30 May 2013

First Bite: Chupacabra Taqueria

This is not a very photogenic taco, but it's what's inside that counts, baby.

This is not a very photogenic taco, but it’s what’s inside that counts, baby.

As I sit here and try to recreate my first bite experience over at Chupacabra Taqueria‘s new bricks and mortar store, located at 822 H Street NE, I am distracted.

My distraction: I have a cheese-filled Venezuelan style arepa in the fridge. A crunchy, cheese-filled delicious fried corn cake that is begging to be eaten right this very moment and is wondering why I have saved it from its obvious fate. It is currently asking, “What is wrong with meeeee?”(Me: Nothing, baby: you’re beautiful.) I am also distracted by the following calculation: the place is open from 11 am until 11 pm. That is a full 12 hours in which one can eat at least one taco per hour.  That way, it would be possible to try all of the tacos and not just the Al Pastor and fish tacos I tried yesterday. Walking to and from over and over would burn off the calories. When trying all the tacos has been accomplished (twice, because, well, why wouldn’t you?) I could move on to trying every single combination of arepa possible, because one of the menu’s features is that you can put anything you want in the arepa, and really, why wouldn’t you?

Chupacabra started as a mobile vendor less than two years ago: a mix-and-match approach to Latin influences, catering to all different dietary needs. It was a venture by the same folks behind fun-fusion awesomeness Sticky Rice. As a food truck, Chupacabra –named after the mythical south-of-the-border beast who sucks on goats’ blood for sustenance– never disappointed. One of my favorite tacos ever was a vegan one with beans and carrots, for instance, although I am a devotee of shredded pork tacos. The fare was always fresh and delicious and honestly, it never made it farther than a couple of city blocks because I dutifully inhaled the contents within the clamshell container, trying to imagine I wasn’t sloshing through wintry streets somewhere in the east coast, but instead lost in some thick California fog, where I clearly wandered into a parallel universe that looked a lot like Farragut Square at lunch.

Anyway: the storefront, with its outdoor benches and tiny indoor seating is just a mild upgrade in terms of eating area from tucking into your food at the park, although sitting down whilst overlooking 9th street NE could technically be bucolic (in that there are trees) and could pass for scenic if you take your glasses off (astigmatism: when you want to leave things unseen). But that’s not what you’re there for: you are there because for under $25, you can eat like a king or queen or monarch of your choice. The shrimp cocktail, for instance, is a bargain at $9: a generous helping of shrimp mixed in with chopped mango and avocado swim in an excellent gazpacho-style soup. It’s served with crispy plantain chips, which are dangerous because you’re going to try to inhale them. The tacos, in between $3 and $4 a pop, are perfectly sized. Two tacos sated my hunger (despite myself). I rounded out my lunch with half of a cheese arepa… and then another half of a cheese arepa (and now you see why there is a third one in the fridge). Sitting next to me was a man visiting from Michigan and digging into a Cubano sandwich. He wasn’t quite sure how to pronounce the name, but there was absolutely no language barrier to his utter enjoyment of the pork and cheese sandwich served in some delicious-looking bread that sounded crunchy and awesome. I may have stared a few seconds longer than politeness dictates.

The place is no-frills and perfect for those on a budget, but judging by these preliminary experiences, I think you won’t be disappointed in the fresh and flavorful fare. You may find yourself stashing arepas in your fridge very, very soon.

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4 responses to “First Bite: Chupacabra Taqueria”

  1. Matt says:

    I so wanted to like these tacos living close by and desperate for a taco fix, but was severely disappointed. I tried the fish taco, al pastor and the beef and all underperformed.Over priced, dry and served on old tortillas = bad taco. Maybe the arepas are better, but when you call yourself a taqueria you need to deliver on the taco.
    I will continue to hike up to Hayattsville to Taqueria La Placita for my fill: http://www.yelp.com/biz/taqueria-la-placita-hyattsville

    • Wow. We had completely different experiences, Matt. For me, the corn tortillas were very fresh and the fillings were tasty– my only beef (ha!) would be with the size, which is a bit on the dainty side (but that is true to street food size). I shall have to try La Placita in Hyattsville– thanks for the recommendation!

      • Tim Ebner says:

        I can vouch for La Placita in Hyattsville. So damn tasty.

        • Thanks, Tim! By the way, Matt, a second tour of Chupacabra revealed some very tough tortillas. I believe it’s a problem with how they warm them up (microwaves=the devil), rather than the age of the tortilla. There were a few other details that I am going to have to include in a Second Bite.

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