Monday, July 10, 2017

Taco Battle On U.S. 1: Get In The Line Of Fire And Pick Your Favorite Between R&R And El Papi

El Papi's taco special -- four tacos, a pair or each
There is a taco battle under way on U.S. 1, and this is one of the rare times that you should get right in a line of fire.

R&R Taqueria has been a HowChow landmark since 2009 when Alberto Flores first turned me onto excellent Mexican tacos in the Shell station at U.S. 1 and Rte 175.  By 2011, R&R was a darling of the local food writers -- and then ended up on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.

Then R&R ended up across the parking lot.  The owner Rod Albarran-Torres moved out of the Shell station and into a restaurant space in the next shopping center.  A bigger menu with tacos, tortas, burritos, and even a dedicated burger menu that they call Chef Rod's Outrageous Burgers.  Chef Rod made a YouTube video about the move.

R&R tacos with the star, carnitas
That seems to be when R&R's former chef opened his own taqueria in the original space.  That's Jose Flores who started with his own taco offerings and whose El Papi Taqueira got raves from Tim Carmen in the Washington Post last month.

What we have here is a true taco battle.  Flores hung enormous signs that tout "Authentic Mexican Street Tacos" at the gas station and a photo of him with Guy Fieri.  He also did post a little El Papi sign that might let people know that this isn't the taqueria in the gas station that you had heard about when it was R&R.

The bottom line is that everybody wins.  I've eaten a few times in R&R's new location over my 18-month hiatus, but my friend T. Rex and I hit up R&R and El Papi back-to-back to see what we liked.

We liked them both.  They both pack big, fresh flavors into their little tacos.  They both knock out any chain competitor with fillings that taste personal and unique while still being accessible to anyone.  (Except Lil' Chow, but that's a post for the future about his rejection of Mexican food.)  Intense, rich meats.  Fresh vegetables like cilantro and onion.  Thick, robust tortillas that taste like corn and balance out the fireworks that come in various salsas.  And different salsas.  We had red and green at El Papi, then three different salsas at R&R.

Gas station seating
I might have a preference for R&R.  T. Rex and I both preferred the chicken tacos at El Papi, which was chunks of meat with crisp edges rather than minced.  But I love the carnitas at R&R, and we both appreciated that R&R's tacos were one step larger and had tortillas that were one step more flavorful.  There is also the advantage of the larger menu, more seating, and more options for drinks like agua frescas and horchata.

Again, I encourage you to eat both.  They're literally across the parking lot from each other.  We had fun with our progressive lunch.  R&R and El Papi are probably my favorite Mexican in the entire area, so you're not going to go wrong.  Play your cards right, and you can even enjoy El Papi's outdoor seating.  That's three tables literally pressed against the station, almost in reach of the gas pumps themselves.  I still contend that Howard Count's indigenous dining experience is the parking lot cafe -- where you can eat and see your car at the same time -- and El Papi gives its variation where you can watch your car and all the other customers.

El Papi and R&R are on U.S. 1 just north of Rte 175.  The address says Elkridge, but it's right on the line with Jessup and an easy drive from anywhere in the eastern half of the county.  El Papi is literally in the Shell station.  Look for the giant signs.  R&R is in the shopping center next door with windows that overlook the station.  One heads up -- El Papi only takes cash.


Unknown said...

Thanks a lot for this post!

I drove by there yesterday, and I assumed that Mission went belly up and Rod lost both places. The signage makes it look like someone else is trying to profit from his legacy. Then I saw the second taqueria in the strip mall, and I was just confused.

Brendela said...

Chef Rod was serving his burgers out of the original Shell station location for a while (like last fall). No idea what happened, but I noticed the new taqueria the last time we went to R&R back in early June.

Len said...

I've been stopping by the yellow trailer at rt1 and Guilford rd.
R&R to busy sometims, and this trailer is awesome

Anonymous said...

Yep the yellow trailer is Taqueria Los Primos. Great tacos and well run (they even take credit cards). Try the al pastor and the barbacoa.

kevlar51 said...

Thumbs up for Taqueria Los Primos at rt 1 and Guilford--legitimate al pastor on the spit. Their carnitas is fantastic (get the gorditas).

Rob said...

I will also chime in for Taqueria los Primos at Rt. 1 and Guilford. The Torta de Pastore is killer. I have to say, sadly, that my last couple of experiences at R&R were not great. On one occasion I ordered chile rellenos. I saw one of the folks come out of the walk-in with one, put it in the microwave, then into a styrofoam container. When I got home I realized there was no sauce on it at all and the cheese wasn't even melted. On another occasion an item I ordered was left out altogether. I complained via email to the restaurant but got no response. I was fairly disappointed. R&R is usually very busy, so perhaps my experiences were a result of growing pains. I'll say, though, that those things never happened when it was at the gas station.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have been slightly disappointed in R&R recently as well. It's the unreliability that kills us. I order the same taco salad every time. It's never even remotely the same dish from week to week - different toppings, different cheeses (sometimes shredded cheddar, sometimes queso fresco. I've had them serve it to me with guacamole, sometimes sliced avocado, sometimes nothing but chicken and lettuce. It's truly bizarre - as if it's not a real menu item and they're throwing something together for me on the fly. It's fantastic 1 out of 6 times and I'm such a sucker for that one time that we keep going back.

RHFoodie said...

No more R&R for is dirty, food is either delicious or disgusting, and service is hit or miss. It was better at the gas station & before all the press. Will try the new(old?) stand at the gas station.

Anonymous said...

Taqueria Los Primos also has a sit-down brick and mortar store off rt 1. They offer tacos, tortas, various drinks, etc. We've found it to be the best taco place in the area!

Randy said...

Our family used to be regular patrons of R&R, but ever since we found Taqueria Los Primos, we've changed our allegiances. My wife absolutely loves their Steak Burrito. I very much enjoy their burrito too, as well as quesadillas, and las Gringas. As a California-transplant, I've often mourned the lack of good Mexican food in the DC metro area, but Taqueria Los Primos has restored my faith. (To be fair, I did enjoy R&R the few times I was there)

I haven't yet tried El Papi, but I'm willing to give it a try.

jgoldscher said...

El Papi only takes cash, so be aware when you head that way. Gas station does have a cash machine though. Must try TLP - I love the tortas at R&R better than the tacos, I have to say.

kristin said...

T.Rex sounds like an interesting friend; would love to hear from him.

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fultie said...

Hey HowChow, I just discovered you're back. Glad to see! Referencing some of the comments: the Mexican food trailer on Route 1, between Route 32 and Guilford Rd., is actually named Las Delicias #1. It's not Taqueria Los Primos, which is a restaurant several miles further south on Route 1 in Laurel. The tacos at Las Delicias #1 are THE BEST I've had in Howard County. There's something about the marinade for the grilled beef that makes it incredibly tasty. I don't think they have the full breadth of menu items that other Mexican restaurants may have, but they're excellent with what they offer. Strongly recommend!

kevlar51 said...

@fultie--Las Delicias is indeed between 32 and Guilford, but Taqueria Los Primos does have a truck with tables at the intersection of Route 1 and Guilford--it's next to the body shop and you can't see it at all if you're driving northbound.

fultie said...

@kevlar51 - thanks for letting me know the precise location of the Taqueria Los Primos truck. I never noticed it, but found it on google maps street view as you and others described, painted yellow and right next to the auto services shop. Local competition is good for the customer!

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