by Dan Johnson
Juanita, you cunning fox.
I was all jazzed to chronicle an on-going food war between two similar restaurants on opposite sides of the seven hundred block of South Broadway. I could practically taste the lede: “Juanita’s Café v. Tacos Acapulco—First Wave Taquerias Pull No Punches!”
Alas, I and many others have been had. There is no rivalry. Only quiet and somewhat confusing collusion. Juanita’s is Tacos Acapulco. Tacos Acapulco is Juanita’s.
Your first hint that all is not as it seems comes with careful attention to subliminal paint schemes. Each of the establishments in question has its interior painted off-orange like some kind of not-quite-ripe pumpkin.
Next in the litany of suspicious coincidences is the identical taste of the carne asada and al pastor at both Juanita’s and Tacos Acapulco. The flavor profiles suggest they were prepared by the same hands in the very same batch. The carne asada is tender, flavorful and not at all gristly (***cough cough*** Casa India). The al pastor is salt-rich and imbued with a certain chorizo-ish crumble texture.
I knew conclusively that something was up when I approached the register at Tacos Acapulco and found the cashier wearing a Juanita’s apron and matching hat. Even when the woman confirmed that the two are but different hands of the same body, I doubted.
After all, there is a not insignificant price disparity between the two. At Juanita’s, three tacos ran $6. Down towards 8th St and across Broadway, that same meal (plus cucumber garnish) cost me a meager $4.50.
The only thing I can figure is that Juanita (if there is even a Juanita, which I highly doubt given the high caliber deception preferred by this organization) has wisely coopted all taco-pushers on the same block. Like the Democrats and the Republicans, she offers the appearance of choice while pushing the same product at both places.
The only difference between Juanita and our fine nation’s esteemed political parties is that Juanita’s product is actually good, which is a nice change of pace. You can get the same delightful meat on flat corn with cebolla at a cinderblock shack where “Hello” by Adele blasts intermittently or you can pay a bit more and enjoy the same delightful cuisine across the street where the airy Juanita’s celebrates its new annex with cheap decorations and high ceilings.
Ordinarily, I’d let well enough go. Especially given that I received exemplary service at each place and feasted on some delightful meats (try the pollo at Juanita’s or the cabeza at Acapulco for a little variety).
Like a glitch in the matrix, I can’t let go of that nagging wonder in my heart that wants to reconcile why one would be so much cheaper than the other. Is décor really that much of a premium? Is the Juanita consortium trying to pay off the new expansion by jacking rates at one location only? Why would someone eat at Juanita’s when the same meal costs significantly less across the street?
Someone sketch it out for me. I’m having Jim Garrison heart palpitations trying to figure out why Lee Harvey Oswald’s Fair Play for Cuba Committee at 544 Camp Street was actually the same building that housed Fed arch anti-Communist Guy Bannister at 531 Lafayette. Add it up!
We’re wildly off topic now. I apologize. I have a deep scorpionic need to reveal the hidden cosmic relations between seemingly unrelated things. It’s in my nature.
The important take away is that both Tacos Acapulco and Juanita’s Café offer excellent tacos. If you want to pay a bit extra and sit in a brightly lit dining room with high backed wood furniture and traditional music, go to Juanita’s. If you’re content to sit on busted naugahyde chairs in a tiny structure that feels as if it’s going to pancake with the slightest tremblor, Tacos Acapulco is your jam.
I award both a “1” on the binary while quietly noting that Juanita has the upper hand.