Taste Test Tuesday: Guacamole
I’ll be the first to admit that one of my favorite parts about dining at a Mexican restaurant is the free chips and salsa. There’s nothing better than going into a restaurant, sitting down and immediately being served something delicious to snack on while deciding on an entrée—which you’ll be unable to eat in its entirety, because you’ve filled up on chips and salsa.
Aside from the free munchies, my absolute weakness is a bowl of cool guacamole to accompany the chips and salsa. Creamy avocado, cilantro leaves and a hint of lime meddled with tomato and onion—let’s call it a meal.
We hope that since it’s Cinco de Mayo, you’ll be heading to some of the delectable Mexican restaurants in Hampton Roads this evening to celebrate in true fiesta fashion. And we hope you’ll order a big ole’ bowl of guacamole wherever you dine. If you’re looking for suggestions on our top picks for restaurant guacamole, we just so happened to do the legwork for you in this Taste Test Tuesday. So grab a chip and dig in to these results—and don’t forget to pair with a refreshing margarita.
1. Gringo’s Taqueria | Overall Score: 11
612 Norfolk Ave., Virginia Beach
Melissa: I see a ton of chunk with prominent tomato pieces and noticeable red onion. The chips are golden, slightly curled on the edges. The abundance of tomatoes in this one gives it more of an acidic flavor kick up front, but it definitely overpowers the avocado in the end and makes the texture too watery and spongy. I like tomatoes in my guac, for sure, but this was more like a tomatole. The chips don't stand out and don't do anything to help me like the guac more. Score: 2.5
Kearsten: Light green color. Lots of veggies but very tomato heavy. The rest of the flavor is bland. The chips are also flat in flavor. Not a fan. Score: 1.5
Pamela: Various colors of avocado green, full of tomatoes and onion but not really flavorful. It has a strong spice flavor I can’t recognize. Chunky because of the tomato and onion. I find the chips to be bland. Score: 2
Angela: Very chunky, full of large cilantro pieces, onion and tomato. Chips are small and look very crunchy. Smells very tomato-forward. Tastes more like tomato, not avocado. The flavors don’t seem very developed. I’m tasting each ingredient separately, but it doesn’t seem to meld together in one solid bite. The chips are bland and unappealing. Score: 2
Kathryn: Very chunky; almost too much so. It tastes fresh but can only taste avocado and no other ingredients due to size of pieces. The chips were too small for such a large dip. Score: 3
2. El Taco Loco | Overall Score: 14
Two Virginia Beach locations; we sampled from 1564 Laskin Rd., Virginia Beach
Melissa: This one looks very attractive—bright green cilantro, tomato, red onion and large pieces of avocado. On sight alone, this one looks the most authentic and fresh to me. I really enjoy its rustic appeal and the heavy-handed use of cilantro; I am a big cilantro fan, so I really like this being such a prominent flavor. It is appealing to taste each ingredient on its own, but together it was the fantastic marriage in my mouth; very flavorful. Chips are decent—crispy but a little oily. Score: 4
Kearsten: Lots of veggies going on. Very bright and colorful; looks fresh. The chips are light and airy with a golden yellow color but a bit light on the salt. I taste a lot of cilantro that gives it a fresh feel. Score: 3.5
Pamela: A lighter green color with a LOT of cilantro in large pieces. I felt it would be better chopped a bit more. Lots of big chunks of tomato and onion that’s very strong in taste, which was overpowering. It would be OK if the avocados were more flavorful. The chips are crispy but have little to no flavor. Score: 1.5
Angela: Lots of texture in this one. Big flakes of cilantro, tomato and red onion. Large avocado chunks rather than blended all together. The chips are puffy and resemble traditional chips found at a Mexican restaurant. Would appreciate more salt. The flavor is a little bland, and the chips don’t do much to help. Needs more avocado, less filler and more flavor. Also, the texture doesn’t make it easy to scoop a sufficient amount on a chip. Score: 2
Kathryn: Lots of cilantro, tomato and onion. Very chunky. The cilantro and onion overpower this guacamole. There’s just not enough room for the avocado flavor to come through. On the bright side, it’s very colorful and extremely fresh. Score: 3
3. Plaza Azteca | Overall Score: 15.5
15 Locations in Hampton Roads; we sampled from 1824 Laskin Rd., Virginia Beach.
Melissa: It has a medium-green hue, not too chunky, with golden brown chips. It tastes pretty standard, like what a typical (but reliable) Mexican restaurant would serve. I would have preferred more of a flavor pop from additional cilantro or citrus and would have appreciated it being a bit less blended. The chips don't taste homemade—they are pretty bland and just ok. Score: 3
Kearsten: Bright green avocado color. Doesn't look like there are a lot of veggies. The chips are a dark yellow, very crunchy but not very salty. Very dip-able. The guacamole has a pretty bland flavor. Too onion-y for my taste. Score: 2.5
Pamela: This one is pretty good. It seems fresh, has a good avocado flavor with the right amount of cilantro and is smooth and creamy. No tomatoes or onion; not chunky. But after going back to taste a second time, I find it to be on the salty side (I tried it with a chip and without). The chips are ordinary, bland, a bit salty and crispy. Score: 3
Angela: A creamy and smooth guacamole with some tomato bits. The chips aren’t too exciting. The guacamole itself is very flavorful, a nice balance of onion, citrus and salt. The chips are bland but substantial in texture with a good crunch and make a nice vessel to hold the full flavor of the guacamole. Score: 4
Kathryn: Dull color and smooth texture. Lime and onion are prominent. The flavor is OK but nothing special. Score: 3
4. Señor Fox | Overall Score: 16
1080 Nimmo Pkwy., Virginia Beach
Melissa: This appears very similar to the first guac we sampled (Plaza Azteca). It is average in taste, and the flavors all seem to blend together, dulling the overall appeal. I also think the texture is too smooth for my ideal guacamole. My second bite consisted of pretty much nothing more than a big hunk of white onion—at least that's all I tasted, anyway. Chips = meh. Overall, I would eat this again, more bullishly after a margarita or two. Score: 3
Kearsten: The guac looks dull but it's decent in flavor. Chips are fresh looking with a good salt to chip ratio. There's a great balance in flavors in the guac that makes this easy to eat. Score: 3
Pamela: Lighter green in color, not much smell, and the taste is a bit bland. The texture is smooth with the right amount of tomato and onion to give it a chunky feel. The chips are lighter in color with a little salt—crispy and light. Score: 3
Angela: Resembles the first guac (Plaza Azteca) in creaminess and consistency. The chips are lighter in color and flecked with texture. It’s a more developed flavor and good amount of saltiness. I appreciate the large avocado chunks. The chips add a wonderful toasty component to the flavor profile. It’s a little more onion than I prefer. Score: 3
Kathryn: This one has a smooth yet chunky consistency and is very flavorful. Onions and tomatoes are sparse but present. The chips are nothing special—crunchy without a lot of salt, but the guacamole is very, very good. Score: 4
5. Winner: Jessy’s Taqueria | Overall Score: 21
3201 E Ocean View Ave., Norfolk
Melissa: I have to be blunt (and slightly corny)—this guac rocks. It has a wonderful, prominent lime flavor and is so well balanced with the tomato and cilantro. It has nice chunks but a smooth, creamy appeal also. And the chips—oh the CHIPS! Crispy bubbles galore and a stand-out taste. These are the only chips I'd be glad to eat on their own and that are not just an afterthought, guac accessory. I would be willing to bet money someone born and raised in Mexico made this one. Score: 4.5
Kearsten: This guac looks pretty standard. Very creamy. The lime is really present and makes it pair well with the chips. The chips are golden with airy bubbles that don't look like your typical tortilla chip, but they taste great! This guac and chip combo is excellent. Score: 4
Pamela: Nicely blended green color that’s smooth and creamy. Great flavor with hints of cilantro, lime, small pieces of tomato, and this one is salted perfectly. The chips are light with lots of super crunchy, puffy air bubbles and lightly salted. They are awesome with the guacamole or by themselves. I really like this one and want more. Score 4.5
Angela: Light in color, creamy in texture and presenting large chunks of avocado. The chips are different from the rest; not as grainy. Upon first bite, the chips are super crunchy. Are they too crunchy, or are they starting to grow on me? The guac is tomato-forward and citrus present. The chips are a little too crunchy for me as far as a foundation for my guac, but I could eat both the chips and the guac on their own. Score: 3
Kathryn: Wow! The chips are hearty and very crunchy with the perfect amount of seasoning. The guacamole is smooth, velvety and thick. The seasoning is perfect as the onions, tomatoes and cilantro are balanced. It’s all perfect. Score: 5
Meet the tasters!
Melissa Stewart is Coastal Virginia Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief. She’s an accomplished home chef, mother of two beautiful girls and has been known to assemble an enticing homemade guacamole. “The more cilantro the better,” she says.
Kearsten Walden is the Web Marketing and Promotions Manager at Coastal Virginia Magazine. She's a proud puppy-mommy of two and a tea and yoga fanatic with an affinity for glitter and quantum physics. Kearsten believes guacamole was brought to earth to help people secretly eat their veggies.
Pamela Hopkins is the Special Events Manager & Style Coordinator for Coastal Virginia Magazine. She enjoys all Mexican cuisine, but guacamole holds a special place in her heart. She believes that the secret to creating the ideal guacamole is a perfect balance of creaminess and texture, not too much cilantro and a solid chip that’s right for dipping.
Angela Blue is the Associate and Web Editor for Coastal Virginia Magazine. She loves cooking, almost as much as eating, and enjoys an avocado a day (monounsaturated fats for the win!) She arranged this taste testing specifically to eat as much guacamole as possible and to say the phrase, “Holy Guacamole!”
Today’s Guest Tester is Kathryn Kelly, the Digital Marketing Specialist at Coastal Virginia Magazine. She is a devoted mother to her 9-year-old son and likes to dabble in gourmet cooking. She is the self-proclaimed "Queen of Guacamole" in the office.