Monday, June 1, 2009

Restaurant Review: 7 Tacos

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 09/05/09 edition of Lidové Noviny.

The first thing wrong with 7 Tacos is that they don't know how to make a taco.

From a mountain of iceberg lettuce and grated cheese, I excavated three rolled-up, deep-fried small corn tortillas. This sort of dish is generally known as taquitos, or flautas when they are made with wheat flour tortillas. It is a variation on the taco, yes, but a taco it is not.

I might have been more forgiving if "taco" wasn't the title dish of the restaurant. And it took me a little while to figure out where the number "7" came from. Was it the amount of tacos served on each plate? The fact that the restaurant is in Holešovice? As it turns out, the 7 comes from the number of taco variations available: you can have them filled with either vegetables, chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, beans and bacon, or a dubious-sounding "caprese" mixture.

I went with the bean filling (105 CZK) – kidney beans in some sort of sauce with a little bit of bacon thrown in. Along with the aforementioned mass of lettuce, the taquitos came with refried beans and a scoop of dry rice. It wasn't terrible, which is more than you could say for the burritos.

Before the most offensive dish even arrived at the table, I was already having a bit of a guilty conscience. I'd convinced three friends to come out to far-off Holešovice (and one of them to drive me there) based solely on my promise that we were about to eat some really good Mexican food. I felt pretty confident about it because I'd read a positive review of 7 Tacos written by an apparent Californian – and if anyone knows Mexican food outside of Mexico, it's the people from Cali.

As it happened, one of my friends who came along is a Californian herself and something of a Mexican food connoisseur. She called me from the restaurant as I was on my way there. "Are you sure you want to eat here?" Uh-oh.

It seemed that the tortilla chips she had ordered were not only from the bag, but were covered in a Dorito-like spice mix. This, according to the Laws of Mexican Food, is illegal (not that you will find homemade tortilla chips anywhere in Prague, but these were of exceptionally bad quality). Unlawful, too, is the use of prepackaged guacamole (35 CZK for a small dish). Now, I don't know for sure that the guac had come from a jar, but the kitchen would have had to perform some serious alchemy to make fresh guacamole so perfectly smooth, green, and tasteless.

The pico de gallo (35 CZK), on the other hand, was fresh – at least relatively speaking. It consisted of chopped-up onions and tomatoes that were pretty much identical in color and equally lacking in flavor; either they were on the old side or they had been sitting around, chopped up and ready to be served, for a very long time. Other dipping delights included runny cheese from the can and, inexplicably, barbecue sauce (also 35 CZK each). The only authentic condiment in the whole place was the bottle of Cholula hot sauce that graced our table, good for combating the food's general blandness.

If it's done right, of course, Mexican food should be anything but bland. Try telling that to whoever puts together 7 Tacos's burritos. I didn't order one, but two of my companions did, one chicken and the other beef (155 and 185 CZK), and both declared them the worst burritos they'd ever had in their lives.

Why were the burritos so bad? The beef version was low on meat; there were just a few specks of ground beef in a tortilla filled mostly with a flavorless combination of cooked onions and bell peppers. There was a little bit of crunchy rice and a couple of beans. And then there was some pickled cactus – too much, apparently, because it made the whole burrito taste sour, like it had been dipped into the dregs of a pickle jar. I shouldn't have expected anything less of a Mexican restaurant that has řízek on its menu.

7 Tacos is located in the lobby of the Plaza Alta Hotel. To enter the restaurant, you walk through what feels like a cheap hotel bar, with its flatscreen TV, low tables, and tan leather armchairs. The dining area itself is decorated with the standard-issue Mexican restaurant gear: ponchos, tequila ads, a sombrero. There's a small children's playroom, which is nice until you consider that it is directly adjacent to the restaurant's smoking area. In case you were wondering, it is not worth coming to 7 Tacos for the atmosphere alone.

Yet again, a Prague Mexican restaurant had brought disappointment, even disgust, to me and my taco-craving friends. So the next night, we decided to correct our mistake. We went to Fosil – a restaurant that has already been discussed on this page at some length, so I won't go too far into my dinner there. But I will say that they have a new menu and the meal was very good. And although it isn't perfect, Fosil is definitely worth a try, if only to taste Mexican food made by real flesh-and-blood Mexicans (I have heard that the delivery service Las Adelitas, also run by Mexicans, is tasty, but I haven't been able to get a hold of them yet).

From now on, I only want to go to authentic Mexican places like Fosil. There are just way too many Czexican chefs in this town who think they can cook up great Mexican food using jarred salsa and some Vitana-brand tortillas. If I was in Mexico, I wouldn't trust some guy named Pepe to make me a good Czech meal from a can of guláš. And I'm not going to trust Jirka at 7 Tacos with my burrito, either.

