There isn't much romantic foliage on the dusty road where Taqueria Cuernavaca sits, between the revitalized Main Street drag of Downtown Ventura and a lot of schoolhouse-yellow tractors. Rather, Mexico City-style street food is what draws the connection between the taqueria and its inner city. Your best bet is to crib from another menu -- specifically, the one at Antojitos Carmen, which offers a sampler plate of antojitos -- and create your own tasting menu of sorts. Start with a few antojitos like the gordita, a thick puck of masa slathered with beans and topped with your choice of meat or cheese; the tinga, with its shreds of marinated chicken, is particularly good. Add a quesadilla -- if the server doesn't ask, request that it be fried.
And, yes, the tacos. The tacos al pastor are every bit as fantastic as you hoped they'd be when you spotted the spit. Two stacked tortillas hold a heap of juicy, thin slices of pork, with a few prized nuggets of crispy, caramelized edges buried within. It's all slightly sweetened by the pineapple, and it'll all be gone in two bites. The suadero tacos, filled with flavorful beef, might rival the al pastor. Accoutrements like salsas or limes are unnecessary; a dab at most, if you must.
While you're constructing your platter, you might as well also order the ultimate D.I.Y. taco kit, the alambres, where they provide the fillings and the tortillas and you do the rest. The salsas help here, particularly the wicked avocado and habanero one that slowly but surely builds layers of heat until the sum of the parts smacks you with its spice.
This slow-but-steady-wins-the-race mentality extends to the entire taqueria: The sign behind the register gently warns, "This is not fast food! Thank you for understanding!" And most everyone does understand, from the parents and children wrestling over whose turn it is to Draw Something to surfers aggressively re-enacting the morning's turf wars to random passersby on their way to or from L.A. proper. And if you fall into that last category, or are premium outlet shopping in nearby Camarillo, or meeting your local farmer at McGrath Family Farms, or on any other trip that drives you on this stretch of the freeway, Taqueria Cuernavaca is more than worth a stop. To borrow a bit from America's "Ventura Highway," at some point, you're gonna go. We know.
Check out Anne Fishbein's spectacular photo gallery of Taqueria Cuernavaca.