Big Little Restaurant
There’s nothing small about the plates at Taquitos.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Located in the strip mall across from Sherwood Hall in Salinas, Taquitos reigns as my family’s “let’s eat one meal today” restaurant. Affixing “-ito” to the end of a Spanish word usually makes the word diminutive. Small is not the case with Taquitos’ portions. But I do think of something cute and spirited with the word “Taquitos,” and the restaurant certainly lives up to its name here.
Ranchera music (Mexican country and western) greets visitors at the door, and salmon and green crepe paper streamers stretch overhead between the enclosed booths topped off with orange cylinder tiles. Semi-circular openings with grillwork in the booth walls allow peeks across the restaurant, which has a seating capacity for 130.
Little touches like heating the nacho chips makes eating at Taquitos a gratifying experience. The salsa that accompanies those chips has a definite kick to it, making the pungent cilantro seem even fresher.
I like the variety of Mexican foods on the menu. After eating at Taquitos for the past two years, I do have some favorite dishes. The first is a simple taco filled with boiled tongue, lengua, ($2.50 each). Tongue meat is tender and has a faint beef flavor. At Taquitos, minced, sweet onions come with this dish along with limes. The combination of tongue, onion, and lime makes for an unusual treat on a soft, corn taco.
My other favorite is a specialty of Michoacan, according to owner Jose Romero, whose family hails from this region in Mexico. Michoacan-style Pozole Soup ($6.95) gets made with lime-processed hominy, pork strips, chiles, garlic, and Mexican oregano. I especially like the flavor that the condiment of shredded cabbage adds to this soup.
But last week, I branched out and ordered a Tostada de Ceviche ($4) as my starter, while my husband Laurent had a quesadilla ($4). Ceviche starts out as raw white fish pieces that get “cooked” by marinating them in lime juice for at least six hours. You add chopped onion, tomato, and jalapeño peppers to the marinated fish, along with a vinaigrette to make this tangy appetizer. I like Taquitos’ version that included an extra squirt of lime.
Laurent’s quesadilla measured seven inches across and was filled with what I thought was a rather bland cheddar cheese. Laurent liked it, but I would have jazzed it up with some Tapatio Hot Sauce if I had ordered it.
Our very nice server brought the main dishes to the table while we were still eating our starters. In order to avoid this, next time we’ll consider ordering our main dishes after we’ve finished the appetizers.
Laurent eyed my Camarones (shrimp) a la Veracruzana ($11.50) and said he would order this dish next time we came. The rich Veracruzana tomato-based sauce made my shrimp a special treat. Onion, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, jalapeños, and lemon juice give the sauce a spicy, filling taste. Our waitress asked if I wanted this dish spicy; I did. Jalapeños peppered my dish, but other diners might wish for a milder version. French fries came with my order, in addition to a generous helping of Spanish rice and refried beans. The fries tasted great with the Veracruzana sauce.
Laurent forgot about coveting my shrimp, though, as he began to eat his Sol y Luna platter ($12.50) made up of a charbroiled Ribeye steak that came with four grilled shrimp.
Sol y Luna, meaning “sun” and “moon,” was the name of Laurent’s dish. The shrimp do resemble little moons, but I am stumped by how the meat could represent the sun.
Laurent’s tender steak tasted of salt and pepper in just the right proportion. The chef grilled the shrimp with the steak, giving them both a savory and briny flavor.
Our daughter, Florence, ordered her usual Bisteck Ranchero ($9.50), lime marinated and grilled steak that also goes by the name Carne Asada. The thin, juicy steak of Taquitos’ version of this dish passes muster. I measure most Mexican restaurants by their ability to produce this simple dish. It is like the omelet test for a French restaurant—if the restaurant can’t make an omelet, how can you trust anything else prepared there?
Laurent and I had coffees while we watched Florence eat flan ($2.50). Florence prefers the orange-flavored flan that I make at home to the traditional caramel flavored one at Taquitos, which I think is good albeit somewhat light. When I can manage to make room for it, my favorite dessert at Taquitos is the Pastel Tres Leches (Three Milk Cake, $2.50). This is a white cake that has been cut in half and reconstructed. A mixture made from evaporated, condensed and whole milk gets poured over each half. The cake gets chilled overnight, making for a rich, creamy dessert. Sometimes we take it home for midnight snacking if we can’t finish it.
Meals seem to taste even better on weekends at Taquitos,
when the tables are filled with extended families, who meet
here regularly for family get-togethers. It’s easy for
customers to feel like part of an extended family here, too,
enjoying abundant quantities of good food served by a
923 N. Main St., Salinas