Occupation: Production Supervisor & Food Dude
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Taguito Argentinean Grill & Empanadas
Reviewed Taguito Argentinean Grill & Empanadas: Sunday, September 4, 2011
I love this place because the chef/owners of it are so clearly passionate about their food. You can just tell that they love making and serving food to people.
There are a few things you need to know before you come to Tanguito. 1) It's essentially a food truck that is permanently parked near Fisherman's Wharf. They have a few picnic tables nearby, but if you're going for a fabulous, romantic atmosphere, this is NOT the place for that. 2) The food is well made and very affordable. One might even say "cheap" in a positive context. However, when food is good and cheap, it is also SLOW. Do not come here if you are in a rush. This is a "save some money, relax, and have a great tasting meal for two for under $20" kind of place. But it's not a "I only have a 30 minute lunch break, I need this meal NOW!" kind of spot.
The empanadas are a must-have. And, since they are prepared ahead of time, THEY usually come out fairly quickly. The day I visited they only had the ham and cheese empanada available, but that was enough. Delicious, flaky, buttery pastry dough, surrounding warm savory food inside. In this case, ham and cheese. Other options include chicken and beef, as well as vegetarian choices. You cannot go wrong and each one is only $3.50 ($3.00 for vegetarian.) If you want to eat lightly, an empanada and a drink could be a reasonable lunch ... if you're a 90-pound waif.
Their Tanguito Burger is also a standout. A large (half-pound?) burger, topped with cheese, and involving mushrooms, onions, peppers, as well as their incredible chimichurri sauce, which is a combination (in varying degrees) of olive oil, white wine, herbs, garlic, peppers, and other spices. Whatever is in it, it's magic. It makes everything taste delicious, from beef to pork to fish to plain old bread and rice. I believe the burger can be had as a combo with fries and a can of soda for $8. Trust me, that is the best $8 you will spend on a meal in San Francisco, EVER.
Finally, anything involving their sausage is also pretty amazing. Their choripan sandwich (grilled sausage, onions, peppers, chimichurri) is delicious, and their Spanish tortilla is a meal onto itself. It's more like what we would call a frittata, as opposed to a tortilla. It's a combination of eggs, potatoes, sausage (or really, any meat of your choice) and the usual suspects: cheese, onions, mushrooms, peppers, and, of course, chimichurri sauce. It's all cooked together in a thick "pancake" shape, and served hot, although it's traditional in Spain and Argentina to eat it at room temperature. Very filling, very comforting.
Honestly, you can't go wrong with anything from this truck, because EVERYTHING is made with love and attention. Don't be in a rush, just relax and enjoy. Without a doubt, this is the best secret of Fisherman's Wharf. I could see myself going here in the afternoon as a fun date, or bringing the relatives from back East here for lunch when they come to visit the Wharf.
Occupation: Director of HR
Favorite Restaurant: Café Aquarius
Reviewed Taguito Argentinean Grill & Empanadas: Saturday, September 3, 2011
Over the Labor Day weekend, I ventured from the East Bay to San Francisco to do the Ferry Building Farmers Market. I decided to do Tanguito for lunch. So, after a glorious morning in the Ferry Building with all its temptations, I jumped on the F-Muni Line near the Ferry Building, which is one of the busiest stations. (A word to the wise: get on this Muni line a stop or two earlier.) The TransBay Bus could easily get you near to one of the less crowded stops before the tourists load up on Embarcadero. The last stop at Beach and Jones Streets just happens to be right across the street from Tanguito Food Truck.
I walked up to their location and noticed that, while it's a truck, it's cleverly disguised as a venue that's more of casual, outdoor, walk-up window with seating close by. And, since I have gone to Off-the-Grid in Berkeley and I knew to expect a food truck, it's not the typical food truck with a generator running while they prepare your food like you're at an outdoor stadium. Tanguito has a seating area to the right of the truck that was covered with a plastic sheeting. This is clearly intended to keep their San Francisco patrons warm and dry when it's not as lovely as it was on the day I went, which is what made me lucky.
Because I went alone, I decided the best way to tackle this venture was to bring food home. I had lunch on premises, so that I could experience food just off the grill, and I could then talk about how the food kept after bringing it back across the Bay. I ordered the Tanguito Burger and fries, a chicken empanada, and picked up a Diet 7UP. I also ordered the Paella, a spinach and a beef empanada, and a Snapple to go. I was told after I paid for the order ($38 and cash only) to have a seat in the dining area, and they'd bring my food out to me.
In entering the seating area, I noticed artwork against the back plastic-sheeted mock wall: a motif of Argentinean street life. This quaint and friendly depiction of Argentina was clearly meant to give this supposedly crude environment a touch of charm. It felt more like an urban picnic rather than eating next to a food truck. It's a charming space that was inviting for what it was. As I sat down, one of the servers immediately brought out a dish of perfectly grilled steak and some delicious chimichurri dipping sauce on the side. “Have this while you wait,” is what the server said.
I'm a seafood and steak-loving woman and have eaten it in practically every place I've gone in every country I've visited. I must say that for food truck food, this steak is as good if not better (and definitely was juicier) than the steak house steaks I've had. And I mean white tablecloth steak houses that are known for their steaks (e.g. Ruth's Chris, Morton's, House of Prime Rib, Peter Luger in NY/Chicago/San Francisco/Los Angeles), and I haven't had steak this good in a while, even when remembering my brother's steak house favorite in Missouri (Annie Gunn's). This is important because one of my friends mentioned, "I won't come into San Francisco this weekend to eat off of a food truck." The food is definitely more delicious than any restaurant I've had these items from and better than many in San Francisco making cultural food. I was raised by cooks, and I am a cook myself, so I recognize good, well-seasoned, and quality meat when I taste it.
The fries came out first. Before they served them, the server came out and asked if I wanted garlic fries. Who would turn down garlic on fries? I said of course. They were hot, crispy, and perfectly moist on the inside. Fries are an art form and not everyone makes them correctly. These were not your Mickey D's fries, but they were addictive, delicious, and flavored right. Not sure what kind of potatoes they used, but I do think they soak their potatoes before frying them to get that wonderful texture on the outside. It is a fry texture, but not so crispy that they are over-fried. They were delectable.
Then came the main attraction: the Tanguito Burger. Their burger is made with grade-A beef, and it's not for the faint of heart, since you really have to love burgers in a sophisticated way. This is not your childhood burger or some burger that you get at a roller-skate, malted shake shop. There's a reason Argentina is known for its beef, and this place seasons the beef with their delicious style, which is peppery and rich in flavor. The texture of the beef is exactly what beef should be, and the flavors were familiar yet exotic. Not like some kind of fast-food madness that's over-salted and under-seasoned. They top the Tanguito with peppers, mushrooms, onions, and mozzarella cheese. I was amazed with how much burger it was and was already wondering, "Can I finish this thing?" I managed to get through it because it's juicy and savory and while it's plenty for two to enjoy, it's still a light burger when you go through it.
There was another group (two female tourists and their male companion from Sacramento) who sat at a nearby table. I noticed they had the savory steak crepes and the grilled steak with saffron rice. Another couple sat nearby and shared the paella. I happened politely to ask them what they thought and before I could get an answer, I could hear comments, like, “This is amazing” and "Ummm, ummm" that came from them enjoying the flavors they were tasting. The male with the ladies said, "This place is amazing -- never mind all of these places around here." Tanguito is near Fisherman's Wharf, and they are competing with many types of food and other levels of tastes with fast and quickly made foods in all price points.
I had to review at least two things for the show, so I also had the empanada. Though beef is usually more popular, the chicken empanada is my standard because if the chicken is good, the beef should be crazy delicious. I was curious to see the differences between the ones I'm used to (Columbia, Buenos Aires, and Cuba and even Jamaican beef patties are their competing fare), so I ordered that to-go with the paella. The empanadas here are what the Argentineans use to show the world, "This is what we can do" because they really do them better than any I've ever had. Even those in the Bay Area and even homemade by friends. Theirs are SPECTACULAR. The flavors of the meat, the seasonings, the potatoes, the vegetables -- nothing over-powered anything else in flavor, and it came packaged perfectly inside this pastry crust that could only be described as perfect. I was so happy that I was able to have one of these fresh out of the kitchen, because there is nothing like it. In fact, I will go back and bring my milk like I did as a kid and have my little pie and a glass of milk the next time I go to Tanguito.
