Stand at the intersection of Ashland and Division, look south, and you're bound to see it: three restaurants, all named La Pasadita, all located on the exact same block. If you're like me, so many quesitons will pop into your head that it will be hard to process them all. Eventually you'll settle on two important ones: (1) How in the world did three identically named restaurants end up on the same block? (2) Which one is best?
The answer to the first question is easy; the restaurant has a full history on its website that details how Rene Espinoza came to acquire three storefronts on Ashland over a twenty-year period. The answer to the second question is trickier, but that hasn't stopped people from debating the merits of each for years.
It seems that everyone has his or her own opinion about which La Pasadita is best. I know I do. For years I've been recommending the original location on the east side of Ashland, which is the same one that LTHForum named as a Great Neighborhood Restaurant a few years ago. (That honor, however, was not renewed this year—an ominous sign?) But my pick was also based on the fact that I once ate a greasy, chewy taco at a different location, only to walk across the street, purchase the exact same taco, and find it to be remarkably, inconceivably better. When I asked one of the workers why, he just shrugged and said, "We hear that all the time."
Which gets us to The La Pasadita Throwdown. This is not the first time a group of men and women have set off to try every single La Pasadita within the space of a couple hours. But I'm guessing this is one of the most exhaustive examinations to happen in a long time. Also, in the past few years, Espinoza has opened four La Pasadita Express locations, albeit in far off locations in the city. Though I briefly thought about visiting all of those too (that was just a little too crazy), I ended up only adding one La Pasadita Express to the list.
I wanted to order the same items at each place, which limited my options. Unlike so many taquerias in town, La Pasadita is a beef-centric operation, with two of locations serving no other kind of meat but beef.
Of course, if La Pasadita has one claim to fame, it is carne asada. I knew it had to be included. I've also had a lot of luck with the steamed and shredded barbacoa. (Tongue was also available, but I'd never been that impressed, so I decided to leave it out).
Interestingly, each location also has a chile relleno taco. Why it's available and not any pork is truly strange, but that's the case. Though originally horrified, the more I thought about it, the more I decided it would be kind of fun to include the stuffed and fried chiles. I knew none of them were going to be exceptional, but I figured they'd at least be a good test for the employees. If they served a hot and relatively grease-less chile relleno then they might cook other things well.
At the last minute I was convinced by TGI Fry-Day contributor, Joe Roy, into adding a carne asada burrito to the list. I'm not a usually a fan of over-sized burritos, but he was adamant and I couldn't think of a reason to say no.
ScoringJust getting a bunch of people together to eat epic quantities of tacos (and burritos) would have been fun, but I decided to keep relatively detailed records. Each item was broken down by filling, tortilla, and condiments.
I was expecting statistical randomness. Each location probably uses the exact same products, so I imagined that any differences would likely come down to execution. One location's carne asada might have been great solely because it had been cooked moments before we walked in the door. Likewise, its barbacoa might have been lackluster only because not as many people had ordered it that night.
Though a good theory (if I do say so myself), that was not the case. In the end, two locations clearly offered different experiences, and most of us agreed that those differences were good.
While it was a noble quest, none of the tacos we encountered were absolute knockouts. We were all pretty sure that there are number of taquerias around town that kick out better versions of these same tacos, including some that are located nearby. Of course, half the fun of La Pasadita is that it is open late, so perhaps a mind-blowing taco experience is not the point. (I briefly thought about recreating the throwdown while we were all intoxicated, but decided against it.)
Check out which location won by clicking on the slideshow. Of course, also let us know which location you think should have won.