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.
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.
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.
319 Ontario St.
Albany, NY 12208
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