In one corner you have , the recently renovated restaurant that is impossible to miss. Anyone who has ever driven along the stretch of the I-10 Freeway knows its sign, and many Baldwin Park natives have spent a Sunday or two there enjoying brunch and a mariachi serenade.
In the other corner, you have . Drive too fast along Ramona Boulevard and you may just miss the unassuming façade and humble signage advertising its signature fish tacos.
Both of these restaurants are trying to bring in their fair share of customers, yet they are each going about it in decidedly different ways. Ambiance is one of these ways.
Guadalajara Grill, a sprawling building of bright yellow stucco and elaborately carved iron, prides itself on its rustic yet elegant décor. The walls are painted with detailed murals of scenic haciendas and the tables are adorned with colorful tiles.
Across town, El Taco-Nazo sits tucked away into the far back corner of a neon-clad strip mall, with a barbershop on its right and at least three other Mexican restaurants less than 500 feet away.
The interior is awash in green and orange paint, with framed photos of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata lining one wall and dozens of miniature vintage cars lining the other.
Based on appearances alone, it would be all too easy to assume that the food at each of these restaurants matched their respective setting.
That is where the average eater would be making a mistake.
At Guadalajara Grill, where the buffets are what it is best known for, the food struggles to meet the standard of the surroundings.
The very nature of a buffet makes it so that the various dishes suffer from having been prepared in advance. Sopes are more soggy than they should be and the fajitas don’t stay warm long enough for you to make it back to your table. The mole lacks that home-cooked taste, and instead is more watery than is to be desired. Potato and carrot tacos were fairly decent, but the two things that were most memorable were the caldo de res and the tres leches cake, both of which warranted second servings where few other things did.
Meanwhile, at El Taco-Nazo, delicious tacos were the order of the day. Claims by locals that these are the best fish tacos in the city were totally verified. The simple fact that the restaurant's famed fish tacos arrive too hot to eat is the best testament to food that was made fresh just for you. Fried to perfection and topped with a delectable cream sauce, the only thing that could make these things better was a sizable helping of the smoky salsa served at the condiment bar. The food here leaves your hands messy, but it is definitely worth it.
Not to be assumed as biased, this writer fully concedes that El Taco-Nazo may not be the best place to take your abuelita to brunch, just like Guadalajara Grill may not be your first choice if you want finger-licking food. As it turns out, both of these Baldwin Park landmarks have their work cut out for them.