Restaurant Review: El Jefe’s Taqueria Oakland


Jacob Mraz | Staff Writer

A carne asada burrito and a rice bowl from El Jefe’s Taqueria on Forbes Avenue.

By Jacob Mraz, Staff Writer

Tacos, burritos, bowls and more find their home on Forbes Avenue at Oakland’s newest Mexican restaurant.

Opened in July, El Jefe’s Taqueria is the newest restaurant in the former Kings Court Theater. It is a made-to-order style Mexican food chain with locations in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Western Pennsylvania. While it occupies a restaurant-heavy district of the city, students should appreciate it as a Chipotle-adjacent option that is a short distance from campus with long operating hours for late night cravings. 

El Jefe’s specializes in quick meals with a menu consisting primarily of bowls, tacos and burritos, although it also offers options such as chips, chimichangas, quesadillas and nachos. Tacos, bowls and burritos are customizable to your preference while the other menu options are standardized. 

I haven’t heard many students talking about this restaurant, and it seems many didn’t notice it because when I stepped inside, I only found a few people eating during a typical mid-day lunch hour. Inside the restaurant’s decor is brightly colored tiles, wooden finishes and desert motifs, including a large black scorpion painting along the back wall. All this sets an adequate, if not exaggerated, mood appropriate for the food. The space itself is quite big and could fit a fair sized crowd during rushes with two menus to look at on the wall depending on where you stand. These will inform you that three tacos or one burrito will cost a baseline $10.25 while a bowl will cost you $10.50. 

It’s worth noting that those with dietary restrictions will only find one vegetarian to six meat protein options. 

Regardless, I tried a burrito and a bowl. 

In the burrito I ordered cilantro lime rice, carne asada, black beans, queso sauce, lettuce, cilantro and onions and red salsa. I tried to imagine a standard order, nothing too adventurous or out of the ordinary something someone would get at Chipotle or Taco Bell. 

The flavor of the carne asada was admittedly disappointing, as was the texture. There was very little about it that seemed grilled more like boiled and it had no crisp or defined flavors. Truthfully the meat seemed lost in the rice and other ingredients which by themselves were also just okay. Rice was the dominating element of the bowl and burrito, so someone coming for just a taco is probably going to have a better overall experience. But I would still steer clear of the steak. Overall the burrito was just okay once it was doused with some Tapatio.

For the bowl, I decided to try the vegetarian option and added some ‘adventurous’ toppings to go with it roasted vegetables, cilantro lime rice, black beans, fajita veggies, lettuce, cheese, red cabbage, cilantro and onion, pico de gallo, mango habanero salsa and green sauce. 

I can honestly say that less is definitely more in the bowl. My meal turned into a cornucopia of mush from the sheer amount of moisture in the ingredients. The vegetables were fairly bland and oily even before this happened so I would steer clear of those too unless you have no other option. Again, the individual taste of the toppings were fine but mostly unimpressive. I actually ended up not finishing purely because it turned into a homogenous muck although that was more my fault than theirs. I would recommend forgoing excess sauces or wet toppings to avoid my issue. 

Moving forward, I think it would be interesting to see El Jefe’s Taqueria adopt more vegetarian options, such as soy-rizo. As someone who generally doesn’t eat meat, I can’t find much reason why I would choose it unless it was the only place open which is part of their marketability. Very few places in Pittsburgh are open until 4 a.m. so I could definitely see myself stumbling down for a late night snack if I had nothing better to eat at home. 

Overall the food could be better than I experienced maybe the pollo asado or al pastor are better than the steak. But for the sake of this review, it doesn’t seem like anything I would rush out to try. I would go again to see if my previous choices were bad, but I wouldn’t bet on it.