I’ve taken a couple months off from reviewing restaurants…but after a couple of my adoring fans (bahahahaha jk!) asked if I was ever going to blog again, I figured I should get back to it.
So here’s a quick review that dates back to this summer to get the ball rolling:
I went to El Pastor on Park Street for a quick lunch with two friends over the summer and was not very pleased with any part of it, except the friends part!
First of all, the entire place smelled like a stale cigarette the second we walked in. That’s not an appetizing smell, and definitely not what I want to smell walking into a any restaurant.
Now to the food.
I’m a sucker for a good combo meal so I got the Sabor De Mexico with one chile relleno, one tamale, one pork taco, rice and beans, but I asked to swap out the pork taco for a lengua taco. The only way to describe the entire plate of food is bland. Nothing had any flavor and the hot sauce they put on the table tasted like watery tomatoes.
The chile relleno tasted like a boiled pepper with cheese in it…no seasoning, no grill flavor on the chile. The batter wasn’t salty or crispy. It wasn’t good. The tamale was fine, but nowhere near the best tamale I’ve ever had. The meat on the inside was tender, but again…didn’t have any flavor and the corn dough was dry. The lengua taco (yes…I like lengua tacos…at least I do at other places) was not good. The meat was stringy and didn’t have any seasoning on it at all so it tasted very gamey. I ate so little of the rice and beans I can’t even tell you what was wrong with them. Basically it was not a good plate of food.
FOOD NOTES: On top of the terrible cigarette smoke smell, the food at El Pastor was pretty bad. It wasn’t inedible, but I definitely was not happy with my lunch. My lunch dates weren’t as critical of their lunches, but I won’t be back.
I have posted before about my quest to find good Mexican food that is as close to authentic as you can get in Madison. A couple months ago my quest ended in the dining room at Taqueria Guadalajara, but I had heard some really great things about Taqueria Los Gemelos on Odana, so I couldn’t pass it up. The combination Mexican grocery store and restaurant is hidden away in a junky strip mall on Odana Road. Based on the size of the strip mall and the grocery store I was expecting a super small restaurant, but it was actually massive. If I had to guess how many tables there are I would say more than 20.
We got there right around lunch time and there were plenty of tables open, but we had no idea what to do when we walked in. There is a small counter where everyone ignored us. There were also wait staff walking around who completely ignored us. Finally, after standing in the doorway for a couple minutes I asked one of the wait staff if we should sit or wait to be seated, and she told us we could sit wherever. Once we were at a table they brought us a basket of chips, guacamole and two salsas in squeeze bottles. The green one had a lot of cilantro in it and not much other flavor. WARNING! WARNING! The red bottle has super hot salsa. I tried a little on a chip and didn’t get any heat at all, so I squeezed a bunch more on the next chip and had quite an interesting next couple of minutes, which was made worse by the fact that we hadn’t gotten any water yet. Besides the ridiculous heat, the runny red salsa also didn’t have a lot of flavor. I know that sounds weird…it was super spicy but didn’t have any flavor? I’m a true believer that a sauce or salsa can be spicy and also have good flavor. What’s the point in having a salsa that is pure overpowering heat without some good pepper, vinegar or garlic flavor. Also, the “guacamole” they serve is the farthest thing from guacamole I’ve had in a while. It was flavorless and super runny. It’s like they mix it with something to stretch their avocado. I was really not impressed by it. I would rather have to pay a couple dollars for quality guacamole (like the kind at La Mestiza across the street) than be given this crap.
The menu was the first warning sign that the food wouldn’t be too great. There are pictures all over the menu and every time I see picture menus I think of IHOP, Denny’s and Perkin’s. In my experience, places with pictures of their food on their menu don’t tend to have great food. The second warning sign that this wasn’t going to be quality authentic Mexican food was that they didn’t have tongue or tripe on the menu (not that I would try tripe, but tongue has become one of my favorite Mexican meat options).
After scouring the decent-sized menu I opted for two smaller dishes. First I got a tostada, which comes with your choice of meat with Mexican cheese, lettuce, avocado, tomato and mayo. I also got a sope, which comes with your choice of meat, Mexican fresh cheese, lettuce, avocado and tomato. They are very similar dishes, but the sope comes on an oval corn tortilla that is thicker and soft, and the tostada comes on a very thin and crunchy corn tortilla.
I got a beef tostada, and it was super hard to eat. My first bite sent most of the toppings flying all over the place and the rest of the tostada shattered. The beef was tender, but was completely flavorless. The Mexican cheese and tomatoes were standard, but the avocado was fresh. I got a chicken sope, which was basically the same as the tostada as far as toppings go, but the soft corn base made it 100 percent easier to eat. The chicken was fine, but not great and the rest of the toppings were the same as the tostada. The best part of what I ordered (and this was also one of the reasons I ordered what I did) was the avocado on top of both dishes. Avocado makes everything better! Everything was good, and exponentially better than Tex-Mex restaurants in the area, but not nearly as good as Taqueria Guadalajara.
FOOD NOTES: Basically, I went in comparing Los Gemelos to Taqueria Guadalajara and it failed every comparison test. The food was not as good, the service was awful (did I mention once I did get my tiny water cup it was never filled again?) and the restaurant was kitschy and a little dirty. But, if I were to compare their food to Laredo’s or Tex Tubb’s or Abuelo’s on the merits of authentic Mexican food it would win hands down. There was nothing wrong with the food, it just gets beaten out by a better competitor. I wish the food was better because the prices are great and the location is better for me than Taqueria Guadalajara on Park Street. Simple review: As long as Taqueria Guadalajara is open, I won’t be going to Los Gemelos.
