Restaurant Review Baja Tacos
Baja Tacos — a single-room shack in the heart of the concrete wilderness of Cerrillos Road — describes itself on Facebook as “Santa Fe’s ‘little secret,’” but I’m not sure how clandestine you can be with a cluster of canary yellow umbrellas out front and vivid red letters broadcasting “4 TACOS $5.”
At any given hour, the drive-through might be five or six cars deep, but it moves quickly, and a steady stream of walkins flows into the tiny space. Once customers have picked up their orders, some of them will return to their cars, while others wander out, paper bags full of piping hot goodies, to a concrete table under a bright umbrella. The sun is out, the sky is blue, and a cool breeze might be blowing. If you squint, you might convince yourself for a minute that you’re at a beach in Baja.
Two to three people usually staff the kitchen and counter, and they are all friendly, helpful, and incredibly quick. I barely had time to check my Instagram feed before my order was ready. At peak hours, whoever’s at the register ping-pongs between the front and the drive-through in an impressive display of on-your-feet multitasking.
True to its name, the “bacon roll burrito” swaddles a bunch of bacon, chile, and cheese (but no egg) in a flour tortilla; you can add hash browns for a little extra. It’s spicy, smoky, and incredibly salty — probably not the sort of thing to eat on a regular basis unless you have an active lifestyle, very low blood pressure, or a prescription for Lipitor.
Baja also has a standard breakfast burrito — meaning one that includes egg and doesn’t have to include bacon (or any other meat, for that matter, though the menu suggests several). It offers a nice equilibrium of soft egg, mild cheese, spicy chile, and hash browns with enjoyable crisp bits.
As you would hope, though, tacos are really where it’s at. We tried many (easy to do at under $3 each), including a modestly tingling carne adovada; bean and tofu, a sloppy, gloppy, but welcome meat-free option; and the soft, full-flavored chicken, which won for its rich, gamey, musky flavor. Each can be garnished with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, and grated cheese. When we visited, a four-fish-taco special was available. Rather than being fried, in traditional Baja style, the meat was more of the lean, spice-dusted, griddled sort. The crunchy hard shell is standard, but on a return visit, I heard the staff offer a soft option to another customer; it’s good to know that’s available. The side of fire-engine-red salsa is fresh-tasting, tangy, and pleasantly spicy.
The taquitos — chicken or beef — are thoroughly deepfried and popular. They’re crisp and greasy, but a dunk in Baja’s salsa cuts right through. It’s kind of hard to tell the difference between the meats until you take a bite, and this is definitely not health food. But it might fill the bill if you’ve had one too many margaritas the night before or you’re just craving greasy food.
Menu items other than tacos are heavier and less interesting. Our enchilada was thoroughly smothered in chile, but the cheese inside it wasn’t melted at all. The sides of refried beans (they’re described as “pinto beans,” so I expected whole frijoles) and Spanish rice made this a generous and multicolored plate, but both were bland, dry, and forgettable.
The menu includes burritos, too. Baja is very much a “have it your way” kind of place — I overheard a customer asking for her burrito to be filled with carne adovada and nothing else, but others (like me) prefer “everything,” which means lettuce, onion, tomato, cheese, and chile. We went full throttle with the gut-bombing chile relleno burrito, which is certainly filling, but I found it overly soft and oddly bland.
The burger combo meal gets you a lot of food for your money. The handsome handmade patty, slathered in cheese and chile (green, naturally), shares its wide industrial bun with lettuce and tomato. The combo also includes a heap of thick golden fries and a 32-ounce drink.
Your receipt will remind you of Baja’s daily under-$5 deals. “How can they do that?” it asks, and you sort of wonder if they’re reading your mind. I try not to think about how this stuff can be so cheap. Look, I get it. Fast food may not be healthy, but it can be emotionally satisfying; sometimes you just want a taco. And as we sat under an umbrella, wiping salsa from our lips, one of my friends declared, “Baja Tacos: It’s cheap, it’s good, it’s fast, it’s hot, and it’s clean. If you want tacos — American-style tacos — why wouldn’t you eat here?”