On the corner of 20th and West Washington streets is a Taco Bell that serves Americanized Mexican food. If you feel like thinking even further outside the bun, go a block or two west and try one of several restaurants in the area where real Mexican food is dished up.
Some guacamole and chips from La Frontera
Do not expect silver service, linen napkins or even an English-speaking waitress. Do expect clean and unpretentious taquerias aimed especially at those in the mood for a quick and filling meal. Besides, who doesn’t like watching Hispanic television while they eat?
La Raza 3749 W. Washington St., 243-3011 Open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Food : 2 stars Atmosphere : 2 stars Service : 4 stars Price: About $25 for two entrees and drinks
Not a word of English was spoken to us when my companion and I visited La Raza, yet the service was attentive, courteous and prompt. At 6:30 on a Tuesday evening we are the only customers sitting among the religious candles, plastic fruit and fake flowers. Next to the fridge packed with bottles of Jarritos (Mexican soda) is a little shop that sells Mexican candy, videos, even shoes. La Raza’s menu contained the most authentic Mexican food of the three restaurants I visited. Take La Raza’s varieties of tacos. As well as everyday chicken and beef, La Raza also makes lenguna (tongue), sesos (brains), tripas (tripe) or papas con chorizo (potatoes with Mexican sausage) tacos. All are served with your choice of cilantro and onion, lettuce, tomato and cheese and cost $1.50. Similar fillings can be ordered for tortas ($4.29), burritos ($4.69) and tostadas ($3). There are about 20 dinner menu choices, ranging from $6.99 to $12.99, with most in the $8 area. Feeling ravenous, I ordered the large combination dinner No. 2 ($9.95) that included a tostada, tamale, chile relleno, rice and refried beans. It was tasty, filling and very Mexican. I loved the way the waitress brought out the corn tortillas in a little plastic bowl with a lid to keep them warm and soft. The base of the tostada was baked solid and therefore it was extremely difficult to eat without spilling the chicken and salad topping on myself. My companion decided to try something different and went for the mole con pollo (chicken in a dark, spicy sauce) for $6.99. Her meal also came with rice and refried beans, prompting her to ask for assistance in finishing it. On the issue of parking, there are about three spots out in front of the restaurant and little else. Good luck finding a suitable spot if those three are filled.
La Frontera 2541 W. Washington St. 822-3994 Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week Food : 3 stars Atmosphere : 2 stars Service : 3 stars Price: About $30 for two entrees and drinks
La Frontera was the most expensive of the three Mexican eateries I visited, but was also the nicest. Diners at La Frontera are once again surrounded by fake flowers, bright colors and televisions screening Mexican game shows. Beer makes an appearance on the La Frontera menu, and good Mexican beer at that. A couple of Negra Modelos, a plate of corn chips, salsa and smooth guacamole later, we were ready to order from the extensive menu. Being in the mood for seafood I tried the camarones à la Mexicana (Mexican style shrimp with chili, tomato, peppers and onions) for $11.50. It was served on a sizzling plate and really hit the spot. The shrimp were large and succulent, complementing the slight crispness of the peppers and onions. My companion — I’m going to stop calling her “my companion” and just call her Leanne — tried the $6.50 fajitas de pollo (chicken fajitas), which once again she couldn’t finish due to its size. Yet somehow she ended up stealing more than a few shrimp from my dish. Once again no English was spoken by our waitress, and once again the service was friendly, prompt and understanding. La Frontera has its own car park just to the west of the restaurant.
Taqueria Gonzalez 2136 W. Washington St. Open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Food : 2 1/2 stars Atmosphere : 2 stars Service : 3 stars Price: About $20 for two entrees, drinks and dessert
This place is cool. Like the other two restaurants it is a small, no-frills Mexican eatery. However, Taqueria Gonzalez has delicious ice cream and sweet Mexican drinks (horchata and vainilla — if you don’t know what they are, go and try them to find out). The milky drinks ($1.25 each) arrived in bright plastic cups and were hastily consumed when we discovered how well they went down. The menu consists of several boards hanging on the walls and an array of colorful paper fish proclaiming the varieties of burritos, tacos and tostadas available. Unlike the other two restaurants, there are no English translations. Our waitress, however, did speak a little English and proudly extolled the ingredients of each menu item. Chicharron, otherwise known as pork crackling, was described as “the skin of a pig,” hence the reason why we stuck to simple pollo (chicken) and barbacoa (steamed beef) burritos for $4.50 each. They were made with thin corn tortillas and tasted distinctly different than those found at Taco Bell. We tried a couple of flan desserts that were soft and floating in thin syrup ($2 each). Upon rising to pay the bill at the counter we saw a freezer packed with Mexican ice creams in home-made style plastic wrappers. So why not take a few to eat in the car on the way home? It was the best choice we made all night. I had a fresa (strawberry) flavored stick and Leanne tried the pina colada variety (75 cents each). There is plenty of parking in the Gonzalez Taqueria and Supermercado car park nearby.