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The beef behind Crack Taco Shop

Street food may be habitual, but not habit-forming

Crack Taco Shop's signature carne asada, made with wine-marinated tri-tip
Crack Taco Shop's signature carne asada, made with wine-marinated tri-tip

I wonder, when the crack cocaine addiction became an epidemic in the 1980s, did anyone foresee that we would someday use the word crack to describe food? Yet, in the darker corners of American humor, people have been doing so for going on two decades at least. For the past ten years, at least, the slang has gone mainstream. And for just as long, vigilant bloggers and food writers have complained about restaurants branding menu items to suggest their foods are addictive.

Place

Crack Taco Shop

4242 Camino Del Rio North, Suite 28, San Diego

At times, the complaints have been heard: in 2018, a chain of Michigan restaurants renamed their “crack fries,” and in 2019, New York City’s famed Milk Bar renamed its signature “crack pie” dessert.

A local target of those appalled by “crack” food has been Cardiff by the Sea grocer, Seaside Market, which has found decades of renown for its burgundy wine and pepper marinated tri-tip, dubbed Cardiff Crack. Local restaurants have embraced it: I’ve seen it turn up as a special pizza topping at a nearby Pizza Port location, in a stir-fry at Encinitas restaurant ChiKo, and on a sandwich by North Park eatery, Encontro. Cardiff Crack sandwiches have even been served at Padres home games.

Though Seaside Market alternately markets the beef as “world famous” or “burgundy pepper” tri-tip —the names now used on its web site and t-shirts — its #cardiffcrack hashtag still has plenty of life. And, in particular, the brand-recognition has spurred the success of its offshoot Mexican eatery. Since 2019, Grantville’s Crack Taco Shop thrives behind a signature carne asada, cooked using that Cardiff tri-tip. A few weeks back, it was announced a second location would soon open in tourist hotspot, Seaport Village.

Inside the Grantville location of Crack Taco Shop

I put off trying Crack Taco, less for the crack reference than for the reason I personally don’t adore wine-marinated beef. But, seeing the brand is growing, it seemed I was overdue a visit. And I do have to admit, the tri-tip carne asada tasted great; with a little salsa heat, even better. I’d call it the best use of the wine-and-pepper beef that I’ve yet tried, and one of the better carne asadas I’ve tasted this year.

But it wasn’t solely the beef that made this “crack taco” stand out: it was the fresh-pressed corn tortilla. Soft and thick, it’s folded around a thick, succulent portion of meat, swaddling it like a warm blanket. These tortillas likewise elevate the non-crack tacos on the menu, particularly the grilled and fried fish options, the latter made crispy in a well-seasoned IPA beer batter.

Can tacos be addictive? Of course not. I’ve probably joked they were. It’s an easy hyperbole to describe taco cravings, and if there’s one opinion most food writers share, it’s a fondness for easy hyperbole. But food media types clearly differ on matters of taste. I’d like to think we’re all grown up enough to recognize the difference between a professed taco obsession and those addictive substances that ruin lives. Some apparently believe we’re not, and to be fair, there is plenty of evidence lately that grown-ups may be outnumbered in this country.

But I know for certain that policing use of the term crack with regard to food won’t solve the problems of true addiction, so crying fouls looks to me like energy better spent elsewhere. People can argue the name Crack Taco is used in poor taste, but they’re not going to convince me the tacos in question aren’t made with good taste in mind.

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Crack Taco Shop's signature carne asada, made with wine-marinated tri-tip
Crack Taco Shop's signature carne asada, made with wine-marinated tri-tip

I wonder, when the crack cocaine addiction became an epidemic in the 1980s, did anyone foresee that we would someday use the word crack to describe food? Yet, in the darker corners of American humor, people have been doing so for going on two decades at least. For the past ten years, at least, the slang has gone mainstream. And for just as long, vigilant bloggers and food writers have complained about restaurants branding menu items to suggest their foods are addictive.

Place

Crack Taco Shop

4242 Camino Del Rio North, Suite 28, San Diego

At times, the complaints have been heard: in 2018, a chain of Michigan restaurants renamed their “crack fries,” and in 2019, New York City’s famed Milk Bar renamed its signature “crack pie” dessert.

A local target of those appalled by “crack” food has been Cardiff by the Sea grocer, Seaside Market, which has found decades of renown for its burgundy wine and pepper marinated tri-tip, dubbed Cardiff Crack. Local restaurants have embraced it: I’ve seen it turn up as a special pizza topping at a nearby Pizza Port location, in a stir-fry at Encinitas restaurant ChiKo, and on a sandwich by North Park eatery, Encontro. Cardiff Crack sandwiches have even been served at Padres home games.

Though Seaside Market alternately markets the beef as “world famous” or “burgundy pepper” tri-tip —the names now used on its web site and t-shirts — its #cardiffcrack hashtag still has plenty of life. And, in particular, the brand-recognition has spurred the success of its offshoot Mexican eatery. Since 2019, Grantville’s Crack Taco Shop thrives behind a signature carne asada, cooked using that Cardiff tri-tip. A few weeks back, it was announced a second location would soon open in tourist hotspot, Seaport Village.

Inside the Grantville location of Crack Taco Shop

I put off trying Crack Taco, less for the crack reference than for the reason I personally don’t adore wine-marinated beef. But, seeing the brand is growing, it seemed I was overdue a visit. And I do have to admit, the tri-tip carne asada tasted great; with a little salsa heat, even better. I’d call it the best use of the wine-and-pepper beef that I’ve yet tried, and one of the better carne asadas I’ve tasted this year.

But it wasn’t solely the beef that made this “crack taco” stand out: it was the fresh-pressed corn tortilla. Soft and thick, it’s folded around a thick, succulent portion of meat, swaddling it like a warm blanket. These tortillas likewise elevate the non-crack tacos on the menu, particularly the grilled and fried fish options, the latter made crispy in a well-seasoned IPA beer batter.

Can tacos be addictive? Of course not. I’ve probably joked they were. It’s an easy hyperbole to describe taco cravings, and if there’s one opinion most food writers share, it’s a fondness for easy hyperbole. But food media types clearly differ on matters of taste. I’d like to think we’re all grown up enough to recognize the difference between a professed taco obsession and those addictive substances that ruin lives. Some apparently believe we’re not, and to be fair, there is plenty of evidence lately that grown-ups may be outnumbered in this country.

But I know for certain that policing use of the term crack with regard to food won’t solve the problems of true addiction, so crying fouls looks to me like energy better spent elsewhere. People can argue the name Crack Taco is used in poor taste, but they’re not going to convince me the tacos in question aren’t made with good taste in mind.

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