The best taco in wine country, in my opinion, is a $1.50 steak taco from Loncheria Emily, a dinged-up taco truck that's usually parked on the corner of Dunbar Road and Sonoma Highway. While it's true that I haven't thoroughly surveyed all the tacos of our land in order to arrive at this opinion, I have noted that people who hold opinions often garner more social approval than those who don't, and concluded that the cost of not holding this or that taco in high esteem could potentially be high. How high? More than a buck-fifty, but I'm only guessing.
This is not the story of that taco. This is the story of an $8 taco. I did say "$8 taco." Settle down. We're in Napa now, and besides, it's normal for a taco plate with a side of rice and beans to cost upwards of $8. It's normal for an $8 hamburger to come with a side of fries. It had better. But am I speaking of a taco plate with a side of rice and beans? No, I am not speaking of such a taco combo. Chips and salsa cost extra. Hang in there. They're good chips.
C Casa is a homegrown business opened by Napa food entrepreneur Catherine Bergen in 2010 but set up on a fast-paced, franchise model. Customers make their choice at the counter, pay, get a plastic "buzzer" and get lost. You can put it in your pocket and wander around Oxbow Public Market. A friendly vibration tells you that your taco is ready.
The C Casa schtick is the dream of the bleeding-heart foodie come true. Why, oh why can't simple taqueria fare be made without fear and feedlots? It's here, friends, it's here. Sustainable, grass-friendly and earth-fed taco fillings are C Casa's stock-in-trade. The menu features a menagerie of beasts, from the proud buffalo to the scuttling crab, with roasted fingerling potatoes for our vegetarian friends.
My C Casa experience began with the more moderately priced, spiced lamb taco ($5.75), with tender slivers of lamb, goat cheese, mint and avocado crema, topped with a medley of microgreens. Rule of thumb: the smaller the greens, the higher the price. I was so put off by the very preciousness of the thing, I came back on three, maybe four occasions for more.
A grove of microgreens also shades the last resting place of the king of the prairie, the seasoned ground buffalo taco ($6.50) on a base of creamy black beans. The grilled garlic citrus prawn taco ($7.75) features tasty prawns splayed like rude little icons, rambunctiously resisting the rolling of the taco. Indeed, the generous portions subvert the very utility of the taco, and are best treated like a salad until such time as it may be folded. The key fact is that the housemade tortilla, fresh, pliable and gluten-free, holds up every time.
But I promised an outrage, an $8 taco. The rotisserie duck taco ($8) is laden with an embarrassment of waterfowl, moist strips of duck breast encrusted with spicy chile sauce, hearty yet unexpectedly charming. Putting things into perspective, if it was termed a "small plate" instead of a taco and served in a wine bar instead, it'd be a bargain. And besides, it turns out that there's an even pricier taco on the menu—oh yes, there is: fresh crab taco ($9). Damn you, C Casa. It's probably worth every goddamn bite.