Carnitas Express, a fixture in Menifee since 1997, won distinction as "Best Taco in Menifee" by five judges in a Top Taco contest conducted by Menifee 24/7.
The judging took place a month ago, appropriately enough, on election day Tuesday, November 8.
The contest got its initial start in June, when we conducted a poll on our Facebook page. We asked our fans to select their five favorite Mexican restaurants in Menifee. The top five vote-getters became the five restaurants we selected for our Top Taco contest...
Carnitas Express - 26900 Newport Rd. Suite 117, (951) 679-9747
Mi Pueblo - 26100 Newport Rd #13, (951) 301-4360
Pueblo Viejo - 30141 Antelope Rd #L, (951) 301-0299
Santana's - 28005 Bradley Rd #A, (951) 679-6416
Chipotle - 30024 Haun Road, (951) 301-9249
We recruited five judges from the Menifee area, all of whom love tacos, Steve Johnson, Olivia Walker, Bryn Berg, Sandra Aldridge, and Christian Schaal.
The judges visited each of the five restaurants. Each restaurant was asked to serve up its best taco on the menu, fresh from the kitchen. Judges scored the tacos based on taste, meat, toppings, and "eatability", which is how well a taco eats, handles, and holds up without cracking or falling apart.
After the contest, the scores were tallied, and Carnitas Express came out with the highest score for its hard-shelled shredded beef taco.
|Steve Johnson, Christian Schaal, Bryn Berg, Olivia Walker, Sandra Aldridge, at Carnitas Express|
"Everything about the Carnitas taco was so fresh, crisp and flavorful", said Bryn Berg, one of the taco judges. "The vegetables tasted as if they were just picked from the garden."
Christian Schaal, another judge agreed. "It has a nice, not overcooked, homemade shell, with the freshest ingredients."
Freshness seemed to be the most important quality to the judges as they commented on each taco's fillings, toppings, and shell. Taco sauce seemed to play a lesser role as most restaurants offered a wide variety of salsas and sauces. Other comments were made on level of saltiness, greasiness, and spiciness.
"I really liked the rich meat flavor in the Carnitas Express taco", said Steve Johnson, another of the judges. "It tastes like it just came off the grill."
"Carnitas' was everything a taco should be", said Olivia Walker, another judge. "The meat was juicy without being greasy, and still so fresh."
|Eva Duran (center), Doro Duran to the right|
Carnitas Express was started by Armando Benitez and his sister Eva Duran in July 1997, taking over what had previously been a small taco shop. Over the years they converted it to a sit-in style restaurant, tripled the dining space, and added a full bar. In recent years, they added two more locations in Murrieta.
"One thing we always try to maintain is the freshness of the ingredients", explained Doro Duran, Eva's husband. "We try not to sacrifice quality for the price."
Much of the unique recipes used at Carnitas Express come from Armando. The hard-shelled shredded beef taco that Carnitas Express served up to our judges remains the restaurant's most popular menu item. According to Doro, they serve up a staggering 2,000 tacos every Taco Tuesday, just at the Menifee location alone.
|Hard-shelled, shredded beef taco at Carnitas Express|
Overall, each of the restaurants in the contest competed honorably, offering up what they felt was their best taco, and went to great lengths to accommodate the judges.
The judges and the staff at Menifee 24/7 all want to thank Carnitas Express, Pueblo Viejo, Mi Pueblo, Santana's, and Chipotle for participating in the contest.
"It's too bad only one restaurant gets to be the winner, all of the tacos were delicious", Steve Johnson went on to say. "We hope we can do it again next year."