Munch goes to the California Taco Shop

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Here's a shocking window into the creative process at Munch Inc. LLC.: It's never about the food.

To the contrary, having written in the neighborhood of 800 reviews since 1996, Munch has eaten every permutation of pizza, pierogies, pop and Pad Thai possible, not to mention enough burgers, beer, wings and deep-fried things to keep the statin-industrial complex in business for decades.

Clearly, the only thing that Munch likes more than food is more food. But the writing's the thing, and the way to find serenity now and avoid insanity later when churning out these weekly opuses is to have a cutesy hook to start the column ... Ready. To. Go. Otherwise, calamity ensues ...

To wit: Munch was excited to check out the California Taco Shop in Overbrook. Heard good buzz about the place on the Web, and coming on the heels of a recent visit to another great taco shop in Beechview, Munch was all set with a lead (or "lede" as we in the industry like to misspell it) about the "taco wars" in District 4, in which Munch would crack wise about city government.

That is until Munch learned -- about an hour before deadline -- that the place is actually not in Overbrook, but Whitehall. Outside the city limits, in the suburbs -- by about 10 lousy feet on Route 51. Feh! Munch's "lede" lay ruined. Because while mentions of Pittsburgh's mayoral administration can be punctuated with a Nelson Muntz laugh, you try that with esteemed Whitehall Mayor and 17-year incumbent James Nowalk. He's also president of the Pennsylvania State Mayors' Association! The man is a South Hills institution!

So, it appears, after all, that Munch will have to actually talk about the food at the California Taco Shop.

¡Por fin!

Though the stretch of Route 51 it's located on could pass for a backdrop in "The Road," California Taco Shop, a nice little family-owned place opened a few months ago in a former pizza joint, does its best to brighten the area with something new and tasty.

The interior is a burst of color, and the TV near the counter is tuned to Spanish soaps on Univision that appear to be exactly the same as ours, except the women are, ahem, bustier, and the men are all mustachioed lotharios like Stephen Colbert's alter ego, Esteban Colberto.

Authentic burritos, tortas, enchiladas, chimichangas, chips, quesadillas and tacos are all available, with varieties including chorizo (Mexican sausage), carnitas (braised pork) and carne asada (marinated beef steak) to name just a few. Nothing in the place costs more than $9 and every meal comes with a spicy little side of jalapeno and crispy pickled carrots.

Munch and trusty Munch sidekick The BBBOM (blonde barkeep bud of Munch) stuck with tacos, and we were not disappointed.

Feeling adventurous, Munch went with the tripas (intestines) and lengua (tongue), which were delicious studies in contrast (both $3). While the tripas might sound a bit off-putting to the uninitiated, the little bites of it were super crispy and full of flavor. The lengua had a softer, chewy consistency and tasted like stewed beef. The BBBOM opted for the carnitas ($3), which she reported to be very tasty, though the meat could've been a little more moist.

The tacos were garnished with fresh cilantro and served on delicious corn tortillas, and we each had a particularly good side of refried beans and Spanish rice ($2 a piece). Munch washed it all down with an orange Jarritos (Mexican pop, $2) and the BBBOM had the Horchata, a housemade rice milk ($2).

So it's not in Overbrook. And it's definitely not in the Golden State. Either way, the California Taco Shop has brought some quality Mexican food to Whitehall. And by extension, greater Pittsburgh. All that geography make sense?

Bueno.



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