In one more signal of the upward trajectory of Santa Barbara’s meals scene, the higher State Avenue constructing which as soon as held Taco Bell is now dwelling to Taqueria La Unica, the most recent restaurant from the Los Agaves Restaurant Group.
Talking of indicators, the one for Taqueria La Unica says, “Est. 2021,” the birthplace of the idea, say the homeowners, however the precise venue at 3771 State St. has solely been open just a few months. Launched this spring as an outpost for conventional Mexican road tacos and different taqueria favorites, the restaurant took some time to seek out its footing. Beginning with the truth that the neighbors in close by San Roque and Hope Ranch had been longing for a brand new quick informal idea, however wanted a menu they may perceive — the primary rendition of the quite in depth menu was in Spanish solely, which slowed down the road as a result of folks had a LOT of questions.
Now fortunately translated — with further explanations for among the much less acquainted objects — the menu and kitchen of Taqueria La Unica are shortly turning into a neighborhood mainstay below the steering of Chef Gerardo Marin, one among three cooks (the others are Richard Garcia and Danny Reyes) who oversee all the delicacies for the Los Agaves group. That enterprise now contains 5 places of the flagship Los Agaves (the unique Milpas Avenue, De la Vina Avenue, Market Drive in Goleta, Westlake Village, and Oxnard), in addition to Flor de Maíz on the waterfront, and Santo Mezcal on decrease State Avenue.
The notion of elevated Mexican meals is the first throughline for all of homeowners Carlos and Christian Luna’s ideas, and regardless of the identify, the emphasis at Taqueria La Unica is extra on meats (al pastor, skirt steak, sirloin steak, rooster, strip loin, tongue/lengua, head/cabeza, picanha steak, quick rib, cheek, lip, rib eye, bone marrow, beef birria, suadero, chorizo/longaniza, tripe, and campechana/seafood) than it’s on tacos.
These are the flavors of road meals you’d discover in Mexico Metropolis and Guadalajara, shared Chef Marin. He lately walked us by way of among the menu highlights, all of which had been new to me, even though I had been to Taqueria La Unica just a few instances earlier than, which provides you some thought of how in depth the menu is.
For starters we tried the home made guacamole with tostadas with a beneficiant portion of chips. Then there was the Elote De Pueblo, which is their model of the favored corn on the cob with mayo, contemporary cheese, bitter cream, and pequin pepper. It’s not straightforward to eat gracefully — or to share — however this tackle genuine Mexican road corn is certainly tasty. This was adopted by pinto beans with cheese, an elevated model of the refried bean dip my mother used to make once I was a child.
Subsequent up, the Taco Al Pastor, garnished with pineapple, onion, and cilantro. “Everybody loves and is aware of Al Pastor,” says Marin. “Al Pastor is king as a result of Al Pastor could be very acquainted in all elements of the world.” Desirous to broaden our horizons additional into what he calls “the true delicacies and flavors of Mexico,” the Mexico Metropolis native then had us attempt the Costras with tongue, which has a cheese crust wrapped across the tongue (it tastes like, uh, meat, and was nicely seasoned — if I didn’t comprehend it was la lengua I wouldn’t have given it a second thought) on high of a corn tortilla. It was tasty, however a bit troublesome to eat with a plastic fork and knife, which is all they’ve obtainable.
“Alambres La Unica is our hottest menu merchandise,” says Marin, as he had us do this fabulous (and large) mixture of sirloin steak, picanha steak, chorizo, onion, anaheim chili, mushrooms, and deliciously melty cheese. No shock that this was in all probability my favourite merchandise of the night time. The shrimp alambres are my go-to order at Los Agaves, and regardless that the flavour of the La Unica Alambres — additionally obtainable in variations with skirt steak and bacon (Norteno), and al pastor, rooster, and picanha steak (Que Me Ves) — is a bit heavier and heartier, the successful mixture of savory meats and melty cheese is hard to beat.
The Skirt Steak Volcanes, served on a corn tostada with refried pinto beans, had been good, however undoubtedly wanted salsa — and fortunately there may be loads. Every of the Los Agaves’s group eating places has its personal in depth number of salsa. The Salsa Puya, with puya-dried chile sauce, is my favourite of this bunch. It’s a bit much like guajillo however has a bit extra kick to it. The Tacos Santa Barbara — a home specialty, made with grilled anaheim chili, al pastor, cheese, and avocado on mushy corn tortilla — had been fairly good as nicely. I liked the brilliant crunchiness of the radish garnish.
Even with attempting small bites of all the pieces I used to be stuffed at this level, however Marin introduced out the Burrito Del Rey, made with al pastor, chihuahua cheese, refried pinto beans, rice, pineapple, onion, and cilantro, a intelligent concoction which stayed intact as I dug in to attempt a chew (one among my pet peeves is exploding burritos). I took it dwelling for lunch the subsequent day and it was simply nearly as good reheated. We didn’t even get to the Tortas, Mexican sandwiches obtainable with quite a lot of meat choices, together with al pastor, suadero, head, campechana, birria (braised beef), and milanesa (breaded beef).
I had the quesabirria (beef birria with cheese tacos) on a earlier go to and loved it immensely — the birria torta is certainly on my record for subsequent time. Marin additionally encourages the desserts, which embrace strawberries with selfmade whip cream and cookies and conventional Mexican rice pudding. Principally although, he simply desires folks to, “Come to the taqueria and take a look at the true flavors of Mexico and one of the best taqueria on the town.”
“The place our household is from in Jalisco, among the best possible meals could be discovered proper on the streets — it’s wonderful, there’s nothing else prefer it!” mentioned proprietor Carlos Luna when Taqueria La Unica first opened. “We wished to recreate the expertise that transports our friends to the streets of Mexico, the place the flavors are daring, the spices are fiery, and the tacos are all the time contemporary.”
I don’t know concerning the streets of Mexico, however on the uptown streets of S.B., Taqueria La Unica is certainly on its method to reputation: I noticed 5 folks I knew in line throughout my go to!
With a energetic open kitchen idea, loads of indoor and outside seating, and a beer and wine license within the works, there’s no motive to not assume that Taqueria La Unica is nicely on its method to turning into as a lot of a mainstay because the Los Agaves Group’s different eating places. My solely grievance: the plastic silverware doesn’t fairly lower it (actually) with this degree of delicacies. That one repair they usually’ll have a transparent winner on their palms.