The Dungeon

Once we were neophytes here at Tortillaphilia, cowering in the shadows, shunned by society.

Then all of a sudden the sun broke through, and as the light shone upon us, we understood what we had felt in our hearts had always been right: Tortillaphilia does not make you a monster.

These articles from our formative years were all written in and about Spokane, Washington.

De Leon: Torta de Carnitas

Now and again I like to take chances. To challenge the establishment. Flip off the man if you like. Like today. Instead of going with the torta de carne asada, I firmly but kindly pointed to the carnitas. That’s right. Torta de carnitas.

And let me tell you, it feels good being naughty—never has something that wrong been so right. Try it yourself. I dare you.

The first person to go in and order a torta de mole poblano might just become a Son of Tortillaphilia. Or daughter. We do not discriminate.


De Leon: Chile Colorado

Hey there baby, is that chile colorado on your plate? It is? Mmmmmm, yeah. You got a little on your face, too … lemme get that for you. You know how I like that.

I like the pork all sorts of ways, but you know this might just be my favorite. Deep flavor, and dark. Just enough to spice to remind you that it’s there. Unh.


De Leon: Cochinitas

The first time you have sex, you’re just happy to be there. The second time you have sex, you start to figure out that there’s even more to it than you thought.

But the third time you have sex, that’s the time you think to yourself ohmigodthisisawesomeiwanttodothiseverydayfortherestofmylife!

And that’s what cochinitas is like. Pork, slow-roasted with garlic, cumin and citrus. And the third time you had sex.


De Leon: Mole Poblano

Mole poblano, or just mole for short, is a mix of chili peppers and Mexican chocolate which, with a few other ingredients, make a sauce worthy of gods. And as I am a god, and De Leon is heaven, I obviously heartily approve of their mole tacos.

What makes the sauce such a celebration of everything good is the combination of the sweet and spicy. Getting that perfect balance is often quite difficult, but De Leon does it just right. Obviously. The chicken absorbs the flavors perfectly, particularly if it has been sitting in the sauce for a while.

Make sure to grab a few extra tortillas for dipping in the leftover sauce.


Del Taco: Tacos

Del Taco is one of those rare fast food places that actually flirts with authentic Mexican cuisine. Granted, that might be a generous statement, but the Tacos Del Carbon (shouldn’t that be Tacos Al Carbon?) aren’t a million miles away from resembling a true honest to god taco.

Wrapped in two corn tortillas, the meat is as flavorful as anything vacuum wrapped can come, and the cilantro and salsa actually adds quite a bit to the flavor. I have actually been to quite a few “sit down” Mexican restaurants that have served up tacos a whole lot worse than this.

I’m pretty OK with Del Taco, and I’d go so far as to say they deliver the best taco of any of the larger fast food chains. Not shabby.


Cafe Marron: Tacos

I actually went to Marron to escape the call of Tortillaphilia, but when I saw the steak taco on the menu then I had little choice but to try it. See this is just the kind of guy I am, I do it all for you, the plebeian.

And much like Poison’s cover of “Sexy Back,” it was good. Very good in fact. The “marinated steak tacos” were similar to authentic carne asada tacos (hence the name, I suppose) and served in some highly tasty corn tortillas. Topped with spinach, avocado, and a nice roasted tomato salsa it might very well be the best taco I’ve had outside a dedicated Mexican restaurant.

One word of warning is to not use the sour cream that is served on the side. Sour cream is fine with your average Taco Time taco, but here it would merely mask the organic flavor of the meal. And you don’t want that.


Northern Lights Brewery & Pub: Wrap

I’m usually a fan of Northern Lights—their hot wings are the best in the region and I quite enjoy the product of their brewery—but something is not quite right with their chicken caesar wrap.

For comparison purposes with The Elk’s similar offering, I decided to pair the wrap with the pasta salad which I guess makes this—O! M! G!—Tortillaphilia’s first head to head challenge!

