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Remember how excited I was about the street tacos I ate in LA?  Well, Eugene, you now have a pretty wonderful taco scene.  Starting last weekend, Belly has started their long-awaited taco nights on Sundays and Mondays, from 5:30 onward.

The image to the right is from those LA tacos, but you can expect to find something similar in the delicious carnitas tacos on the Belly menu.  The restaurant is transformed into a cantina, with tables decked out with pickled jalapeños, and a full specials menu of Mexican drinks.  Salsa and chips (or guacamole) can be had, but I was scolded by owner Brendan when I indulged in the former instead of one of the more interesting appetizers.

He had a point.  I could have spent the whole evening buried in a bowl of “queso y chorizo flameado,” an oozy cheese and spicy sausage dip that arrives at the table licked by blue flames.  Or even a Caesar salad, another one of my fave indulgences when it’s made right.  Yes, he had a point.

It’s worth it, though, even if you want to sup on perfectly fried chips and a few margaritas or a Michelada. They’re that good.  The salsa isn’t nearly spicy enough for me, but it’s fresh and tasty and balanced well with tomato and dark chile, and I would have been happy.  Dayenu.

But why stop there?

Now you’re asking the tough questions.  I had come from a talk on campus and had to finish some work, so I thought I’d pop in and check out the scene, but after I saw the menu, I realized there was no way that was going to happen.  I ordered two tacos and a tostada, with some difficulty choosing, but then the wonderfully sweet new bartender recommended the bean dip, which had been on the menu the night before.  She asked in the back for me if there was any left, and sure enough…

The. Bean. Dip.  It was the best bean dip I’ve ever had, fruity-hot with habanero and made rich and silken with pepitas.  It was so delicious I asked if there was lard in it (answer: no).  It was so good, I gave it to another table (where a friend of mine was sitting) so they could try it, and so it wouldn’t be wasted.

I regret this.  I should have taken it home in a napkin, smuggled into my purse, just like my grandma used to do with Sweden House chicken.

Ah, grandma, when will I learn?  But the problem was *everything* I tried was delicious.  The tostada (shrimp, pineapple, and salsa fresca) was fresh and light.  Pescaterians: there’s also a camarones (spiced shrimp) taco and a deep-fried scallop taco, both of which I’ll be trying soon.  The adovada taco (pork braised in New Mexican chile sauce) was good, but I have to admit I liked both the carnitas and the lengua (beef tongue stewed with tomatillos and onions), which Brendan brought for me to taste in little cups, better. He said the menu was bound to change and be streamlined, so I felt a real obligation to taste everything I could.

Yes, things were getting out of control.

So I thought I’d go veg with a verduras taco (seasonal greens, black beans and mushrooms).  If I were a vegetarian, I’d be pretty psyched about this taco.  The mushrooms really make it filling and provide a good contrast to the milder bean-and-green combo.  If you add pickled onions and some green salsa, available on a little table near the front door, it’s a party in your mouth.  Other vegetarian options included a simple jack cheese quesadilla and another with poblanos, black beans, habanero crema and those same delicious pink pickled onions.

I’m assuming you’re seeing my terrible condition by this point.  Stuffed to the gills with tacos, barely able to move, wanting MORE TACOS.  I was like that old battleaxe with a cigarette voice in a ratty fur coat nursing a drink alone at a divebar on Sunday afternoon.  But it was Monday at 6:00, and I was nursing a tray of tortilla chips alone, my place littered with the remnants of tacos.  Too much, too much.  O how much can a gal handle in a town that only has awesome tacos twice a week?

Belly taco nights.  Check ‘em out.  Share the love.

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