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Monday, April 21, 2014

Dive Bar Bite: Carnitas Tacos at El Cerrito's El Autlense

Posted By on Mon, Apr 21, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Carnitas tacos at El Autlense - FERRON SALNIKER
  • Ferron Salniker
  • Carnitas tacos at El Autlense

The vibe at Tacos El Autlense is not unlike other taco truck scenes. It's sunset on a rare Bay Area evening when it's warm enough for a woman wearing flip-flops and a tank top to sit comfortably on her car hood, with tacos on white paper plates scattered around her. A toddler and her grandmother are singing the Frozen song for the third time, and a guy trying to recover from happy hour suddenly realizes as he orders that he needs to borrow a dollar. There's the metallic clinking sound of the spatula hitting the griddle and the smell of freshly chopped onion floating out from the truck windows. The only unusual thing is that El Autlense sits in the driveway of Albany's oldest bar, the Hotsy Totsy Club.

See also: Drink of the Week: Bitter Rivers at Hotsy Totsy

"We were looking for trucks to use the space, and one day passed El Autlense while driving in Richmond," said bartender Aurora Siegel. "We pulled over, had a taco, and asked them if they wanted to do it. That was four years ago and it's been a happy marriage ever since."

Siegel groaned slightly when I told her I wanted to write about the truck. The wait for an order can be up to 20 minutes -- even longer during a rush -- which in taco-truck-time is close to an eternity. Regardless, a carnitas taco is worth the wait. A double stack of corn tortillas holds juicy hunks of braised pork with crispy, caramelized edges. The roasted red salsa has a brief kick, but doesn't linger. Only the garnishes strike out: three sloppily chopped, thick radish slices and an awkward lemon wedge that's mostly rind.

FERRON SALNIKER
  • Ferron Salniker

The Hotsy Totsy just celebrated both its 75th anniversary and its fifth year under the current owners, who revamped the once carpeted-walls and typical dive menu with craft cocktails, a colorful paint job, and a pressed tin ceiling. For a cocktail-and-taco pairing, Siegel recommended the El Matador, which packs chipotle vodka and ancho chili liquor with lime, agave syrup and a cilantro salt rim. Granted, it'll take your $2.50 two-taco dinner past the $10 mark, so for a thriftier option, follow regular Tim Agee's lead. He comes in on weeknights with the rest of the neighborhood regulars and gets a PBR pint with an extra crispy carnitas taco.

Tacos El Autlense is open seven days a week from noon to until midnight.

Tacos El Autlense, at the Hotsy Totsy Club, 601 San Pablo Ave., (510) 526-5986.

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Ferron Salniker

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