7 Tacos
Ortenovo náměstí 22
Praha 7 - Holešovice
Tel: 220 407 011

Open daily 06:30-23:00

photographs: 1, 3, 4 Tomáš Krist for Lidové Noviny; all others


Anonymous said...

I have to take issue with the comment that anybody outside of Mexico that would know Mexican food is from California. Sorry..but anybody from Arizona, New Mexico or Texas is far more qualified to authenticate Mexican food.

Truly authentic Mexican food, found in Mexico, is very diverse and changes as you travel throughout the different regions of that country. Americanized Mexican food is what you find in Prague...with Czech style. Chips and salsa is a gringo concoction..and not very creative!

I digress because I generally like reading your reviews...they are useful for weeding out the good from the bad and ugly eating experiences! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

just call Las Adelitas and you'll see the difference, it's by far the best mexican food in Prague

Anonymous said...

Is there anywhere in this town where you can get a good American pizza and not this crappy Czech stuff? I mean, it's okay if you don't give a hoot about what you're eating, but I think someone here has to make a good pizza! Can you help me?

Pavla said...

Why there should be American pizza in Prague? Pizza comes originally from Italy!!!

Anonymous said...

Laura, you clearly have not "eaten" at the Hacienda Mexicana in Ceske Budejovice. There is one in Prague as well, equally appalling. I think the salsa was ketchup. Absolutely THE most overpriced, overadorned, and underperforming restaurant I have ever been to. Easily in the Czech Republic and quite possibly the world. Tragically, 7 Tacos, even with the dreadful review, stil whets my appetite in the quest for quasi-Mexican food half a world away. Thanks for your reviews.

Lucien Holmes
Ceske Budejovice

Laura Baranik said...

Anonymous #1: You're right that most Mexican food here is Czechified American Mexican. But I do think Cal-Mex is very good in its own right.

Why are the other states better qualified to judge Mexican food? (Not asking in a hostile way... I'm just curious because I don't know too much about the Southwest.)

Anonymous #2: I really do have to call Las Adelitas sometime. I always forget.

Laura Baranik said...

Anonymous #3: What do you mean by American pizza? New York pizza? Deep dish?

Pavla: There's nothing wrong with a little variety, I'd say. I could definitely go for a NY-style slice. Mmmm...

Laura Baranik said...

Lucien: You're right. I have not eaten at the Hacienda Mexicana in Ceske Budejovice. Nor will I be eating there any time soon. Thanks for the heads up!

Anonymous said...


We're not the only ones being served cardboard & ketchup:

Hardly makes my hunger for real Mexican food go away, but it does, in a bizarre way, make me feel a bit better.

Anonymous said...

well, im not from california, arizona, new mexico or texas, im from mexico! and i can tell you that if you're not from mexico, you simply do not know about mexican food, that simple.

I've tried many many "mexican" restaurants here and all over the world and by far "Las Adelitas" is the best mexican food I've had outside of Mexico.

And I wouldnt trust Jirka at 7 tacos with my burrito either LOL!

R. said...

I am the one from California and all I know is that I like tasty food... and this was not tasty!

Las Adelitas is very good. The only issue I have with the service (besides the wait) is the way it's packaged with the little sides in the baggies. Everything was warm and soggy. Have they changed that yet? Seriously though, the burrito mixta is worth the soggy side slogging. It's amazing!

And of course Fosil is also good but probably because the same guys who cook for Las Adelitas during the day work at Fosil at night. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Yeah..7 tacos is changing their menu....i reckon they need to change the whole terrible place..I was there couple of days ago and every little thing went just wrong and horrible...who lieks to eat hot water mixed with chilli sauce called Azteca soup and sun-dried-rumpsteak with flour sauce?!! Food and actualy the whole place is a nasty Jirka´s nightmare..:( all thumbs down big time!!!

Vojtech said...

Hi. I am amazed as to how many different comments we get! Our food and especially Azteca soup was cooked by the Chef from Las Adelitas! I wonder, how this our most selling dish prepared by the same person can taste so different depending on where he prepares it. To me, it tasted the same in both places.
On the other hand, some of our food needed re-wamping, so from November on we have changed most of our dishes, for which we get mostly positive feedback. However, we have changed them from mexican to Tex-Mex, which is something that customers requested in survay:(
I am looking forward your comments on the food and also on the decor. While living in California and visiting Mexico frequently, I have not seen anything that one could do with more the given space and budget. Thank you for any constructive feedback.
Vojtech, manager