On Friday I picked up some canyoneering equipment and took it out to my brother's house in Glendora. This was about 11:15 in the morning, during those 90 minutes on Fridays when traffic isn't too terrible yet on the 210 freeway, and he asked me if I wanted to get some tacos. I shrugged and said "Sure." I don't get to hang out with my brother as much as I would like to these days, and I always enjoy eating with him, but I wasn't terribly excited about the prospect.
Glendora is in Los Angeles County but it's always felt more like the Inland Empire to me, or maybe Claremont or La Verne: a sleepy bedroom community, the kind of place I would enjoy living but not necessarily dining. I think the best meal I'd ever had in Glendora was at Chili's. I was not expecting much from a taco place.
When we got there I was expecting even less. It's a hole-in-the-wall in the Sport Chalet shopping center, just north of the 210. We walked in and the man behind the counter lit up when he saw my brother.
"Hey man," he said. "7 tacos, meat and cheese only?" (My brother later revealed to me that he eats there about three times per week.) I needed a little longer to study the menu. I decided to get the same kind of taco as my brother - a hard shell chicken taco, without the "guacamole sauce" that the tacos come with. I ordered a carnitas quesadilla and an al pastor soft taco in addition.
We had to wait about ten minutes for our food, so we stood outside and talked.
"I think you're going to like these," my brother said. "They're awesome."
That was good to hear. Although my brother and I diverge a bit on our favorite kind of foods (He loves Mexican and South American food, but not the kinds that are my favorite; I love Asian cuisines most of all, but not the kinds that he does) when he assures me that I will like something, he is always right.
We got the food and drove the short distance back to his house. I snacked on a few tortilla chips on the way back; they were awesome - thick, freshly fried and salty. We laid the food out on the counter and cracked a couple bottles of Session Premium Lager, from Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon. (One of the most beautiful locations in the entire country, by the way. My friend Tom and I once spent the better part of a summer afternoon sitting in their taproom, sipping beer and watching windsurfers on the Columbia River.)
I had not received my carnitas quesadilla - they had given me a soft taco instead. My brother pointed out that he had not heard me order the quesadilla and guessed the man working there had not as well. (My brother had paid for the food, and he said he hadn't been charged for a quesadilla.)
I was a little upset about it because I had wanted a quesadilla... until I bit into my chicken taco. Wow. I do not remember the last time I had a better hard shell taco. The citrus-marinated chicken was amazing, tucked into the bottom of the tortilla that I had watched the guy fry right in front of me. The cheese was higher quality than most places like this use. The three things blended together into one of the best things I have eaten all year.
The al pastor was almost as good as the chicken: marinated pork, with cilantro and onions (also no guacamole sauce). I wished I had gotten more than one of these, or perhaps an al pastor torta instead. I'm not sure I can eat King Taco ever again; their al pastor tacos are a pale imitation of these.
The carnitas was the only thing I did not love. It was good, but a little too dry by itself. I added some of their red sauce to it - which was pretty damn hot - and it was better. But it did not blow me away like the chicken and the al pastor did. I suppose it was a good thing I did not get the quesadilla after all.
I am not sure I can accurately descibe how much I like Taco Grill. Would it be the same if it wasn't a last-minute decision to eat there, or if I had higher expectations? Probably not. But it was what it was and I loved it. I am already planning my next trip there, which I guarantee will be soon.
PS: My brother wanted me to take a picture of a beer and some tacos with the Full Sail Brewing Co.'s website on his iPad in the background. I said that was absurd and refused. But then I thought about it: that's a pretty simple request, and he did buy me lunch. So, why not?