Tequila Tasting at Taqueria Cañonita in Las Vegas, Nevada

Copious amounts of wine tastings, whiskey comparisons, beer samplings, and now I can cross tequila tasting off the list. As part of a food and travel writers’ conference I attended earlier this year, we were treated to a tequila tasting at Taqueria Cañonita inside the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ready for tequila tasting at Taqueria Canonita

 

I have to say, before I even got situated and ready to take photos, the first thing I spotted was…

 

guacamole!


Fresh guacamole ready to be devoured

 

Growing up in California and living a life deprived of quality avocados in Taiwan, the sight of guacamole always stops me in my tracks.

The verdict?

This was some awesome guacamole!

But, I digress…on to the important task of the day — learning about tequila!

I have to say, learning about tequila under the faux sky of the Canal Shoppes was a bit distracting and confusing as I’m sitting there envisioning my best Mexico memories, but hearing the serenade of gondeliers nearby.

Executive Chef, Reed Osterholt, put on a great demonstration for us, teaching us the nuances between Don Julio tequilas.

 

Chef Reed Osterholt discussing Taqueria Canonita's use of tequila in cooking

The three types of Don Julio tequila we sampled

Blanco: Double distilled from the finest 10 year old 100% Blue Agave. Ultra smooth, rich and clean. Has crisp agave aromas blended with hints of fresh citrus on the nose, a lightly sweet flavor, and bits of pepper on the finish.

Reposado: The Reposado is double distilled and spends eight months in American white-oak barrels, giving it the beautiful golden amber color. Mellow lemon and citrus on the nose with hints of dark chocolate on the palate, and the finish has a touch of caramel apple.

Anejo: The Anejo is also double distilled and this time, aged in American white-oak barrels for around eighteen months. Definite citrus with notes of caramel on the nose, lots of rich, thick, honey sweetness on the palate, and the taste of honey lingers through to the finish.

And, after admiring the different qualities of the tequila, what’s the next best thing to do with it?

 

Flaming dishes of course!


Chef Osterholt uses a "little" tequila in his cooking

Chef Osterholt began an impressive display of preparing one of Taqueria Cañonita’s signature dishes — Roasted Mussels & Shrimp Skillet with Tequila, Pasilla Oaxaca, and Mexican Chorizo.

Chef Osterholt preparing the flaming mussels and shrimp skillet

Roasted Mussels and Shrimp Skillet at Taqueria Canonita

 

Although our menu sampling was limited, I was rather impressed with Taqueria Cañonita. Its menu concept is pretty simple — to recreate the “soul food” dishes of Mexico City, with a New America ambiance.

The native Los Angeles girl in me would’ve bypassed a place like that when I was living in Las Vegas in favor of the cheap taqueria down the street. However, if you are looking for something more upscale with good quality and authentic food, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

And, truth be told…I am still craving that guacamole.

Taqueria Cañonitas
The Venetian Hotel and Resort (Located in the Canal Walk)
3377 Las Vegas Blvd, South
Las Vegas, NV
Telephone: (702) 414-3773
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Daily
Dinner: 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday – Thursday; 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Reservations recommended, take-out available
Website: www.canonita.net

Although I was a guest of The Venetian and Palazzo Resorts, all views and opinions are my own.

 

Mexican Food in Taipei: Macho Tacos Serves Up Baja Style Tacos and Burritos

Not surprisingly, good Mexican food is one of the hardest things to find in Taipei.  After growing up in Los Angeles and learning to cook authentic Mexican food at an early age, I’ve become quite picky on what I will eat and obviously recommend.  I am thrilled to recommend a new taco joint in town that’s doing it right — Macho Tacos. Their simple menu allows them to focus on maintaining quality ingredients while providing Taipei residents with a taste of what real Mexican tacos should taste like!

Macho Tacos Exterior

Outside of the Macho Tacos in Taipei

Previously, we had two “ok” options in Taipei — El Gallo (had the best passion fruit margaritas) and Yuma, which served Southwest style Mexican food (not really a fan of Tex-Mex & Southwest, but it was a decent place to grab some nachos and a margarita with friends).  In the last few months, both of these restaurants closed their doors, leaving many Taipei expats searching for something new.

