Santa Paula, CA :: Crispy Taco Mecca

For this taco adventure, I went over the 150, away from the beach to the small town of Santa Paula. Santa Paula has several historic sites, cool murals, an old train depot and lots and lots of crispy tacos.

Truly I expected to find a myriad of authentic soft tacos, but all four places that I ate at had a crispy option (with ground beef!) I have some ongoing shame in admitting that due to nostalgic reasons, this is still my favorite KIND of taco!

Stop #1 EL PREFERIDO TACO SHOP (aka THE BEST TACOS) - 654 E. Harvard St. near Peck Blvd.

I almost drove right by it because a healthy Palm tree obscures the sign. Cute little cafe. No waiter service but lots and lots of good stuff. I absolutely loved the Chili Relleno taco and the Crispy Chicken taco. As this place was run by a Mexican family and fairly authentic, no ground beef. The owner's daughter was very friendly as well. They do have beer AND an older TV for those key sports moments. One of their specialties is a Chile Verde that isn't really 'verde' because it uses smoked Chili de Arbol instead of tomatillos. They also have a nice looking Shrimp Cocktel that another customer was enjoying.

Stop #2 CHICKYWEEDY'S - 915 E. Harvard Street (closer to the 150)

Kind of a Dine 'n Dash place. I later learned this was the prior home of Tia Babe's (Stop #3) Reminded me of an Oki Dog in LA. The guy behind the window was VERY nice. He tried to explain that 'Chickyweedy' is his Grandfather's nickname, Anglicized from Chiquiwiti which means little or skinny or a skinny guy who can pack it on or something like that. They are very comitted to what they do and have even painstakingly resurrected a local favorite salsa from a place that went out of business. It was tasty but def. the kind of food you want to be drunk or high to really enjoy! They are also famous for their 'corn burritos' which are really taquitos with a sweet red sauce and a ton of shredded cheese on top - not my fav.

Stop #3 TIA BABE'S - 125 S. 10th St.
(10th is what they call the 150 as it rolls through town on the way to/from Ojai)

The whole reason for this 'taco crawl' was Tia Babe's. Babe, whose name is Florence, is the sister of Bill Elwell (King of the simple burger at Bill & Hiroko's) He gave me her card, said she was pretty fancy and so I made a stop. Sadly, most people on Yelp complain quite a bit and I can sort of see why. Debbie (daughter of Babe) was a delight and warned me that their crispy taco was on a pre-baked shell. She recommended soft instead and I liked the way they heated the tortilla in enough oil so that I didn't feel too deprived. The taco was simple and good. The ground beef tasted a little like it might have had some flour or filler in it. Nothing to lose sleep over and I suspect many of the items might be the same: good but not great. On the plus side they are in a new building and they have a full liquor license for real margaritas and cocktails. I would go back for drinks and chips and salsa and maybe an appetizer or two.

Stop #4 LA TERRAZA - 1000 Main St. (at the corner of the 150 and Main)

This one is hard to miss. They have the best real estate for tourists passing through. They also have some of the best Yelp reviews. Mostly Mexicans dining inside, it's an order and pick-up place with a dining area and an outdoor patio. I really liked the way they did their crispy tacos - grill browned. The tortillas were very thin and this made it like a cracker taco (sort of like thin crust pizza) No ground beef but the chicken was tender and the pastor was VERY flavorful even though they don't use a Trompo. They had my favorite salsa. A simple strained affair with a few chili seeds and just the right amount of salt. I would buy it by the pint for my own tacos at home.

1st place goes to El Preferido for selection, friendliness and ambiance. A close 2nd to La Terraza for that wonderful taco and salsa combination.

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