Saturday, June 24, 2017

Great Tacos Are No Urbana Myth Here

440 South Anaheim Blvd. 
Anaheim, CA 92805

I don't feel like we have explored the Anaheim Packing District nearly enough. I think we have only made two trips up this way in the three years this part food hall, part retail space has been around. There are many restaurants here that dot my restaurant wishlist. I really want to try Georgia's, the Kroft, the Blind Rabbit, and the Iron Press. For this birthday dinner, I wanted to cross Urbana off of my list, so that's where my parents and I headed on this fine early June evening.

The parking situation at the Packing District can be monumentally challenging. The parking gods must have been watching out for Katie and I as we got lucky and someone was pulling out, just as we got there, instead of valet parking like we had resigned ourselves to do. Even though this was just our third time at the Packing District, which is at the corner of Anaheim and Santa Ana Boulevards, I'm always a little amazed at how busy and full of life this Downtown Anaheim venue is.

Urbana is situated on the ground floor of the Anaheim Packing House, nearly dead center. Even though I had made reservations at this early 5 pm hour, there were plenty of open seats around, but it filled up around us as the evening rolled along. One of the few full-service restaurants at the Packing House, Urbana has a Dia de los Muertos theme to it, with colorful skulls and figurines hanging from the ceilings and walls. The bar takes up a lot of space in this long, narrow restaurant, which has maybe 15 tables, along with some counter seating near the front of the restaurant.

Owner Javier Cuadra, who hails from Zamora, Mexico, and Chef Ernie Alvardo has created a menu that is inspired by Michoacan street food. They also have a pretty impressive bar program here, which utilizes Mr. Cuadra's other business, the exporting of seasonal berries from Mexico to the US. The berries are used in numerous cocktails, which get rave reviews from many. Even though I was here with my parents, I refrained from drinking but decided to indulge in food instead. Let's see how this game plan worked out for me.

I love a good Queso Fundidio ($10) and was eager to try the version at Urbana. When I saw this come out I knew it was going to be a challenge splitting this between four people, especially after we all tasted it. Melted and bubbling cheese and chorizo was served in a small iron skillet and is topped with pickled red onion and comes with handmade corn tortillas. This fundido was a little more mellow than most I've had, but it was still delicious. It was not as heavy either, but that might be because we had to split this four ways. The salsa this came with had a great punch to it, which I saved to use with my entree. I'm usually more of a flour tortilla guy, but these corn ones were excellent.

Katie was the only one of the four of us not to get tacos, so we'll start with her entree, the Mole Enchiladas ($14). These enchiladas were filled with shredded chicken, melted Oaxaca cheese, and topped with sliced avocado, crema, and radish, and bathed in mole. I really enjoyed the bite I had of this. The chicken was very tender and the mole had a wonderful flavor to it. Very comforting. Katie felt this was a very satisfying plate, which was lighter than most but did not sacrifice flavor. She'd get this again for sure.

My mom is a pretty light eater, so she only ate one of her Two Carnitas Tacos ($10) and let my dad take the other one home for lunch the next day. Wish she had given it to me, the birthday boy. This was an excellent taco, with moist and flavorful shredded pork, just enough queso fresco and pickled red onion to cut the rich carnitas. These usually come with habanero salsa, but she requested it on the side. The tortilla kept everything together nicely, which is kind of remarkable considering how moist the pork was.

My dad followed suit and got two Tacos ($10) also, but he went with Al Pastor Taco and the Gobernador. The better of the two, only by a hair was the pastor. Served on a blue corn tortilla it came with some well prepared shaved pork, the familiar red pickled onions that were on the carnitas and the queso fundido, and finished with some queso fresco and a touch of chili oil. The melding of all of these flavors made this one of my favorites of the night. The Gobernador was a shrimp taco filled with melted cheese that could have been the same as the one used in the queso fundido, serrano chilies, and onions rounded out this taco which was wrapped up in a crispy corn tortilla. This was probably the most disappointing taco of the night, as I probably expected a tad too much from it based on the description. It was good, with the shrimp cooked well, but it left me wanting more. Not a bad taco mind you, but I'd skip in favor of any of my three tacos coming up.

When my Three Taco Trio ($14) was placed in front of me what I noticed first were the bright and beautiful colors included on each tortilla. It was like an edible piece of art which I could not wait to dig into. I had the Arrachera Steak, Baja Fish, and the Pork Belly Taco. The gold medal winner for me here was the steak taco, and I learned that Arrachera is skirt steak which is marinated usually in a citrus-based marinade. Not sure if that's the case here at Urbana, but this was one of the best beef tacos I can remember having. Joining the juicy and tender beef was a smear of guacamole, queso fresco, salsa, and some pico de gallo. They didn't try to do too much with this, which made the beef shine here. The Baja taco was what I imagine you would be able to get on the Baja peninsula. Not sure what the catch of the day was here, but the fish was lightly battered and flaky, without a hint of grease. It also came topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, cabbage, and what put this over the top for me, a very solid spicy aioli, which did not so much add a lot of spice, as it added some needed moisture and gave this a flavor boost. I liked the Asian-inspired pork belly taco but was not in love with it. It reminded me of a Banh mi in taco form. It came with pickled daikon and shredded carrots, a cilantro aioli, and a blue corn tortilla. The pork belly was good but could have been a little more front and center, as it got lost a bit and I love me some pork belly, one of my favorite things to see on a menu. I'd still get it again here at Urbana.

When I left Urbana I was completely satisfied with my visit. Much like a lot of the reviews I've read online, my parents felt this was kind of overpriced for the amount of food you get. There's no chips and salsa when you get here, there's no beans and rice in sight, and $5 per taco might be a little steep when you really think about it, but I'm fine wth all of this because these tacos were some of the best I have had in a long while. All of the proteins were done excellently, and even if the tacos didn't totally work for me, I ate them up rather quickly. Again this is a pretty cramped restaurant which is not very comfortable, but with tacos like this, I'm willing to sacrifice a little comfort to make Urbana one of my must eat at restaurants when I visit the Anaheim Packing District.

Out of five bottles of wine, (because being in this historic building got me thinking back to the first settlers of Anaheim, Germans who in 1857 picked this area because they could grow grapes for wine here, and this area was once the hub of the California wine industry), five being best to zero being worst, Urbana gets 3.5 bottles of wine.

For more information about Urbana, head to their website here:

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