El Grullense, anyone?
Hard to beat for Mexican food that's fast, cheap and good
A quick search yields 25 restaurants named El Grullense within driving distance. Who is El Grullense, a man or a multinational corporate chain, and what does he want with us?
Just to satisfy our hunger for homey, fast Mexican-American staples. A few signature items:
* Excellent carnitas, crisp strings and tender shreds of pork.
* Cold cantaloupe juice that tastes fresher than most cantaloupes.
* Fluffy tamales stuffed with perfect roasted chicken.
As long as most Palo Altans can remember, this flat, formerly turquoise building on El Camino Real was Seņor Taco. In October 2004, it became Taqueria El Grullense and turned a pale peach color. It also became a real restaurant, with a tile floor, counters and comfortable indoor tables. The memory of Seņor Taco is preserved in painted tiles near the entry.
Palo Alto owner Gustavo Perez is the brother-in-law of Juan Gamez, whose family started frying carnitas in an abandoned A&W in Redwood City after getting too many parking tickets with their taco trucks. Juan's father, Rafael Gamez, started the Northern California business nearly 30 years ago, but the originals are in Los Angeles. The newest in our area is El Grullense Grill in downtown Mountain View, with a menu that includes grilled chicken breast, steak and a full bar. You'll also see signs of El Grullense in San Jose, Salinas and Stockton.
Many people think the bird on those signs is a flamingo. It's a grullo, a crane, as in the restaurant's name. And for anybody like my husband who thought the name had something to do with grilling, oops again. The founder came from the town of El Grullo, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. He is El Grullense.
Fans say El Grullense reminds them of beloved taquerias in their Southwestern hometowns. Others find the fare too greasy. We found the al pastor burrito ($4.99), spit-roasted pork with pineapple, guilty, drenching its flour tortilla.
Otherwise, El Grullense does very well or better. And good luck finding other big menus this cheap and satisfying in Palo Alto.
For $1.25 each, two small corn tortillas embrace tender beef tongue, crisp carnitas and many other meats. Besides the usual, El Grullense carries variety meats, like beef tripe. And for vegetarians: salad, tacos, burritos and tortas.
The immaculate condiment bar, protected by glass, carries green, red and fresca salsas as well as fresh cucumbers, radishes and hot pickled carrots with jalapeņos.
Wedges of ripe avocado surround a generous mound of fresh bay shrimp in the shrimp ceviche tostada ($4.50).
On the tamale plate ($9.99), you can get two of the same or one pork and one chicken -- both meats tender and juicy -- in a light cornmeal sleeping bag. Plates like this come with a smidgen of shredded lettuce salad, fluffy rice and sticky refried beans. The beans had an unfortunate burned tinge.
The menu goes on and on, from breakfast burrito to goat soup and menudo (on weekends) and flan.
The must-have drink is cantaloupe juice. All the juices come in three sizes, starting with a 16-ounce "small" ($1.75). Order the very sweet horchata or tamarind juice and you're going to say, "Oops, I could've had a cantaloupe juice."
Tell us your take on this taqueria. Post your own restaurant review at www.PaloAltoOnline.com/restaurants.
Taqueria El Grullense
3636 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
Hours: 8 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.
Hours vary at other locations, such as: El Grullense Grill, 152 Castro St., Mountain View, 650-965-4753. Taqueria El Grullense, 1280 El Camino Real, Redwood City, 650-368-3737.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: on street and in lot
Alcohol: beer and wine
Outdoor dining: no
Party and banquet facilities: no
Noise level: fine
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent