The literal translation of Iguanas Ranas is “iguanas frogs.” Strange name for a restaurant.
The real meaning makes more sense. The play on words is used in Mexico as a response to a farewell, something akin to “same to you.” The tacos at this little restaurant in Glendale are similar. Literally, they’re just tacos but really they’re happy greetings for your mouth. Each one surprises your taste buds with distinct flavors — flavors we’re not used to here in the land of Cal-Mex cuisine. Flavors from ingredients like raisins, queso fresco, barbacoa and strawberries.
Strawberries? Yes, it’s the base for one of four house salsas made daily by the father in this family-run business. (They also have a stand in City of Industry and a food truck.) The strawberry and mango salsas start off sweet but pack a serious chili punch on the backside. They were fun to try, but we kept going back to the less gimmicky and gloriously complex red salsa as well as the clean, mild green sauce. The best part is they allow you to take the salsas to the table in squeezable bottles.
Some of the tacos are improved by the salsas, but the majority are perfect just as they are. For instance, the Jalapeno Especial is remarkable. A grilled jalapeno pepper sits atop a pile of aromatic carne asada that’s been marinated in a special mole-like raisin sauce. The freshness of the corn tortillas is evident as well. All the tacos are small but mighty, and most cost $1.99.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but the Azteca taco takes you courtside to an ancient game of Ullamaliztli. The mild, not-too-salty chorizo blends seamlessly with the grilled queso, guacamole and pinto beans. The beans are freshly made and not refried. They take pride in using no lard or oil in their products, only natural juices.
The al pastor taco packs a lot of flavor with its grilled pork in achiote sauce and fresh pico de gallo. The carnitas taco also stood out for its dry, crispy barbecued flavor, but the same was not true for the regular asada taco. It was just bland after all the other outstanding ones. We preferred their barbacoa beef outside a taco in the satisfying Iguanas Ranas soup ($5.75). The rich broth, distilled from barbacoa beef, is filled with meat, gooey cheese, beans, red onions, habanero chilies and tomatoes. It goes well with a mulita, two grilled corn tortillas filled with cheese and meat (I chose their robust tinga, beef simmered in a dense chipotle sauce, $3.30).
The space itself is nothing to write home about, and it is a little hard to find (it’s near Zono Sushi). Those not within walking distance can park in the lot on Maryland with 90 minutes of free parking. Local workers may want to try their weekday breakfast items like chilaquiles, molletes and burritos ($2.99-$4.99).
Now that Don Cuco’s has closed, Iguanas Ranas is pretty much the only place to get a taco on Brand Boulevard. Lucky for us, they’re not just any tacos, but a collection of authentic Mexican specialties with modern twists.
LISA DUPUY welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.
Where: 138 N. Brand Blvd. #100, Glendale
When: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Prices: Tacos $1.49-$2.50; burritos and other specialties $3.30-$7; breakfast $2.99-$4.99
Contact: (818) 484-7820; www.iguanasranastacos.com