Northern Lights’ wrap, while philosophically identical to The Elk’s, sadly comes off as kind of an antithesis in the flavor department. The Elk offers up a fresh tasty wrap, while Northern Lights’ version is virtually flavorless with slightly limp lettuce. It’s not inedible, but of anything I’ve had at Northern Lights, this certainly is bottom of the barrel.

Worse yet is the pasta salad which came drenched in balsamic vinegar, a dressing that should be used sparingly. Overpowering the other flavors is not a good thing.

Northern Lights’ chicken caesar wrap is a letdown, and also the worst meal I’ve experienced at the U-District brewery. Stick with the hot wings or fish and chips instead.


Tacos Tumbras: Quesadillas

I’m walking a dangerous line here giving the designated “De Leon” score to Tacos Tumbras, that is a fact. The thing is, though, the quesadilla deserves it as it is without a doubt the best of its kind in Spokane, and probably the first authentic one I’ve had in this area.

Tumbras’s quesadilla is made with masa, and is fairly different from its American cousin. Mine was stuffed with cheese (obviously) and mushrooms, and topped with queso blanco. The end result might be a bit more reminiscent of a tamale, and I’m definitely OK with that.

It’s easy to fawn over De Leon these days, but Tumbras also deserves your love. Make sure to try out their quesadillas at least.


El Gallo Giro: Tacos

El Gallo Giro has a picture of who I assume is the owner of the restaurant hanging out with Samuel L. Jackson. That, to me, is perfection.

Same goes for the lengua tacos too; cooking cow tongue is easier said than done, and often the meat ends up feeling way too chewy. That was not the case at El Gallo Giro, where the doneness was perfect, and might very well have been the best lengua I’ve had in the Spokane area. The seasoning was also quite good, giving the meat some flavor without burning the… tongue… off… No pun intended.

The beans also deserve a special mention. Refried beans often don’t have enough salt in them, but that was not a problem here. Salted to perfection—I’m definitely a fan.


Green Burrito: Burritos

While waiting for my burrito to be prepared, I checked out the nutrition chart prominently displayed on Green Burrito/Carl’s Jr.’s wall. This might have been when I first lost my appetite.

It’s not that Green Burrito’s products is offensively bad or anything, it’s more that it’s just dull. Think Taco Bell, Taco John, Senor Froggy, yada yada yada, and you’ll get the exact same product: a semi-dull burrito with your normal fillings (steak, beans, salsa, cheese,) without much flavor and limited kick from the green chile sauce. Without the wrapper it is borderline impossible to know you’ve been to Green Burrito as opposed to any of the other aforementioned places.

The question, then, is why go to Green Burrito when there are other places you can get quite decent burritos, be it south of the border style or otherwise. I don’t really have a good answer. Maybe you’re going with somebody who enjoys Carl’s Jr. burgers (they’re not bad) and you feel like a burrito. Or maybe you’re just feeling basic and are in mood for fast food. In both cases Green Burrito isn’t bad as such. Just rather dull.


Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery: Burritos

Bardenay’s main claim to fame is being a distillery, and bless them for that. God knows there is little reason to get your tortilla fix from them at least, seeing their chimichanga is awful.

First I’m fairly certain the burrito was not deep-fried, which really made the chimichanga a… burrito. But whatever. The waitress warned me the wrap would be spicy which in retrospect might have been a joke. Be it the mango salsa (which the chimichanga was drenched in) or the chipotle sour cream, there was absolutely no flavor to be found anywhere. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nuh-uh.

And I mean, I’m all OK with mango salsa and all, and I realize it really doesn’t need to be that spicy or anything, but it probably shouldn’t be closer to jam flavor than “fresh Mex” or whatever.

Bardenay’s chimichanga is probably great for the average flavor fearing Coeur d’Alene-ians who enjoy Riverstone as a Disneyland for old people, and good for them. The elitist tortillaphile should look elsewhere.


Taqueria El Mercado: Tacos

I’m slightly bummed El Mercado didn’t have al pastor tacos on my last visit. In fact, the only thing they did have were ones stuffed with carnitas; not that I have any problems carnitas mind you, but I was kind of craving either al pastor or carne asada.

Regardless, the carnitas were definitely way past passable. The pork was nice and crispy and had a good bite to it. I like that it was also served up plainly in the (alas store bought) corn tortillas leaving it up to you to garnish them from the well stocked “pepper bar.”

I went with salsa roja and salsa verde, both of which were spicy enough to give a nice little burn on the lips. A little pico de gallo for color as well as some cilantro made it all a simple and tasty taco.

The only issue I had was with the sogginess of the tortillas. They didn’t actually fall apart, but when dual wrapped tortillas start leaking, then you have kind of a mess on your hands. Literally.

Other than that it was a good experience—the best tacos I’ve ever had inside a gas station, and a good price at a $1.25 a piece.


Taqueria Guerrero: Tacos

After sampling the carne asada taco at Taco Del Mar I was reminded how horribly disgusting the grilled Mexican delight can taste. Of course, it also also served as a reminder how good it can be when done right, and few places do carne asada better than Taqueria Guerrero.

The meat is marinated to perfection, with the flavors penetrating every fiber of the pieces. It’s spicy and juicy, and so tender it melts on your tongue. Top it with some guacamole (the more liquid-y aguamole type) and salsa—both homemade obviously—and you have a a flavor bomb packed within the two corn tortillas. There’s also a nice little “pepper bar” where you can add onions, radishes, etc. to make it a customized experience.

Best of all, the tacos are a buck a piece. That’s right—one dollar. How can you beat that?


Steelhead Bar and Grille: Tacos

Tacos involving seafood can be a fickle friend here in the Inland Empire. Consider how far away we are from the ocean the odds of getting fresh shrimps are… Well, not very good.

Maybe it was my problem, then, for choosing Steelhead’s shrimp tacos, but I consider them fair game as long as they are on the menu. Sufficient to say the shrimps were not good. Definitely frozen, possibly the kind you get in a bag from Fred Meyer, then overcooked into stringy and chewy mess does not make for a good basis for a meal.

The rest of the platter did not do much to make up for the shrimp either. Some dull flour tortillas with run of the mill cheddar, iceberg, guacamole, and sour cream added little to the overall flavor, and the rice… I swear to god it was Rice-a-roni.

For $9 you can find infinitely better taco platters, authentic or not. Avoid Steelhead if you have a tortilla craving.


El Rincon Tapatio: Tacos

I’m becoming more and more vary about recommendations. El Rincon Tapatio, I’ve been told, is the best authentic Mexican restaurant in tow, and yada yada yada… It’s not. It’s not even close to anything I’d consider authentic.

Loaded with sour cream and bland guacamole, the key word here is “flavorless.” I highly doubt the meat had any spices on it, and I’m fairly certain the tortillas came straight from Safeway’s “ethnic” aisle.

I see little reason to ever go back to El Rincon, and though it isn’t really offensively bad, it’s far from good.


Ionic Burritos (Sonic Burritos): Burritos

Ionic Burritos is, despite its name, not so much about “classic” burritos as it is about wraps. Yet burritos is what they call it, so I suppose that should be good enough for me.

Located just north of the Gonzaga campus on Hamilton, Ionic Burritos serves up wraps in your choice of six different tortillas. You have a selection from a menu—Thai, fish, Cajun, Jamaican Jerk, etc.—or you can customize your own burrito. I felt pretty basic during my last visit and went with the Thai. Now to digress for a second, what’s up with Spokane and Thai-ing things up? It’s right up there with the ahi.


Stereotypical as it is, I have to admit it was a tasty choice, all wrapped in a 12” tortilla. A bit of chicken and some spicy peanut sauce made it a meal that will hold anybody through the day. The price is definitely affordable too.

One word of warning—the place is heavily trafficked during lunch hour, so make sure you have plenty of time. It’s definitely worth it.


Jimmy'z: Quesadillas

It’s hard to mess up a quesadilla too badly (my marmite one not withstanding,) but it’s equally difficult to prepare one that really stands out. Jimmy’Z has done just that, created a quesadilla with unique flavors wrapped in a high quality tortilla. I’m particularly into the use of cumin which makes it stand out from your average tortilla and cheese based product.

This is certainly not authentic Mexican food, and that’s just fine. I do however maintain this quesadilla goes beyond simple pub food, as it can be enjoyed both with or without an alcoholic beverage. Hence why I give it love with four hearts.


Rock City Grill: Tacos

I really have deep rooted philosophical issues with any eatery taking pride in being a “way cool place to eat” and where they “joke with you until you cry ‘Uncle!’” The whole TGIF attitude is something I gladly can pass on.

With that in mind I will admit I was kind of surprised by Rock City’s “Asian Fish Tacos.” They really weren’t that bad, and I’d contend the corn tortillas were better than your average theme restaurant offering. Not that De Leon will have much reason to worry, but I’ll take what I can get.

What I am unsure about is what exactly makes the tacos “Asian.” The chili sauce? The cilantro sour cream? It all seemed rather American, and the side order bowl of chili didn’t add a whole lot more to the promised Asian feel either.

This wasn’t the downright horrible taco experience I expected. The halibut was fairly OK, and so were all the condiments. I wouldn’t go back to Rock City Grill unless I really really had to, but as it is, you could do worse than the fish tacos if you should find yourself stuck there.


La Katrina Tacos: Tacos

So what happened here? La Katrina is kind of like the Jefferson Airplane of tacos: they recorded songs like “White Rabbit,” then evolved into the band that brought us “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” In other words, La Katrina has very quickly gone from having some of the best Mexican food in town to among the worst. It is unknown if this is because of change in ownership or not, but the food has definitely arrived at a Starship phase.

My tacos were filled with plain and chewy carne asada, and came served with mountain of sour cream. Yes, sour cream. At the La Katrina of yore you would only get that from the so-called American menu, which now seems to be the whole menu. Not that there’s anything wrong with Tex-Mex cooking in itself, but it is not what La Katrina used to be about, and I feel this was several steps down in quality from previous years.

Its too bad, really. La Katrina was great, but as it stands, you can find plenty of better places to enjoy a good taco. Grace Slick, we hardly knew ye.


Taco Time: Burritos

Some things exist in a parallel universe, where they can make you feel incredibly right, and simultaneously so very very wrong. These things aren’t fulfilling, nor are they particularly good for you. They sure don’t bolster your mystique as a person of class and good taste. But thankfully, the physical laws of their universe will not allow these things to go unenjoyed. For example:

  • The bridge from Madonna’s “Into The Groove”
  • The Bill O’Reilly “falafel” phone transcript
  • That part in “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” where Danny DeVito accidentally kills the girl in the boxing ring
  • Biting into a sour-cream-dipped crisp bean burrito from Taco Time

Thick, crisp, flaky crust. Tongue-scorching, almost-identifiable filling.


Fiesta Mexicana: Tacos

Sometimes I end up wishing I went to Taco Bell.

Fiesta Mexicana is Mexican cuisine made the American way, and I mean that in the words’ truest sense. This is the kind of food you can make at home when you’re feeling particularly lazy and Sandra Lee’s promise of “70% storebought” excellence sounds tempting. Feeling up for a Mission hard shelled taco filled with meat, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes? Fiesta Mexicana is the place to go if you run out of shells at home and don’t feel like going to the grocery store.

There’s not a whole lot more to be said about this South Hill joint. Giant plates with bland food might be good enough for some, but I trust that the tendentious Tortillaphile will want to steer clear of Fiesta Mexicana.


Far West Billiards: Tacos

No self respecting bar would not have tacos on the menu, and Far West ups that ante by offering fish tacos. Of course, we’re not talking anything that’s even half-way authentic, but they are actually quite good in a greasy sort of manner. Plus they go well with the beverage selection.

Served in rather average flour tortillas, the fish is combined with lettuce and feta cheese (just like in Mexico!), and a bland yet passable guacamole and pico de gallo. The platter also comes with tortilla chips, most likely bought from Rosauers.

The platter might not win any authenticity awards, and it certainly won’t be on any food snob’s “top 10 meals ever” list, but I like it. It’s filling and almost counts as comfort food you can enjoy all through the year.