La Frontera serves up Mexican favorites in a jiff If you’ve stopped in at some of the authentic Mexican taquerias springing up all around town, you may have discovered a few similarities. After a while, you begin to expect the TV hovering in a corner, burning with the passionate glances of a Mexican soap opera. Beef tongue taco A jukebox occasionally belts out a mariachi standard, strangely reminiscent of a polka, complete with accordion. You feel like dancing, but everyone else seems more interested in the food. Décor can be hit or miss: a sombrero or serape hung on the wall for color or a few signs for drink specials. A glass cooler generally hums in the corner, overfilled with imported beers, Technicolor bottles of fruity Jarritos and a few stray condiments: a bowl of limes, some extra crema. In the most bona fide of joints, fountains carry ice-cold aquas frescas flavored with tamarind, rice or melon. But how can you tell if the food will be good? The mere fact that the wait staff speaks Spanish isn’t enough. Sometimes you get a tip from someone in the know. Or you just drop in on a lark. With the best places, though, the ones that last and continue to draw loyal customers, word inevitably gets around. Such is the case at La Frontera, just one of the many Mexican eateries and neighborhood establishments on Indy’s near Westside. With all the competition in this colorful district, you might miss this humble storefront eatery. But La Frontera isn’t just some new kid on the block. A faded review from the mid-’90s hangs on the wall, reminding diners that this place was here before many of its neighbors. As such, the décor is a little worn and dingy. Still, bright yellow walls and scenes of south-of-the-border life in rustic wooden frames make it a cheery place. More importantly, the years haven’t done anything to slow things down. The service is as energetic and speedy as it ever was. Granted, the place wasn’t exactly packed when we stopped in, but we could hardly catch our breath on a bitter winter evening before our table was filling up with food. Tortilla chips and a smoky, burnt umber salsa with a good amount of heat arrived almost before we had taken our coats off. Drinks soon followed, a Carta Blanca beer and a fruity tamarind aqua fresca with undertones of lemon and apricot. Almost immediately, our dutiful waitress was back to get our dinner orders. Thankfully, the menu at La Frontera is fairly streamlined, and the best of dishes, like spicy marinated carnitas, are only available on the weekends. This made our decisions easier, as we could order something from just about every part of the menu — at least what was available. Most individual items were under $2, and entrees hardly broke the $7 mark. So we could feast on the cheap. A pork tamale was a little on the heavy side, without the sort of fluffy corn filling of the best tamales. But there was a good amount of tasty pork and the filling was nicely seasoned. Guacamole wrote an ode to cilantro, with plenty of the piquant herb along with creamy, fresh avocados. A seviche tostado was practically spilling over the side of the plate with bits of marinated shrimp and crunchy onions. Tacos, those straightforward testaments to a Mexican restaurant’s muster, proved why this place has stayed open through the years. Utterly unadorned but stuffed to bursting, these tacos offered a meat lover’s bonanza. A steak taco had probably a quarter pound of crisp, delicious threads of steak. Perhaps even more tasty, though, was a taco of beef tongue. Lest you think you’re too squeamish to try this rustic delicacy, think of the most tender, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth meat you’ve ever eaten. How could you resist a bite? Speed isn’t always an advantage, and the swift turnaround on a plate of enchiladas ($6.50) left them a little lackluster and ordinary. Instead of the typical saucy affairs with plenty of melted cheese, these amounted to some tepid tortillas with just a bit of salsa verde and a dusting of cheese the broiler hardly had a chance to brown. While they were lighter than the average enchiladas, they were also a bit light on flavor. The menu promised ultra-rich tres leches cake, but the waitress told us we’d have to settle for flan. Unfortunately, the custard had curdled, and the texture, while still somewhat creamy, was a bit like scrambled eggs. Had they baked it at too high a temperature? A rich, dark caramel swirled around the plate, but it couldn’t save the dish. A take-out menu listed a dozen lunch specials for $5.70, including drinks, with everything from a kid-friendly quesadilla with fries to “American style” flour tortilla tacos to “super” nachos, tortas, soups and chimichangas. While you might get a wider variety of dishes at other Mexican restaurants in town, you won’t get it as fresh — or as fast — as you’ll get it on this speedy frontier. La Frontera 2541 W. Washington St. 822-3994 Sunday-Thursday: 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Food: 3.5 Stars Atmosphere: 2.5 Stars Service: 4 Stars

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