The carnitas taco at Bros Tacos

bros carnitas taco overhead

Under there: "the duck confit of pork."

By Daniel B.

Change is good.

Okay, that's trite. And more importantly it's wrong. We've all seen things change for the worse: beloved institutions close, food quality slips as owners or chefs become complacent, and prices creep up at places that were once a bargain.

In this case change is a double-edged sword, because change has improved the tacos at Bros, but it has also rendered former statements of mine incorrect.

So in addition to eating a taco, I'm also going to have to eat my words.

Let's remember a few things. Bros Tacos was one of the first local restaurants featured in Eat This! with their pork taco way back in March of 2008. But even then, when others were singing their praises, I was critical of this local favorite. My fundamental gripes were that the homemade corn tortillas had a problem with their texture, and that the pork was dry (if indeed tasty).

Which is why I was delighted to find La Mexicana late last year. When that Eat This! was posted, along with a reiteration of my earlier criticisms, Adam Daniels -- who designed the menu at Bros Tacos -- weighed in with an alluring comment. He wrote:

The tortilla recipe was tweaked recently and I believe it's an improvement...I also will have a new menu coming out in January that will have some new items...The carnitas are cooked the traditional way only in lard with a few peppercorns and a few allspice berries. I hope you can make it in to give us another try.

Well, I'm glad to report that I have, and they are.

bros tacos carnitas taco closeup

This is no slight praise, since I'm just coming back from eleven days in Northern California, one of which was spent touring six taquerias along International Boulevard in Oakland. There are more amazing taco trucks there than you could imagine. And I ordered a carnitas taco at each stop along the way.

Which is not to say that the Bros carnitas taco is better than the best that you can get out west. But the very fact that it's even competitive with samples from the heart of taco country is remarkable. Especially for a place that lays no claim to trying to produce an authentic street taco.

The truth is that regardless of where you are, good carnitas are hard to find.

Some are overly oily. Other samples have hard chunks of fat and gristle that haven't fully rendered or been trimmed. Remarkably, especially given that it's cooked in its own fat, carnitas can even be dry.

I look for crispy edges, mixed with tender meat that shreds along the muscle fiber, and if you peek under the torrent of onions, cilantro and cotija cheese, that's what you will find at Bros.

True carnitas are the duck confit of pork. And they are immensely pleasurable. Biting into them fills the mouth with a satisfying sense of deliciousness and brings peace and tranquility to the eater. The raw onions, cilantro, salsa verde and squeeze of lime, cut through some of that fat and lighten up the overall experience and the corn tortilla anchors the experience with the primal flavors of an earthy grain.

Cotija cheese is just kind of there. It doesn't add much, but it doesn't take away either.

But let's talk about Bros' improved tortilla for a minute. Because while this may not be the homemade tortilla of my dreams, it's infinitely better than the previous iteration. Instead of being oddly fluffy, it is rich in corn flavor. Maybe a hair too rich. In some ways it tastes a bit more like cornbread than what I expect in a tortilla. However, in my Oakland adventures, I stumbled on one place that employed a surprisingly similar style.

bros tacos exterior 2012-06

At first I thought that $3 was a hefty sum for one of these tacos when one can find them for a mere $1.50 out west. But memory is a funny thing. While those $1.50 tacos still exist, they are a good bit smaller than what is served at Bros, making their higher price seem much more reasonable.

Now, I know there are some who have criticized the wait times for food at Bros. With this in mind, I went in with a timer to see how they did against the clock. From the time my order went in, to the time it was in my hot little hands, only five minutes and two seconds had elapsed. That was just six minutes and forty-one seconds since I walked through the door.

That's not too shabby. I don't imagine the table service at La Mexicana is any quicker.

As a side note, according to the restaurant's Facebook page, Bros is running summer hours of 11 am-9 pm Tuesday through Saturday. (Their webpage seems to be having some difficulties, but hopefully will be back up soon.)

I'm glad that Adam reached out and asked me to give this place another chance. It's great to know that there is another place in town where I can drop in for a delicious and deeply satisfying pork snack.

Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.

Find It

Bros Tacos
319 Ontario St.
Albany, NY 12208

Comments

Ergh -- another place that's not open Sundays or Mondays. I really don't understand why businesses around here don't seem to want my money (or the money of anyone else whose primary free day is Sunday, which I imagine is actually most people), but it's really irritating, poor (potential-)customer service at least. I read so many things where I spend the whole time going "oh, oh hey, this sounds good, I should try this place! -- oh, wait, they're not open. Dammit!"

I'm going to give them another shot. I love their food, but the wait times I've experienced can be a real downer.

Hmm, ok, I will try them. We make our own corn torts and are from Arizona, so I try to never get excited about a "good" taco out here in the Northeast ... but you have some street credit with Cali, so I'll give Bros a go! :)

The wait times seem to have completely disappeared. I have been there 3-4 times since the slight change in menu/ownership/policy and each time it has been about 5 minutes. Can't speak to delivery.

@KB, it's all about operating costs. It would be foolish for a business owner to stay open if they continually lose money every summer Sunday and/or Monday. The owner may not be able cover payroll, rent and utilities with the revenue on one or two days a week due to a temporary, seasonal circumstance. They really do need a certain amount in sales each to reach a point of viability. Even if you or I went to Bros. every single Sunday and Monday of the summer, our $10 or $20 would not be enough to cover payroll for even an hour on those days.

Just had a taco and a burrito from there- Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm- i'll be back

Went here on this recommendation, was very disappointed. To be fair, I think the blame rests almost entirely with this young kid (13-14 years old?) that was working there.

I had a simple order "A Carne Taco, and a Chorizo Taco"
He wrote it down, and said it would be about a 10 minute wait.
During that time someone orders a similar meal, and gets their food in about a minute.
After 10 minutes no one is working and I'm getting strange looks. Turns out he just handed the guy my order, and didn't make a second batch.
The other two guys start giving the kid a hard time and yell at him to make my tacos again.
About 10 minutes later, I get them - they're tiny, I could eat the whole thing in a single bite - and the order is all messed up. The Chorizo is either bland chicken or terrible and the Carne Taco is loaded with sour cream, which I hate, and wasn't listed as part of the Taco.

Will never go back.

Great to see Bros. doing everything they can too improve. I have been in many times this summer, with no disapointment. The carnitas are great,I also love the spicy homemade chorizo, which is the farthest thing from chicken, I find myself buying a couple Jarritos during my meal to tame the spice. Keep up the good work Bros. love having you a part of the community.

I am a big fan of Bros but the last meal I had there might be, well, my last. Bros carne tacos: dry, tasteless, small. And chips and salsa where the chips were literally dripping in oil. They were repulsive. I hope that Bros will try to make great food for everyone, not just people with the power of the press.

@JohnnyC - I'm a bit confused. If you went to Bros on my recommendation, what were you doing ordering a carne and a chorizo taco?

These recommendations are explicitly narrow. I'm not vouching for the chips and salsa (@Jujubee), nor do I often suggest anyone stray from the one notable dish that's featured in the post.

Now if you told me that you went to Bros and were dissatisfied with their carnitas taco, we'd have to have a more serious conversation. But I'm just really standing here scratching my head.

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