Breakfast, lunch and dinner on the cheap—and quick—is what I was looking for in Park West, and I found it at Taco Rey (1870 Fourth Ave.), tucked just three blocks away from Balboa Park. You've probably driven past the unobtrusive building a dozen times, and unless it was lunch time and the line's 10 people deep, it's easy to miss the storefront with order and pickup windows only.
There's a cloth overhang, evocative of a roach-coach, lights strung like lanterns and a handful of tables for seating. With a generous list of $5 combination plates, it's no wonder that hospital employees, park-and-rec workers and construction hard hats line up starting at noon for a hot, fast lunch.
I was among them during my trip to the neighborhood joint, and my order, a two-beef-tacos combination plate (No. 8 for $6.49), was shouted out within minutes. The taco shells were greasier than I would have liked, but the generous portion of shredded beef, likely cooked in its own fat, was moist and flavorful. Hot sauce is excellent here, not too thick or thin, vibrant and slightly sweet. Creamy, not pasty, and deliciously salty frijoles were great with a squirt of the stuff. The rice didn't thrill me.
I returned a few days later for a breakfast-burrito litmus test that Taco Rey passed with flying colors. My only beef is that it's served until 11 a.m. daily.
Too often, a wack excuse for scrambled eggs winds up in my breakfast burrito—crusty and rubbery, why oh why? Here, fluffy and tender scrambled eggs prevail; the simple egg, potato and cheese ($3.39) did the trick, with a perfectly chewy flour tortilla holding it together. If you're ideologically opposed to french fries in your burrito, get over it—these were toothsome and not at all greasy. Surely I'll be back for breakfast—if I'm up that early.
In an area known more for dry cleaners than taquerias, Taco Rey is a lunching-local's gem. The hours are funky (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, open till 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday), so make sure you don't hike to the foot of the park ravenous only to find it shuttered.