1.03.2012

Las Chicas Taqueria en Owego - Ole!

Owego – not Oswego, or Otego or Otsego, mind you – has had a proliferation of restaurants pop up recently. First, Tony’s opened an outpost in their old locale on 17C, then Los Tapatios did the same right next door, and Backyard BBQ moved there from Apalachin. But now, we also have a West Coast-style taco shop right in historic downtown Owego called Las Chicas Taqueria. I took me a while to catch on to this place. Someone had mentioned there was now Mexican food in Owego, but I thought they were talking about Los Tapatios. Little did I know…
Las Chicas is on Front Street, in a location that used to house a funky little deli and sweet shop my co-worker Carolyn and I frequented in my early days at Lockheed Martin. But this is no deli. Las Chicas is a true taqueria, making homemade corn tortillas, fresh guacamole and pico de gallo in a brightly-colored, lovely space. Their Facebook page suggests a deck for riverfront eating will soon be open, to boot.


The menu board at Las Chicas

In my first week of trying Las Chicas, I ate there three times. Does that tell you enough, Hungries? This is good food. Authentic little tacos, in doubled-up corn tortillas like you get in California and Texas (and, I presume, Mexico, if the Travel Channel is to be believed) are the basis here. And to my surprise and delight, they offer carnitas, the pinnacle of taco ingredients, braised pork shoulder! While the carnitas here is not as amazing as the little dive my friend Lance took us to in Oceanside, CA a few years ago, for Owego, I am calling it a triumph. And the tortillas are outstanding: thicker than the store-bought variety, with real corn flavor and a hint of chew. These are good enough to be eaten on their own. Add in Mexican Cokes in glass bottles made with real sugar, and fabulous cupcakes from Sugar Sugar Bakery in Chenango Forks, and you have a winner.

My first meal at Las Chicas I chose to enjoy in takeout mode, so I could get the food home and pick it apart. Not knowing the value and portion sizes Las Chicas would provide, I got two carnitas tacos, plus chips, guacamole and salsa. Holy moley! I made it through the tacos, about half of the guac and maybe a quarter of the salsa before keeling over. This is filling and flavorful food, folks. I loved the tacos most – the carnitas was tender and succulent, and the salsa verde and cabbage on top were perfect, clean accomplices to its lush meatiness. The guacamole, on the other hand, was only OK for me. It was a little bland, and while lime and cilantro would have perked it up right, I had only hot sauce on hand at home to remedy. Same goes for the salsa, which for me needed more citrus and more cilantro to make it stand out. I understand dumbing the food down a little in this market, but for my palette, Mexican food needs either the brightness of citrus and cilantro or a little more heat to succeed.
Carnitas, salsa and guacamole compete in a Battle Royale for my affections

On my second, lunchtime, trip to Las Chicas, I tried an old favorite: chile rellenos, along with a carnitas rajas taco. The chile relleno, broiled instead of fried like other iterations I’ve enjoyed, was super cheesy and satisfactorily soulful. Because it wasn’t fried, the cheese-stuffed poblano chile pepper, which is less hot than a jalapeño but has more of a kick than those little banana peppers you get on your subs, was lighter than a more traditional chile relleno. The red sauce drizzled on top, which I suspect was Las Chicas’ delicious enchilada sauce, was stellar and complimented the spicy pepper and gooey cheese.
 

Red Hot Chile Pepper

The carnitas rajas taco was somewhat less successful than its plain pork compadre. It still had that fabulous corn tortilla, as well as the luscious pork, but I wasn’t crazy about the crema or bell peppers, neither of which added any zest or additional flavor to the works as the salsa verde had done in the other version. Other lackluster offerings were the pinto beans, which lacked flavor altogether, and the rice which is serviceable but not special.


Dear carnitas: ditch the rajas and come party with me!

On my third visit, the chicken enchiladas totally kicked my butt. I loved them. A lot less saucy than most enchiladas I’ve had, these were comprised of the delectable corn tortillas, silky shredded chicken, some cheese and a killer red ranchero sauce that would probably render my sneaker edible. I missed getting a picture of these, but I will describe them as sparer than at other Mexicali joints; Less sauce, less cheese – but all the flavor and satisfaction. Someone in the kitchen at Las Chicas is putting enough thought into his or her dishes to make them simple and fresh but chock full of alluring, piquant, robust tastes and textures. A job well done for a place about as far from Mexico as one can be.

Chips and guac

Besides the sublime relleno and enchilada, Las Chicas also has yummy, warm tortilla chips, illustrated above. Due to the very few less-than-stellar items I’ve sampled, I’m scoring Las Chicas Taqueria a seven out of 10 on the BHS scale. And I will be back. Oh, will I be back! For chimichangas, homemade soups and more of those delectable cupcakes (my fav is the churro flavor), I will be back. You’ve simply got to try this place.

If you skew North of Owego and are looking for a little Thousand Islands content in this week’s BHS, I’ve got you covered. Last weekend, at the Highway Legends CMN fundraiser and car show in Clayton, Big Hungry Corri and I experienced the wonder that is a wine slushy, courtesy of Coyote Moon Vineyards. You can visit Coyote Moon in Clayton, or find them at area events all summer long, but make sure you get yourself a slushy, which is a mix of red wine and grape juice, undiluted and frozen into a brain-freezing, intoxicating concoction of pleasure.


Find them at
Coyote Moon Vineyards

By the way, welcome to the start of the summer season, Big Hungries! I hope you all had a fun and festive holiday weekend, and lots of good things to eat. Join me here, on Twitter (@BigHungryShelby)

Las Chicas Taqueria on Urbanspoon

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