Food versus Food: Taco Tour

There are (should be?) moments between couples where one person looks at the other and thinks "yes! This is one of the many reasons why I love you."

Now that I think about it, good friendships have the same. "Yes! This is why we are friends."

In either case, these moments might be while hanging out and sharing good beer. Or during a movie where you laugh at the same parts.

Or they might go something like this...

Mo: *walking in to the house* Hey, you're home.
Matt: Yep, I worked late and decided not to go to class.
Mo: Oh! Well, I'm glad you're here, because I brought something home that you have got to try with me.
Matt: *expectant look*
Mo: *triumphant smile, hoisting plastic bag high in the air* GAS STATION TACOS.
Matt: *moment of silence* Ok. Great!
Mo's Internal Monologue: Srsly, I <3 you.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to today's Taco Throwdown (hocoblogs@@@)....

Contender #1: Tacos (carnitas and barbacoa) at R&R Tacqueria (aka, the door to the right of the main door at the Shell at Rte 1 and Rte 175).

It's easy to drive right past R&R, and never know it's there.  It's also easy to drive past knowing it's there - not only is the place tucked away in a gas station, but (for me) it took some time to adjust to the idea of Shell Station Tacos despite rave reviews from many, including HowChow.

Still, by the time I made it, I was glad I did.

The place is small. One menu is laminated on the counter, and more items are scrawled on a sheet taped beside it. I ordered a 2 tacos + soup special, and went with carnitas and barbacoa.

Carnitas, left. Barbacoa, right.
The tacos came with a generous handful of cilantro and onions, and a side of limes and salsa verde - awesome. These looked a lot like some amazing tacos I had en route to Santa Barbara last year. I was psyched. (see conversation above)

The meat was lightly seasoned, a nice departure from the typical fast-food taco. I loved the salsa verde, a green splash that brightened the flavor of the tacos. I found myself spooning the leftover salsa onto other food after the tacos were gone. The squeeze of lime was perfect. 

The carnitas were by far my favorite - tender, flavorful, meaty chunks. The barbacoa was stringy and tough, even though it tasted great - I'll definitely be picking a different meat when I go back. I found the flour tortillas tasty, and fairly standard.

Soup. I don't know what's in it, besides Awesome.
And I don't really care.
But honestly, the highlight of this meal was the soup. Hot, perfect for a bitter cold night, and spicy - it had an interesting backburn that wasn't unpleasant, and was at the same time just a little sour. There were a few kinds of meat in this soup, thinly sliced, vegetables, a tomato base, and herbs. Not being able to ID the meat didn't bother me at all. Each piece was tender and flavorful. I could have eaten much more of this.

Thinking about it now, I may have to make a stop this weekend.

The combo clocked in at $5, plus a few more for a bottle of grapefruit soda (like Fresca but with a ton of sugar).  Since Matt and I split the meal, I definitely wasn't full, but I thought this was a decent amount of food for the price, and pretty good quality.

Contender #2: Tacos al Pastor from Lily's Mexican Market.

Lily's Mexican Market is located at 6490 Dobbin Center Way, in the same shopping center that houses an MVA express and Sushi King. I've been here before for hard-to-find items, but each time they'd already begun packing up the food. There is a butcher counter and pick-up food service in the back of the store.

I ordered a Tacos Platter with Tacos al Pastor (pork). The platter came with black beans and rice. Adding a drink brought the meal to $9 plus tax.

Tacos al Pastor Platter from Lily's Mexican Market.

The first thing I noticed was that the tacos came on two thin corn tortillas - I consider this a good sign. The gentleman behind the counter was generous with the onions and cilantro, as well as fresh tomatoes (I will pass on the pico next time, though, and stick with straight onion). I asked for salsa verde on the side, and ended up applying it sparingly. It had a nice tang and kick, and a little went a long way.

The beans were pretty standard, tender without being mushy, and a great side - as was the rice, colorful and flavorful.  But the tacos were clearly the star.

The pork was hot, seared from the griddle/grill in the back, and packed full of flavor. While there was definite spice, it didn't prevent me from tasting... well... pork. And this is an important distinction, because after all, pigs are tasty. To be honest, these weren't what I was expecting from Tacos al Pastor, but I've seen the definition stretched to include 'marinated pork' and 'marinated beef' so.... whatever. It tasted good.

The first taco I ate doubled up, the second I split between tortillas - there was some breakage, but I didn't mind. In both cases, the copious amounts of filling rendered the use of fork necessary. Huddled over one of the few tables available for "dine-in", I probably looked like a huge mess.

Trust me, I didn't care.

I left Lily's feeling quite full for a reasonable price, and looking forward to my next visit.

The Decision: Both Lily's and R&R brought tacos to a level I hadn't imagined in the HoCo. How I got by with Chipotle alone for so long - or why - is beyond me. Sure, these places are not in conventional locations, but the food was fresh and flavorful - definite future go-tos when I find I need to rely on takeout. Moreso, this tentative first experience has me looking forward to trying items to which I'm not accustomed - like gas-station ceviche or tacos de lengua  

Based on this Taco Tour, however, I declare Lily's Mexican Market the winner!

Where do your Taco Loyalties lie?  Tell me in the comments below!


  1. Very cool, that makes me want to try it now. awesome

  2. Looks absolutely wonderful. Wish I had been there for the gas station comment. Made me laugh right out loud anyway.

  3. Okay, you've officially made me hungry. Thanks a lot! :)

  4. Oooh-- I've had R&R's tacos and loved them. Now I need to hit up Lily's.

  5. I found R&R's to be a little dry when I went in the summer. They grilled the meat after chopping it, to save time and cook them short order, which I appreciate, but it definitely impacted the texture of the meat. Did you notice if they changed this practice?

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    MediaProphet, I actually didn't notice. There were a couple of orders going at once, and Angry Birds distracted me. :\ ...however.. I will watch next time and let you know! That (the reheating process) might have been a contributing factor to the toughness of the barbacoa.

  7. Oh my god, I LOVE Lily's tacos. Salivating!