a sign that read “Taco Nachos.”

Being a fan of cheese, especially nacho cheese, I decided to give in to the temptation and give them a try.

According to Jack’s website, “Taco Nachos feature the chain’s famous crunchy tacos topped with cheddar cheese sauce, melted pepper jack cheese and jalapeno slices served with a side of fire-roasted salsa.”

They are actually cut-up pieces of their tacos and all of this sits on a bed of shredded lettuce.

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For $1.99 plus tax, these taco nachos were actually decent, the cheese wasn’t the spicy nacho cheese I was expecting and love, but there was enough to cover most of the pieced tacos and topped with enough jalapenos.

I didn’t touch the fire roasted salsa, because personally I prefer my nachos with just jalapenos.

Jack’s tacos are always a favorite, so smothering pieces of them with cheese is brilliant.

I really hope they stick around for a while and they don’t raise the price – I could get nachos with spicy nacho cheese for $1. I’m sure some of you know from where.