Trail Mix: Como Esta Taqueria

April 29, 2011, 12:40 a.m.

Life is full of twists and turns. Imagine the surprise generated in India when a member of the British Parliament claimed that chicken tikka masala was invented in Glasgow. Sometimes, though, there are no surprises; things are just as they seem. Como Esta Taqueria doesn’t look that great – and, no surprise, it isn’t.

Trail Mix: Como Esta Taqueria
Try the chile relleno or chicken taco salad with a pineapple aqua fresca at Como Esta Taqueria off Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

The restaurant is essentially a brightly colored and clean hole in the wall. Como Esta is a pit stop on your way home or quick bite with a friend, but nothing more.

The tacos can generally be skipped. The Wild Fish Taco has so much potential but is entirely underwhelming. The fish is not fresh enough to maintain the flaky tempura-like texture its appearance promises, and it ends up being chewy. It lies on a heaping bed of cabbage and chipotle dressing on top of lifeless tortillas that seem to communicate a deflated excitement surrounding the dish. The regular tacos are not much better. The carnitas don’t really fall apart with overwhelming tenderness as they should. Likewise, the barbacoa, al pastor and carne asada all lack any serious flavor (listed in descending order of intensity). The paltry addition of cilantro and onions are a quick afterthought to tacos that seem to have already given up and don’t impart any of the freshness needed to help you wade through the rich meat and beans.

The burritos are generally the strongest offerings on the menu. The Prawn Burrito, for example, is filled with succulent shrimp, beans and rice that manage to impart flavor without being overly salted. The Chile Relleno burrito is also dependable. The chili is savory and is packed with just the right amount of cheese. While it’s certainly not a healthful substitute for meat, it is a delicious ways to stay vegetarian.

The other vegetarian options, however, are substantially weaker. The Super Vegetarian Burrito is about as generic as its gets. The Tofu Ranchero Quesadilla comes as a crisp tortilla wrap but sags as the watery pico de gallo salsa bleeds everywhere, making a mess out of a dish that isn’t tasty enough to justify the clean up.

The plate specials and side offerings at Como Esta don’t hold up particularly well either. The enchiladas are completely forgettable, and any spice that may have come through is drowned in the sea of refried beans they come with. The broth of the tortilla soup is entirely too watery. It completely lacks anything heartiness or warmth that normally makes a soup appealing. The flan, on the other hand, is fairly smooth and a decent way to finish the meal, but overall comes off as cookie-cutter in both taste and presentation.

Expectations play a huge part in your impression of a restaurant. If you take the establishment at face value and order right, Como Esta can certainly hit the spot. However, if you think you’ve found a hidden treasure off the beaten path of University or California, then you’re setting yourself up to be surprisingly disappointed. There is no need to venture out in this case; “don’t bother” with Como Esta.

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