I was very pleased with the foods I tried, but the test of true Latin American food to me is, "Does it keep?" Latinos love their food, but they also love their leftovers. I brought home the paella, the spinach empanada, and the ground beef empanada. Everything held up well.
Their empanadas reheated nicely in a 425° oven to get the inside hot and the outside pastry back to flaky. (You gotta reheat them higher than 400° to get them back to how you got them to-go.) The beef was as flavorful as I expected. It was well-seasoned, and the olives, peppers, onions, and other mild ingredients let you know they're there but do not overpower at all. You barely know what's there except that you can taste the quality, so you're given a clue. The spinach was delicious as well, and though it was not my favorite among the other two options, it was not one I'd sneeze at if it was only one of the options available. They sell several different fillings, so I'd ask if you don't see it in the display case. You couldn't see the chicken and spinach, but beef, corn, and cheese and potato were on display.
The paella was seafood filled and had de-shelled mussels, clams and scallops, shrimp, and delicious chorizo sausage. The rice was perfectly cooked (not mushy) and the flavor of the ocean seafood was infused throughout the dish. I like that the saffron rice was well-prepared and, though infused with seafood, it still possessed the Latin American golden standard of yellow rice. And since they also serve this saffron rice with the steak, I'll be coming back to have it with that.
The only thing I could note is that because it's outdoors, there are no accommodations for hand washing or a nearby restroom that I could see. I didn't ask the servers, though, so perhaps there is one I wasn't aware of. I had to scour the area and found a local bar within Cannery Row that had a ladies room, which allowed me to freshen up after my lunch. That's about the only negative thing I could say that deserves a mention. Since it's in a high tourist and busy area, I'm sure many places fall into this category, so know where the nearest restroom is if you go with children.
I will definitely go back to Tanguito to try the dishes that interested me but that I was too stuffed to try. Their food is definitely home cooking and well worth the money. The servings can feed a large group of people, who can enjoy family-style food in a uniquely laid out setting, which is just like the romance of Argentina. The burger can be shared by two to enjoy with other delectable tastes.
Occupation: Massage Therapist
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: VEGA
Reviewed Taguito Argentinean Grill & Empanadas: Saturday, September 3, 2011
I went to Tanguito on a Saturday around noon. I thought, “It’s a Saturday during tourist season and lunchtime. It will be really busy, right?” I was pleasantly surprised to find no line, and I ordered right away. Food trucks are the next “big thing” in dining and my expectations were high. With competition increasing in The City, there are a few things I look for in food trucks: great food, low prices, and fast service. My friend and I found this truck to be really charming with an Argentinean flair. The Fisherman’s Wharf seafood restaurant atmosphere was present. The truck has built a little outdoor dining area, which is charming.
We planned to share the paella, the mahi mahi in saffron rice, and for dessert, the dulce de leche crêpe. The truck was not aware we were sharing. We sat down and waited twenty-five minutes for our food.
The paella came first, by itself, which I thought was a bit odd. However, unbeknownst to the truck, we shared our dishes. The portions were large, which worked for sharing, so we relaxed. We were able to enjoy the outdoors be at the wharf and bring our cute little dog, Jack! The mahi mahi came next, about twenty minutes after the first dish arrived. We waited about eight minutes after finishing the paella, which is good. I thought this was weird for any restaurant that doesn't know we are sharing.
I will say though, as a personal preference, I would have liked to seen real crab instead of imitation. Fisherman’s Wharf is, after all, known for fresh, bountiful crab. The seafood was previously frozen, which does affect the texture. I presume this was to keep the cost down and I still loved the flavor. The mahi mahi was not really to our liking. The fish was overcooked. Although this was supposed to be the same rice used in the paella, this time it was over seasoned, oily, and had a bitter flavor.
Tanguito redeemed themselves with their dulce de leche crepe. It was great! My friend and fellow diner is an executive pastry chef in the area and loved this dish, as well. The texture was soft, warm, and sweet and melted in your mouth. It was amazing!
Okay, so there were a couple problems with slow service and over seasoning on one of the dishes. I would still rate Tanguito highly. The paella shined, and the truck should be proud, from presentation to flavor profile. The crêpe dish’s batter was really nice and the dish overall was just right. And what is the best part? You really do get bang for your buck. Big portions, quality food, and cheap eats!