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La Super Rica Taqueria – Santa Barbara, California

Two minutes before opening, lines have already formed for the world-famous La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara

Truly legendary restaurants, those which can legitimately be called institutions–and there are very few of them–don’t just inspire return visits; they inspire pilgrimages. Institutions have generally stood the test of time by remaining consistent over time, thriving even against the onslaught of more polished and pristine interlopers.  Institutions are beloved beyond the communities they serve, their fame and acclaim growing with each satisfied visitor, many of whom make pilgrimages from hundreds of miles away. One restaurant which has earned the distinction of being called an institution is La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara, California.

Hungry patrons line up half an hour before the restaurant opens because they know that very shortly the waiting time to place an order will be an hour or longer. While they wait, they swap stories about their favorite dining experiences at La Super Rica Taqueria, usually recounting in epiphany-like loving reverence, their first visit or favorite entree.  They talk about how far they’ve come either to revisit previously experienced deliciousness or to find out for themselves if the experience matches the hype.

The super clean dining room at La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara

You can’t be in line to place your order without someone mentioning that La Super Rica Taqueria was the favorite Mexican restaurant of chef, author and television personality Julia Child, herself a living institution.  It’s one of the restaurant’s biggest draws as well as one of those inane bits of trivia only someone who’s lived under a rock doesn’t know.  It’s the reason most newcomers visit.  We all want to compare our palates with the very pedantic, very sophisticated palate of the legendary French chef–either to validate that we have comparable tastes or to decry her as a fanatic Francophile who didn’t really know Mexican food.

What is more surprising to me is not that Julia Child loved La Super Rica Taqueria, but that someone of her stature–both literally at 6’2″ and figuratively–would stand in line with dozens of other patrons.  Then again, the grand damme was a true gastronome with an adventurous spirit and willingness to experience foods where they are most respectfully and authentically prepared.  I also suspect that Julia may have received special treatment befitting her celebrity and age (89) when she moved to a retirement community in Santa Barbara in 2001. In any case, she enjoyed La Super Rica Taqueria until just months before her death at 92.

The Super Rica kitchen is a very busy place

A relatively nondescript white with teal trim shack, no more than a proverbial hole-in-the-wall belies the worldwide fame of the taqueria it houses.  There is no signage letting you know you’ve arrived.  In fact, where it not for the perpetually long queues of hungry patrons waiting to place their orders, you might pass it by.  There’s also little parking to be found, save an occasional  open space on the mostly residential street.  La Super Rica Taqueria is most assuredly on the map because Julia Child proclaimed its greatness during a 1985 appearance on Good Morning America.  It begs the analogy “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The answer is most resoundingly “yes” because of intrepid foodies who boldly go where normal diners don’t to find the best and most authentic cuisine available.  Foodies like my friend Sandy Driscoll who drives from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara (no easy feat in heavy traffic) every year to visit La Super Rica Taqueria have our own networks of fellow gastronomes with whom we share outstanding new finds.  It’s not likely the taqueria would have achieved its fame without the endorsement of a legendary culinary figure, but rest assured, if a restaurant is worth visiting, the world will eventually find out about it.

Aguas Frescas de Sandia (Watermelon Fresh Waters)

You might assume that because the French food Julia Child loved and wrote about so much is so rich, heavily sauced and seasoned, the food at La Super Rica would also explode with rich flavors ameliorated by heavy sauces.  To the contrary, the food is much more subtly flavored though it can be spiced up a bit with the addition of pico de gallo or one of the complimentary salsas.  By the standards of New Mexico’s piquant Mexican cuisine, La Super Rica’s food is comparatively bland.

There are few Mexican restaurants in New Mexico which prepare and serve tortillas nearly as wonderfully fresh and delightfully delicious as La Super Rica.  Through the windows which you pass by while in line, you’ll have the opportunity to observe the well-practiced hands of a tortillera as she deftly makes easy tortilla by hand, lovingly shaping the masa into a ball, shaping it on a tortilla press then grilling them on an archaic stove.  Each tortilla is as tender as your mother’s heart and has a pronounced corn taste.  Pay special attention as the tortillas are engorged with grilled and lightly seasoned meats.  It’s love before first bite.

Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Tomatillo Salsa and Red Chile Salsa

21 July 2012: These tacos are the antithesis of the Taco Bell travesty on a hard-shell.  There’s no crunch to the tortillas nor will you find oodles of cheese, fields of lettuce and a surfeit of sour cream on these tacos.  They’re straight-forward, simple, uncomplicated…pretty basic stuff, but basic can taste pretty darned good.  Cash poor (the taqueria doesn’t accept credit cards) during our inaugural visit, we managed three tacos each: chorizo, grilled steak and pork carnitas.  The temptation to hold up a bank and return for more was pretty strong. 

While the tacos were memorable, my every instinct as a gastronome told me we (actually my Kim ordered while I waited in the car with our four-legged children) ordered far too safely.  The consequences of unadventurous ordering were a disappointing “so what” feeling that tacos may not necessarily be what this legendary taqueria does best.  During our second visit two years later, nary a taco was on our order.

Top: Frijol Super Rica: Cooked pinto beans with chorizo, bacon and chile. Bottom: Super Rica Especial (Roasted pasilla chile stuffed with cheese and marinated pork. Three tortillas.

19 June 2014: Faithful readers recommended the Super Rica Especial, a roasted pasilla chile stuffed with cheese and marinated pork bound together with three tortillas in a Big Mac fashion.  This is more like it–more of what has made La Super Rica Taqueria an institution.  In terms of piquancy, the pasilla ranks just above the Big Jim, Anaheim and New Mexico chiles with a Scoville index of 1500-2500 units, so it’s not especially hot.  Its roasted olfactory-arousing flavor is very reminiscent of New Mexico in autumn, while the pasilla’s flavor is more subtle.  The marinated pork is porcine perfection.  It’s moist, tender, superbly seasoned and marinated in a heavenly sauce that brings out the salty, fatty flavors of an otherwise mild meat.  Gooey globs of queso and tortillas redolent with the aroma of corn complete the explosion of flavors.

19 June 2014: The sense of smell, more than any of our other senses, influences our ability to recall past events and experience. It’s very well established that aroma is one of the most potent mediums for conjuring up a memory and for tugging at the heart strings. The aromas emanating from the  Frijol Super Rica transported me back to my mom’s kitchen in Peñasco where the most magnificent beans in the universe are cooked.  At Super Rica, the beans are cooked with chorizo, bacon and chile and are so good you might just imbibe the bean juice.

Chorizo Especial (melted cheese and chorizo between three tortillas)

19 June 2014:  The menu offers three “con queso” type entrees, all of them showcasing the grandeur and splendor that is the corn tortillas.  The Chorizo Especial features melted cheese and chorizo between three of those corn-flavored orbs.  For New Mexicans, the chorizo isn’t in ground form as we’re used to, instead resembling chopped wieners.  No matter.  They’re smoky, fatty and delicious, a perfect foil for the melted white cheese.  The Chorizo Especial pairs especially well with the guacamole and the pico de gallo.

La Super Rica Taqueria is a humble, but truly wonderful institution worth a pilgrimage or ten from anywhere in America.

La Super Rica Taqueria
622 N Milpas St
Santa Barbara, California
(805) 963-4940
LATEST VISIT: 19 June 2014
1st VISIT: 21 July 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $
BEST BET: Pork Carnitas Taco, Chorizo Taco, Grilled Steak Taco, Frijol Super Rica, Super Rica Especial

La Super-Rica Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Category: California, Mexican
  • Bruce says:

    Gil,

    If you return, and most people do may I suggest the number 16 – “Super-Rica Especial”. A delicious roasted pasilla stuffed with cheese and marinated pork! My mouth is watering just thinking it. My mother-in-law lives in SB and when we visit – we go at least once or twice!

    July 24, 2012 at 4:38 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Thank you, Bruce. Unfortunately because we were traveling with our dachshunds, it was my Kim who stood in line and placed our order while I stayed with our canine children. She tends to order much more “safely” than I do (which accounts for the “boring” items on my reviews). You’ve got my mouth watering, too, at the description of the Super-Rica Especial. It’s what I would have ordered.

      I hope you like your mother-in-law because Santa Barbara is worth frequent visits for Super Rica Taqueria alone.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:48 PM
      • TravelPath says:

        Mrs.TravelPath and I will travel 1.5 hours from our home to dine here…and we do so a couple of times a month! The Especial is my old stand by…as are the taco de rajas and the tamal de verduras…I could drink a pint of the cream sauce served with it! A couple of times per week they serve the best chiliquiles I have ever eaten…and I had them a lot in Mexico. The sopes served on Tuesday are revalatory as is the pozole…so, so good. Finish it with a cafe de olla…Wonderful! Isidoro Gonzalez, the owner, is a local graduate of UCSB with a masters degree and goes to Mexico every year to bring back new tastes…He is a gem as is his brother, Martin…My only advice to you is to go often and try everything on the menu and all of the specials! In my opinion, this is some of the very best Mexican food in all of Southern California! I am glad you discovered La Super Rica!

        July 24, 2012 at 10:01 PM
  • Randy Clark says:

    What I remember from a visit is the most excellent horchata!

    July 25, 2012 at 2:15 AM
  • Bruce says:

    We do visit my wife’s mother quite often – and of course – when the opportunity arises to run an errand, take a walk on the beach, go shopping – we rationalize a stop at La Superica. A few other favorites in Santa Barbara: Brophy Brothers for Clam Chowder, Cajon kitchen for breakfast – though we have been driving out to the Goleta location. For finer dining we liked our initial visit to Holdrens – a steak house on state street, and just a few doors up the street Joe’s diner for breakfast, lunch or Dinner. Lastly – for mole lovers – on one trip I discovered a small take out place called “Romanti-Ezer” with fabulous mexican takeout. Lastly again..though we haven’t been there in a while – The Palace Restaurant is also a favorite. Great New Orleans cuisine – where at each seating the staff leads the customers in a sing-along with Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World”… We sat next to Kurt Russell. As you can see I’ve grown to like my mother-in-law quite a bit.

    July 25, 2012 at 4:50 PM
  • Schuyler says:

    Hmmmm. The Best tacos in the world. A likeable mother in law. Walks on the beach. Bruce, does your wife have a sister who’s single?

    July 25, 2012 at 5:47 PM
  • BruceAtRoma says:

    Gil, Hi this is Bruce with Oscar and Bruce at Roma Bakery and Deli in Albuquerque. We’re so happy you’ve been to La Super Rica! We’re from Santa Barbara before we moved here, and Super Rica was a place we hit at least once a week, if not more often. It’s so great that little places like Super Rica can really make a lasting mark in the community simply by trying to delight the customers, and here you’ve gone all the way from Duke City to SB to sample the wares. Good for you!

    August 17, 2012 at 11:35 AM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Hello Bruce

      Speaking of little restaurants which make a lasting mark by trying to delight their customers, my wife Kim who works in the downtown area is a frequent visitor to the Roma Bakery and Deli. She absolutely loves it. Maybe someday she’ll bring some of your wonderful baked goods home for me.

      Gil

      August 17, 2012 at 2:10 PM
  • James Clark says:

    When I lived in California , I drove regularly from L.A. to the central coast for a design project. One of my regular stops was La Super Rica. The food is as good as everyone says, and I loved the funky beach town vibe(read misspent youth), but I think the single dollar sign for price is misleading. Most of the dishes are tapas size, and I rarely got out of there for less than twenty bucks per person.

    March 9, 2013 at 4:00 PM
  • Sandy Driscoll says:

    So glad that you made it to La Super Rica again! Next time, you’ll have to try the specials on the ‘daily special board’ as they are very different from anything on the regular menu. And for those of you Super Rica fans who have made previous comments, and may love the Frijol Super Rica as much as I do, here is the recipe. Very easy! (I usually add more chorizo and bacon…….) http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/la-super-rica-pinto-beans-10000001023849/ And, of course, they’re better with a dollop of pico de gallo and red chile salsa, for those of us who like it hot!

    June 20, 2014 at 8:55 PM
  • BOTVOLR says:

    Thanks for the recipe link Sandy. Love the first part of the instructions (and similarly for Sunset’s next one re Refried Beans): “Sort beans and discard any debris. Rinse beans…” as it reminds me of the first time of coming upon my late Vieja sitting at the kitchen table ‘sorting’ a handful of beans which she obviously had taken from a seemingly hermetically sealed, store bought plastic bag! What the….as I was the frugal Capricorn and she was the fun loving, free spirited, whimsical Aquarius! Why is she counting the beans to see if they are all there? Or does a recipe call for only so many? Or is half a bean…which there exists…different than a whole bean? Alas, I’d never seen my Mom do that let alone any of my aunts, nor even my Babci being as how she had come over from the old country! Of course ya got to consider re us transplants to NM, that our beans came out of a can labelled Campbell’s Pork n Beans. Why heck, who doesn’t remember even getting bread out of a can http://tinyurl.com/n77pjcl for that traditional Saturday night feast while watching Boston Blackie or the June Taylor Dancers opening The Jackie Gleason Show…and away we go?

    June 21, 2014 at 9:28 AM

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