As I'm a big fan of the burgeoning Mexican food empire of Thomas Schnetz and Donna Savitsky (Flora, Tacubaya and Doña Tomás), when news that another restaurant had been added to their East Bay family last month--Xolo Taqueria--I was drooling with anticipation just like their canine logo.
I invited a group of fellow foodie friends to join me after work one day to check out their latest venture located in Oakland's Uptown District. Xolo offers a simpler and more budget-conscious menu than its sister restaurants (all items are under $10) and includes burritos, tacos, salads and sides, with a special goat stew, or birria, served up on weekends.
Seating our large group of seven was a bit of a challenge, but we put together two tables in the small outdoor courtyard located in the back of the restaurant. There's plenty of room for smaller parties in the bright blue interior space that has two floors of seating.
We ordered an array of dishes to sample: camarones tacos with battered-fried shrimp, arbol aioli, cilantro, cabbage and lime; hongos tacos with crimini mushrooms, cheese, tomatillo-arbol salsa, pico de gallo, avocado, epazote; and a vampiro al pastor pork taco with salsa ranchera, red onions, serranos, cilantro served up on a fried cheese tortilla for an extra decadent touch. There's also tacos made with grilled achiote-marinated chicken thighs, chile verde pork, and shredded beef to choose from.
I decided to go big and opted for the "big ranch" burrito which was stuffed with al pastor pork, pintos, cheese, tomatillo arbol chile salsa, pico de gallo, and avocado. The tender pork was cooked to perfection and the ingredients melded together perfectly for a rich, savory dish that, true to its name, was big on flavor.
After wolfing down our first round of food, we were ready for round two: the "danger dog," a nod to the bacon-wrapped hot dogs sold by street vendors in the Mission. Their bacon-wrapped version was dressed with mayonnaise, mustard, pinto beans, cheese, pickled jalapenos, avocado on a fluffy bolillo roll. As Xolo is open until 11pm on weeknights and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, I can imagine this being a favorite with late-night crowds.
We certainly didn't leave any room in our bellies for dessert. The mini-doughnuts, or churritos, were definitely a temptation, as well as the Mexican chocolate brownies. And there's a number of other alluring items we didn't get to try, such as the posole, or hominy soup, chile rellenos, or the machaca burrito made with slow-cooked shredded beef. I suspect round three is not too far off in my future.