Cactus vs Picante Smackdown - 510 Families
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Cactus vs Picante Smackdown

I really like a pina colada at the end of the week, and I’m certainly not going to make it myself. And as a mom of two, I’m not headed to the Tonga room on a regular basis. Enter Picante: delicious Mexican food, family friendly, and a nice assortment of grown-up drinks.

On the other hand, Cactus Taqueria, with a location on Solano Avenue in Berkeley and one in Rockridge, offers something so kid-friendly that I now make it myself at home. On the Cactus menu, it’s called Shen’s Burrito. It is a very small burrito “just beans and cheese (nada mas)”, wrapped tightly in foil. My kids can handle this so well, that I’m now disappointed with all Mexican restaurants who serve my kids a burrito in any other manner. Also? A Shen’s burrito will run you $1.75.

Total price for a family of four, two of which are under six years old, to eat at Picante is over $45. Total price for four to eat at Cactus is less than $25.

I have used both restaurants for birthday parties. Simply calling ahead, ordering large servings of beans, rice, cheese, tortillas and assorted meats allows you to offer DIY tacos at home to a large crowd. On price alone, Cactus comes out ahead.

Both restaurants have water fountains that entertain children, ie force parents to repeatedly say, “Stop putting your hands in there.”

Picante has a more celebratory vibe, really kid-friendly bathrooms, and did I mention the mojitos? Picante also has outdoor seating, really nice for lunchtime meals, and kids menus with crayons.  Also, a final point in favor of Picante, fresh tortillas made in front of patrons can be observed by children. A shy smile or a loud, “Tortilla, please!” will result in a hot one wrapped in a napkin and placed in your child’s hands waiting hands: a wonderfully chewy appetizer.

Picante Spread

Lunch at Picante

Bottom line: Cactus is my go-to. Those tiny burritos and the great prices bring me back over and over again. It is the place I turn to when I don’t want to cook.

And then there’s always Tacubaya on Fourth Street….

What do you guys think?

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10 thoughts on “Cactus vs Picante Smackdown”

  1. You named our three favorite taquerias! We go to all three and like them all very much, but if I have to choose between Picante and Cactus, I’d probably pick Picante because I think the food is a little better. I also like that they have multiple options for the kids burritos: bean and cheese, bean and rice, beans rice and cheese. Our little guy can’t eat dairy, so that’s important for us.

    My favorite is Tacubaya but I don’t like to go there with the kids because they think the food is too weird. And because we can easily spend $50 on dinner there for the four of us, I don’t like to risk that they won’t eat their meals so my husband and I save Tacubaya for lunch dates.

  2. I agree with everything you’re saying, Wendy  – except that we’ve found that Cactus will make substitutions in the Shen’s Burrito. So we get one for S with cheese and beans and one for J with rice and cheese.

    Tacubaya is great when you have a young solid-food eating baby. An order of their pureed black beans is perfect for a one-year old to make a huge mess with!

  3.  Ha!  We have this debate constantly: my kids want to go to Cactus because they like the Cactus burritos better but I want to go to Picante because I prefer the tacos and margaritas.  But if I’m alone and in need of a burrito, than it’s Gordo Taqueria!

    p.s. I found this site through  It’s a great addition to my bookmark bar.

  4. okay, where do I begin?  although I love that people love, love Mexican food, i’m writing in more to offer an economic perspective.  How about buying a pound or so of uncooked beans at your local market, a bag of tortillas and if you want, some cheese.  you’re probably spending about $5.35 and can have enough beans and tortillas for about a week, no kidding.

    Just make your beans at home, refry them if you wish ( of course you want them like that) and make those burritos yourself, and hey you can have the kids help!  I’m just saying that it pains me to see how much people spend on food that can easily be made at home…

    two words— crock pot ( for the beans)

  5. I have never been a big Picante fan. I don’t find the food amazingly good (it doesn’t live up to the reviews) and I’ve gotten a few meals that were actually bad. Many many times my to-go orders were wrong – only discover upon getting home and emptying the bag.

    I ADORE Cactus …. it is MUCH less expensive and the variety is greater. My kids and I love crispy tacos which picante doesn’t even offer. The food is delicious and the service fast and the atmosphere is pleasant.

    One more to add: Monte Cristo Taqueria at 1446 University Avenue Super yummy plus it’s right next door which is fun to browse after dinner.

  6. We love them both. My three year old loves the Shen’s burrito at Cactus with black beans and often requests that we go there. I order her pretty much the same thing at Picante, but it’s much more expensive. It does have the advantage of having that lovely enclosed outdoor area, so that’s where we go if we’re going with friends (i.e. more kids to run around with:)
    If we’re on our own, it’s Cactus.

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  9. Just found this from Rachel’s post. Same as above I realize: If we are on our own, we do Cactus. Brooklyn loves the Shen’a burrito, and we pop across Solano to Five Star Video to rent a movie and often hit Hannah’s and Pegasus as well.
    If we are with friends, it’s Picante, so the kids can all play in the courtyard.
    When we lived in University Village, I did go there alone too since I could call in an order for small nachos and walk and pick them up which was a great mom-baby outing:)

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