Neighborhood is defined as the area or region around or near some place or thing; The Original El Taco identifies with “Neighborhood” in every way. This Virginia-Highlands eatery is both “the place” to simply hang out with friends, and “the thing” offering lively foods and drinks at reasonable prices. The Fifth Group revamped their trendy establishment, Sala, into a more down-home place that’s centered on having fun. To add to the excitement an intriguing graffiti-like mural was painted by SCAD students on the back wall, but the real thrill comes every hour when the “wheel of taco” spins and if you’re lucky you can win foods, drinks, and other cool things. Seems like the name change, the look, and menu has worked as on most nights there’s a wait; the crowd ranges from families to college students splurging on a real meal.
Mid-west native, Chef de Cuisine Craig Sauls runs the kitchen and turns out some of the tastiest Tex-Mex in the city. To match these tasty dishes, a selection of delicious margaritas awaits. The Reales Margarita is made with the ultra-smooth Partida Blanco, Combier Liqueur d'Orange, Agave Nectar, limejuice, and fresh house-made citrus sour mix. For a real treat, asked for the off menu, Paloma-it’s the most popular tequila drink in Mexico- made with Herradura Blanco, Jarritos grapefruit soda, fresh squeezed lime, and a pinch of salt. It’s a wonderful balance of sweet, sour, salty, with a touch of bitterness- so refreshing.
Perfect complements to these cocktails are crispy corn chips, and the ones at El Taco rock - made in house daily with a wonderful lime and chile salt flavor. Beckoning for mouth-watering salsas for dipping, El Taco’s salsa bar has many to choose from. I loved the rustic charred tomatillo salsa with its slight smoky flavors; the spicy habanero-pureed fresh tomato salsa with crushed peanuts and cilantro that helps unwind the heat but still can bring on a sweat; and the zesty diablo salsa made with dried habanero/ pasilla chile peppers, agave nectar, and tomatoes that livens the palate. Besides these exquisite salsas to play with, there is a perfectly prepared creamy queso with pickled jalapeños, and the “Just Crushed” Guacamole, which is made by pressing the avocado through a screen to maintain its velvety texture then fresh lime juice, Serrano chiles, diced onion, and cilantro are blended in- absolutely delicious.
After munching on the chips and salsas, and sipping on a few drinks, the Tex-Mex choices become profound. Of the street vendor-like tacos there’s a heavenly fried cod with a nice kick from the Serrano chile- jicama slaw, and sunflower sprouts and seeds. For those seeking vegetables that scream freshness look no further- the grilled cactus, roasted tomatoes, fresh cilantro, that’s topped with a Fresno pepper relish and cotija cheese is oh-so flavorful. But the one I will go back for again and again is the fried chicken taco- perfectly fried strips of hand breaded marinated chicken breast with an elote-like sweet corn, cotija cheese, cilantro, and lime mayonnaise- yummy!!! Of the sides, the refried black beans probably the best ever tasted- perfect consistency and texture- don’t miss it, guaranteed you’ll feel the same.
The baked handmade masa flatbread pizza offers many options- the braised pork (carnitas) made in a Michoacán style with fresh oranges is divine. This spin on an Oaxaca street food- tlayuda- is a unique pleasure to eat. The crisp thin “Mexican pizza” is covered with black beans, Oaxacan and Cojita cheeses, shaved lettuce, juicy tomatoes, crisp radishes, pickled jalapeños, sunflower sprouts, avocados and of course tender morsels of flavorful pork- think of nachos but OMG so much better.
This eco-friendly neighborhood restaurant offers so much more than foods and drinks. It is a place of comfort, peace of mind, and down right good times. So when you get the urge to enjoy getting with friends or simply someplace to watch the big game- The Original El Taco has a place waiting for you, even had one waiting for Jennifer Anniston and the cast from Wanderlust.
LGTG FRIENDLY ***** (Diverse Friendly Crowd)
FOOD **** (Gluten Free Menu Available)
PRICE ***** (Affordable Quality Tex-Mex)
AMBIENCE ***** (Great Patio/ Wheel of Taco)
DRINKS ***** (Well Made Margaritas)
WHERE WOMEN COME OUT| www.labrysatl.com