Del este de Los Angeles

It’s the end of the month and therefore time for another installment of Travels with Frenchie, the monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explores the local hinterland in search of dining adventure. As always, the culinary vice squad consisted of: Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, celebrated local sommelier), Carlos the Bike Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, a man who eats only obscure fruits and grilled meats), and me (a former vegan and known taco-truck stalker). Our guest this month was Beto Gonzales, a local artist and graphic designer who just returned from a trip to Mexico City.

To find good new restaurants you need maps, intuition, luck, and in this case, a tip from an unpaid informant. A friend known as “Yolanda from Mexico City” sang like a canary, alerting us to her favorite new taqueria: Tacos y Burritos Metro Basilica 2 on Culebra outside Loop 410. It’s a complicated name: “Metro Basilica” refers to a stop on Mexico City’s rubber-tired subway system. It’s “2” because the original location is in East LA.

The menu is quite simple with only a handful of options, but many of them are quite rare in town: huaraches, sopes, mulitas. But they also serve common taco-truck items: taquitos, burritos, quesadillas, tortas, and tostadas. That’s pretty much it, except for pozole and menudo on the weekend. Prices are taco-truck cheap, with most tacos priced at a dollar, and more expensive items ranging from $3.50-$6.

The foundation for most of Metro Basilica’s dishes is masa, a cornmeal dough that can be molded into various shapes. One would think masa would be more common at San Antonio restaurants considering corn has found its way into basically every gas pump in San Antonio by way of 10-percent ethanol. Yet, edible huaraches are rare.

On one trip, one of the TWF crew tried a chicken quesadilla. It seemed like the lamest choice possible, but the simplicity of meat and cheese worked very well; the niblets of chicken were soft and satisfying. I wish this pattern continued with the rest of the dishes but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. At some point Metro Basilica picked up SA’s habit of throwing way too much cheese and lettuce on top of some of their dishes — total “chalupa compuesta-ization”. The huarache wasn’t even visible underneath the piles of shredded lettuce and white cheese. Less is more in this case. So, what stood out for us was the mulita — two thick corn tortillas grilled with meat and cheese, served with salsa and avocado.  A tortilla sandwich, some have called it. Like the quesadilla, it was absolutely delicious.

Al pastor, for me, is the gold standard, but Metro Basilica’s torta al pastor wasn’t that great. It really could have used some pineapple to give an occasional high note and make the flavors more complex. Being a part-time vegetarian, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have beans on a torta. Metro Basilica serves it this way, but I hate to report that the beans dull the sandwich’s flavor.

The standout item were the carnitas, which were incredibly flavorful: Salty yet moist. Decadent yet minimal. Also of note, Frenchie loved his lengua taco. He appreciated that the lengua was not only properly cleaned but brought the flavor. The most adventurous palate in our group, Frenchie found the tripas to be crunchy and delicious, too.

The take-home message: Metro Basilica 2 offers a simple menu with a masa-centric focus. Set against the expansive backdrop of Tex-Mex, their approach, oddly, feels exotic.  Ask them to go light on the cheese and lettuce on the huaraches and sopes. And don’t skip the carnitas.


Final Thoughts

Frenchie: The lengua and tripas were very good.

Carlos: The chicken and asada tacos? No hint of toughness at all.

Beto: I didn’t fear being crushed by crowds or pick-pocketed, like on the actual Metro.

Jones: Just to give us more variety in town, I’d like to see a Metro Basilica 3 open up. •

Metro Basilica 2
7627 Culebra
(210) 680-1412

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