Sinaloa's expansion to Berkeley followed in the footsteps of successful ventures like the Melt and KoJa Kitchen, a pair of fast casual restaurants based off food trucks that opened early last year. Though neither found the success of local shack Top Dog and New York import Artichoke Basille's immediately, both played a role in revitalizing the Telegraph Area. Their additions also helped expand the foodie paradise formerly centered around Asian Ghetto further West to include most of the Southside neighborhood below College Avenue. Pancho's and La Burrita, the two resident Mexican eateries in the district, each have long histories of dissatisfying food and high prices. Their lack of quality contributed to a void of Hispanic eats that could only be filled by a true powerhouse, one by the likes of Sol y Luna or El Burro Picante, Downtown Berkeley's top two stops.
Sinaloa's addition filled that void and then some. Here in the capital of South Berkeley, the spunky little Mexican restaurant has already made a name for itself. College students whisper about their burritos and stumble over each other for a taco trio between classes. Older, more established residents of the North Berkeley Hills and North Oakland travel here for to-go lunches and catering orders. Even professors take breaks from lecture to swing in for a quesadilla and horchata. Their selection of a dozen meats is the main reason. Simply put, no other taqueria for miles offers the variety of protein Sinaloa does. Highlights include Al Pastor (spicy pork), Chorizo (sausage), and Lengua (tongue), a threesome most restaurants have no more than one of. Sinaloa also prepares Buche (pork stomach) and Tripe (intestine), both of which are relatively uncommon. On top of all those is the Suadero (rose meat), a special cut of beef fried in its own fat best described as a cross between roast beef and bacon. Greasy and delicious, it makes for the perfect filling for anything that goes into your stomach.
Tacos are the unquestioned kings at Sinaloa, and anyone who doesn't get them is either in the wrong or so experienced they've already tried all twelve. House made salsa, lime, and pico de gallo top each one, which otherwise consists of a warmed tortilla and your choice of meat. The salsa, though overpowering in some ways, has a nice warmth and powerful kick that compliments almost all the proteins. No single item on the menu is better than the $2 carnitas taco, one surely on the list of best in the East Bay. Burritos are naturally the second most sought after dish on the board. Sinaloa prepares them in the Northern California Mission style, with pinto beans, rice, sour cream, cheese and salsa all rolled up together in the tortilla. Steak or chicken are the most popular next to carnitas in the wrap, but the best burrito might be the Chorizo with salsa on the side. Chorizo, arguably the spiciest and most flavorful of all Mexican meats, can be hard to eat when it is the star of a dish or heaped into a taco. Smashed together with rice, balanced by sour cream and cheese, and encased in a tortilla, however, it shines. Sloppy, steaming, and delicious, this burrito is perfect for cold days as it will heat your hands while warming your insides.
The rest of Sinaloa's menu is often overlooked after the two main choices are considered, but that's really a shame. Quesadillas here are thick and greasy, often crispy and perfect for dunking. The Suadero quesadilla leaves strings of cheese trailing each bite of magnificent crisped beef and sour cream. Even more overlooked is the entire third of the menu dedicated to seafood, a section that includes cocktails and ceviche tostadas along with the usual suspects. Their mixta tostada stand out as the best of the fish, with a heap of crab, octopus, and shrimp marinated in citrus and cilantro on top of a fried tortilla. Sinaloa features an array of Aqua Frescas that pair perfectly with it, namely Pina (pineapple) and Jamaica (hibiscus). Easily the best of all is the Horchata (rice water), which can be upgraded to a drink unique to Sinaloa - the Strawberry Horchata - for no additional charge.
Tacos Sinaloa has taken less than a month to inspire a rabid following amongst the Berkeley community, and it's easy to see why. Its closest competitor in taste, El Burro Picante, is over a mile away in distance and a dollar heftier in price. No other restaurant in the city combines quality and quantity as seamlessly as Sinaloa, a small shop that does it while maintaining the unique, laid back vibe that helped it earn its delectable reputation in the first place. In a city best known as the birthplace of California cuisine, Sinaloa is quietly doing Oakland proud one taco at a time.