Beyond the bell


By Todd Wilson
Signal Contributing Writer

Well, if you ask the Harris Poll, which recently named Taco Bell as “America’s Favorite Mexican Restaurant,” they’d probably agree.

“The Bell” surpassed Chipotle and Moe’s Southwest Grill (which I’ve never even heard of) to claim the 2018 crown. The poll looked at a national audience and asked them to rate brands based on familiarity, quality and the likelihood of a customer returning.

Now, don’t get me wrong, those Nacho Fries that Taco Bell rolled out last year are pretty tasty.  That nacho cheese sauce, when you just have a craving, really hits the spot, paired with well-seasoned French fries? Come on…

However, it’s a good thing that we’re actually close enough to the Mexican border to enjoy a less homogeneous style of cuisine than the Burrito Supreme and the Crunchwrap.

There’s a hole in the wall that’s off the beaten path in Santa Clarita that pairs traditional cooking with a family’s love and energy to make the absolute best Mexican dining experience in the Santa Clarita Valley.  Secluded off Via Princessa in a shopping center across from Costco, you’ll find Maggie and Albert and Ay Caramba. Their location makes it difficult to find if you’re not looking for it, but the effort of getting there is well rewarded.

The menu is loaded with many dishes that may be unfamiliar.  Items like the Cochinita Pibil and Carne Adobada Estilo Abuela Elia will expose you to the authenticity of Maggie’s recipes (the latter literally being “in the style of Grandma Elia.” “The Pipian,” “Mole Poblano” and “Chile en Nogada” are likely to expose you to flavors you didn’t even know existed in Mexican cuisine.

Some standard dishes that you might find at your standard “red leather booth” restaurants are there as well, but it’ll be worth the effort to branch out and try those along with a cup of albondiga soup, or even the “Quesadilla con Rajas,” which is fried and filled with peppers and cheese.

Sometimes, you just want what some refer to as “Americanized” Mexican food. Burritos, taco combo plates with rice and beans, usually with a margarita or a cold beer.

For that, you have to love La Cocina. It’s a favorite in the SCV, and you’ll know that because it’s consistently packed at the dinner hour.   

Well known for a great bar, La Cocina is definitely a spot for running into friends and being familiar with the staff.  Their Cadillac Margaritas and Micheladas are so popular that they come served in custom labeled glasses. The variety of the menu is not to be overlooked with over 20 combination plates and a full page of specialties, including their classic “Carne Al Obrero.”

Dozens of other Mexican restaurants are found all throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, each with their own distinct style. For many, places like Dario’s and Don Cuco’s are like their local watering hole, and you’ll find them there once a week.

Smaller, more casual places like Las Delicias have some incredible value on food that you can easily take to go and feed a small army, and El Taco Padre’s Al Pastor is outstanding. We’re truly lucky to have so many choices, even if they’re not “America’s favorite.”

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