If were forced to pick one food to eat everyday for the rest of my life, I would pick tacos. Not hard shell “Tex-Mex” tacos filled with ground beef. Tacos I grew up eating is Los Angeles. Filled with spicy meat — carne asada, carnitas, al pastor, chorizo, lengua, chile verde —wrapped in two fresh tortillas, topped with diced onions, cilantro, a bit of lime and covered in the hottest salsa from the salsa bar.
I went to college in Grinnell, IA, and learned quickly to live without tacos. I realized this while eating at La Cabana, the town’s Mexican restaurant, when my order for “two carnitas taco and one chorizo taco” was met by a look of blank confusion on the waiter’s face. I recently moved to Des Moines to clerk for the Southside State Senator Tony Bisignano, and initially went about life not expecting authentic tacos. A few weeks ago before lunch, however, a similar exchange took place.
TONY: Lets grab some lunch. What do you want?
SAM : I’m fine with anything.
TONY: Come on! Pick anything
SAM: Really good tacos like I grew up eating in L.A.
TONY: Grab your coat, I know of a place on Grand that might satisfy you.
The outside of Raquel’s Pastry (1521 E. Grand) is non-descript; easy to walk past without knowing there are tacos inside. Upon entering, one may think they are in a pastry shop. This would be an accurate assumption: Raquel’s Pastry is in fact a Mexican bakery, as its name suggest. The only thing that that indicates otherwise is a small blackboard saying: “Tacos: Carne Asada, Carnitas, Pollo, Chorizo, Shrimp”
I ordered 3 tacos: carnitas, pastor and asada, and they did not disappoint. The carnitas was crispy and salty on the outside with a juicy and bold finish. The pastor was smoky, spicy and saucy enough to negate the need for salsa. The carne asada was perfection: minimally seasoned, Raquel’s Pastery lets the grilled beef speak for itself. Drizzled with lime and slightly charred, this is how a taco’s supposed to taste.
I find imperfections in even the most perfect dishes. After all, I started a food blog as a way to critique my parent’s cooking. Even though I had great tacos at Raquel’s, I was let down by the tortillas. A great tortilla manages to be simultaneously soft yet firm. The tortilla can then soak up the meat’s juice, while at no point seeming as if it will fall apart under the weight of the toppings. The tortillas at Raquel’s are a little too much on the crunchy side in my opinion. They seem to be fried briefly on a grill, hindering their ability to soak up the juices, leaving one with a plate full of wasted meat drippings and sauce. Overall I would say 7.8/10. At the time, I gave it an 8, because I had not had tacos in months, and I was desperate.