In December, we heard about a new taco place in town called Macho Tacos.  We’ve been traveling since January so I was anxious to try them out once we got back to Taipei.  We stopped in this past Sunday, our first weekend back and one of the nicest days we’ve had in Taipei in months!  Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had this idea as they were packed.  We’d been warned this place was very tiny & seating was next to nothing — heed the warning!  It is definitely more of a take out type place, something that doesn’t work so great when you live 30 minutes away by taxi.

Macho Tacos has a similar style to Baja Fresh back in the US (the Fresh Mex) with its use of fresh ingredients, light flavors, and chunky salsas, typical of Baja style Mexican food.  The menu at Macho Tacos is pretty simple — burritos, tacos, nachos, and quesadillas.  Choose from carne asada (steak), carnitas (pork), pollo asado (chicken), or even something you won’t find at your average Mexican taco stand…tofu.  Something else that caught my eye was the fish tacos on the menu.

Mission Statement

Macho Tacos' Mission Statement

Prices are quite reasonable, like any three regular crisp or soft tacos for NT $160 or the fish tacos (that only come in an order of three) for NT $170.  Although these prices reflect an increase from less than a month ago, they are still quite reasonable for “western” style food here in the city.

While we were waiting with the small mob for our order to come up, I noticed the crowd was entirely made up of English speakers (mostly expats I am assuming), with many of them probably 18-22 years old.  Why is that important?  Well, that translated into ZERO turnover on the only 5 tables they had in the back.  Several of the groups were immediately aware of the incoming customers who were hoping to eat in, and although they were done eating, they found it humorous to keep the tables occupied so no one could sit — not even the very pregnant woman trying to find a table.  Ultimately, we lucked out by snagging the stools out front so we weren’t trying to stand out in the street and eat!  Just a note: Not one of the groups had cleared out from the inside tables even after 45 minutes when we were done and ready to leave.

I went for the three taco special with a crispy chicken, soft carnitas, and soft carne asada and Brett ordered the three fish taco special.  Since this was our main meal for the day, we got an order of carne asada nachos as well.  Soda refills are free (something else rather uncommon in Taiwan).

My tacos were quite tasty, including the carnitas, which I am most picky about.  I hate soggy carnitas that just taste of grease.  I like carnitas that have some spice, a little crisp, and actually taste like pork!  The only negative I can say is they need to put two tortillas on the soft tacos as they break apart too easily.  I managed to snag a bite of Brett’s fish tacos and no doubt, I will be ordering those next time.  I’ve actually been craving them since we left!  The fish was nice and crisp, and reminded me of my favorite batter on fish & chips at an English pub back home.

My chicken, carne asada, and carnitas tacos

Close up of carne asada taco

Carnitas taco

Three fish tacos with jalapenos

Close up of fish taco

Fish taco has crispy batter, cabbage, and sauce

The nachos were a decent size — definitely a portion to share if you are ordering other food.  I was a tad bit sad to see the “squirt bottle” guacamole…it’s more of a green crema versus guacamole.  Given the difficulty in finding avocados here and their high prices (we’ve paid over $3 US pr avocado at the store before), I can’t fault Macho Tacos for going with a cheaper alternative to ensure they always have it on the menu.

Macho Tacos nachos with carne asada

Guacamole from "squirt bottle" on nachos

Besides the burritos and burrito bowls, other menu items I’m interested in trying include the rice and beans.  Rice and beans are two of the hardest things for many Mexican places to get right.  If you find decent rice and beans, it’s a good sign the food might be pretty authentic.  Choose from refried or black beans, and Mexican style or cilantro lime rice.  Macho Tacos also has horchata on the menu — a must for any good taqueria!

I’m not sure if their salsas alternate, but we had a choice of three on Sunday — a pico de gallo type salsa (mild), corn salsa (mild-med), and a third that reminded me of a coleslaw salsa (mild).  For those wanting to crank up the heat, they have bottles of hot sauce.   Or, you can add jalapenos for NT $10 or get an entire side of them for NT $30.  All the salsas were freshly made and had a good mix of flavor and heat.  No green salsa though – bummer!

Pico de Gallo

Corn salsa

Third salsa -- a coleslaw/cabbage style salsa

Macho Tacos is located in the Dong Qu area, a part of downtown Taipei known for an endless array of restaurants featuring everything from Sichuan to hamburgers.  The closest MRT stop is Zhongxiao Dunhua on the blue line.  They are open for both lunch and dinner (with a three hour closed period in the mid afternoon).  NOTE: Cash only.

Macho Tacos

Address: 3, Ln 126, Yanji St, Taipei City (台北市延吉街126巷3號)
Telephone: (02) 2731-4489
Menu: English and Chinese
Average meal price: NT $200
Website: Macho Tacos
Facebook: Macho Tacos

Hours: Open: Monday to Saturdays from noon to 3pm and 6:30pm to 10pm, Sundays from noon to 3pm, 6:30pm to 9pm  Note: They are closed on Tuesdays in March (not sure if this will extend into April or not)

Mexican Food: Sal’s Tacos in West Sacramento, CA

Huevos Ensillados & Carnitas Omelette - love the sign!

Huevos Ensillados & Carnitas Omelette - love the sign!

When I was living in Northern California, I was on the hunt for good Mexican food.  Sal’s Tacos is the best I’ve found for authentic local Mexican food, reminsicent of what I was raised around in Los Angeles. I grew up exposed to truly traditional dishes and have searched years trying to find restaurants that come close to duplicating the fond memories I have. Sal’s definitely came close to filling that empty void in my pursuit of the best Mexican food!

This is not your average taqueria! The owner, Sal Galvan, has found a way to merge his love for the Sacramento Kings, mosiacs, good food, and wine! Sal’s is completely decorated in mosiacs on the walls and ceiling, most paying homage to the Sacramento Kings (including a life size one of Vlade Divac). If this isn’t enough to keep him busy, he also produces wine, offering a couple types at the restaurant as well. You can’t help but laugh at some of the funny signs posted in the restaurant (such as the one in the picture below).

The Mega burrito

The Mega burrito

I absolutely LOVE this place. They have a salsa bar with both red and green salsas, ranging from mild to wild! I am not a fan of carnitas normally but they have the BEST carnitas taco special that I order almost every time I go. On Sunday mornings, I used to order the Huevos Divorciados (divorced eggs) which is typically two fried eggs, served separately on corn tortillas, one with red salsa, the other green. Sal’s version is on the masa boats, one with chili colorado and the other with chile verde. Perfectly matched with a Bohemia or Negro Modelo! :-))

And they serve my comfort food daily – POZOLE! It’s a better subsitute for chicken noodle soup! For those who have not tried it and you are lucky enough to find it in a restaurant, definitely give it a try. It’s basically a pork and hominy soup with chile and other seasonings. Garnishes include radishes, shredded cabbage, lemon or lime juice, oregano, and cilantro. It is similar to Menudo but lacks that “special” ingredigent of tripe (yuck!).

Sal's Tacos

They have all-you-can-eat chips and a fresh salsa bar with some interesting options.  A number of red ones, ranging in spice and at least one green salsa.  spicy cucumbers, pickled onions, carrots & peppers are some accompaniments.  They also have wedges of limes, lemons, cilantro and onions, and typically a couple creams, one is usually spicy.   Although the food is not as cheap as you might find at some taquerias, the quality of food is much better.  I’ve tried some local taquerias and been highly disappointed with the inferior ingredients and greasiness of the cheese and sauces.

This is a very casual, order at the counter type place. They have a frequent diner program as well (buy six, get one free)…..further rationalization on how I seemed to end up there once a week!!! :-)  I miss Sal’s and try to go back at least once every time I am back in town.  Call for hours as they have changed several times.  They used to be open earlier on weekends for breakfast, but I think they open later now.  Also note they do close early, typically 8:30pm from what I remember.   

Sal’s Tacos – Mexican Food
400 C Street
West Sacramento, CA 95605
(916) 372-3377

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