I’ve posted about my quest for authentic Mexican food before, and I had almost lost hope until I had my first meal at Taqueria Guadalajara. The Mexican restaurant is a block down from the new Barriques at Park and Fish Hatch. Be careful not to drive past because it looks like a house and is between two other small buildings. You walk in to a front bar area that seats about a half dozen, then there’s the open kitchen and in the back is a dining room that probably seats about 20.
Our waitress promptly brought over some chips and two little bowls of salsa. As I’m assuming everyone already knows, I hate cilantro and they use a lot of cilantro at Taqueria Guadalajara. So if you love cilantro you’ll love both of their salsas. The red salsa had chunks of tomato, a lot of cilantro and no too much spice. The green one was extra spicy, also had a lot of cilantro and is pureed. Clearly I didn’t like either of the salsas but most people probably would.
Their menu has well-known options like tacos, chimichangas, enchiladas and burritos, but it also has some interesting options like lengua (tongue), huaraches, menudo (only on Saturday and Sunday) and chile rellenos. I wasn’t sure how I’d like some of the more authentic options so I opted for a lengua taco and chicken enchiladas.
The lengua taco comes in a freshly-made corn taco with onions and cilantro…our waitress was more than happy to exclude the cilantro. My friend doesn’t like avocado so I put her avocado on my taco when it came to the table. The corn tortilla was hot and fresh. The lengua was super tender and had a perfectly seasoned flavor. It came with a small chunk of lime, which adds a great tang to the taco. The raw onions added a great flavor and crunch. I wish the taco normally came with avocado on it, but it would be worth it to add it on. I loved my tongue taco, and went back a couple weeks later for more tongue! On my second visit I got a lengua huarache, which is a flat corn tortilla covered in beans, choice of meat, green salsa, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado and sour cream. The lengua on my second trip was just as good, but the extras on top really added some great flavor and made the meal better.
For my main meal on my first visit I got chicken enchiladas. They were very tasty but nowhere near as special as the lengua taco. The shredded chicken was cooked well and was plentiful. The enchilada sauce was supposed to be a green sauce, but usually green sauce is made with cilantro so I subbed that out for red sauce, which was standard red enchilada sauce. The enchiladas come with rice and beans, which are usually throw-away sides in tex-mex restaurants, but these were great. The rice was plump and had a good flavor. The refried beans were perfectly creamy but still had lumps, and actually had some flavor…I’m not sure how but they didn’t just taste like beans.
FOOD NOTES: The restaurant itself isn’t anything impressive, but the fresh, authentic Mexican food is show stopping. The chicken enchiladas were fine, but the flavor of their rice and beans were exceptional compared to most places. Tongue sounds disgusting, but when you call it lengua and it tastes as good as it does at Taqueria Guadalajara, you can’t pass it up. They use a lot of cilantro so if you’re like me and think it tastes like soap…make sure to ask for everything without it. I definitely suggest the huarache, and would definitely be up for trying some of the other authentic menu options. If you’ve had menudo let me know what you think about the traditional Mexican stew made with beef stomach.
I can confidently say I have never had authentic Mexican food. I can also confidently say that based on what I know about authentic Mexican food I will probably love it. While I like the Americanized version of Mexican food that is so prevalent in Madison, I have been on a quest for something close to authentic for quite a while. I read a couple reviews on La Mestiza that said it was authentic and one of the best Mexican restaurants in Madison. Even though it lives in an aging strip mall, people have said it is amazing. I went with a friend for lunch, and the small dining room with a dozen tables and a small corner bar in the back was half full and pretty inviting. Even though one waitress was seating and waiting on everyone, the service was fast and friendly.
We got chips and two types of salsa before ordering. The chips were very crispy and extremely fresh. The red salsa was smoky but didn’t have a lot of other flavor (I was hoping for some spiciness). The green salsa was tangier, and tasted like tamatillos and cilantro. Neither of the salsas impressed me, but the guacamole we ordered was fantastic. It was definitely the highlight of the lunch. It was perfectly chunky, fresh and had an amazing flavor. I’m not sure what made it so good, but I could eat that guacamole every day.
I was excited about ordering the tamales because usually a plate of tamales is one flavor (generally shredded pork), and at La Mestiza the order comes with a chicken, pork and cheese tamale. My excitement was dashed when my tamales came out covered in a white sauce and were dry, kind of tasteless and had no heat at all. I was expecting the tamales to be covered in a spicy red sauce and come out steamy with flavorful fillings. The best part of my lunch was that the serving of guacamole was so big there was enough left over to eat with my tamales.
FOODNOTES: I would consider going back to La Mestiza specifically to have the guacamole again. Maybe another one of the dishes on the menu would be better than the tamales (which I can only assume were dry because they are cooked ahead of time and reheated). The prices are very reasonable but most of the dishes don’t come with rice or beans, so you have to order and pay for them separately. The chips were very fresh but could have used a little salt, and the two salsas that came with the chips were mostly flavorless and disappointing. I was hoping for fresh spicy authentic Mexican food at La Mestiza, but I got bland food with fresh guacamole and chips, and probably reheated tamales. I guess my quest for authentic Mexican food continues. Please post suggestions for authentic Mexican restaurants in Madison!!!