That space in the 900 block of J Street has changed hands over the years, with various restaurants all making their bid for a piece of the downtown lunch crowd. The latest incarnation is Taqueria El Festival, and one can only hope that they’re a permanent addition to J Street.
That’s because this place is good. And it’s not just because of the mariachi band that sometimes shows up outside the front door and blares lilting, trumpet-driven tunes across downtown.
They’ve got a full-blown salsa bar, and for a small restaurant the menu is extensive – tacos, tortas, burritos, egg variations for breakfast (with chorizo sausage, ham, spicey veggies and the classic Huevos Rancheros), and assorted appetizers that include everything from quacamole to papas fritas.
There are varieties of seafood dishes, including “devil shrimp,” which is shrimp smothered in hot sauce, and the Caldo de Camaron, which is a vast bowl of shrimp soup, and the “Caldo de 7 Mares,” which is a steaming broth with seven types of seafood, including shrimp and tilapia. The seafood caldron at $11.99 is the most expensive item on the menu, and many of the shrimp dishes are $10.29 or less.
By the way, one of the seafood variations is a fish burrito, which includes black beans, rice and sour cream, which is absolutely delicious. At $5.79, it’s one of the best restaurant bargains in the city.
El Festival doesn’t pretend to be a health-food restaurant – and a good thing, too – but they do offer jugo de zanahoria (carrot juice) for $3.50. When’s the last time you ordered carrot juice with lunch or breakfast? Drink up – it tastes good and your vision will improve.
There are a number of veggie-based dishes, including chile rellenos, tacos, burritos and nachos. Most of those same dishes, of course, also can be ordered with meat.
Also on the menu are huaraches – no, not the sandals – which are flat pieces of fried masa with a variety of spicy toppings, and molcajetes, which includes spicy mixtures and toppings, like guacamole.
For the adventurous, there’s always the ever-popular (not with me) tripe, and Cabeza, which is cow’s head beef; and lengua, which is tongue. But if you want it, you got it.
Getting back to the more conventional, you can get the giant quesadilla, carne asada, grilled fajitas and flautas, which are thin, rolled tortillas filled with chicken or beef. They have regular burritos, jumbo burritos, super burritos, wet burritos, seafood burritos, bean-and-cheese burritos – and more.
For dessert, there is the conventional selection of flan – regular, chocolate and strawberry – and churros, which is sort of a sugared, twisted doughnut.
A note on beverages: Only soft drinks, juices and Mexican cocoa are available now, although the same family that runs the J Street El Festival also has the El Festival on Folsom Boulevard, where Negra Modelo, Pacifico and Corona are available.
Taqueria El Festival
906 J Street • (916) 443-5303
Hours: Monday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m; Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed Saturday and Sunday