Monday, May 06, 2013

FAIL

A few weeks ago I saw an advertisement in the USU student newspaper for a new restaurant that was opening in the Blue Square apartments across the street from the stadium, Roberto's Taco Shop.  I was curious and wanted to try them, but first I wanted to find out more about them.  I called 2 sources who I thought might have known something about this development.  The first one didn't know anything about Roberto's and the second assured me that it was "locally owned and operated".  I believed my second source...rookie mistake.

The first time I tried Roberto's made me want to never go back.  The food was so-so, but that wasn't what made me so uncomfortable.  When I walked into the food court area I was the only woman in there.  In the dining area in front of Roberto's there were several middle aged (and older) men, 2 of whom were being obnoxiously loud and patronizing.  Excuse me while I go on a small rant here...

You!  Yes you sleazy, boorish, unfunny men with voice volume control issues, who think yourselves hilarious...I'm talking to you.  All women aren't your "sweetheart" "girlie" "chick" "doll" "honey", and calling strangers that is likely to get you slapped, or worse.  You were harassing me, but I didn't rise to your bait.  However I almost did when you started harassing the cleaning woman who came out to mop the floor "Atta girl, you MOP those floors!" is not how you talk to women, in fact it sounded like you were talking to a dog.  I wanted to hit you over the head with my food tray.  That woman was cleaning up after your sorry ass, show some respect.

OK rant over.

My meal, like I said, was so-so.  I ordered the carne asada taco and the carne asada fries, two of my favorite dishes, when prepared well.  These were fair to middling.  The tortillas (2) for the taco were greasy and fell apart when I started eating.  All you could taste was the oil on them.  The steak had no flavor on its own, was chopped into ridiculously small pieces, and as far as the texture was concerned it bordered on chewy.  The pico was fair but the guacamole was almost offensively bland.  I did like that it was served with a lime wedge.

The carne asada fries were what I was really excited about.  When the Chilean restaurant, Yah Poh!, was open the "mexicana" cheese fries were my favorite...to say these pale in comparison is a gross understatement.  These weren't bad, they just weren't great, I probably would have liked them better if I hadn't had great steak fries previously.  You get a monstrous portion of very crispy shoestring fries topped with a lake of sour cream, the same bland gauc from the taco, same boring steak from the taco, and 2 kinds of cheese both were so mild that they were there for texture alone as you couldn't taste either variety.

My first trip was almost enough to make me want to never return, but I have that pesky 3 strikes rule and I figured I'd stick to it.

I made a second foray into the taco shop a week after my first experience.  Luckily this time was sleazebag free, but the food was about the same.  I tried asking the girl behind the counter some questions and she would get confused about what I was asking, avoided making eye contact, gave the most unhelpful one word answers, and spoke so softly it was hard to hear her.  I asked what was popular and she said the california burrito (if you've never had one, this is a San Diego thing.  Essentially a basic burrito stuffed with french fries in place of the rice).  I asked what her favorite was, I got a shrug in return.  I asked what was in their machaca, she told me it was pork tenderloin and then said "haven't you had carnitas before?"  I'm sorry how does machaca sound anything like carnitas?

I was in a salad mood so I tried their taco salad with the grilled chicken, on the suggestion of one of the kitchen workers.  The dressing choices were ranch or italian, both straight out of the bottle.  The taco salad shell was actually perfect, sadly that was the best part of the salad.  The bottom of the shell was smeared with refried beans, then topped with a huge handful of shredded ice berg lettuce, followed by dual lakes of flavorless guac and sour cream, topped with a miniscule amount of pico and shredded cheese, and then a mountain of chopped grilled chicken.  This is the only greasy grilled chicken I have ever eaten.  It looked, felt, and tasted like it had been dropped in a vat of Italian salad dressing after it was cooked.  I could only finish half of the salad before I'd had enough.

Something was bothering me (besides the mediocre gringo-fied food) and I couldn't put my finger on it.  As I was leaving I passed a patron walking in, he was saying something along the lines of "wait until you try this place, it's world famous, I had it in Las Vegas...".  It clicked, I had seen their logo before, in San Diego.  Here I was thinking it was local.  NOT LOCAL.  If we're going to start importing Californian taco shops can we at least start with a Pedro's?

Roberto's is a chain restaurant from San Diego.  This is a franchise outpost of that.  Exactly like the local Wendy's locations are locally owned and operated but still part of a national chain.  So it is locally owned and operated but the franchise fees goes back to California and most of the products are purchased from meg-suppliers instead of local sources.  UPDATE: apparently this isn't a franchise.  I've been informed that all the locations are owned by a family from California.  I shouldn't have been surprised.  You can find more about them on their website here: http://www.robertostacoshop.com/  The other 2 food court locations are national chains: Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt (now open), and Subway.

The food alone was a let down.  Prices weren't anything to write home about.  Ambience was non-existent.  Very similar to Paco's, I would describe it as a cleaner version of Paco's or Rancherito's.  Now that I know it is a chain I won't be back.  I'm violating my own three chances policy but I don't care. 

If you want truly good steak tacos, try The Grill in Aggie Station on the corner of 800 E and 1400 N, they will be closed May 8th through May 11th for and upgrade, but their dishes have far superior flavors and textures, are prepared faster, and the service is friendly. 

The parking lot near the entrance to the food court.
The patio just outside the food court entrance.
This sure doesn't look like any student housing I'd ever seen.
Roberto's counter.
Roberto's menu.
Condiment bar from left to right: "spicey carrots", hot sauce, medium sauce, and the mild verde sauce.
Meal 1: steak taco and steak fries.  Verdict: Looked better than it was, 2 Mehs from me.
Meal 2: Grilled chicken taco salad, again a Meh.

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