Taco taco man
Adam Torres of Sancho's conquers downtown Palo Alto
They've been a long time coming, but fabulous fish tacos are here at last.
After 10 months of "coming soon," Sancho's Taqueria opened in mid-October in downtown Palo Alto. It's over on Lytton Avenue, in a location best known as the Captain Cosmos sandwich shop before becoming a Mediterranean restaurant and then yet-another vacancy.
If you're already downtown, go. If not, go. Parking on Lytton is not as competitive as on University or Hamilton.
Split a ceviche appetizer or a beautiful Cobb salad and a couple of fish tacos, grilled or fried, and be totally satisfied for less than $15 each. Complimentary chips are fresh and warm. It's a small space, with seating for 15, but even if there's a line out front you won't wait long.
Sancho's started in the hills of Redwood City, where despite the off-radar location partners Adam Torres and Armando Prado grew the business from hole-in-wall to spacious restaurant. (Their uncle, Hector Prado, now runs the taqueria, with the same menu, and full-serve grocery at La Tiendita Market, near the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto.)
The signature fish taco ($3.95) stars red snapper, simply grilled or fried in a light tempura batter. You could argue about which preparation is better for your health, but both taste great. Sprinkle fresh lime into the warm flour tortilla heaped with fish, shredded cabbage, cotija cheese, chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers. The secret sauce is chipotle remoulade, a tangy mayonnaise pulsed with capers and cornichons.
Torres perfected his chipotle remoulade at the Village Pub in Woodside. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Torres also worked at the tony San Francisco landmark Boulevard.
His cousin Armando, meanwhile, ran two taquerias in the East Bay. They grew up together in Redwood City, where Adam's father had a popular restaurant featuring traditional Michoacan cuisine. Seafood and cotija run in their veins.
Shrimp come in fajitas, enchiladas, burritos, cocktails and ceviche (plump and marinated). There are four prawn dinner plates and a Surf & Turf (prawns and grilled beef).
Or add shrimp ($3.50) to any salad.
Remember to specify beans when ordering tacos and burritos. Black beans or whole pintos would've been better than the refried mush messing up my roasted pork burrito ($5.75). Avoid beans altogether with a sope, cornmeal cake ($3.95) topped with chile verde or another meat, sour cream, lettuce and pico de gallo, chopped tomatoes, onions and chiles.
Sancho's offers fresh choices for vegetarians, including a veggie torta, the Mexican sandwich.
The menu is highly adaptable for children as well. A child can pick among eight meats that also go in tacos and burritos, and pair it with rice or beans ($4.75) if none of the simpler dishes meet his fancy.
In the buoyant, eager-to-please spirit of Sancho's, sidewalk seating is imminent while wine and beer are "coming soon."
491 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto. 650-322-8226
Hours: Weekdays 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Credit cards: no
Alcohol: coming soon
Outdoor dining: yes, or soon
Party facilities: no
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent