By Jason Herring, September 17 2015 —
The start of the school year is an exciting time at the University of Calgary. There are new classes, new friends and most importantly, new food vendors. Two newly-opened eating establishments at the university offer students a type of food that previously unavailable to them — quick Mexican food.
You may feel overwhelmed by this sudden influx of choices, unsure of the best place to buy a quick taco for lunch. Well, you’re in luck — we’ve eaten at both options and evaluated the restaurants in a number of categories to determine which vendor reigns supreme as the best place to eat Mexican food on campus.
In one corner, we have La Taqueria, a dedicated taco shop opened by the Students’ Union to take the place of the derelict Smoke’s Poutinerie in MacHall. In the other corner, we have Zoca, an Aramark-owned eatery located in ICT that sells a variety of Mexican foods, including quesadillas and burritos. Both shall enter. Only one shall prevail.
Both La Taqueria and Zoca serve a very North American brand of Mexican food, but La Taqueria tries hard to make their food feel authentic by modeling their dishes after street tacos. It mostly works — their corn torillas trump Zoca’s flour ones, and the unorthodox topping selection is great. Zoca’s food, on the other hand, is comparable to Taco Bell. That isn’t always bad, but it won’t win them this round.
Verdict: La Taqueria
La Taqueria offers flavourful meat and a wide variety of toppings and sauces to suit your taste, though guacamole is notably missing. Each taco is served on two corn tortillas, which feels like overkill. La Taqueria also offers curly fries as a side, which taste good alone but better when loaded with toppings. Marks off for the disgusting Oreo churro, which is an indulgent dessert not even worth trying once.
Zoca’s fare doesn’t taste bad, but their meat lacks the flavour of La Taqueria. They have a wide array of standard toppings, but their sauces are disappointing — despite advertising a variety of sauces, Zoca is missing key items like hot salsa, though the availablity of guacamole is greatly appreciated. Their side of tortilla chips come without seasoning, and are mediocre.
Verdict: La Taqueria
Neither eatery is particularly inexpensive, but you can have a decent meal on the cheap at both. At $3.25 each, La Taqueria’s individual tacos are expensive, but are reasonably priced when purchased in a combo along an absurd amount of fries and a drink.
Zoca works the other way around — their individual tacos and burritos are relatively inexpensive, but buying a combo is a bad call. Better value just depends on how hungry you are.
Zoca’s location in ICT seems far away, but it’s really only a three minute walk from MacHall. La Taqueria is central and conveniently located, but the line is usually so long that it’s quicker to walk to ICT and buy from Zoca than to queue up at La Taqueria. For that reason alone, Zoca has a slight edge here.
The service at La Taqueria is painfully slow, but once you’re at the front of the line, servers are helpful and friendly.
The woman who served me at Zoca acted like it was the absolute last thing she wanted to be doing. Whether she felt that way or not, it’s important to respect your clientele, lest you turn into the Subway in MacHall.
However, both restaurants opened recently and some growing pains are to be expected. Hopefully these get resolved soon. But for now, La Taqueria is the more pleasant place to buy lunch.
Verdict: La Taqueria
Both eateries offer Halal and vegan options, though La Taqueria’s option of a mushroom or roasted corn tacos feel more thoughtful than Zoca’s option, which is just the absence of meat.
As far as healthy eating goes, the results aren’t pretty. I asked both vendors for nutritional information, but neither were able to provide me with the goods. They each said they’d have nutritional info ready within a week, but until then I’ll assume the worst.
Of course, nothing we’ve previously discussed matters if the food doesn’t feel good once deposited into your mouth. La Taqueria falls short here, as their tacos are difficult to get a good bite out of if you want the full palette of ingredients.
But Zoca’s food, particularly their burritos, feel warm to chew and satisfying to swallow, giving them a decisive victory in this category.
Winner: By a score of 3–2, La Taqueria reigns supreme as the best place to get Mexican food on campus.