Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - September 2, 2011

Take it easy at taqueria

Mexican fare to sit down and savor at Ay Caramba it's La Bamba

by Sheila Himmel

The problem with Taqueria La Bamba, the burrito superpower on Middlefield Way in Mountain View, is that it's standing room only. There is no place to sit. Stand in line, and if you want to eat there, stand at the narrow counters.

There used to be a few tables, but no longer. So here comes Ay Caramba it's La Bamba, a semi-self-serve restaurant, to the rescue. La Bamba's empire expanded in January, with the opening of Ay Caramba in the shopping center at Middlefield and Rengstorff, less than half a mile away from the original taqueria. Another advantage over the original and the downtown La Bamba is the easy parking. There is plenty of it.

And the menu offers a wider selection of food and drink, such as fresh-squeezed orange juice. There are appetizers other than pupusas, the delicious but very filling Salvadoran stuffed, thick tortilla; and tamales.

One appetizer is a shrimp cocktail the size of your head. Everything at La Bamba is big. A goblet worthy of a hot-fudge sundae was loaded with medium-size shrimp, cucumber, avocado, onions and cocktail sauce. A handful of shrimp hung decoratively off the rim. It was only a little disconcerting that the accompanying saltines, which came from Costa Rica, had passed their sell-by date. Who needs saltines, anyway?

A tamale ($2.29) was unfortunately served on the same plate as the pupusa ($2.29), both a little soggy from contact with juice from the curtido, spicy coleslaw you stuff into the pupusa.

Other appetizer possibilities include ceviche, nachos, quesadillas and tacos.

The sit-down La Bamba offers at least 32 entrees, with prices starting at $6.41 for a regular burrito to $15.10 for Cielo, Mar y Tierra, a combo plate of grilled chicken, steak and shrimp.

At first, $10.76 for a chile relleno entree sounds expensive, but it's one huge, fresh and delicious chile relleno, accompanied by lettuce, tomato, avocado, beans and white rice cooked with chopped carrots and bell peppers.

The burrito bar is not the nimble production line as at Taqueria La Bamba. You order up front and sit down, in our case for quite a while, and then everything came at once. Pacing, people. However, the carnitas, fried pork shoulder bits, were still crispy and moist.

Vegetarian options include quesadillas, tacos and burritos. (Vegetarian burritos often fall flat, but in a survey by this newspaper, we found La Bamba's to be superior.)

At the taqueria, you get little containers of salsa to go. Here, you get full access to an excellent salsa bar featuring luscious tomatillo, salsa fresca with chopped tomatoes and onions, and smoky roasted red pepper salsa.

Also better, the chips on Rengstorff are thin and crisp. Last time I was at the taqueria, the chips were round, clunky and dull.

But mostly, the advantage is that you can sit down. You eat with metal utensils on plastic plates — almost like home! There's a large patio, a couple of booths, and colorful prints of festive scenes on walls painted avocado green, ketchup red and orange orange.

Ay Caramba it's La Bamba:

580 North Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View

650-967-2659

Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Reservations: no

Credit cards: yes

Parking: lots

Alcohol: beer and wine

Children: yes

Outdoor dining: yes

Party and banquet facilities: yes

Noise level: good

Wheelchair access: yes

Bathroom cleanliness: Good

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