3000 Upas Street #104, North Park
The newly constructed North Parker infill property at 30th and Upas has been slowly coming online with a smartly decorated Modern Times tasting room, Influx coffeeshop, and Tacos Perla, which recently fit right into my late night dining plans.
Here's what I expected: nontraditional tacos, unique salsas, quality ingredients and a slick new restaurant space with loads of hipster appeal that stays open til midnight. Check, check, check — it's all there. But nothing prepared me for the appearance of crickets on the menu. Yes, crickets.
Apparently, they're considered a delicacy in Oaxaca, where they're fried and salted and have been a prized source of protein for centuries. At Tacos Perla, they're offered as a taco topping, alongside other add-ons like cheese, avocado, maybe some fried pork rind chicharrones. Except, you know, crickets are fat little bugs best known to us city-folk as that noisy nuisance keeping you awake when you try to sleep in the countryside.
As a food writer, I consider myself obligated to try new things, to push my own boundaries and ultimately keep my mind open to new experiences. But crickets? I just can't see them as anything but a conversation piece for a new restaurant wanting to put itself on the local foodie map. Well, okay then, Perla. Here's your conversation.
The place looks nice, well thought-out, with a fancy LED donkey sign that changes colors if you stare at it long enough. An open kitchen with ordering counter runs along the left side, the rest of the place taken up by bench table seating and a comfortable dining patio. The tacos-only shop has nixed the salsa bar in favor of salsa jars — mason jars filled with the likes of sesame seed, mixed nut and pineapple salsas, and the could-be-hotter carrot habanero emulsion. You're meant to use shallow wooden spoons to dress your tacos, which can prove a little frustrating, especially when it comes to the pickled red onions.
I was instantly taken by the five-dollar "Nontraditionals" menu, which included takes on smoked albacore, shrimp, and octopus. It also features Perla's best idea, the Chile de Casa, which basically stuffs a fire roasted green chile with your topping of choice, all folded inside a fresh corn tortilla.
I opted for the smoked albacore special, topically named El Fútbol, and decided on the Chile de Casa stuffed with carne asada, taken from the four-dollar "Traditionals" menu. Right alongside those damn crickets.
For 75 cents, you get a good handful of dehydrated insects all over the top of your taco. It's easy to see every adventurous eater in town showing up to give these things a go, but decidedly disturbing when they turn up at your table, abdomens, legs and all. Against my best judgment, I bit. And chewed. Stale Cheetos come to mind, with the flavor of dried mushroom stems — and not the kind eaten by gastronomes. I wound up grabbing a fork to scrape all the offending creatures off my taco.
Who am I to say the wiser palates of North Park won't find a way to enjoy this willfully exotic addition to our local cuisine? They'll probably even find a way to call that moldy fungus flavor "nuanced," or an "acquired taste" – coded ways of saying they don't like it either but want to seem worldly.
As for me, I'm content to seem worldly the old fashioned way — by dropping the occasional French term and complaining about the dearth of quality soup dumplings in this town.
As for the cricketless tacos? They're alright.