Duck Fat Smashed Pinto Alert!

Alameda's Black Bull Tacos isn't settling for al pastor — there's marinated duck hearts, too.

Tacos (Nathaniel Williams)

When it opened in 2002, the Alameda Marketplace anchored a colorless stretch of Park Street. The 20,000-square-foot space, a former car dealership, contains a natural grocery store, a butcher, a bakery, and food stalls. For many years, it was the lone food oasis near the Fruitvale Bridge crossing.

This has started to change. Formerly a food stall in the mall, East End expanded into the corner restaurant space with its wood-fired pizza oven. Crispian Bakery opened across the street in 2015 with the best banana bread this side of the Mississippi. And with the nearby arrival of Black Bull Tacos y Cerveza, Alameda can now claim a taqueria as a destination restaurant.

The owners of Alameda stalwart Scolari’s Good Eats rented the glass-walled restaurant space vacated by King of Thai Noodle House. The food at Scolari’s is standard, if unremarkable, American fare, largely hamburgers, fried food, and meat-heavy sandwiches. The tacos at Black Bull, however, are inspired, filled with complex flavors, and instantly memorable.

Four large glass jugs of house made aguas frescas ($3) draw your attention on the counter where the cashier takes your order. The tart, sweet passion fruit paired well with the spiciest tacos, and the strawberry-lime tasted deceptively like a daiquiri you could get addicted to.

Street corn (Nathaniel Williams)

Atypically, the Nachos Grande ($10) arrived on five, round crispy tortillas like mini-tostadas. Vegans and vegetarians can choose the black-bean option on any menu item, but for everyone else, there are duck fat smashed pintos. As far as nachos go, they were underwhelming but cute, nothing like the nacho platters at Berkeley’s Picante (which are, in fact, both grande and a meal unto themselves). A second starter, Street Corn ($7) arrived in a small, child-sized bowl. If as an East Bay denizen, you’ve grown accustomed to the tasty on-the-cob version at La Calaca Loca in Oakland, this tiny cup of roasted corn tossed in lime, ancho butter, and queso fresco might seem disappointing. The flavor was just as good, but you’ll definitely miss that cobby crunch.

The list of tacos to choose from is long and as delightfully varied as a taco truck’s. From Corazon (marinated duck hearts) to the Gringo (spicy ground beef), the options will satisfy any combination of cravings. At $4.50 per taco — or four for $17, for the ambitious and hungry — the menu is smartly set up for taste-testing. The pescatarian at my side lucked out with a Grilled Scallop special ($5.50) that was cooked to a charred perfection and topped with corn and lemon drizzled microgreens. The beer-battered cod in the Pescado stayed crisp beneath an aji amarillo crema and shredded, dressed cabbage. Of the two, I’d pick the scallop special again in a heartbeat.

Tacos (Nathaniel Williams)

Of the strictly vegetarian options, there were only two: fried avocado or queso a la plancha. (It’s a notable omission that could be easily corrected: Seasonal vegetables of any sort come to mind.) The avocado was a creamy imitation of the fish taco, served with a cashew cream and shaved radish. The queso in question was a sheep’s milk cheese that, when grilled, tasted like haloumi. Either way, this taco thrilled with the most inventive of toppings: a pumpkin seed pesto and tiny slices of marinated cherry tomatoes.

While each taco felt thoughtfully curated with a variety of balanced flavors, the al pastor (marinated pork) and the chicken chile verde (pulled chicken) were both spectacular. Taquerias often offer vats of stewed chile verde meat as a burrito filling, and the gray soupiness is rarely appealing. Here, fresh greens added a bright color to the dish while also conveying a subtle kick. But the al pastor topped the list. The pork was deeply colored and spicy, but tempered with just the right amount of grilled pineapple.    

Currently, Black Bull is open for dinner five days a week, and crowds are manageable. But when lunch service starts in the spring, the owners are going to have to add more tables to that patio.

Black Bull Tacos Y Cerveza1635 Park St., Alameda, 510-263-8670 or facebook.com/blackbulltacos/

 

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