I grew up in varying areas of the South near Mexico, and have suffered greatly from a lack of quality Mexican food in FL. It's almost an epidemic. Based on reviews I hoped to have found a local answer to my quest.
Where I grew up, it was not uncommon to see a small cart or RV type trailer parked on the corner lot of some neighborhood, from which really awesome really homemade really real, fresh, hot Mexican food was being served out of, typically by grandmother-looking Mexican ladies. Burritos, tacos, refried beans with queso fresco, fresh salsas, pica de gallo, tamales, sometimes even enchiladas or chimichangas. There was probably lard in everything. Someone had likely made the warm flour or corn tortillas by hand that morning. It all was wrapped in foil. Just pulling up to one smelled like heaven. It all was amazingly delicious. That is what I consider "real" Mexican food, so take that for whatever it's worth when debating about this restaurant. Your aspirations for good Mexican grub may be higher, lower, or just different than mine.
The people working at Tacos Al Carbon mostly seemed very intent on good service. There was a diligent young man constantly going back and forth from the food-serving truck to a shack on the other side of the parking lot, where one could only guess he was single handedly making all the fresh salsa and guacamole, which he then seemed to be carrying to the truck, one trip at a time. Everyone was polite, friendly and that added to the charm. It seems like a family-owned/run operation and that makes me want to come back. It is my desire to support such types of local businesses.
But, there is no doubt they could be doing better. No matter how nice or charming everyone was, we shelled out $28 for food that was definitely sub par. And that matters. We ordered guacamole, chips, salsa, 2 carne asada burritos (one of them a burrito meal that came with rice/beans) and 2 carne asada tacos.
The good stuff: The fresh salsa is seriously great. Not blow your mind amazing, but definitely way better than anything you'll get anywhere else, other than at our top Mexican S. FL favorite, Cantina Laredo.
The fresh guacamole is also seriously great. It comes with all the guacamole "fixins" on top, so you can sort through or stir it up depending on what you want in it. And for $2.49, you can't beat it. It did need a little salt and a little more lime, but that is no complaint.
The salsa verde that came in the little cups with our meals was perfect. Very spicy, but tangy and delicious and just what you'd expect.
The lettuce and onions, cilantro, or whatever else they had on our tacos/burritos was also very good and fresh. My guess is they have good access to fresh produce somewhere, and you can tell the difference.
Although the beans with the burrito meal weren't quite as good as I've had elsewhere, they were still tasty enough to recommend getting. If anything the cheap quality cheese they put on top kind of spoiled them.
What needs real improvement: The freshness and quality of the meat left much to be desired. The "carne asada" is more like seasoned sliced/diced skinny strips of fried meat. To call it "Steakumms" would be just a little too rough, but it's honestly very close to that. It was also dry and oily, like it had possibly sat around for a while, even though they were pretty busy. The dry greasy meat was pretty sparse in the tacos, we had more in our burritos, but yes they do pack it with a *lot* of lettuce to make everything seem more generous. I didn't mind because the lettuce was yummy.
As we were waiting in line, another customer warned someone else in line that the shredded beef tacos were a little gamey.... Why? Good beef doesn't taste gamey....
Also, the cheese they put on everything (in generous portions) is very low quality. Like that kind of cheap cheese that seems part plastic and doesn't really seem to want to melt. They're cutting corners here and the food suffers for it.
I was stupified to see an employee taking plastic packages of store-bought tortillas to the food service truck. Why not fresh? Of course you can taste the difference. They would probably be saving money by buying or making fresh tortillas once a day, if they had the equipment or found a local supplier.
Also, the "chips" may not be what you're expecting. If you've ever tried to make your own tortilla chips at home by cutting up flour tortillas and frying them in oil you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Their chips are as a result very thick and saturated in oil. My husband loved them, but think more like fried pita chips rather than crispy thinner restaurant or Tostitos-style tortilla chips. Another cost-saver for them, but why not make their own then from scratch? Corn flour, oil and water? Some salt? Instead they're frying up their store-bought flour tortillas. Come on....
And lastly the Mexican style rice that also came with the burrito meal was OLD. It tasted like whenever it was first made, it was probably pretty good, but now it was gritty throughout, and seemed like it had been stirred in some warm oil to freshen it up.
In a nutshell although they have mastered the ambiance of authentic Mexican street-side food, they've resorted to cutting corners on quality and freshness of their meats and cheeses to save money, time and effort, but it's to the point that it's disappointing. They are working hard, but perhaps need some training or research to find out how to get better quality meats etc. to be fresher for the customer, in a way that doesn't break their bank. Also I think a place like this should be serving fresh tortillas and chips - not store-bought. When I go to a homemade-looking place, I expect homemade tasting food. This is more like the South-Florida version of streetside Mexican food. And it seems like it doesn't have to be.
I plan on going back to see if this experience was a fluke, based on the rave reviews, but I'm not holding my breath. We wanted to love it!
On a side note be cautious driving thru the parking lot, it has a ton of potholes, and you may want to bring your own wetnaps - the benches are a little dirty but it's all part of the experience. ;)
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